National Cemetery

Brownsville, Cameron Co. Cemeteries of TX

Information submitted by S.V. Canales

The graves buried at the National Cemetery at Brownsville, TX were removed to the Alexandria National Cemetery at Pineville, LA in 1909. 

There is a book with the names of those exhumed and removed. 


A copy was at the Brownsville Public Library (The Escandon Room) back in 2000.  More than 3,000 bodies were exhumed and moved


This Military cemetery, once located on the "island" of Ft. Brown, held the remains of the military soldiers stationed at the fort. Their remains were removed and moved to Alexandria, Louisiana and reinterred in the National Cemetery there in 1911. The contractor for this removal was N.E. Rendall. The headstones were not moved with the bodies. Mr. Rendall sold the headstones and some of these headstones are the foundations for some of the buildings in Brownsville. One of these buildings was the Nebraska Apartments that was located between 13th and 14th streets on Jefferson street.

Today, the place of the cemetery, is occupied by the Fort Brown Motel. The cemetery grounds was surrounded by a lagoon on three sides, thus the name, "island." The cemetery was near the Rio Grande River on the northeast side. The graves were generally laid out on a northeasterly to southwesterly direction.

Mrs. James Wells brought opera singer, FRIEDA STARR, to Fort Brown in 1918, to give a recital. The recital was held in the YMCA building at the fort. The building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1933.

Article from Brownsville Herald, Sun, March 22, 1936 (some words not legible--the underlined with ?)


War Dead Among Those Moved En Masse

Historic Fort Brown among __?__ the claim to being the only military post in the country to witness the many other interesting features, lays removal of an entire cemetery.

Almost twenty years ago there was a military cemetery at the army post here. Located on what is known as the “island” in the center of the fort, the cemetery lay around a big flagpole, ? apt off by a large brick building in which lived the caretaker.

The 183 graves of officers lay in a circle around the flagpole, while the graves of 3,600 enlisted men dotted the surrounding area.

This entire cemetery was moved, required the labor of 75 men for about three months, and is one of the interesting historical features of the army post here. The cemetery was moved by the late N. E. Rendall, contractor who at the same time installed Brownsville’s first sewer system and waterworks, and ___?___ excavations in the city revealed many interesting objects, such as old boats buried here and there in the city, several skeletons, and coins, and war relics at unexpected spots.

The cemetery at Fort Brown was started shortly after the war of 1848, bodies of the American soldiers who were killed at the battle of Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto and at Cadereyta, Mexico, first engagement on Mexican soil, having been brought to the cemetery here after the war.

Few of these bodies were identified. According to E. A. Rendall, son of the contractor who moved the cemetery and who as a boy of nine was an interested spectator of the proceedings, there were about 1,100 (?) gravestones on which there were no identities (?) -- just numbers.

Most of the men who were killed in these battles were volunteers, and the records of events during the war were kept badly so that it was practically impossible to identity the dead. The soldiers then wore no identification tags as did those who fought in the World War.

More bodies were placed in the cemetery when the people of the United States fought a four-year war internally, many soldiers having been killed along the border in many brushes between the Confederates and the Federals. Soldiers at Fort Brown and Fort Ringgold, which sent its dead to the old cemetery here, died like flies during the yellow fever epidemic of (? )1885-86, and the cemetery received hundreds more bodies during that period. Most of these were bodies that could not, under rigid quarantine regulations of that period, be shipped to any other place. By 1909 the Cemetery had about 3,600 graves of enlisted men, and 183 officers.

Decision to move the cemetery came that year, when the army post was abandoned as an aftermath of the negro raid on the city.

The army advertised for contract to move the cemetery, and three bids were submitted. N. E. Rendall bidding $18,700 and H. L. Pitch and B. E. Hinkley bidding larger amounts. The contract was awarded to Rendall, and he started the work in June, completing it in September.

The first obstacle that he encountered in executing the contract was in getting laborers. Not a one of them would touch the work without first going to the priest, confessing, and getting permission. This process required about two weeks, and the work was then started.

The remains were dug up, placed in cloth containers, then encased in 36 or 38-inch (?) frame boxes, treated with creosol.

Bodies of the officers were placed in full-length caskets.

When the laborers dug into the graves, they found that in a large number of them blacksnakes had made their homes in the ground cavity.

The remains occupied about five freight cars, and were shipped to Alexandria, La., where they were reburied in the military cemetery there and where they remain at present.

Provision of the contract called for the contractor to take the tombstones, and they were sold locally, some to stone cutters, and some for use as foundation stones for buildings.

At the time the cemetery was being moved the late Commodore Louis Cobotim (?) was caretaker of the entire post which had been abandoned, while the caretaker of the cemetery was an aged man named Robinson.

E. A. Rendall, son of the contractor, in discussing the events of that year recalled the interesting “finds” that were made in excavating in the city for the first sewer system in the city.

“Three boats were found at points in the city some distance from the river,” Rendall said. “One of these old hulls was found in the alley between Levee and St. Charles streets near the McAllen home. It was about 40 feet in length.

“Another was found in the alley between Jefferson and Adams streets, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth. It was the hull of a small sailboat. The third was found between Washington and Elizabeth in the neighborhood of Fifth and Sixth streets. All were buried considerable distance under the ground, and had evidently been sunk in what was at one time the bed of the river.”

Skeletons of three human beings were also found in the excavating, two near the corner of Thirteenth and Elizabeth streets, and another near Tenth and St. Charles.

One of the most interesting discoveries was made near the place where the Southern Pacific depot is now. Workmen there discovered about 300 Russian and Austrian coins, and an old sword which has been identified as a Central European boar hunting weapon of the early nineteenth century. The laborers took most of the coins, but Rendall has the old sword.

“Just how these coins and relics got there has never been explained to the satisfaction of historians,” Rendall said. “The old timers say that early in the last century there lived a foreigner there, near a point where a small bridge was built over the resaca where erossfil alias (?) is now Washington park. He may have owned the relics.”