- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

LOVELL, Wyo. (AP) - It’s hard to imagine the overwhelming grief of Lovell-area parents who buried three babies in the 1950s.

But that’s what Celestino and Cysidra (Garcia) Vega endured. Their daughter Glora died on Oct. 13, 1950, at the age of 1 year and 1 month.

Another daughter, 1-month-old Virginia, died of pneumonia just 12 days afterward, on Oct. 25, 1950.

A son, 4-day-old Daniel Garcia, died on June 13, 1957.

Losing three babies would be hard enough. But imagine their added sadness when the Vegas could not bury their children in the local cemetery because they were of Mexican descent. Instead, the family had to bury the children in a barren lot devoid of groomed lawns or trees.

The Mexican Cemetery is located just northwest of the junction of Wyoming Highway 310 and U.S. 14-A, east of Byron.

Still without trees, the Mexican Cemetery, as it’s known, had been taken over by weeds and sagebrush that, until recently, obscured the few grave markers that remain. It made the cemetery appear to be an unkempt, empty lot.

According to Jesse Martinez of Lovell, the Mexican Cemetery was necessary because Mexicans were not allowed to bury their dead in the Lovell cemetery. His uncle, Frank Valesquez, bought 5 acres to provide a place for Mexicans to lay their loved ones to rest.

Martinez, 70, said that the cemetery now is in the name of his sister, Rose Cantrall, who lives in Colorado. He said he and his brothers used to take care of it as well as they could, but he’s the only one left. Sight and health problems prevent him from taking care of it as he would like to.

At least 41 Lovell-area residents of Mexican descent were buried there between 1936 and 1958. Today, only a fraction of those graves are marked, and nearly all are unidentifiable. Some markers have deteriorated; framed markers holding printed paper identifying the deceased have faded, making them unreadable. Many graves never were marked.

A small, charred wooden cross lies on the ground near a wire fence on the west edge of the property, apparently a victim of a near-by agricultural burn ignited in the past.

But, until Sept. 30, it couldn’t even be seen due to the overgrowth of sagebrush and weeds.

That’s the day the Northwest College Spanish Club decided to make a difference.

The club, led by Mary Ellen Ibarra-Robinson, gathered at the cemetery, armed with mowers, weed trimmers, shovels, rakes, a wheelbarrow and other tools. They mowed and raked weeds, picked up trash, dug up sagebrush and piled the limbs into a huge mound beside the wire fence.

Within a couple of hours, the group had made a big difference. Where weeds once dominated, grave markers and mementos now were visible.

Ibarra-Robinson said she was proud of the work the group did, and all that the students accomplished. Martinez said he appreciated the group’s work.

“They sure did a good job,” he said.

Another group of students, these from Lovell Middle School, also helped in spring 2012, he said. Among other things, that group built, painted and put up a sign for the cemetery.

But most of the time, the Mexican Cemetery goes unnoticed and unkempt, he said.

Ibarra-Robinson said people in this area “don’t really identify themselves as Hispanics,” since that term could refer to people any of a number of countries of origin. Most here are from Mexican descent and therefore identify with the Mexican culture, whether they were born in Mexico or not, she said.

Martinez said he doesn’t know who will mind the graveyard when he’s gone.

“One of my grandkids or my daughter will have to take care of it, I guess,” he said. “People who have family in it, they need to take an interest in it.”

Martinez said he knows of only two families remaining in Lovell who have relatives buried in the cemetery.

In the long run, he said, “We’d like to turn it over to the county so they could take care of it.”

“I’d like to see them clean it up and take care of it, plant some grass and stuff like that, so people would know it’s there. People didn’t know it was there for a long time,” he said.

But it’s a lot more complicated than just handing the property over to Big Horn County.

As he understands it, he would have to get permission from all the landowners in the area to add it to the cemetery district.

Currently, the property is just over the boundary for the Cowley Cemetery District, even though the people buried in it lived and died in or near Lovell.

“Supposedly, years ago, we were supposed to be in the (Big Horn) County cemetery district,” he said.

But, now, the county says it’s privately owned, and they won’t take care of it.

“There’s the Lutheran Cemetery over there, and that belongs to the county,” he said. “Why can’t this belong to the county?”

___

Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, https://www.powelltribune.com

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