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.
In San 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
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 San
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