All posts by maiersj

Looking down a dirt road with blue skies and green grass and trees.

The Denouement

This field season in Texas will be my last adventure as a UINDY graduate student.  I have had the honor of working on this project since the beginning, but I will be graduating in May and (hopefully) moving onto a PhD program.  It is impossible to explain how much this project has meant to me, and I am not eloquent, but I can try to distill some of the feelings into a handful of words.

Gratitude  –  I feel privileged to have been selected for this project.  Each field season only allows a few of us Greyhounds the chance to travel to Texas, so I feel honored to have played my part for so long.  I believe that I have represented our University in our motto of “Education for Service”.  I am grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met, the knowledge I’ve gained, and the person I’ve become because of this work.

Pride  –  I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done by EVERYONE involved in this project.  What we have collectively done so far is amazing.  The primary purpose of this work is the identification and repatriation of unidentified border crossers.  Collectively, we have identified ~20 individuals, and we are still in the processes of identifying well over 100 more.  I look forward to every future identification that our efforts will bring.

Community  –  This has been one of the most unexpected outcomes of this project.  I never imagined that our field work would make us honorary members of the Falfurrias community.  This work has given us a chance to work throughout Brooks county.  Besides excavations, we have dined with ranchers and constables, given lectures at border patrol, and built and filled water stations.  Nearly every day we worked this season, people stopped by the cemetery to thank us for our efforts.  It is powerful knowing that the community advocates our work.  Fal has become a sort-of second home, and I cannot think of another community of which I’d rather be a part.

Closure  –  This work never ends.  As long as there are deaths along the border there is still more work to do.  We have nearly completed all excavations at Sacred Heart Burial Park, but that is only one cemetery in one county.  Texas is massive.  There are many more counties holding many more cemeteries.  Without the proper attention, the unidentified people buried in these areas hold no hope of being returned to their families.  This work must continue…

And yet, the end of this season brings me a sense of closure.  I am incredibly proud of the caliber of work that we have done in Falfurrias.  All the people who have worked on this project have started something amazing, and the efforts will continue even after I leave UINDY, and I know that this endeavor is in capable hands.  I leave happy knowing that I have worked to the best of my abilities.  My efforts have helped people be identified and families be reunited.  I will always continue to advocate for human rights in every venue, but I am sated knowing that I have done my part.

Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo, te dejo mi corazón. Gracias por todo.


Gracias por Todo

It would be impossible for us to do this work alone.   There are so many people that are essential in making our efforts successful.  I would like to take a moment to thank some of the people who were vital in making this trip so great.

UIndy team members with shovels in front of a dirt pile
From Left to Right – Rachel, Dr O’Daniel, and Sarah

The Cultural Anthropologists

This year we have had the honor of working with a team of cultural anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis.  Last year, Dr. Alyson O’Daniel joined us for skeletal analyses in San Marcos.  She has joined us again this year and brought along two of her students, Sarah and Rachel.  They have had an amazing influence on our team, bringing  much-needed different perspectives to everything we do.  They also have made our job easier by helping with all of our work such as digging, troweling, moving buckets of sand, and pretty much anything and everything else.  They have far-exceeded all of my expectations, and I am incredibly proud to work by their side.


Two UIndy team members working in a trench.
El Strando


Ryan and I have a long bro-mantic history.  He was one of the original members of the UINDY crew and my former roommate.  Since then he has worked with Texas State and at the South Texas Human Rights Center.  He is incredibly informed and hard working.  I can think of very few (if any) people that I would rather have working by my side.

Sister Pam and UIndy team members.
Sister Pam and the Cultural Crew

Sister Pam

I first met Sister Pam in 2014.  She is one of the most driven and compassionate people that I have ever met.  She now spends her time helping the people passing through the Sacred Heart Respite Center.  She has an amazing way of changing all of the lives she touches, and I’m proud that I have been able to work with her so closely.

A man and a young child in front of a group of people
Jorge and Eleanor


Only two of our dig team (Erica & I) speak Spanish, but neither of us speak it very well.  This year we have had the luxury of having Jorge with us as a translator.  He was essential to communicating with families at the respite center.  I believe that I have seen him grow from this trip, and that he has seen the issues of the border in a completely new light.  Muchas gracias, Jorge.

The UIndy team with the Lasater's
At the Lasater Ranch

The Lasater’s

Our visit with the Lasater’s is always a highlight of our trip.  Bill and Peggy have been incredibly generous hosts and I am incredibly grateful for the insights they give us into the history of Falfurrias.  This year they invited us (and the people of Texas State) into their home for cheese, crackers, tamales, and to view the hundreds of turkeys that gather in their yard.  I want to thank them, an all of the other people who have made this trip so amazing.

Eight people standing in front of a tree holding up two fingers.

Day 2: First Day of Fieldwork

Now that we’ve reached Falfurrias, the whole team has assembled and it is time to get to work.  We decided to meet in the Sacred Heart Burial Park to plan our excavations.  At sunrise, the UIndy team combined with the great people of Texas State to create our one conglomerated mega-team.

People standing in a circle.
The Team

The first step of the process was introductions.  Many of our troupe of players already knew each other, but it was a great opportunity to get familiar with new faces.  The next step was to describe all of the work that had been done in the previous years (if you are curious about the previous work click here).  This was followed by a tour of the cemetery and a survey of the areas in which we will be working over the next several days.

A team member kneeling on the ground with a compass.
Perfect compass form.

After the tour, we began the slow and methodical mapping and gridding of the area we would be excavating.  Normally at UIndy, we hand-draw our site maps; while Leann took on this task, Texas State brought some amazing space-age tools with them to help in the process.  One of the tools they brought was a transit mapping system.  Normal mapping systems, like the Total stations we have in our lab rely on lasers and a direct line of sight.  While they are useful, they can be tough to use in certain conditions.  This next-generation iteration does not rely on direct line of sight and can be used nearly everywhere.  They also brought ground penetrating radar (or GPR). This equipment provides a way of peering into the ground without having to dig it up first.  This saves us from having to completely excavate several areas that may contain nothing at all.

Team members using a Total Station
Where do you get these wonderful toys?

Finally, we finished the day by shovel-shining our areas so they will be ready to excavate tomorrow.  Shovel-shining is the process of removing the surface debris and vegetation.  Not only is it essential to the process but it also makes everything look pretty.  I’m very excited to continue the process tomorrow.

An area of ground with the grass removed.
Shovel Shine