Dec. 13, 1879, the Atlanta Constitution published a brief story that should have
been big news in Texas, but somehow no editor in
the Lone Star state picked up on the Georgia daily’s report.
dealt with the purported solution of a 29-year-old mystery in Central
Texas, the disappearance of one John Roan.
In November 1879, the Constitution
told its readers, someone exploring a cave near “Point Rock” in Lampasas
County discovered a human skeleton inside. But there was more to the tale
“Near the skeleton was a rusty blade of a bowie knife, with the handle rotten
with age. On a smooth limestone rock was carved in capital letters the following:
‘I fell in here four days ago when the Indians were running me. I am starving.
If Bill don’t find me tomorrow I will run this knife through my heart. I can’t
stand to starve to death. John Roan.”
The date of the inscription was
Nov. 1, 1850.
The only other snippet of information the article included
“The cavern walls cannot be scaled without the aid of a rope
twenty-five feet in length, and the aperture is exceedingly small. Roan’s own
efforts to save his own life would have been unavailing.”
many interesting things I’ve run across over the years, I found this long-forgotten
newspaper story by accident while looking online for something else. Immediately,
I set about—pardon the expression—trying to flesh out the details of this skeleton
so far my efforts have proven fruitless.
For starters, a subscription
Web site with thousands of old U.S. newspapers available for digital search reveals
only one other contemporary news story about the discovery of the skeleton. That
was in the Vernon Clipper, a newspaper published in Lamar County, Ala. And that
story, printed six days after the appearance of the first report, clearly is only
a rewrite of the Atlanta article. I’ve found no mention of Roan’s bones in any
On top of that, I can’t find any community or landmark
in Lampasas County called
Over in East Texas there is a community in Grimes County called
which was named for one Willis I. Roan, an early settler from—interestingly enough—
Alabama. He settled in the area that would bear his name in 1841. Judging from
assorted genealogical Web sites, the Roan family flourished in Texas
and John is certainly a common given name.
But nowhere online or in any
of various books on Lampasas County
is there any mention of such a compelling story as a skeleton of a long-missing
person being found in a cave. Nor do online listings of those lying in various
Lampasas County cemeteries
record a grave occupied by anyone named John Roan. (The county’s Oak Hill Cemetery
does have the final resting place of one Eddie Roan, who died at 12 in 1948, but
no other Roans are shown in any other cemetery in the county.)
course, it should be noted that in 1850, when Roan supposedly fell into a cave
while being chased by Indians, Lampasas
County did not yet exist as a political subdivision. In fact, the first settler
did not put up a cabin in the vicinity of what would become Lampasas
until 1853—three years after Roan supposedly met his fate. And it was three years
after that before Lampasas County
But there were plenty of Indians in that
part of Texas in 1850 and it’s conceivable that Roan could have been in the
area on a wild horse gathering expedition. Or maybe he had left the settlements
to hunt buffalo
or deer, which also were plentiful at the time. The Bill referred to in Roan’s
allegedly self-composed epitaph could have been the person hunting with him, perhaps
having become separated from him when the Indians confronted them.
County does have some limestone caves, particularly in Colorado
Bend State Park, but one would think a cave with a carving such as described
by the Atlanta Constitution story would be well known.
So, in 1879 did
some bored journalist make up the story of John Roan’s lonely suicide and the
discovery of his remains nearly three decades later, or did it really happen?
© Mike Cox
, 2009 column