and Times of James Coryellby
man for whom Coryell County is named was not born there and did not die there
but he was an adventurous sort who packed plenty of travel and a few brushes with
fame into an abbreviated life. |
James Coryell was born in Ohio around the
turn of the 19th Century and migrated by way of the Mississippi River to New Orleans
when he was 18. From there he traveled to San
Antonio to check out the vast unclaimed empire of Texas
that he heard so much about in New Orleans.
Antonio, Coryell met up with James Bowie, famous for the knife named after
him and a lost mine of his that people are still looking for. Along with Bowie,
Coryell associated with the likes of James Bowie’s brother, Rezin, Sephas Ham
and others who, as Frank E. Simmons wrote in his “History of Coryell County” “were
making history more to their own notion than the notion of the constituted authorities.”
Of the Bowie-Coryell connection, Simmons writes: “In 1831, he joined James
and Rezin P. Bowie in their expedition to search for the San Saba mine, and on
that expedition, participated in the famous Bowie Indian fight, where the little
company was assaulted b more than 160 Waco, Tehucanna and Caddo Indians. After
a terrible battle in which Bowie had several men wounded, and the enemy lost half
their numbers, the Bowie company of 11 men managed to extricate themselves from
their perilous position.”
From there, we know that Coryell met up with
Andrew Cavitt and ended up in present-day Falls County at Viesca, near the Falls
of the Brazos. The two had already been to the Leon River country and staked out
claims near the mouth of what is today Coryell Creek.
Coryell and the
Cavitt family tried to make a go of it during a tumultuous time in the state's
history. Santa Anna and the Mexican Army had martyred the men of the Alamo,
including Jim Bowie, and were marching north. The exodus of settlers from Texas
is known as “The
Runaway Scrape.” Coryell and Cavitt were among those who stayed and covered
the settlers' retreat.
Cavitt died of a fever some three months after
Jacinto. Coryell continued to live with the Cavitts and was in Ranger service
with Sterling C. Robertson. He was also employed to solicit and assist settlers
to Robertson's colony.
In May of 1837, Coryell and either two or three
companions strayed about a mile from the fort to cut down a tree for the honey
inside. They were eating the honey when Indians attacked. Coryell was severely
wounded, but his companions escaped. Coryell lingered between life and death at
the Cavitt home but died two days later.
He was buried a short distance
from the fort. Simmons' account quotes an old slave who said that when the slaves
were given their own burial ground near old Viesca, there was already a grave
just a few feet from the south line of the slaves' burial ground. That was believed
to have been Coryell's grave.
It is thought that the grave caved in several
years later but was covered and filled by the slaves who did not wish Coryell's
spirit to be ill at ease. Descendants of Cavitt, along with Simmons, lobbied to
have the grave located and then moved to Coryell County. Apparently, that never
happened because Coryell's burial site remains unknown.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
February 3, 2009 Column
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