I recently received an exciting letter from rancher Juanita Wallis at Quay.
“I received a phone call from Bud Hefley on a ranch west of Tucumcari,” she wrote. “He was on Cloud 9. He heard of a woman in Texas who could witch for ( sense) unmarked graves.”
A person who can “witch” for something is a person who can sense it without seeing it.
“You guessed it!” Juanita continued. “Bud tried witching for unmarked graves in the old Hanley Cemetery. He found many unmarked graves.”
Bud Hefley heard about Marjorie Lee Burnett’s mysterious talent on the “Texas Country Reporter” TV show.
On Feb. 3, I called the lady who could witch for graves. She lives near San Antonio. The first thing I asked her was how she learned to witch for graves.
“I don’t witch, I dowse,” she said. “Too many people think there’s something weird — witchy — about it. Some have even said it’s demonic, that word witching. I rather think it’s the Lord helping me, rather than a demon.
“One time I read an article in a magazine about a woman who could dowse for graves. The article I read didn’t use the word witch, either. It was dowse. Some people can dowse and some can’t, the article said. At that time I was working for the Gonzales Inquirer newspaper and I was writing a column called “Sidelines” that covered a multitude of stories. That was about 10 years ago.
“I was curious. I asked funeral home director Jim Conally at Seydler-Hill Funeral Home about dowsing for graves and he surprised me by showing me how. A few years later, an old African-American man told me he could dowse for graves and could determine if that person in the grave was a man or a woman. I learned that I could do that too!”
I asked Marjorie, 69, for her secret. Was it magnetism or what?
“I don’t know, but I do think the rods I use react to where the ground has been disturbed,” she said. “But why a rod reacts to male and female is totally unexplainable.”
I asked her how she made her dowsing rods.
“A welder made two sets of dowsing rods for me,” she said. “He takes a braising rod (brass) 33 inches long, bends a 90-degree angle in the first three inches and uses the whole rod, with the long piece 30 inches long.
“I hold in each hand one of the rods. The two rods with the long end of the rods are pointing out in front of me. The rods open out when I find a hidden grave. No, the rods do not bend down toward the ground.
“In searching to find if the person in a grave is man or woman I use one rod at a time to learn if it’s a man or a woman in the grave. If it’s a man, my rod goes left; if it’s a woman, my rod goes right. My brother cannot believe it!”
Marjorie said she gets a lot of calls about dowsing for graves.
“One woman wanted to know which side of a grave was that of her grandmother. I made a 218-mile trip to Pharr, Texas, and found which grave was her grandmother’s. I don’t get paid for this, but if I go a long ways to find someone’s unmarked grave in a cemetery they usually pay me for my gas.”
I asked her if anybody ever opened a grave to prove or disprove her.
“No, they haven’t,” she said. “Since the rods work the same way with a person standing in front of me, I have no doubts about them at all. I do feel that being able to use the dowsing rods is a gift. And no, I don’t use my gift looking for water or buried treasure.”
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: