By Rhiana Perez
Photos Courtesy of Al Borrego
As many of us may know, San Elizario is well known for its rich culture and historical background. There is a rising amount of attention towards the sites that makeup the Historic District of San Elizario, TX: from the beautiful Chapel that gracefully stands, to the Portales Museum whose walls are constructed of old adobe, to the Old County Jail, known for its infamous Billy the Kid breakout. But of all the historic sites that attract attention and life from the community, and tourists alike, there is one site that calls for some well-deserved, tender love and care.
The San Elizario Cemetery, located on Thomson Road. serves as a final resting ground for many members of the community, many of whom are descendants of the founding families of San Elizario.
Throughout time, it has become a struggle to provide consistent maintenance for this historical burial ground. Amid recent and current events, one challenge captured the attention of Mr. Al Borrego, President of the San Elizario Genealogy Society, and fellow resident of San Elizario. Months and months worth of aggressive desert weeds had filled this 4-acre lot, leaving headstones and monuments obscured and unseen. Through hours of volunteer time and devotion, Mr. Borrego tackled the weeds that permeated the ground and gravesites.
The strenuous work began on the evening of the 16th of April. By the 24th, the headstones and monuments that had been left unnoticed only one week prior, were prominently in sight once again. Significant names and dates can now be seen, along with personalized gravesites, and the vibrant memorabilia that has been left by loved ones who come to visit their late relatives. This
entire ground of remembrance now hosts the tranquil and peaceful energy expected at a site like this.
Mr. Borrego was accompanied by one other set of helping hands. During the early hours of the day, that would have been spent getting ready for school, Cesar Martinez, gathered his own materials, and contributed his time and effort in helping out at the cemetery. Martinez gathered several piles of loose trash that had been scattered across the area. These duties also took up several hours before the cleanup was complete.
The San Elizario Cemetery dates as far back as the late 1800’s, after the former burial ground, commonly known as the “Old Cemetery”, was ordered to a close by District Judge Simon Newcomb in 1871. (The “old” cemetery is located on the corner of San Elizario Road and Socorro Road .)
The many headstones at the latter (new) cemetery vary in sight; from wooden crosses with no names, to modern monuments including inscribed marble. Some sites have no headstones, while others only contain slight markers, such as a pile of rocks, or a rod in the ground. The earliest burial noticed by Al Borrego during his time at the cemetery, is that of a 26-year-old woman, who was laid to rest at the cemetery in 1891. Other significant sites include custom made metal work, such as the gated area for the late Refugio Gandara. Gandara’s customized gate came all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio. Similar to this gated area, is the custom ornamental woodwork that can be seen around the gravesite of Gaspar Giron. Also, along this ground of remembrance, are the surnames that still carry on through many families of the community, and not to mention the designated area for veterans who have also been laid to rest here.
It is not the first time that Mr. Borrego has volunteered his time at the cemetery. In 2012, Mr. Borrego worked with Silvie Trujillo in lifting and straightening out many headstones that had
sunk in after a major flood that year. Although many headstones were salvaged, today there are still gravesites that require repair. Years’ worth of exposure to the elements has caused many headstones and gravesites to either break, sink in, or fall apart. Another common issue is the diminishing names and dates on many of these gravestones. The cemetery was designated a Texas Historic Cemetery by the El Paso County Historical Commission in 2018, with a ceremony at the cemetery in January 2019 with the SEGHS and the EPC Historical Commission. In 2019, in a community effort to help preserve the history of this valuable site, the San Elizario Genealogy & Historical Society began a Cemetery Beautification Project, in which donations can be made, specifically for the sake of maintaining and repairing the San Elizario Cemetery. Last year, with the help of a concerned and local welder, SEGHS was successful in repairing a thirty-foot section of railing that had been wrecked along the frontal perimeter. Unfortunately, one month later, another driving accident damaged forty feet along the same section. The damage railing is still in need of repair. This is another reason that SEGHS encourages people to donate to the Beautification Project. Without help and community effort, it is just a matter of time before the resting place for many loved ones becomes lost and forgotten.
“The cemetery is our heritage. I look at graves of people of the past that have become forgotten. They disappeared because at that time, nobody thought that they’d have to worry about it. I would hate to know that 100 years after I’ve been buried, that my grave would disappear because nobody continued to take care of it. Our establishment of the Beautification Project for this cemetery has the potential of making this site last many lifetimes, which will in turn keep our history intact.” –Al Borrego. President, SEGHS.
The San Elizario Genealogy & Historical Society encourages friends and families of San Elizario to contribute to the San Elizario Cemetery Beautification Project. Your small contribution will
go a long way. You can make a contribution and view the list of those that have donated on our website http://www.sanelizariogenealogy.com/cemetery.htm