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October 3, 2013

Texas Historical Commission Look For Old Socorro Mission

By Aaron Bracamontes

El Paso Times

Socorro, TX (AP) As Indiana Jones once said, ``X never, ever marks the spot.’’

That is what is making things difficult for an archaeology team as it examines the original Socorro Mission site for the remains of a Native American village, a lost cemetery or anything else that ``belongs in a museum.’’

The Texas Historical Commission sent the team this week to Socorro to see if the old Socorro Mission site can be expanded, and protected, by any discovery the team can make.

Tiffany Osburn, regional archaeologist for the commission, said the investigation began Tuesday and is confined to 16 acres of land where the original Socorro Mission was built in 1691.

``I’m a little concerned that deep plowing over the years has occurred and affected anything that is buried,’’ Osburn told the El Paso Times. ``It’s our hope that there are walls and maybe some pottery still preserved.’’

While in the movies, the fictional Jones would use whips and fisticuffs to discover artifacts, Osburn is using a ground-penetrating radar and magnetometer to search for any signs of a buried village or cemetery, including headstones or pottery.

The current Socorro Mission

They will take some dirt samples to see if parts of the land match the time when the mission was built. About 1.4 acres of the site is protected as a historic location. That is where archaeologist Rex Gerald and a group of students from the University of Texas at El Paso found artifacts and 16 corpses in the early 1980s.

This time around, Osburn said they are looking for the Piro Pueblo village that the mission used to serve, as well as the cemetery, or campo santo.

``The Piros had villages in Socorro, N.M., and we know what those look like, but we don’t know if they had similar structure style here,’’ Osburn said. ``And the cemetery was never found and it was supposed to be next to the mission.’’

Pat Mercado-Allinger, division director for the Texas Historical Commission’s archaeology division, said the limited investigation is meant to get a better understanding of the character of the old Socorro Mission.

``It’s just to get a better handle on the nature of the site and any associated ramifications,’’ she said. ``We have continued to be interested in that site because it’s obviously very important and we just feel like we need to get more firsthand information.’’

If the commission can find anything, it can expand the protection the land receives from the state.

``Maybe we can fence it in or make it a little more enclosed,’’ Osburn said. ``If you have a cemetery, you want to have it marked out.’’

The original Socorro Mission was built in 1691, according to the El Paso Mission Trail Association, but was destroyed in a flood in the 1740s. A second mission was washed away again by a flooding river in 1828. The current Socorro Mission, at 328 South Nevarez, was built in 1843.

The land where the original mission was built became part of the Ledesma family’s property, Joe Ledesma said.

``This was my father’s land, and I inherited it,’’ said Ledesma, 80. ``He always said there was a mission out there.’’

In the 1980s, Ledesma allowed Gerald and UTEP students to dig on the land, and they found remains of the mission, including pieces of the original walls, the altar and 16 human skeletons.Some of the artifacts were taken to a museum in San Antonio, while others remain at UTEP. A skeleton was loaned to Texas A&M University for research.

Ledesma also kept some artifacts, which he said belonged to the Piro Indians and the conquistadors who arrived in the Socorro area in the 1600s. In the late 1980s, the city of Socorro refused to turn the land into a historical park, Ledesma said. Ever since then Ledesma and his wife have done their best to protect the land from horse riders and motorbikes.

In 2011, the city of Socorro tried to buy Ledesma’s land to expand Bulldog Championship Park, but the Texas Historical Commission stepped in because the land might be considered a historical site. Socorro has since abandoned its plans.

``They have been watchdogs,’’ Osburn said of the Ledesma family. ``We will try to honor their efforts.’’

The heavy digging is being done with a backhoe that will be lent to the team by El Paso County. Osburn said they will dig four or five trenches so they can gather the dirt samples they need and then cover it back up.

``We need to evaluate the sand to see if it is from the right time frame,’’ Osburn said.

The team will leave this week and return to Socorro in the next few months to continue its investigation.

At 86, Man Continues Career As Mason: ‘I love to do it’


Kokomo Tribune

Kokomo, IN (AP) When Jim Fischer returned to Kokomo in 1947 after serving in Japan during World War II, he had two options: start working in a factory or help out his uncle as a mason, laying brick, granite and stone.

He could have made a lot more money hiring on at Delco after the war, but he decided to begin an apprenticeship to become a mason. His starting wage was 98 cents an hour.

``I had a chance to go to the factory, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk or work inside,’’ Fischer told the Kokomo Tribune ``I’d rather have the fresh air and be outside.’’

More than 60 years later, Fischer said he doesn’t regret that decision. In fact, the 86-year-old mason is still working, and his craftsmanship is still sought by foremen and construction companies all over the state.

On Monday, Fischer was putting his six decades of experience to use at the Howard County Historical Society, repairing the stone steps leading up to the Seiberling Mansion on Walnut Street.

Wearing a loose sweater and jeans, he meticulously replaced the historic pieces of stone along the stairs originally laid down in 1891.

``It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,’’ he said. ``We’re just trying to put it all back together. When we’re all done, it will be back to its original form.’’

Take a drive around Kokomo and it would be tough not to see a building or house that Fischer built or helped build over the last 60 years.

Fischer at work (c)Kokomo Tribune

After he founded Fischer Masonry in 1962, his company built a slew of commercial properties on the south side of the city, like the one that houses Key Bank on Southway Boulevard.

But, he said, a lot of the buildings he constructed don’t exist anymore, like King’s Crown Motel that stood along U.S. 31 or the old Leath Furniture building.

``They’re tearing down everything we built,’’ he said with a laugh. ``But I guess that’s what they call progress.’’

Although Fischer founded what became one of the largest masonry contracting businesses in the area, he said it was a struggle to get on his feet after returning from the war.

Fischer said he started a four-year apprenticeship in 1947 making less than a dollar an hour, and that’s the same year he married his wife. They moved into a one-room apartment with a fold-up bed.

``We thought we were in heaven when we had that,’’ he said.

Money was so scarce that Fischer ended up taking on a second job working at Chrysler. From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., he laid brick with his uncle and worked odd jobs for other companies for his apprenticeship. From 4 p.m. to midnight, he worked on the line at the factory.

Fischer did that for 16 months. The payoff? The newlyweds had their first car, a used 1938 Oldsmobile.

``There ain’t no better car in the world than that,’’ he said.

After his apprenticeship was over, Fischer decided to start doing masonry on his own. In 1952, he began working freelance jobs on residential properties. That went well, so a decade later, he started his own company.

That’s when business started booming.

Commercial contracts started rolling in, and by the 1970s, Fischer had hired over 30 masons to keep up with demand.

``I know in 1974 people were talking about a recession, but we were so darn busy that we didn’t even know it was going on,’’ he said. ``We were fortunate for that and thankful for the work.’’

At one point, Fischer said the company had two furniture store projects going, two shopping stores, one supermarket and a hotel all at the same time. Near the same time, the company also built South Side Christian Church on East Markland Avenue.

Fischer Masonry had become the only company in the area doing large projects.

Fischer credited the company’s success to two simple things: Keeping a clean worksite and doing quality work.

``We weren’t sacrificing good work in order to get done faster and make a big profit,’’ he said. ``We just wanted to do good work and clean up the sites when we were done, and people really appreciated that.’’

During the company’s heyday, Fischer said he still tried as often as he could to go out and work on construction sites laying brick and stone.

Fischer Masonry boomed until the 1980s, but by that time many of his workers had passed away or started retiring.

But not Fischer. Although he kept doing large projects, Fischer let business gradually taper off as he grew older.

Now at 86, he said likes to stay busy doing small jobs here and there, like working on the stairs at the Seiberling Mansion, but he stays away from the big gigs.

``I’m well satisfied with what I’m doing now,’’ Fischer said. ``I don’t want any big work or to manage any big crews . When you get up to over 80 years old, you don’t feel like going out there and busting it.’’

But Fischer said he also doesn’t feel like quitting anytime soon. He still loves the work.

Larry Hayes, owner of Hayes Brothers Carpentry, said his company still works with Fischer on odd jobs, and he’s an outstanding mason.

``I think it’s very impressive,’’ he said. ``But what I think is even more impressive is his determination, his determination to get out of bed and take on the day. A lot of people say they’re too old to do things, and they miss out on what they could have been. Jim doesn’t do that. He’s still out there working.’’

Fischer said he could be working more, too, if he wanted. He still gets four or five calls a week from contractors wanting him to lay brick or stone on a project. Fischer said he tells them he doesn’t do it much anymore.

``I don’t have to do this, but I love to do it,’’ he said. ``I don’t want to sit at home and do nothing, but I don’t want to go out and bust it either. If I can work two or three weeks and take a few weeks off, there’s nothing wrong with that.’’

And as long as Fischer is physically able to do the work, he said, he will.

``I’ll keep working as long as I can,’’ he said. ``I tell people that when they bury me, I want to be buried with a trowel in my hand. Masonry is my life. I love it.’’




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