DNA Could Solve 170-Year-Old Mystery Of Fate Of Central Texas Pioneer

By: By Megan Fleetwood Email
By: By Megan Fleetwood Email
DNA samples will be taken this week from remains found in an isolated grave that’s believed to be the resting place of a former Texas Ranger and pioneer Central Texas settler who died in an Indian attack more than 170 years ago.

The unique arrangement of stones atop the grave are consistent with a 1936 account about the location of James Coryell's grave. (Texas Historical Commission photo)

FALLS COUNTY (February 9, 2011)—Experts from the Smithsonian institution will spend Thursday and Friday taking DNA samples from remains found in a grave in a slave cemetery in Falls County that’s believed to be the final resting place of early Texas Ranger and Central Texas pioneer James Coryell.

This week, Texas Historical Commission archaeologists excavated the grave to unearth the remains from which the DNA samples will be taken.

They’ll be compared to DNA samples from some of Coryell’s collateral relatives, who were found living outside of Texas.

The commission hopes the remains will also shed some light on how Coryell died.

A ranch hand discovered the grave, which is topped by a distinctive cluster of rocks, about 10 months ago.

According to a 1936 account, Coryell’s grave collapsed and slaves from a nearby plantation, who buried their dead nearby, placed the rocks to keep the pioneer settler’s spirit at rest.

Coryell, for whom Coryell County is named, made his way to Texas from his native Ohio and in 1831 joined an expedition to search for silver mines in the San Saba region, after which he made his home with a family that had settled near Marlin.

Four years later, in 1835, he explored the Leon River basin and laid claim to nearly 1,200 acres of land at the junction of the river and Coryell Creek.

In the spring and summer of 1836, he served with Sterling C. Robertson’s ranging company and in the fall he joined Capt. Thomas H. Barron’s company.

According to most accounts, he was killed in an Indian ambush in May 1837 as he and three companions raided a bee tree for honey a short distance from their camp near the Falls on the Brazos in Falls County.

He was struck by arrows and scalped, but it’s not clear which caused his death.

His final resting place, however, remained a mystery until the discovery of the grave last year.

Texas Historical Commission Website

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