Heritage, Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 1989 Page: 25
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Vandalism Destroys Past
A young boy at the impressionable age
of eight or nine shovels with practiced ease,
working with his father. They are robbing
a prehistoric grave.
Excited by the pots being uncovered,
relic collectors destroy a centuries-old
cemetery where prehistoric Indian villagers
buried their dead. The remains of the
village have already been bulldozed into
meaningless heaps of earth in the determined
search for "good stuff," the burials.
Ancient paintings, recounting the
myths of long-vanished Indians, are spraypainted
over with initials and obscenities.
The graffiti are the calling card of a collector
who came looking for something valuable
to carry away and found only priceless
art on the walls of a rock shelter. Other
relic hunters pursue more recent prey, digging
where a Civil War soldier lies buried,
looking for a handful of silver buttons.
Bronze monuments marking important
places from our honored past are ripped
away or stand scarred by rifle bullets.
Are these scenes from a novel about the
breakdown of society's values? Are these
emotional scare stories made up by a selfinterested
archaeologist who just wants to
save the sites for himself? Or are these
actual scenes from everyday life in Texas?
All of these are real stories, and we hear
them recounted and visit the sites where
they happen week after week, year after
year. And these are only the stories that
disturb us most, that stir our deepest feelings
about the sacredness of final resting
places and respect for the religious practices
and beliefs of all peoples.
Other stories are casual, commonplace
daily occurrences of the disturbance of
burials of a different kind. All we will ever
know about thousands of years of the Texas
past lies on and beneath the ground, in
places called archaeological sites. The history
the sites will reveal has not yet been
written in any book, is not yet known to
any living person.
The thieves of this buried past strike by
night and by day, and the activities of these
casual collectors and commercial relic
hunters take place with the unspoken and
indifferent consent of their fellow Texans.
The laws that protect a few sites-those on
Shumla style petroglyphs along an ancient trail in
Alamo Canyon, near el Paso.
public lands-are openly ignored. Lack of
understanding of the damage done, indifference
and greed all play their part in the
destruction of thousands of archaeological
and historic sites in Texas every year.
What can we do about the desecration
of burials and the loss of irreplaceable information
about the past? There are not
enough law enforcement officers in Texas,
big as it is, to solve the problem statewide.
There are not, and never will be, enough
preservationists, archaeologists or historians
to solve the problem in even one region
of the state. More laws can be writtenand
are needed-but only the consent of
all Texans to abide by and enforce those
laws can make the laws work.
There is only one solution to the problem
of the careless destruction of our heritage.
Each of us, native Texan and naturalized
Texan alike, must care.
Each of us must show respect for human
burial sites, regardless of whether those
sites are isolated, unmarked burials or recognized
cemeteries-and regardless of
whose remains lie buried there. Each of us
must be convinced that knowledge about
the human past has a greater value than the
price of a pot sold at an auction or a framed
collection of arrow points hanging on a
collector's wall. Each of us must act on
these convictions in whatever ways are
appropriate, meaningful or possible for us.
When we do this, the vandalism will
stop. The heritage of Texas will then be
honored as all Texans daily proclaim it is.
Or else the vandalism will be stopped in
another way- there simply will be no
more sites left to destroy.
A message from the Texas Historical Commission.
For more information contact them
atP.O.Box 12276,Austin,TX78711. (512)
Let Us Give Thanks
The first annual "First Thanksgiving"
celebrated in El Paso, Texas on April 2830,
1989 was a rousing success. Its purpose
was not to replace the Thanksgiving celebrated
by the Pilgrims in 1621, but to
emphasize events of Texas history and the
In April of 1598, 23 years before the Pilgrims,
Don Juan de Ofnate led a group of
soldiers and settlers from Mexico to New
Mexico, reaching the Rio Grande after a
long trek through the Chihuahua desert.
Arriving at the river near present-day El
Paso, it is chronicled that they celebrated a
"Mass of Thanksgiving." They rested on
the river for a week, wrote Gaspar Perez de
Villagra, a member of the party. "All sat
down to a repast of duck, geese and fish the
likes of which we had never enjoyed before.
We were very happy that our trials were
over." Don Juan de Ofiate then formally
took possession of the land for King Phillip
II of Spain.
The Mission Trail Association of El
Paso hosted the celebration. Their overall
goal is the restoration of the missions at
San Elizario, Socorro, and Ysleta, three of
the oldest in the Southwest, as well as the
jail at San Elizario. The Texas Historical
Foundation chose the Mission Trails project
as one of its own in July 1988. The
Foundation, through the efforts of Jesse
DeWare IV and Michael Weil, introduced
President Sheldon Hall of the El Paso
Mission Trail Association and the J.C.
Penney Company. Through its Lone Star
Lifestyles campaign, Penney's commissioned
Jose Cisneros of El Paso to paint a
picture fitting of the First Thanksgiving.
Proceeds from reprints will accrue to the El
Paso Mission Trail Association.
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1989 25
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 1989, periodical, Summer 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45431/m1/25/: accessed March 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.