Cemetery culture lives

Historians document inhabitants ofarea’s ethnic burialgrounds

Larissa Espinosa, 3, walks past graves in La Boca Cemetery during a visit with her grandmother, Lucy Stewart. The site, which is accessed through La Boca Ranch, is being documented by the San Juan Mountains Association. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Larissa Espinosa, 3, walks past graves in La Boca Cemetery during a visit with her grandmother, Lucy Stewart. The site, which is accessed through La Boca Ranch, is being documented by the San Juan Mountains Association.

LA BOCA – The predominance of Hispanic surnames on headstones in the cemetery here bears witness to the ethnic makeup of the community when it was a busy agricultural center and a stop on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

Today, the cemetery is one of four in La Plata and Montezuma counties identified with specific minority groups that Ruth Lambert is documenting under a grant from the State Historical Fund.

Lambert, the cultural program director at the San Juan Mountains Association, is leading a group of trained volunteers.

The land for La Boca Cemetery, the southern edge of which marks the New Mexico/Colorado line, was donated by Nazario Aragón, an early-day farmer in south La Plata County.

Access to the cemetery today is through a ranch owned by Lester McCoy.

Lucy Stewart, who has been associated with the cemetery since childhood, walked the grounds recently with Lambert.

“I used to come here with my father and grandmother to keep up the grounds,” Stewart said. “No one else seemed interested.”

Stewart, who is employed by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, has strong ties with the cemetery.

Stewart’s parents, Victoriano and Maria Eloisa Trujillo, her grandparents, Donaciano and Avelina Trujillo, and her first husband, Donald Stewart, are buried there.

“My great-grandmother is here, too,” Stewart said. “I don’t remember her name because she died when I was young child.”

A number of the plots contain remains transferred when the Bureau of Reclamation built and flooded nearby Navajo Lake, she said.

“Many of the remains were in little more than a shoe box, some with bones, some not even that,” she said.

Stewart and McCoy, by default, have become caretakers. Their goal is to keep the grounds clean and maintain orderly burials.

“Burials have been haphazard – wherever someone wanted to dig a grave,” Stewart said. “I’ve come to inspect and clean up and found an unfamiliar grave,” Stewart said.

A lot of written information her father kept on the cemetery was lost when his house burned in January 1976, Stewart said.

Lambert hopes her documentation project can recover lost data and add to the history of the cemetery.

Another cemetery associated with Hispanics is located in Tiffany (not to be confused with the Tiffany-Allison Cemetery). The other minority cemeteries are Old Mormon Cemetery south of Mancos and Thompson Park Cemetery near Hesperus, where all but one of the deceased are German Lutheran.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has a cemetery in Ignacio.

A state cemetery registry shows 18 sites in La Plata County. There are undoubtedly more because early-day families frequently interred loved ones on their own land, Lambert said.

Ron Hyman, director of vital records at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said cemetery location and oversight tends to be handled at the local level.

Ryan Phelps, owner of Hood Mortuary, in Durango, said the only state requirement of private cemeteries is that they register their GPS location with their county so it’s available for title searches.

La Plata County, San Juan Basin Health Department, the city of Durango and subdivisions of 30 acres or more can have other requirements, he said.

Lambert said documenting a cemetery involves recording names and inscriptions on headstones, photographing the headstone’s position in relation to others; noting the condition of the stone and gathering biographical information on the deceased.

The four-cemetery project is similar but unrelated to cemetery-documentation workshops this month and in August involving the Animas City and Hermosa cemeteries.

Those workshops will have an orientation session and three days of field work.

Lambert also is interested in the documentation of the Rockwood Cemetery, where there are no surface markers. Documentation will start with what is found by remote-sensing devices that measure changes in soil density.

daler@durangoherald.com

Lucy Stewart and Lester McCoy talk about the status of the graves in La Boca Cemetery. At left is Stewart’s granddaughter Maya Espinosa, 5. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Lucy Stewart and Lester McCoy talk about the status of the graves in La Boca Cemetery. At left is Stewart’s granddaughter Maya Espinosa, 5.

Lucy Stewart with her granddaughters Maya, 5, and Larissa Espinosa, 3, visit La Boca Cemetery. “I used to come here with my father and grandmother to keep up the grounds,” Stewart said. “No one else seemed interested.” Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Lucy Stewart with her granddaughters Maya, 5, and Larissa Espinosa, 3, visit La Boca Cemetery. “I used to come here with my father and grandmother to keep up the grounds,” Stewart said. “No one else seemed interested.”

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