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NM resident discovers his land was once cemetery


10/26/99


Associated Press


SILVER CITY, N.M. - Carmen Chacon was digging in the back yard when he turned up a bone. Thinking it was from a cow, he tossed it aside. But after an hour of digging, he had an entire skeleton.


A human skeleton.


Then less than two weeks later, while planting a tree, he turned up another body.


Town officials now think the adjacent homes of Carmen and Geraldine Chacon and his mother were built on an old cemetery.


So the Chacons want Silver City to buy their property and recognize it as the cemetery it once was.


It has been a lengthy process.


It began in January when Mr. Chacon realized what he had unearthed while digging for a water leak in his mother's back yard and called police. Capt. Robert Bencomo told him to stop digging and called in a medical examiner, who determined that the bones were more than a century old.


The state Office of the Medical Investigator then called in local archaeologist Neal Ackerly. He worked the site for three days, finding evidence of deteriorated nails around the remains - an indication that the body had been buried in a coffin.


The remains, which Mr. Ackerly determined were of a woman between the ages of 25 and 35, were reburied in the city cemetery for indigents.


Ten days later, Mr. Chacon's mother asked him to help her plant a tree. They uncovered a second body.


The family contacted Mr. Ackerly again and later met with him and city officials. They also looked into the history of their property, which they had been thinking of selling, and found various references to an "old Mexican cemetery," "Catholic cemetery" or "the cemetery next to the city corrals."


Mr. Ackerly researched the chain of ownership of the land and found the city sold it in 1907.


Mr. Chacon said he told city officials on April 23 that he'd like them to buy the property again and recognize it as a cemetery.


Mr. Ackerly estimated this spring that there could be 30 to 400 bodies on the property. He also estimated it would cost $850 to remove each body and examine it as required by law. Reburial would be the town's responsibility.


Town Manager Tom Bates said last week town officials are working to solve the problem.




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