Located in the heart of Port Isabel is a one-acre tract of land, people have been dying to get into since 1840, the Port Isabel Cemetery. Once a part of the land grant given to Don Rafael Garcia by the Mexican government in 1829, it was known as the Santa Ysabel Grant.

Don Rafael established a ranch there, he called “El Fronton de Santa Isabel” or Saint Elizabeth’s Bluff. He continued to reside in Matamoros, Mexico but hired workers to actually run and operate the ranch. They soon began to use this site as a burial ground as early as 1840. Although no grave markers from that time period being made of wood have actually survived, there are grave markers that date back to the 1880s that can be seen.

In 1849, French Missionary Oblates (individual laypersons or clergy affiliated with a monastic community of their choice while not necessarily being a professed monk or nun) of Mary Immaculate consecrated this burial site for use as a Catholic cemetery. It has, however, throughout its years been used as a community burial ground for people of all faiths.

As time passed on the land changed hands to the Champion family, the Campeoni’s who immigrated to America from Italy in the early 19th century. Charles Champion also known as Don Carlos was the sole owner of the lands of Point Isabel and donated the burial site to the church in 1925. The first documented interment was that of Maj. Samuel Ringgold. Major Ringgold who developed the concept of the “flying artillery” was credited for much of the victory at the Battle of Palo Alto, where he was mortally wounded by Mexican artillery on May 8, 1846. His body was later moved to the national cemetery in Dallas.

At one time Port Isabel hosted the world’s largest shrimping fleet. Virtually 90% of this small fishing village’s population was involved and the grave markers illustrate this with reflections of shrimp boats, anchors and other associated symbols of its past.

The city and the Port Isabel Museum was one of the first South Texas sites to have a “Day of the Dead” celebration since 2001, featuring a tour of the cemetery. In 1990, the Texas Historical Commission designated the cemetery a state historical site. It remains to this day an important historical site and element of the Port Isabel community.

Kenneth Moore