Day 5: Digging and Don

Team members removing dirt from a burial
Jordan and I excavating while Izzy and Kaitlyn look on

We woke up this morning sore from all of the work we did yesterday but ready to get back to it. We ate breakfast at the hotel, where Izzy had an awesome Texas-shaped waffle. After loading all of our gear, we hopped into Monica (who is not smelling too great after our long work days in the heat) and headed off to the cemetery.

We began working on the burial we had started to expose at the end of the day yesterday. This involved more use of the mattock to bring down a wall and removing larger chunks of dirt as we went. Somehow, Izzy and Jordan managed to hit rocks with the mattock hard enough that there were sparks flying. The weather was pretty cool in the morning, so we got to take longer turns, and the wall came down pretty quickly. Deputy Don White was standing by to provide his (sassy) advice and expertise and answer all of my random questions about his life while helping dump our buckets of dirt. Our team has really found our groove, and we worked very quickly and efficiently. Both Texas State and our team were able to remove individuals before lunch.

Our lunch break was extended for an extremely important visitor to the site. A family member of one of the identified individuals who had been removed on Texas State’s previous excavation in November 2022 came to see where their loved one had been laid to rest. It was an emotional time for everyone. I know nothing can bring their loved one back, but I hope they were able to find what they were searching for from their visit. For me, seeing their reaction helped reinforce how important the work we are doing here is. These are real people and real families that have experienced great tragedy. I wish the work we are doing wasn’t needed and that these families were still whole, but, hopefully, we can help them find at least a little bit of closure.

The backhoe working at the cemetery

When their visit was over, it was time for the backhoe to fill in the excavated graves and remove several feet of dirt from our next areas, so we didn’t have to spend hours manually digging through the rock-hard, sun-bleached top layer of dirt. When they were done, our team jumped in and got to work excavating the next burial. By this time, it was pretty hot and sunny, so we started up our timer and worked for 3-4 minutes in teams of two before switching. At least, we were only supposed to work for 3-4 minutes, but we always managed to finagle an extra minute or two because we didn’t want to stop.

Team members mapping at the cemetery
Mapping in our points

We finished up for the day, took some quick showers, and went out for a delicious dinner at Yopo’s. I’m sad that tomorrow will be our last day working in Eagle Pass, but we have done a lot this week to be proud of. Our team has really learned to work well together. We check in on each other consistently to make sure everyone is taking breaks when needed and drinking enough water. This week has allowed us to learn valuable skills as well as grow closer as a team. We’ve come to expect the unexpected and be flexible, and the experiences we’ve had and the memories we’ve made are ones I will carry with me.

Selfie of team members taken on Dr. Latham's unattended phone
A surprise photo left on Dr. Latham’s (unattended) phone
Team members on day 5

~ Olivia