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CHAPTER V

JAMES CORYELL

On the morning of July 18, before I had breakfast, I heard a call at the front door. I responded and found Joe Cavitt there, and he asked if I could spare him a day or two of my time, I asked for what, and he went on to relate that he had been to Falls county and while there had met Mrs. Roy Levy of Chilton and Mrs. A. P. Tomlinson, of Tomlinson Hill, which is the old settlers reunion and picnic ground for that section. The two parties conduct the affairs of this holiday and celebration ground, and on it maintain a log cabin where they exhibit any historical heirloom which anyone cares to place temporarily in their custody. They also delve into the early history of their county.

While Mr. Cavitt was there, they furnished him with clues and traditions, which they thought, if properly

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correlated, might lead to the identification of James Coryell's grave. Joe is an enthusiast when it comes to delving into the history of Falls and Coryell counties, and he desires to bring about a plan to have Coryell's remains brought to, and interred on the courthouse lawn at Gatesville.

It was Joe Cavitt's grandmother, Mrs. Andrew Cavitt, that James Coryell was making his home with at the time he was ambushed and slain by Indians, May 27, 1837.

Now, let us trace the life story of James Coryell, and bring the narrative down to his connection with the Cavitt family, and Coryell County, for the story would be incomplete if we did not include the associations of Andrew Cavitt and Coryell.

James Coryell was born in Adams county, Ohio, in 1796. He arrived in Texas prior to 1828, which will be shown later. Having come down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, he heard the many glowing accounts of the wonderful richness of the Texas country, then, For the most part, a vast unoccupied empire of untold possibilities. From New Orleans, he proceeded to San Antonio. In that city of romance, he met the most colorful characters where adventure was in the minds of the people. He belonged to that restless class of men who spent their lives pushing the frontiers to newer horizons, and of whom professor Webb wrote: "They rode like Mexicans, trailed like Indians, shot like Tennesseeans, and fought like the devil."

At San Antonio he aligned himself with James and Rezin P. Bowie, Cephas Ham, and others of those fearless characters who were making history more to their own notion than to the notion of the constituted authorities. 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 assailed by more than 16O Waco, Tehuacana and Caddo Indians. After a terrible battle, in which Bowie had several men wounded, and the enemy lost almost half their number, the Bowie company of eleven men managed to extricate themselves from their perilous position.

From San Anfonio some years later, Coryell, with Andrew Cavitt, proceeded to the town of Viesca in 1835, which town at that time was the official seat of government

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for the Sterling C. Robertson Colony on the Brazos River, The town, founded in 1834, was named for Sarahville de Viesca, in honor of Robertson's wife and the then Governor of Texas, Augustine De Viesca. In December, 1835, Ben Milam, with 300 men captured San Antonio from the Mexican army of 1200 men, however, Ben Milam was killed in the hour of victory. From that that date, all Mexican authority ceased in the town of Viesca and the place was given the name of Fort Milam, and from that date this frontier station was the scene from which Coryell operated with various ranger companies. Early in 1835, Coryell and Andrew Cavitt had gone to the Leon River and established claims on certain tracts of land.

Patent was issued to James Coryell, from the State of Coahuila and Texas, June 22, 1835, states that James Coryell was received as a colonist by Robert Leiftich (Leftwich) on the 15th day of April, 1828, and Leiftich's colonization rights were transferred to the Nashville Company on the 15th day of October, 1829; that James Coryell was a bachelor. It further provided that he should establish permanent landmarks at each angle of the land and was bound to settle and cultivate it according to established requirements. This patent covers 1,180 acres of land at the intersection of Coryell Creek and Leon River. The Cavitt lands lay adjacent to the Coryell lands in the Leon River bottom.

Having received land, Andrew Cavitt returned to Bolivar, Tennessee to bring his wife and seven sons, aged 14 years down to Texas, and in February. 1836, in company with Newton Duncan's family, arrived at Viesca where they joined their friend Coryell. From that time, Coryell made his home with the Cavitts.

"The first thought was bread" to quote Joe Cavitt, so they cleared the weeds off a strip of land known as weed prairie, and with sharp sticks, punched holes in the ground and dropped in seed-corn.

In the spring of 1836 all Texas colonists were in the greatest stampede, before the Mexican Army, known as the "'Runaway Scrape". In terror of the Mexicans, all colonists began a pell-mell retreat toward East Texas, or anywhere to escape the wrath of the victorious Mexican Army. Cavitt, Duncan and Coryell, assisted in covering the retreat of the colonists and maintained some semblance of order.

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On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna was defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto, and the settlers began to treck back to their abandoned homes.

It was destined that Andrew Cavitt should not return to the settlement. The returning colonists reached Millican, where they were held up by the high waters on the Brazos and Navasota Rivers. While waiting here, Andrew Cavitt sickened and died of fever July 1, 1836. Coryell, the Duncans and Mrs. Cavitt, returned to the home and worked out their corn crop, and that fall harvested a good corn crop. Mrs. Cavitt, the widow, bought land at Wheelock, in October 1838, and moved there, where she resided until her death January 26, 1882.

In the meantime, Coryell had gone back to the ranger service. He joined Sterling C. Robertson's company at Ft. Griffin, at Three Forks. He also served under Capt. Thomas H. Barren and did extensive service under Capt. George B. Erath. It is not definitely known that Coryell was a surveyor, but at any rate, he assisted in locating many settlers on the Sterling C. Robertson lands. He also was employed by Mr. Robertson to solicit and bring settlers to the colony. He had been on a soliciting trip when he returned from Tennessee with the Cavitts.

In May, 1837, the company was preparing to make another trip west to locate lands and scout for Indians. In the days of waiting to complete organization, Coryell, Ezra Webb and Michael Castleman, went out about a mile from the fort to cut a bee tree. While eating honey they were assailed by Indians. According to tradition, Coryell stood to draw the enemy fire. He was wounded, and fell, at the first shot. Webb and Castleman escaped without testing the strength of the enemy. Apparently Coryell did not expire immediately, for he was taken to the Cavitt home where he lingered for a day or two and died. He was buried about a mile northwest of Fort Milam (Old Viesca) on or near the date mentioned above.

This is a brief review of the services of the man for whom Coryell County, Coryell Hills, Coryell Creek, and Coryell Church and Coryell City are named.

Let us now record a few of the traditions and historic data held by Mr. Cavitt and the people of Falls county regarding the burial place of James Coryell.

Churchill Jones came to the Brazos Falls about 1850 and established extensive plantations. He owned many slaves.

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A large portion of his lands lay in the immediate vicinity of the site of Old Viesca. On one of these tracts of land, Mr. Jones gave the slaves a burying ground that is there today, with a barbed wire fence around it. It is situated about a mile northwest of Viesca site, or Old Fort Milam. Our friend, A. P. Tomlinson, obtained the following story from old Tom Broadus, who was a slave of Churchill Jones who died about 1938 in Waco at the Age of 120 years. He lived thru the entire period of which we write, and he relates that when the first Negroes were buried on the lot there was a grave just a few feet off the south line of the lot that he had always been taught was the grave of "Mr. Jim Coryell" where he was buried so long ago.

After several years the grave caved in and the superstitious Negroes who had been told the story of Coryell, carried stones from Jones Spring, some distance away, and filled and covered the grave so the spirit of Coryell would be at ease and would not bother the dead Negroes. Old Tom Broadus related that the Negroes always had a reverence for the grave.

The old frontiersmanís body has lain there for more than one hundred years, and but for the fear and reverence of dusky slaves hands this grave of James Coryell would have been forever lost.

Not only historic tradition and a few stories kept by descendants of slaves mark the spot. Let us cite more evidence: In 1849 George Hedges, Sr., came to Fort Milam as a United States Army Scout. He finally settled in Falls County, and was told the story of Coryell and was pointed out the grave where he was buried. The story has come down thru the Hedges family until this day, and Charles W. Hodges, a grandson, who traveled the length and breadth of Texas, doing historical research in connection with Old Indian Trails, Smugglers Trails, Cow Trails and all other historical trails, was asked while on the ground if he could confirm our findings relating to the lonely grave in the deep woods as being that of James Coryell. He unqualifiedly endorsed our findings.

We were also told that a year or two ago, the people of Marlin started a movement to have the remains of Coryell moved to their city, but nothing came of it.

A stone monument on a public square can add nothing to his illustrious name, but in reverence to this man

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[ note: page 25 in the book is an exact duplicate of page 24 ]

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who gave his life for Texas, and for whom Coryell County is named, his remains should be removed to the court house lawn in Gatesville and entombed in concrete, surmounted by a granite monument with a suitable inscription.

Any people who cease to reverence their heroes cease to produce heroes. Let us hope that the people of Coryell County will respond to the movement started by Joe Cavitt and see that this work is carried out in an appropriate manner. From the impression we received from these fine people of Falls County we believe they would lend their hearty cooperation.

 

 
 

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