From ............ Daily News Miner

Associated Press

August 3, 1996


BROWNSVILLE, Texas - The handwritten sign nailed to a hackberry tree serves as a sardonic welcome to the Monsees Ranch: "Marijuana Blvd. Since 1940."

Julia Monsees posted it shortly after she and her husband bought the 30-acre property along the Rio Grande in 1940, when a neighbor pointed out that what Mrs. Monsees thought was an orange tree sapling actually was marijuana.

The Monsees homestead was becoming a highway for illegal immigrants and drug traffickers heading north from Mexico, and the marijuana had apparently sprouted from seeds that had fallen to the ground as the smugglers passed through.

In the years since, Mrs. Monsees has been threatened . with a knife and robbed. She has found drugs stashed around the property and seen female immigrants who had been raped. She's even found her own dog, skinned and hanging from a tree limb.

In the war on drugs, the Monsees Ranch has become a battlefield.

Leonard Lindheim, agent in charge of the Customs Service in San Antonio, said he believes ranchers are mistaking an increase in illegal immigration for heightened drug traffic.

Jim Collier, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Antonio division, disagrees. "It is prevalent and has increased in the last eight months, probably because of the increase in the availability of drugs generally," he said.

Smugglers cross through private land because border ranches are located far from immigration checkpoints. Also, the ranches usually also have established trails that lead to hard-surface roads, where vehicles can pick up shipments.

Such is the problem on the Monsees Ranch, which is some 10 miles from an immigration checkpoint but less than a mile from the banks of the Rio Grande.

Mrs. Monsees' son, Rusty, patrols the property nearly every day. A former policeman, he lives with his family next door to the main house, where the family matriarch resides.

The Border Patrol frequents the property, Monsees said, apprehending at least 50 immigrants per day. In addition, Monsees said he consistently finds up to 30 pounds a day of marijuana' cocaine or black tar heroin.

Despite all that, the Monseeses said they don't plan to give up.