15 April 2005
Oral Interview: San Felipe Cemetery
Julie: Julie Broyles
Jesse: Jesse Cardenas
Julie: Well I’m here with Jesse Cardenas and I’m going to interview him about the San Felipe cemetery and how it all got started, um I understand that there was a cemetery before…that, that was the La Loma..
Jesse: Before the San Felipe cemetery yes… can I go on now?
Julie: Yes sir. Haha.
Jesse: Ok, the oldest cemetery in Del Rio is La Loma de la Cruz. It has a big cross at the to of the hill and that cemetery was donated by Dona Paola La Soya Rivers, way back, 1870 something and Paola La Soya Rivers donated this land because in those years it’s a small community. They were burying the loved ones in their back yards so that’s why we’re proud of that lady because you don’t find too many people to... to donate land that way to give it away for free. But she did and it helped the community out, to bury their loves ones in the cemetery. And there was a few stories that they uh just buried their loved ones in the back yard, cause there was no cemeteries. And in that cemetery, La Loma De La Cruz, we had three Indian scouts that remained for the Frausto family. Where the two sons and the father they were Indian scouts. That’s really something that uh you rarely… that the two sons and the father were Indian scouts in those years. And they’re buried up there in La Loma de la Cruz. And then uh if I’m not mistaken in 19 uh they closed the cemetery La Loma de la Cruz, had to be 1930 or 31. Then they moved to San Felipe cemetery is when our cemetery started way back in 30 or 31 and uh for me I put a lot of man hours out there cause all my family is buried there in the San Felipe cemetery and besides that we have 13 of our veterans from World War II that they brought the remains from the Pacific Theatre and the European Theatre, they are buried there in San Felipe cemetery.
Julie: Um, so its, its kinda like an extension of La Loma..?
Jesse: Well it is to say that in those years I was young cause 19 uh 30, maybe I was about 4 years old. And then uh they moved up here to the San Felipe cemetery. And uh you gonna ask me a question…
Julie: Oh, ok well do you know where, was this the same... was this land also donated by the same lady?
Jessie: This land here, I’ll tell u the truth I really don’t know of who gave that land or who bought it or whatever.
Julie: Ok, um do you now why this loc... like they chose that location to make a gravesite?
Jesse: That I ... I couldn’t answer that one either, I guess it was uh, I figure the answer would be in the San Felipe area, I think that’s why they started this right here which is kinda close to La Loma de la Cruz.
Julie: Mm hmm. So the earliest they started burying people here would be in the 1930s then?
Jesse: What’s that?
Julie: The earliest people were buried here was in the 1930s?
Jesse: By November…is that the question?
Julie: Is that like earliest they started burring people?
Julie: In the San Felipe ..
Jesse: That’s when they started.
Julie: Um is there a certain sir name that is most dominant to the grave yard?
Jesse: What’s that?
Julie: Like uh, their last name… is there a most like… dominant name... like...
Jesse: Well when they started here in 1930 like I said, there were uh, no plots, I’m talking about a plot. A plot is a 20 x 20 but uh, eight people can go there. Eight fit probably like this. And they can go…at that time they just use to bury them in line. One here, and one here, and one here, and one here. Is they way they started. Then years later they started making plots, 20 x 20, to where they could get all the family together.
Julie: Um, Oh… when San Felipe, when they were their own community... from Del Rio and like, was this area designated solely for the people from San Felipe? Cause I know they had two different high schools for the two different areas, did they have like… was this grave yard only for people from San Felipe?
Jesse: Well no cause any... anybody can be buried out here. We got some uh Anglos here that are buried here in the cemetery. In La Loma de la Cruz there’s some Italians that uh, that are buried there in the old cemetery La Loma de la Cruz. Cause that was the only one they had.
Julie: Do you know of any people that were considered kinda famous that were buried here?
Jesse: Well, we have uh, in San Felipe cemetery, we have our, our Super Intendant, his name was Roberto Cerva, which he died a few years ago who got buried about 8 to 10 years ago. His wife just passed away uh last month and we buried her here in the uh, San Felipe cemetery right close to where we have the flag pole. And let me tell you about that flag pole, I’m real proud of that flag pole we have out there, cause every three years we have our memorial day ceremonies for San Felipe’s military and I’ll never forget, we had uh, we had uh.. lets see... what is the date? But it was maybe about uh 10 years ago, where we had our Memorial Day ceremonies here and we invited our wing commander from Laughlin Air force Base, and he came up here, we had our ceremonies and he dedicated that flag pole to all our veterans that got buried in San Felipe cemetery, several of the veterans were buried there. We got veterans from World Was I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam buried in the San Felipe Cemetery.
Julie: Um, was the location effected as a result of the flood um, from I think it was in 1935?
Jesse: The flood?
Jesse: No, uh we had a flood uh, the big one we had here in Del Rio?
Jesse: ’98 I think.
Jesse: That’s the one that uh, it just moved some tombstones that’s all. About three of them to the far side going into the cemetery. That’s all the damage it did. Bodies and the remains were not taken out by the water or nothing. It was just the tombstones and there was a, and I helped this guy move them out but they only taken about 30 feet from there, so we got them moved, we got them back to where they were supposed to be.
Julie: Do most of the older graves have, they actually have markers?
Julie: Or there’s some that don’t…
Jesse: There’s quite a few. In those years when the cemetery started they used to put wooden crosses. Which a wooden cross can last a few years... maybe 30 or 40. That I’m talking about many years ago, those crosses get rotten, or eaten by the termite. So I get people coming in from some.. California or other parts, they say, cause mostly people know me here in Del Rio cause I was born and raised here, all my family was born and raised here and in the San Felipe area and uh so they come and look for me and I said, I’m sorry I cant help you out because I just don’t know. I mean that’s why I encourage everyone now to bury someone out there cause I know a lot of people are short with money now a days its true, I have seen that, very short with money. I say just look, just put a little uh form there, a little cement there, you can inscribe it with a nail or something, write their name, and it will be there forever. So I mean that’s why there’s some of them, that they came to find… a matter of fact I had a lady coming from California about two months ago, she was looking… she wanted to find her brother realyl bad. She put somebody that had gone through it too, but they couldn’t find the area, there was no marker, that’s when its hard. So I mean uh, I try to help everybody out, out there. And the reason I put lot of man hours out there is like I did in La Loma de la Cruz, with my volunteers, I used to work with volunteers and they can say, now that a lot…. a lot of people which I’m not ashamed to say, it’s the truth, they are not coming out and cleaning their lots now a days. Of course I know there’s some people that all their families are gone. I will gladly do that, their plot for them, but I mean if there’s somebody staying home watching T.V. in their air condition and everything, and they don’t want to pay somebody else to go fix it, like I said from the beginning this San Felipe cemetery its not a special cemetery ( in audible) this cemeteries not a big thing cemetery, you bought this land its up to you to keep it clean. So I mean uh for me, I mentioned that in the cemetery some of my families there and a lot of my friends, a lot of combat veterans are buried there and it’s for myself, I never want to do that by myself. And that’s why a care a lot about other veterans not only from World War II, I respect all veterans and all the conflicts we had and uh sometimes people get a little a little disgusted about our World War II veterans cause when they came home they were greeted in New York or San Francisco and their names all got to meet them there and of course you know what happened in Korea. They were coming in and it was like nothing like it was not fair what they did to them. So not all of them, some of them… maybe it was because we won the war… that we didn’t go out there um to start a war, they started the war by bombing Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona we lost over 1000 sailors right there, they are on their ship right there, so that’s why I am very concerned about our veterans, and that’s why… as matter effect there is a guy that was killed in 1943, no body cleans that, maybe there’s nobody left of the family, so I clean it, I like to do that because I rather appreciate it. Anymore questions are you finished?
Jesse: Its alright take your time.
Julie: What is a big problem that it faces, is there like threats of like houses being built over some of the older parts of the cemetery?
Jesse: Some what?
Julie: Like houses, is there like a threat that’s facing… that the San Felipe cemetery’s facing?
Jesse: Um, like … what?
Julie: Like housing over some of the older parts maybe that don’t really have gravestones?
Jesse: Uh, I don’t really get you there? I’m sorry the question was again what?
Julie: Like is there like a threat that’s facing the... the cemetery?
Jesse: No, no, no, no, no threat at all. Um as a matter of fact up there in the cemetery as a matter of fact this morning I talked to an immigration officer and they make their rounds there all the time. Of course this is close to the Rio Grande, the San Felipe cemetery, a lot of people sneak from Mexico and they come and pick them up in San Felipe cemetery. In fact I’ve seen that where immigration officers and uh, the uh deputy for sheriff Jernigan where my son works at, and the cops they patrol the area good, try to keep out drugs, to keep the (in audible) we are very concerned about drugs that are very common now a days here and we are so close to Rio Grande that they are crossing… so. But anyway I mean the cops there are doing a good job, and the deputies and immigration officers keep our cemetery from uh (inaudible)
Julie: Vandalism is not really a major problem?
Jesse: No, not exactly I can’t really uh, well uh here’s what I have to say it was right around when that they stole some... some statues of a Jesus Christ, you know, with his hands like this. Somebody was doing business with those things cause I .. a friend of mine came and told me that they had found a uh, a statue up near the flag pole so I went up there and uh, that’s uh, a statue of… that belongs to the Aguirre family from Del Rio from in San Felipe. They were supposed to steal that and there and I guess the cops passed through there and they left it there and so I brought it over to my house and I went checked it out with a company here in Del Rio, and they told me it must cost about $800 dollars, $900 dollars so I mean somebody was making a… So I mean uh, I guess that’s… nothing more than vandalism cause it was still to make money.
Julie: Um, I understand that the culture, they’re big about celebrating their ancestors and they’re proud of where they came from and respectful cause they have like celebrations like the day of the dead and all that, um do u still see the same respect in today’s society compared to how…
Jesse: Well uh, like right now the only uh, when people get to together like on Mothers day, they go out and put flowers to their loved ones grave.
(Mrs. Cardenas: I think she’s referring to Dia de los Muertos)
Jesse: Oh yes, on the uh Dia los… the day uh, all souls day it’s uh, on November the second, we have mass. I one… was the one that started that you know. After the priest and… we’ve had it there for three years, we have mass there, we have a complete mass there where the flag pole is at and um, every year November the second we have mass there and it was uh, people from the church Dia de los Muertos singing in the mass, you know its like a regular mass we have it up here in the cemetery, we do that every November second we call it Dia de los Muertos, its uh, all souls day. But uh, mass is great, we got people there, our loved ones are buried there so…
Julie: Um, are there kinds of like rumors or legends or superstitions that surround the cemetery? Cause I know La Loma has like a few.
Julie: Like rumors or legends, is their any that surround the cemetery? Cause I know La Loma has like the Aztecs like supposedly hiding the gold and stuff… is there any for this one?
Jesse: No, rumors or anything. But um, everybody has a respect for our cemeteries especially mine that all my family is buried there, a lot of my aunts are buried there I think that’s why I put a lot of hours there plus when I used to have volunteers that had… some of them passed away already and others are too old to help out, but we used to have uh, maybe its about 12 volunteers and I’m proud of the Mormons that had helped me all the time… the latter saints what’s the name of that church?
Julie: the church of latter day saints…
Jesse: I was surprised with that one there cause I saw wives and husbands and young boys and girls helping out. That’s the first I have seen that. They came to help us out in the San Felipe... in La Loma de la Cruz.
Julie: Um, the rest of the questions are pretty much about how you associate with the cemetery, like, what made you interested in actually starting to take care of it?
Jesse: Well, the beginning it starts… my sister, a well known teacher here in Del Rio, when is uh, she’s still alive in San Antonio but she has Alzheimer disease, she’s 97 right now, she’s my only one that I have left. And uh, somebody told her specific, if she would mind taking care the cemetery or not. So my sister took it on, she was… she was a go getter my sister, and they used to have up there a lot of help and they had a day when they would have day where everyone would a lot of help out there and then she was at work, early fifties they got a road and uh, they got a loan… the association got a loan and they put new pipes and we hadn’t had any problems with those pipes, that was in 1950 something till now that’s many years. And there was metal pipes so my sister, Mrs. Cardwell, she had told me when she was still in good shape that she had wanted to uh, put new pipes, PVC pipes or something and I did what she told me to (in audible), as a matter of fact I’m proud of my sister they named uh, a school they named after her Irene Cardwell school.
Julie: How long have you been doing this?
Jesse: Well I’m gonna tell you, off and on now, I’m still working now. I worked 32 years civil service at the base, and uh, so it in the sixties my sister needed some help with this project, so I began to get some help from Laughlin but the thing was once in a while, and then I got involved when I retired about 23 years ago is when I started working there in the cemetery. And uh, I’m proud I don’t know how he did it, one of my volunteers, Ramiro Barreras, he went to a better place. And up to date I don’t what kind of strings he pulled but he got a light up there right close to the American flag. Cause the American flag, if it flies at night it’s supposed to have a light on it. And every time the sun goes down and it gets dark that light comes on and it shines right on it and I’m real proud of him, I’m real proud of it. I don’t know how he did it I never asked him, “Hey what kind of strings you pulled?” Right? But I’m proud of that flag there. Cause it’s the flag and the American flag is supposed to have a light at night all the time.
Julie: Um, do you know who plans to carry… to continue carrying on this job like after you retire?
Jesse: Well I have had many ask me that question. It is just like the same question I have asked. I organize uh, San Felipe military honors guard, since way back to uh in ’92 we have been presenting colors here. Some of my friends here they have gone already to a better place, and I organize that uh, this group here because I have had many military honors. We started about 23... 22 members we started in 1980s and ( in audible ) 1979 and I’m very proud of that. They ask me the same question, they ask me, “How long are you gonna stay there in the Honor guard? How long are you gonna stay in San Felipe?” and I answer, “When the old man tells me to stop is when I’m gonna stop.” That’s a good question to ask me, when I’m gonna stop? Cause I answer, “When the old man up stairs”… I shouldn’t call him old man. But um when he tells me to stop, he’ll put the breaks on me and I’ll stop. But so far I give special thanks to God cause he has given me good health and I say that because I stay very active is what keeps me strong. Like in this parade we had a great Saturday. And uh we marched it got real hot, and I’m proud of doing that too and all that we do that Memorial Day, and Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day and we get a combine color guard from Laughlin AFB on those special days.
Julie: I think that has ended our interview um I appreciate your time…
Jesse: Now let me uh show you a… its time to brag a little bit….