Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"The threat has sent the historians and archaeologists scurrying."

Superhighway poses threat to area history

Destruction of graves, prehistoric camps for corridor concern historians

February 26, 2008

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2008

It’s the kind of thing that has inspired science fiction horror movies.

Unmarked graves with the remains of Victoria County’s pioneers and prehistoric camps and burials dating back 9,500 years dot the countryside.

Throw in plans to build a Trans-Texas Corridor super highway through some of that same territory and you have the ingredients for a “Poltergeist”-type movie setting.

But in this case it’s not the terrified homeowners whose houses were built on top of the graves that are concerned. It’s the county’s historians and archaeologists who fear losing part of Victoria County’s history.

“It’s going to take years to excavate these sites,” said Bill Birmingham, an archaeology steward for the Texas Historical Commission. “The best thing would be to preserve them for future research.” The threat has sent the historians and archaeologists scurrying to locate and map as many of these sites as possible. That information will then be presented at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Linda Wolff with the Victoria County Historical Commission is mapping the cemeteries and Birmingham is mapping the archaeological sites that could be in the path of the Trans-Texas Corridor highway.

“All of the cemeteries I know of will be included in my written comments to the highway department and Trans-Texas Corridor officials,” Wolff said. “My concern is I can only protect the cemeteries I know about.”

Under Texas law a single burial in the middle of a pasture is considered a cemetery, Wolff said. It doesn’t matter if it’s noted on a deed or if there’s a marker. But because they may not be marked, Wolff may not be aware of them. She’s asking anyone with information on cemeteries in the county to contact her at 361-575-3689 or by e-mail at

“In the Mission Valley area in particular, I think there may be unmarked cemeteries along Diebel Road,” Wolff said. “But I’d like to hear from anyone that has one in the Mission Valley area.”

Birmingham said anyone with information on archaeological sites possibly in the path of the highway may contact him at 361-575-2170.

A prehistoric site on the McNeill Ranch near Nursery and the Mission Espiritu Santo Ranch between Victoria and Mission Valley are two major sites that could be in the highway’s path, Birmingham said.

“They just can’t do anything in that area without hitting sites,” he said. “I’m fairly concerned.”

John and Judy Clegg own Mission Espiritu Santo Ranch, which was named for the Spanish mission built there in 1726. It was once the largest cattle ranch in Texas when the Spanish ran it.

Clegg said he’s seen the plans for the highway.

“It takes pretty much the whole ranch,” he said. “But once they find out it’s a historic land, then they’re going to be looking to do something different.”

Besides the remnants of the mission, there are close to a dozen historic and prehistoric sites on the property, Clegg said. He’s concerned that the highway will be moved just enough to avoid those sites.

“I don’t want that,” Clegg said. “It’s a special site out there and people have been living out there for 8,000 years.”

Birmingham said erosion and looters have already taken their toll on the county’s sites. A new highway could be devastating, he said.

“It’s part of our history,” he said. “It’s part of our heritage.”

  • To report cemeteries that might be in the path of Trans-Texas Corridor/Interstate 69, contact Linda Wolff at 361-575-3689 or by e-mail at
  • Archaeological sites may be reported to Bill Birmingham at 361-575-2170.
  • To see a graphic/document:
  • Where the cemeteries are [PDF]

  • David Tewes is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6515 or

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