All posts by campbellj

Day 2



Our second day in the field was charged with anticipation.  Everyone had a feel for the area and set-up tasks so we had a very smooth start.  Yesterday we cleared and prepared our work area in order to get a clearer picture of what we might encounter today.  This prep work allowed us to develop a plan for how to approach each individual quadrant.  With six groups (five from Baylor University as well as our UIndy crew), we started systematically excavating designated quadrants.

Our UIndy crew started the day by presenting some archeological techniques each group would be using throughout the next two weeks.  Afterwards, we split up to coach and help the undergraduate groups and to answer any questions that may arise as they started digging.  It was a great experience because we gained field teaching experience and also built positive relationships with the other students, which encouraged them to come to us with questions as they progressed through the day.

When we regrouped in our own assigned quadrant, we naturally fell into our routines and were able to work very efficiently.  It was hotter today, with no clouds or breeze to offer a little relief.  We had to take more breaks and make sure everyone was drinking enough water and Gatorade to replenish all the fluids we inadvertently lost.  The mosquitoes are also pretty aggressive this year, so we are going through large quantities of sunscreen and bug repellant.

Two members of the Border Brotherhood also stopped by today interested in learning what all we were doing and how they might approach future recoveries when we are not in Falfurrias.  The nine Brotherhood members are serving as volunteer deputies for the Sheriff in Brooks County, serving the county for absolutely no compensation.  They see the need in Brooks County and seek to help in any way they can.  Sergeant Daniel Walden said their mission is to save lives and get government attention focused on the crisis in Brooks County.  Walden is currently Chief of Police at Donna ISD Police Department, is an EMT and an expert in human trafficking.  While their main goal is to rescue and aid the living, they also help recover the dead from the vast private ranch land surrounding Falfurrias in Brooks County. The deputies supply their own equipment and protective gear, and serve long hours in their free time (time not working in a different paid job).  Their visit at the cemetery today was an effort to improve their knowledge of recovery techniques so that they can incorporate them in their own recoveries if ever needed.  Learn more about their efforts here:

We are always happy to provide any information that can help prevent or address migrant deaths.  It is part of our mission, not just to be a reactive service, but to provide better information, resources, and alternative systems to help bring awareness and accountability that will prevent the need for our return to Falfurrias.  As much as we love the town and community (we love them a lot), the human crisis that brought us here in the first place can be prevented by establishing an infrastructure specific to identifying and repatriating the unidentified migrants in Brooks County.




Trying to Understand

Since last year’s excavation in Falfurrias, we have strived to learn more about the migrants that cross the South Texas border.  I would say, personally, my knowledge regarding our borders has been very basic.  I am a Midwesterner, which generally means that issues such as these are far enough removed that we have facts and news, but we are not personally touched by it.

Drive to the  Lasater Ranch
Drive to the
Lasater Ranch

Let me explain a bit what I mean by that.  I remember visiting the Lasater Ranch last year, and being told by the ranchers that they would see a procession of several people walking across their land on a regular basis, close enough to be seen clearly from the house.  Reactions to this vary.  Some landowners set out water in an attempt to prevent deaths of these migrants who are so ill prepared to cross this very dangerous land.  Ranchers know their land is so expansive it can’t feasibly be monitored completely to prohibit entrance, so prevention is the next step.

The US Border Patrol does the same thing.  A lot of people misinterpret the mission of the border patrol, preferring to hold them accountable for stopping migrants at the border, and if that fails, for finding, detaining, and deporting any person without official documentation.  This is true, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that the US Border Patrol is concerned about preventing deaths and saving lives as well.  This fact didn’t really sink in for me until we were invited last year to attend a community meeting hosted by at the Falfurrias USBP station.  The first presentation started “We were able to save XX people this week…,” which was followed by a cheer.  Success in the mission is measured in lives saved.  They then went on to discuss strategies for saving lives that included various water stations with emergency phones for those in dire need, complete with instructions in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Recently we returned from a professional meeting in NV, where we had a discussion with Robin Reineke of the Colibri Center for Human Rights.  One topic we discussed was whether the term migrant was an appropriate designation for the people crossing our southern borders.  It was proposed that refugee might be more appropriate.  The reason behind this was clarified further by Dr. Wendy Vogt of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in a guest presentation we hosted last year at UIndy.  Dr. Vogt is a cultural anthropologist that researches the journey migrants undertake to get to US border.  She also helped to illuminate why people would risk their lives and the lives of their children to reach the US.  People leave their homes, maybe starting in South America, and risk a perilous journey across Mexico.  A lot of the migrants climb to the top of a train they deem “The Beast.”  No tickets, no chairs, no seatbelts.  And what was most shocking was that it was a regular occurrence to fall from the train and lose limbs, if not their lives.

The people she interviewed at various stages of their journeys told her their stories.  I recall one of a young man and woman fleeing their country because he was given a choice to join the local gang or be shot.  There was also a mother that was fleeing with only one of her many children, who could have been no more than 10 years old.  The mother had fallen from the train and was in a wheelchair, stranded and unable to walk again without prosthetics.

A lot of migrants come from communities where shootings and randomized violence is a daily occurrence, and their lifespan and that of their children would be greatly improved anywhere outside of their country.  These countries are the ones that our US Department of State issues travel advisories that strongly advise against visiting.  We have an option of the level of danger we wish to face, many migrants do not.  It is very difficult for me to conceptualize this, having never been faced with a lifestyle or environment in which it would be healthier to flee than stay.  The people we hope to identify in Falfurrias have gone through so much, yet they still have a long journey to get home to their families.  With a lot of hard work and even more collaboration, we can hopefully supply some answers and closure to the many families missing loved ones.



Everything is Bigger in Texas

We have two native Texans in our group.  To the 49 other states that comprise the United States of America, this doesn’t mean much.  However, as a Wisconsinite who has traveled actually quite a bit, and an anthropologist, this phenomenon in Texas is absolutely worth a brief post.  Bear with me, this is my first foray into ethnographic writing.

  •  Ethnography: a research method designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.  Data collection methods are meant to capture the “social meanings and ordinary activities” of people (informants) in “naturally occurring settings” that are commonly referred to as “the field.”   (Definition courtesy of Wikipedia)


Ryan and Dr. Latham in their
natural habitat.

I woke up this afternoon in a different country.  It wasn’t intentional, and it was only half expected.  I was in Texas.

Since I had soundly slept on each airplane since we first boarded in Indianapolis, including the layover in Dallas, I had missed the gradual transition from flip flops and baseball hats to cowboy boots and Stetsons.  I shouldn’t have.  One of our Texans (Ryan) wore his pointy, heel-clicking kickers on the plane.  Our other native Dr. Latham didn’t.   Truly, before this trip, I would have considered her a domesticated Texan.  Domesticated Texans are those that blend in outside of Texas, almost like normal people.

Delicious kolaches (photo from last summer)

The excitement of preparing and returning to Falfurrias had overshadowed the impending cultural shock.  Texas requires an acclimation period of all irregular visitors.  Everything really is bigger in Texas.  Last year, we flew into Dallas and drive almost twelve hours to get to Falfurrias.  Who knew Texas was so vast?  At the sacrifice of the delicious Czech kolaches from West, Texas, this year we flew into San Antonio which is a short two-or-so hour jaunt to Falfurrias.

Our native Texans started our first day almost normally.  It was difficult to believe we were in a different country.  We stopped for lunch and were introduced to two of many things Texas does exceptionally well: beef and tacos.  It appears the natives are exceptionally fond of tacos.  (I will research this more: Are all Texans fueled by tacos?)  Non-native Erica also appeared to immensely appreciate the tacos.  It was a great meal with a feisty server who managed to convince native Dr. Latham her school-issued credit card was no good (he lied!)  But, hey, go big or go home in Texas.

The Alamo

The bulwark of resistance, the Alamo, was our next stop.  Native Ryan insisted on blending in with the tourists and awkwardly photographing our group in various poses.  Was this an ingrained desire to make tourists feel more welcome in Texas?  Or some other motivator I have yet to decipher?  This seems normal behavior for him, and native Dr. Latham as well.  After further observation, maybe Texans are naturally inclined to excessively photo-document.  The same phenomena occurred along the scenic San Antonio Riverwalk.

Though only at the beginning of this ethnographic study, I have been told to watch for several classic Texan sightings including big, big hair, the taller the better for women, and gleaming belt buckles for both sexes.  These are probable status symbols in this culture.  Also a propensity for dancing, either in something called a “Texas two-step” (how is it called a dance with only two steps?) or with many people standing in a line together (line-dancing, I think they call it).   Overall, this trip is already gearing up to be a very promising cultural experience in this country called Texas.

Texas size cats

Jessica Campbell


Disclaimer:  At last census, Texas is still a member of our great nation, the United States of America.  I always enjoy all time spent in Texas.