Volunteers find unmarked graves in Texico cemetery

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Long-time friends Marcia Leavell, left, and Margie Crooks became involved with Texico’s cemetery after attending Crooks’ father-in-law’s funeral and being embarrassed by the tall weeds that covered the headstones.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Marcia Leavell and longtime friend Margie Crooks attended Crooks’ father-in-law’s funeral at the Texico cemetery in 2002. They were astonished by the tall weeds that towered over the tombstones and the general condition of the more than 100-year-old cemetery.

So they did something about it.

“My husband came out with his own weed-eater and cleared a path so the people at the funeral could walk to the grave,” Crooks said. “And instead of complaining, we asked, ‘What can we do to help?’”

They learned the Texico Cemetery Association, which for years managed the city-owned cemetery, had long been long deactivated due to a lack of funding. Crooks and Leavell volunteered to revive the association.

The volunteer group took over coordinating the maintenance of the cemetery, which is paid for with annual plot dues.

Crooks and Leavell also worked to compile a master list of the nearly 1,000 graves in the cemetery because city and cemetery association records were spotty. The women completed their initial list by visiting the cemetery to record information from headstones. They also located 33 unmarked graves by using metal rods to probe the ground.

But even that didn’t satisfy them. They figured, by the way the graves were spaced, there were still more to be found. So they enlisted the help of a dowser, Shirley Cater of Elida. Cater combs the ground with a copper rod in each hand, and when they cross, it indicates a grave site, she said.

Cater located an additional 30 graves, Crooks said.

“I can’t explain how it works, it just does,” said Cater of her ability to identify where buried bodies, as well as ashes, lay.

Association members were amazed at Cater’s success.

“If you are skeptical, you need to see her do this. It really does work,” Crooks said.

To date, Crooks and Leavell have identified two of the 63 unmarked graves.

“I think they should be recognized,” Crooks said of the unmarked graves. “They are people. Genealogy is so important.”

Texico is one of 12 cemeteries listed in the Curry County Historical Society’s Eastern New Mexico High Plains history.