830-629-1572 | Open Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m., archives by appointment.

History among the ‘stones — Part II: Panteon Hidalgo

PHOTO CAPTION: Handmade cross of Agapito Lara, the only World War I veteran buried in Panteon Hidalgo.

PHOTO CAPTION: Handmade cross of Agapito Lara, the only World War I veteran buried in Panteon Hidalgo.

PHOTO CAPTION: The plaque honoring the founding organization members of Panteon Hidalgo.

PHOTO CAPTION: The plaque honoring the founding organization members of Panteon Hidalgo.

By Tara V. Kohlenberg —

There is always plenty of history to be found in a cemetery, especially when the people’s story is entwined with the history of the cemetery. Today, I stand at the gate of Panteon Hidalgo. The spring rain-washed headstones and markers, in their full array of little shrines, flowers and colored tiles, stand on a carpet of lush green grass, glistening brightly in the sun as they wait to share their secrets. What an invitation.

Panteon Hidalgo was founded in 1918, established for people of Mexican descent. It has also been known by other names. The cemetery was originally named San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). At times, it was simply listed as “Mexican Cemetery” on death certificates and city reports. By 1926, it was renamed Panteon Hidalgo. Panteon means cemetery. Hidalgo is in deference to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Spanish Catholic priest, who was a leader of the Mexican War of Independence (from Spain in 1810) and is recognized as the George Washington of Mexico.

The cemetery itself is comprised of seven city lots in the Braunfels Heights subdivision in Comaltown. Four lots were conveyed to Trustees of the Hidalgo Mexican Cemetery Association for $200 on January 6, 1920. Two more were purchased for $350 for the association on November 6, 1935, and the last was acquired on August 6, 1951, for $1 by the Sociedad Hidalgo Cemetery. The cemetery is currently owned by the Archdiocese of San Antonio under the supervision of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church (OLPH), New Braunfels.

Many of us know the beginning of New Braunfels and the German immigration story. Few, however, know about the migration of Mexican peoples to New Braunfels, because not a lot of research has been done on it. Census numbers show only two children in New Braunfels in 1850, but by 1890, the numbers increased to 23 family units consisting of 93 individuals. Growth continued by leaps and bounds over the next thirty years.

A quick look at world events during the first two decades of the 20th century offers great insight into the why they came to New Braunfels. Many Mexican workers and their families migrated north to seek employment and a better way of life due to political strife in their country and the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican people filled the shortage of workers during an important growth period in New Braunfels’ history bringing their culture, customs and Roman Catholic faith with them.

Mexican American burials can be found in every city and church cemetery from early on. Panteon Hidalgo was started by the Asosiacion Mutualista de Beneficencia or the Hidalgo Mexican Cemetery Association to meet the needs of the growing New Braunfels Mexican American population that increased in the late 1880s through the 1900s. Organizations such as the Asosiacion Mutualista De Beneficencia were common in Mexico and the tradition migrated north with the immigrants. The Hidalgo Association evolved in 1921 to the Union Funebre de Padres Familiares or Union Funeral of Fathers with Families. Each member pays minimal monthly dues. When a member dies, current members send $15 to the organization who then pays money toward funeral expenses. The deceased member does not have to be buried in Panteon Hidalgo. Over the years, the organizations have also awarded scholarships, held fund raising events and celebrated Mexico’s independence.

Those secrets I spoke of earlier? I’ll tell you three.

1. At least one soul resting in Panteon Hidalgo came from Mexico and worked tirelessly to establish the cemetery for Mexicans through the Asosiacion Mutualista De Beneficencia. The following is a portion of New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung article from May 1959 describing the life of the late Francisco Estevez. Mr. Estevez was one of the original officers of the Hidalgo Mexican Cemetery Association and responsible for the cemetery’s founding. The article titled “Late Francisco Estevez led NB Mexican Fight for Rights” by Jim Gibson follows:

“Three weeks and three days ago, on April 9th, a man died in New Braunfels – virtually unnoticed – who had been working for the betterment of the lot of the Mexican people in New Braunfels since the turn of the century.

That man, Francisco Estevez, was 98 when he died. He was born in Santa Maria del Rio Mexico, San Louis Potosi, Mexico, on May 1, 1861.

In 1891, Estevez and his wife Domaciana, came across the border at Laredo, to become a United States Citizen. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New Braunfels where he began his campaign to improve the living and working conditions for those of his people living in New Braunfels.

Estevez and others succeeded in securing a place in 1918, for a Latin American cemetery, which was then known as San Juan Bautista, and was later changed to Hidalgo Panteon. Estevez should be well remembered as a man that worked for better than 59 years to make New Braunfels a better place for Latin American citizens to live and raise their families.”

2. Agapito Lara served in World War I as a private stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He worked in utilities and maintenance. He died in 1924 and is the only World War I veteran in Panteon Hidalgo.

3. Secret number 3 is a three-fer: The Zamora Brothers. There are three names on the stone, brothers Santiago, Anselmo and Luis Zamora, but only one soul lies resting beneath it. In 1944, the oldest brother, Santiago Zamora was on board a ship headed for North Africa with the 831st Bomber Squadron during World War II. The ship was torpedoed and his body never recovered. He was 20. Six years later, youngest brother, Anselmo Zamora, was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He was captured and died in a POW camp at the age of 19 from malnutrition. His body was never recovered. Middle brother, Luis, died as a small child in 1929 and was buried in Panteon Hidalgo. The family lovingly had Santiago and Anselmo’s names added to the existing tombstone to honor the brothers.

Although burials no longer take place at Panteon Hidalgo, a walk among the headstones shows the immense amount of love and history in this little cemetery of more than 700 souls. That is why it has been designated a Texas Historical Cemetery by the Comal County Historical Commission. The Panteon Hidalgo Marker Dedication ceremony will take place Tuesday, March 27, at 10 am at Peace Avenue and Dittlinger Street. The public is invited.

Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Comal County Historical Commission; New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung.