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Teacher and her students hope to solve gravesite mystery
Sep 12, 2013 | 62 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Debra Hanus with the oak stump at the BISD Central Supply facility.
All the victims of the Hefferman massacre may be buried along side it.
Debra Hanus with the oak stump at the BISD Central Supply facility. All the victims of the Hefferman massacre may be buried along side it.
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ALMOST ANYTHING Debra Hanus sees must pass her personal muster: is it historically interesting and, if so, how can it be adapted for the classroom?

Hanus is the gifted and talented teacher at Moreno Middle School.

She wants her students to help solve a continuing Beeville mystery — exactly where is the Hefferman gravesite?

AS A historical marker on the north side of the courthouse attests, James and John Heffernan — two of the original founders of Beeville — along with their entire families, were killed by a raiding party in 1836 while planting a corn crop on land where the courthouse now stands.

Sometime after they settled, the Heffernans changed the spelling of their name to Hefferman.

The marker says they were buried “on this site,” yet the late historian Margaret Moser remembers when she was a girl, her grandmother often spoke about the Hefferman tragedy and that people often placed wildflowers at the burial site beneath an oak tree whose trunk now is on the Beeville Independent School District Central Supply facility at Jackson and, appropriately, Hefferman streets.

The oak is long gone, a victim of the 1950s drought; only the trunk remains.

Moser often would participate in Hanus’ historic tours of Beeville and point out the gravesite for BISD students.

THANKS TO the availability of some high-tech equipment, Hanus wants to investigate the ground beneath the tree trunk to definitively prove that the Heffermans — or someone — indeed, are buried beneath that oak stump.

At their regular monthly meeting Aug. 20, Hanus asked the BISD board for permission to pursue the investigation of the site in a scientific, but respectful, manner.

The investigation would not be invasive, she explained. It would be accomplished, for free, by a device on wheels about the size of a lawn mower, called a remote sensing magnetometer.

While the instrument could not specifically identify the remains, it could tell whether anyone is buried beneath the tree.

With the board’s approval, Hanus and her students plan to contact the Texas Historical Commission (THC) this month asking for the site to be investigated.

Citing a long waiting list at the commission, Hanus said the research would occur sometime between now and May 2014.

If the instrument confirms that the location is a burial site, the THC would give it a Texas Cemetery Designation by September 2014.

“We might never be able to prove that the Heffermans are buried beneath that oak tree, but just knowing that someone is — or isn’t — buried there is important.

“What,” she asked the trustees, “if it was your ancestor? Wouldn’t you want to know?”

HANUS ENVISIONS her students helping to complete the plethora of historical research the THC requires before it can grant the site a cemetery designation.

“The amount of paperwork required is copious,” Hanus says. “This isn’t just writing a little old report. This is a pretty big deal.”

Her seventh-graders this year would start the research; the proposal would have to be submitted to the THC by September 2014.

Ten months later, the THC would announce which sites would receive a cemetery marker.

HER PROJECT, Hanus says, is being backed by the Bee County Historical Commission. Both Hanus and BISD Superintendent Dr. Sue Thomas are members.

“You have no idea how many people in the community want this mystery solved,” Hanus says. “It may create a new mystery if the tests prove negative, but at least we would know there is nothing there.”

“This is a great opportunity for our students to get involved in the history of the real word,” Thomas said.”

BISD Board President Nick Cardenas spoke for the entire board. “Go for it!”

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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