In 1955, Corpus Christi police were on guard against people digging at the historic Old Bayview cemetery following claims in the local newspaper that Mexican bandito Pancho Villa had buried about $1.5 million in gold coins and jewelry in “the old cemetery.” Old Bayview does hold treasures, but of a different kind.
Old Bayview is the oldest federal military cemetery in Texas, established in 1845 before Corpus Christi even became a city. From the soldiers of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the the War between the States and Spanish-American War, to the first mayor and first sheriff of Corpus Christi, more than 600 individuals are buried throughout the four-acre plot overlooking Corpus Christi bay. Multiple historical markers explain the importance of many laid to rest there. Old Bayview cemetery has recently been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. A treasure chest of history lies beneath the weathering gravestones, waiting to be told.
In honor of Veterans Day, “Voices of South Texas: Old Bayview Cemetery Comes Alive” is held on the first or second Saturday of November between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. More than 30 storytellers and re-enactors stand at gravesites, representing the person buried, sharing personal details and their history. Many portrayed are outside the military. More than 800 people attended and literally heard voices from the graves in 2019, doubling the number of attendees at the premiere event in 2010.
“People buried at Old Bayview represent all cultures—Hispanic, African-American, and Anglo, without any segregation, with Buffalo Soldiers, Confederate, Union, and Mexican armies all represented side by side,” said Karen Howden of the Friends of Old Bayview Association. The many different organizations that participate are equally diverse, from the Sons and Daughters of the Republic of Texas, to American Revolution, the Civil War, and Mexican-American War reenactors, the Sons of the War of 1812, and the Boy Scout Venture Crew 6 that have attended every year since the beginning.
Over a decade ago, Howden, along with Anita Eisenhauer, former Nueces County Historical Commission chair, began the passionate work to raise awareness, and to resurrect and protect Old Bayview Cemetery from years of vandalism and neglect. Eisenhauer also worked with Connie Paddock of the National Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) to transform QR code placards staked at gravesites into “talking tombstones.” Visitors can scan these codes with smartphones and listen to more information from the Corpus Christi Public Library archives.
One of the biggest concerns for Howden is safety during the event. Focusing on gravestones in danger of toppling, Howden brought in cemetery experts and enlisted many dedicated volunteers, including over 40 Navy chiefs from nearby NAS Corpus Christi and NAS Kingsville, to get gravestones back on firm foundations. Karen focuses on the gravestones in danger of toppling, resetting over 60 gravestones.
“Voices of South Texas highlights the oldest U.S. military cemetery in Texas and draws in the public to learn about the rich history of the Coastal Bend and the people who made it,” said Jim Klein, vice chair of the Nueces County Historical Commission. “Karen Howden is to be applauded for creating and committing to this annual event.”
Howden never dreamed the event would still be held over ten years later. Voices of South Texas successfully raised awareness about the presence of Old Bayview, its security issues, and vandalism, leading to the City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County voicing their support for improvements to the cemetery grounds in security and landscaping.
Anita Eisenhauer once put it best: “This is American history that has come alive, and we need to preserve that!”
Voices of South Texas
Sat., Nov. 7, 2020
10 am–2 pm
Old Bayview Cemetery
1150 Ramirez St.
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
South Texas Historians
Visit Corpus Christi
Mike is secretary of the Texas Tropical Trail Region, with an avid interest in ships, planes, trains, and automobiles.