All posts by thompsonsm


Day 2: Back At It

Our second day started as normal: waking up, eating breakfast at the hotel, and meeting Arianna at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Since we spent most of yesterday attending to water stations, we have gotten into a groove. My main role has been the note taker. At every station, I note which station we are at, how many good gallons of water were left, how many spoiled gallons were found, and how many we leave behind. We also note any evidence of human activity (trash, footprints, etc) or any repairs we perform.

Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.
Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.

At one point, we were about to head to a station on a path our rental van couldn’t reach. Dr. Latham parked the van on the side of the road and we all squeezed into the truck. We made the water drop fairly quickly, and started back. When we were almost back, we saw a Texas Highway Patrol car pulled up behind our van. Dr. Latham and Arianna got out of the truck to figure out what was happening. Apparently they had watched us all get into the truck and drive off, and waiting to see what we had in our van. They saw our water and cooler and thought we were partaking in either a pick-up or drop-off migrants. They ran our plates and even took Dr. Latham’s information. Thankfully, they believed us when we said we were simply filling water stations, and sent us on our way.

We finished the last of one of the routes we started yesterday, and headed back to the center. There, we met a group of engineering students from Trinity University who have been working to design new water stations for the center. These stations are solar powered and transmit a satellite signal of the weight of the barrel, so that they are able to tell how many gallons of water are in each station without someone having to drive all the way out to the station. They also have a drawer for first aid supplies and the ability to charge cell phones. They are still working out the kinks in the systems, but they currently have two prototypes on a route that they are field testing in a place they can get to often and easily.

Prototype water station.
Prototype water station.

While we were at the center, a familiy member of a missing person, Byron, came to join us. He has a cousin who went missing in Falfurrias, so he often comes to town from out of state to search, get updates,  and to help however he can. He went out with everyone after a quick lunch to the route where the field prototypes are. While the Trinity students tried to fix the glitches in their programming, the rest of us ran the route they were on and filled more water stations. At our last station, we were met by the ranch manager. He is familiar with both Arianna and our team, he stopped to chat and said he would fumigate near a specific station because there was a family of scorpions living there.

We finished the route, and the engineers fixed their programming issues, and we headed back to the center. Our role then was to be the trainees on how to build the new stations. Selina of the STHRC was filming, and the students taught Arianna and ourselves how to put one of the new stations together. This way, when there are different volunteers, Arianna can be sure to assemble them correctly. There are a lot of wires and different parts involved, so it’s more complicated than the normal ones. The hardest part was raising the flag pole: they are heavy, tall, and if any wires get pinched the whole station won’t work. Thankfully, we built two without problem!

After we were finished, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We drove to La Mota, where Peggy and Bill Clark live. Getting to visit them is my favorite part of our trips here. I’m not sure why, but something about their home is so inviting and warm that it makes it seem like you are just down the street from your own home, not hundreds of miles away.

Before dinner, we all sat and talked a little. Bill told us stories of when he was a big game hunter and how he has many skulls from his excursions. We sat down to dinner, and Peggy prayed over us and the food. While I am not religious, the genuine emotion of her prayer was moving. We then ate a wonderful dinner of brisket, rice, salad (with Peggy’s homemade dressing), grapefruit and avocado, and bread. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal after eating out for every meal since we’ve been here.

Our meal at La Mota.
Our meal at La Mota.

We cleaned up the plates, and had some ice cream for dessert. We left after a while, making sure we had enough time to debrief at the hotel and get things set for another early day tomorrow.

Day 2
Day 2





It’s almost impossible for me to believe that we left Falfurrias 113 days ago (as I write this).

The past 113 days have been filled to the brim with classes, assistantships, conferences, case work, regular work, and more. With everything that has been going on, I’ve barely had time to eat, let alone process our January trip.

And with the whirlwind that has been these past 113 days, I definitely haven’t been able to fully prepare for our trip next week.

In January, we spent a majority of our time at Sacred Heart Cemetery.

Sacred Heart
Entrance to Sacred Heart

While the work there was exhausting both physically and mentally, it also represented a safe space. We knew where we were. We had phone signal, a water cooler, and a bathroom.  This trip is going to be really different. Instead of focusing on forensic archaeology, we will be focusing on search and recoveries at local ranches (like we did for a short time on day 7) and filling water stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center (like we did on day 9).

Angela and I repairing a water station
Angela and I repairing a water station

While our January trip gave us a glimpse of what is to come next week, I don’t think I am fully prepared for what lies ahead. While Dr. Latham and Angela have talked to our team about the hardships we will face during this trip, there is no way to truly prepare. There is no way to prepare for the climate (political or the environment), the sporadic nature of our trips, and the physical work involved.

Though I have been in the sociopolitical climate of Falfurrias before, every day requires navigation through multiple entities, all of which are holding different views of the migrant crisis. Even here in Indiana, it is often apparent that some feel negatively about the topic of immigration. I have to continually remind myself that we are doing this to be advocates for the decedents, not to take any particular political stance, and this is what keep me motivated.

I have a hard time not having a set plan. This is something that challenged me in January, and I am sure will challenge me even more this trip. We are forced to adapt to whatever is happening that day, and what those who are on the ground every day need from us. Learning to go with the flow is hard, especially as a type A personality. But understanding that the work being done is more important than how we feel as individuals makes it much easier.

The environment and the physical work involved is going to be the hardest part of this trip by far. We are going in May, which is much different (i.e. hotter) than going in January. Again, we will be searching for part of the trip, and while this may seem easier than digging, I know it’s going to be much, much more exhausting.

The nine days we spent in Texas in January were some of the hardest of my life, I cannot wait to go back and do it all over again.


South Texas Human Rights Center

Three Days

“I heard one of these lectures about an experiment where they give guys a pair of glasses that make them see the whole world upside down. But after three days, guess what? They see everything right side up. And then they take off their glasses, and they see everything upside down again. For three days. And then, eureka! Back to normal. Yes, it takes the brain three days to adapt.” — Bones, “The Doctor in the Photo”

Being in Falfurrias is like seeing upside down. After the third day, the work became our new normal. Our work at Sacred Heart consumed our thoughts, and everything we did was based in a humanitarian effort. We had purpose, a goal, and a plan to reach said goal.

We got used to seeing the same people every day. Deputy White, Dr. Spradley and her team, Eddie Canales. We ate the same lunch, cheers-ed the same drinks. We blogged and mapped and filled out photo logs. Day in and day out we worked towards our goal.

Angela, Arianna, and I raising a new flag at a water station
Angela, Arianna, and I raising a new flag at a water station

Then, we left. Our work ended abruptly. We packed, drove out of Falfurrias and flew home. We took the glasses off and the world flipped upside down again.

I slept all day on Sunday, filled to the brim with cold and flu medicine. I wasn’t able to fully process being home. Sleeping in my own bed, wearing clothes that weren’t field clothes, watching TV, etc.

Then, I woke up on Monday and dug out my heavy winter coat. I swept the six inches of snow off of my car, and drove to school. I had no real purpose, goal, or plan. I didn’t even have a notebook.

Everything I am doing is to make myself a better anthropologist, a better scientist, so that when I am able to return to the field, I will do better work than the time before. However, not being in the field, being active in my efforts seems like a waste.

It’s almost 48 hours into the 72 it should take me to readjust, but I have a feeling my right side up will continue to be in Falfurrias.

I want to use this space to express my gratitude.

Thank you to my team. Thank you for your support and for making this one of the best experiences of my life.

Thank you, Dr. Latham, for giving me this opportunity and being an amazing force of change.

Thank you, Arden, for bringing both an incredible perspective and humor to this work.

Thank you, Sammi, for making all of the maps and being a digging machine.

Thank you, Angela, for being a great field mentor and bucket carrier, and for giving me all your carbs.

The team at La Mota
The team at La Mota

Thank you, Dr. Spradley and the people of Texas State, for allowing us to join you.

Thank you, Deputy Don White, for keeping us safe and always laughing.

Thank you, Sheriff Benny Martinez, for believing in our mission.

Thank you Eddie, Arianna, and Selina for doing humanitarian work daily and allowing us to join you for part of it.

Thank you, Sister Pam, for radiating pure love more than any person I’ve ever met.

Thank you, Dr. Bird, for your support for our work.

Thank you to the Clarks for allowing us into your beautiful home.

Lotería painting showing Falfurrias Butter at La Mota
Lotería painting showing Falfurrias Butter at La Mota

Thank you, Falfurrias. I’ll be back.