After a really fun visit with my newly found cousins in Firebaugh (and one quirky trip to the cemetery at midnight with cousin Tootie Borboa!) … and learning that so many other cousins lived right there in town…
I just HAD to make another trip, or
a few, to Firebaugh!
However... it was the summer of 1998 and I had recently become a Grandma, something that took up quite a bit more of my time...in a very good way! Tiny new grandson was somewhat, no, make that VERY, demanding but, of course, what Grandma can resist?? I spent the first couple of weeks of his
new little life helping as often as I could by allowing my daughter to take some much
needed long naps while tiny new grandson and I spent many of our
afternoons napping together. Nothing better than a newborn baby sleeping
across your chest, right? Soft skin, soft breath, wonderful smelling tiny
baby. Perfect for kissing the top of his gorgeous little head.
Yeah, yeah, OK, I know, I’m like every other new grandmother. MY grandchild
Really... he was! … he still is. (so are his two brothers!)
As I looked at this little miracle I knew I had to continue my
search to find our Juana Bojorques. This small child is our 9th
generation to be born in
Juana is his Great, Great, Great,
For my tiny new grandson I knew I had to
continue ... for him, and for his future siblings!
Now, let's get back to my visits to Firebaugh! There
were so many new cousins to meet and "interview” so I found it was always best to call ahead, to schedule a time. This also worked well because
some of my newly found cousins didn't often see eye to eye with one
another. I made sure I let each one know I was meeting with the
others... just to be sure they ALL knew I was there only to learn
about the history of our families ...not the family feuds!
I did NOT want to get into any family politics.
Um, yeah ... that didn't work so well.
Good ol' Tootie... of the
cemetery at midnight trip... he just seemed to attract a lot of negative
To this day I still don't know why he was always in such hot
water, but boy, talk about causing drama! Just the mention of his
name could light the fires!
Another trip to Firebaugh a couple of weeks after my exciting
adventure to the cemetery at midnight found me back at Tootie's
house. Tootie had tons of details and he loved having a brand new
audience ... someone so interested in all the details of the town
and the families. Tootie didn't care that I had my little tape
recorder going all the time... he said what he thought, ... what he
passionately felt. He told me he'd say the same stuff to
Oh kaaayy... and it was becoming easy to understand why and
how he caused all the drama!
As we sat in his living room going through a box of photos and
documents Tootie showed me some news clippings from the Fresno Bee. These were from during the time he was running for City Council in Firebaugh years
earlier. Seems Tootie wasn't all that happy about the City's proposed
park on the property where the cemetery was located.
There was a tomato processing plant coming to town and it meant many new
jobs would be available, but it also meant the cemetery was about to become just a
... next to the parking lot.
Tootie was livid!
contacted the newspaper and the local radio and TV crews... the whole
thing became a really hot topic in Firebaugh... really HOT!
to say, Tootie didn't win the election for a seat on the City
So Tootie asked me if I'd
like to see what had happened to all the headstones that were in the
YES! ... of course I wanted to know what happened... Heck yeah! … let's go see the headstones!!!
But this road trip to the cemetery would turn out to be a very sad
I drove the two of us to the area behind the water treatment plant
just outside Firebaugh as Tootie directed. He was guiding me to a
place behind some buildings.
I parked the car on the dusty gravely roadway, waving to a City worker Tootie knew, and we got out.
This was mid July.
The entire area was hot and dry.
And full of weeds.
And very quiet.
walked towards a somewhat steep embankment, then inched our way down over the crunchy dried brown grass
and weeds. The dirt was so soft and dry and crumbling under our feet.
I was holding Tootie's arm as his short bow-legs and old worn boots
were keeping him from tumbling down face first!
As we reached
the bottom of the hill Tootie made a sweeping motion with his free arm for me to look around us...
I was stunned. I could not speak. I just could not think of a single thing to say.
Tootie told me that all the headstones had been scooped up and
Dumped behind these buildings to be covered over with
weeds and dirt.
THIS is what had angered Tootie so much.
We drove back to Tootie's home in silence. I gathered my stuff and
then as a last minute thought I asked Tootie if he'd like an early
dinner... it was a little after 4pm. He said yes and we went to one
of his favorite Mexican restaurants in town. Great meal... food and
service were both so good... but our conversation was quiet. Tootie
gave me a few more details about the incident, we finished our food,
paid the nice owner and I drove Tootie home again.
Then I drove
home... deep in thought, and oh, so sad.
On August 24, 1998 I went back to Firebaugh.
... this visit was with Casey Borboa and his bride Lee on their 47th wedding
We celebrated with some goodies Lee brought to the kitchen table while Casey told me wonderful stories of the earlier days and the family.
Casey's full name is Escolastico, named for his grandfather
Escolastico Borboa, husband of Quirina Buelna who was the daughter of
Casey had great tales, and Lee showed me photos of so many family members. I was writing as fast as I could
and trying to remember the names and how they all connected
... and of
course my little tape recorder was on and sitting there in the middle of
At the end of my visit with Casey and Lee I asked about Casey's
cousin Clemmy... this was Tootie's younger brother who was Mayor of
Firebaugh at that time. Casey said I should talk with Clemmy about a
list of names of those buried in the cemetery before the headstones
were removed. Casey said I could find Clemmy at the City offices...
and so off I went, wishing them Happy Anniversary, sharing hugs, and
promising to visit again.
Sadly, Casey died a little more than four
I did what Casey told me to do... I drove straight over to the City offices
and asked for Clemmy.
The nice lady behind the glass window politely
informed me that Mr. Borboa was out of town until the following week
but I could make an appointment if I wished. I told her I really just
wanted to talk with someone about a list of names of those who were
buried in the cemetery before all the headstones were taken away and
the one stone monument erected. Her face seemed to drain of all
color. She picked up a phone and while carefully cupping her hand
over the mouthpiece she loudly whispered to the person on the other
end “I don't know who she is, she's just asking about the cemetery
and the old headstones!”
… and she kept staring wide-eyed at me through
that glass window,
that glass window with the hole in the middle like at the
Didn't she realize I could hear her???
After slowly and carefully putting the phone down she looked right at me without saying a word
.... and my brain was racing ahead thinking was I about to receive a
police escort out of town!!
But no... she just quietly said “You
need to talk with the Fire Chief”
… huh?? Fire Chief? Why the
Fire Chief??? This is way too weird. Drama!
I walked out the door, down the steps, turned to the right, and right into the next building just as she had instructed. The first thing I saw was a man in a chair leaned way back with his
feet propped up on a paper strewn desk, his hands carefully clasped behind his
head, barely touching his precisely combed hair, as if he had posed himself just in time for my arrival. He stared at me without moving a muscle, then he gruffly asked why I wanted to
know about the headstones. Hmmmm, well hello to you too!
I thought we
might at least say hello, or something before getting into all this.
Nope... straight to the point. OK. So here we go.
I started by telling him I'd heard headstones had been removed when the
parking lot was being built, and the one stone marking the spot of
the cemetery didn't have all the names engraved on it. He frowned and
said I must have heard wrong, no headstones were ever removed... and
then, even more gruffly, he asked who I was and why I was so interested in
this whole cemetery thing.
Ahhhh, now we might have some pleasantries!
As quickly as I could say the words I told him I was his cousin and had just spent the last four or
five hours with his dad and step mom at their home celebrating their
anniversary and sharing family stories and pictures and his dad said
I should talk with Clemmy about the cemetery stuff and so I came over
here and asked the lady behind the glass window and she called
someone and then said I had to go talk with the Fire Chief.
finished running all those words together without taking a breath and I watched him as he
just stared at me.
He stared at me for just a couple of milliseconds.
… and then ya shoulda seen how fast those feet came down off that
desk and hit the floor!
It was kinda hard not to laugh out loud.
Seems that when the Mayor wasn't in town the Fire Chief took over.
OK, I guess that works.
Fire Chief Borboa didn't have any answers for
me either... no one seemed to have any answers when those questions
are asked. Or maybe I just hadn't asked the right person yet.
only list of those who were buried in the Firebaugh Cemetery before
it was converted to a grassy park was from the list of names created from the remaining headstones themselves.
However, according to the folks in City
offices, ALL the families of the people who were buried there were
notified that the headstones were to be removed so they could claim
them. I'm not sure how that worked out... if there's no list of the
original burials how could all the families have been notified?
To prevent any more drama... and that possibility of being escorted
out of town, I quit asking.
Well, I quit asking people connected
with City Hall.
Fast forward to August 2007...
There is an online website called Find A Grave. On that site is the Firebaugh Cemetery created by "MPerry" who posted a photograph of the memorial
stone located near the front of Toma-TEK Inc at 2502 N Street just
south of Firebaugh. This photo, taken in 2007 has two more names on
the stone than in the photo I took in June 1998. MPerry created a memorial page for every
person on the stone, with all the information that was
available which was ...simply their name.
No birth date. No death date. Nothing but a name. Yet they deserve much more. So much more.
With a major amount of digging
(no pun intended!) I have been able to add details to most of the
memorial pages for those in the Firebaugh Cemetery. (An
ongoing very time consuming project!)
Fast forward again, this time to 2013...
To be fair to those involved, much more research on this entire Firebaugh Cemetery issue has
provided additional information on the background of the “grassy hill
park” proposed by the City.
According to the news article in the Fresno Bee, 17 Nov 1988...
the Firebaugh Cemetery had been neglected for years... weeds
overgrowing the grave sites, and no one seeming to take care of, or
even cared about the cemetery. According to City Manager Perry Powers
(1988) the city had not intended to violate a burial ground, they
only wanted to clean up the mess and create a memorial for the dead
who were still buried there. There had not been a burial in the
cemetery since the 1970's. The cemetery headstones had been terribly
vandalized, knocked over and strewn about making it nearly impossible
to know who was buried where!
Local teens often partied there after dark, the soft and sinking dirt adding to the creepy-ness.
The City Manager reported “We don't even
know how many people are buried there”.
The City had owned the cemetery property since late 1981,
according to the news article, but just didn't have enough money to
fund the memorial project. Taxes from the new tomato plant were to be
used to create what Powers called “a rolling, hilly park with a
memorial listing all the people who are buried there”.
Originally, according to onetime Firebaugh City Councilman Renato
Landucci in this same Fresno Bee article, his father, Amadeo Landucci
and Pompelio Giomi established the cemetery in 1920. Mr Landucci also
said it was a burial ground for the early settlers of Firebaugh as
well as for the poor or transients. Both Landucci and descendants of
the Giomi family had deeded the cemetery to the City of Firebaugh.
An important note here regarding the time frame of the Firebaugh
Mr Landucci said the cemetery was established in 1920. In the
Fresno Bee article is the mention of a headstone, one of those dumped
behind the water treatment plant, for a Reyes Espinosa who died and
was buried in 1905. I've seen that beautiful shiny black headstone...
it was still in one piece the last time I was there … and yes,
Reyes Espinosa was buried in 1905.
Reyes Espinosa was originally buried in
the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery, as were so many other early Firebaugh folks!
… and with that said, we're just about to get into another story
... the story of the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery.
But before we go there let me add that in the
1940's or so, long time Firebaugh resident and building contractor
Frank Lopez was hired to move the remains of some of the people buried in
the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery
… and place them in the Firebaugh Cemetery.
So there ya have it.
My original anger at the City of Firebaugh, anger fueled in part by Tootie's outrage,
and my sad
feelings due to my perceived terrible treatment of the
old Firebaugh Cemetery
have now been replaced with just sadness.
Sadness that even though there IS a memorial stone identifying many
who were buried there,
and even though the City made a
huge effort to honor those now long gone citizens of early Firebaugh,
and those of the Pueblo de Las Juntas ...
... we no longer have the beautiful, old, and often
thought provoking epitaphs of those early pioneer residents of Firebaugh.
We'll also never know if our Juana Bojorques was buried here, will we?