Historical commission tries to confirm Ranger grave site

MARLIN—Beneath an unusual cluster of rocks may rest the remains of famous Texas Ranger James Coryell who died in 1837 from an attack by Indians while protecting the Republic of Texas.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) recently discovered a distinct grouping of rocks with a grave shaft underneath in Falls County that may mark the previously unidentified burial site of the Texas Ranger. The THC is seeking living collateral relatives of James Coryell (who died childless) to discuss options for the grave site.

“This discovery is extremely exciting. We hope to conduct archeological investigations to confirm that we have found the lost grave site of Cor yell, an important figure from the early days of the Republic of Texas,” said Jim Bruseth, director of the THC’s Archeology Division.

“We also hope to verify some of the varying accounts of how James Coryell was killed, which range from being scalped to being felled by an arrow. Archeological research can answer these questions,” he said.

Research could include forensic science, including skeletal and DNA analysis by Dr. Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution, to verify that any remains are indeed those of Coryell.

Knowledge about Coryell’s grave site comes from a 1936 book written by Franck Simmons on Coryell County. In the book, Simmons provides an account of the death and burial of Coryell based on information from Tom Broadus, a former slave from a plantation in Falls County.

Broadus, in a 1920s interview to Falls County residents, stated that the slaves of the plantation buried their dead on land that was near the grave site of Coryell. As some point the grave caved in, and the slaves placed rocks on it to keep Coryell’s spirit at rest.

The description and general location of the cemetery provided by Simmons fits with the location of an African American cemetery being researched by the THC. The recent discovery outside the cemetery of a pile of rocks with a grave shaft underneath suggests Coryell’s long lost grave may have been found.

The cemetery is located on land owned by the Summerlee Foundation of Dallas, headed by THC Commissioner John Crain, and is the focus of extensive preservation efforts to restore the cemetery and reopen it to the local African American community.

James Coryell is the namesake of Coryell County and one of the earliest Texas Rangers from the era of the Republic of Texas.

Born in Ohio in 1796, Coryell ventured to New Orleans and eventually made his way to San Antonio where he aligned himself with James and Rezin Bowie.

In 1831, the men conducted an expedition for the San Saba Mine, ultimately participating in the famous Bowie Indian fight facing more than 160 Waco, Tehuacana and Caddo Indians.

In the mid-1830s Coryell was based out of the frontier station Fort Milam and operated with various ranger companies. Coryell owned approximately 1,180 acres of land at the intersection of Coryell Creek and Leon River.

In 1836, Coryell was instrumental in creating a semblance of order as colonists retreated from the Mexican Army to East Texas during what came to be known as the Runaway Scrape.

Coryell’s death was recorded in May 1837 when he and others were ambushed by Indians. Historic accounts indicate he was shot and scalped by Caddo Indians.

The THC is seeking descendants of James Coryell to learn more about this fascinating real story of early Texas history. If you have information related to Coryell descendants or the grave site, please contact Jim Bruseth at 512-463-6096 or e-mail jim.

To learn more about the THC’s Archeology Division and other projects visit www.thc.state.

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2010-05-06 digital edition

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