Historians May Have Found Remains Of Legendary Texas Ranger

By Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News

FALLS COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – Even before Texas was a republic, the first Texas Rangers established a system of law and order. One of those men, James Coryell, is the subject of history and myth.

According to legend, Coryell died protecting settlers in 1837. His final resting place was lost to history; but now archaeologists think they may have found his grave in rural Falls County, about an hour east of the city and county that bears his name.

The find is encased in hard clay, and archaeologists are unearthing it. “The skeleton is a book for us. You can read a book. We can read bones,” explains Dr. Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, which is assisting the Texas Historical Commission in the dig.

Bit by granular bit, the remains reveal clues that the skeleton may, in fact, be Texas Ranger James Coryell… a friend of Jim Bowie, as well as a hero of the revolution.

“He’s fairly sturdy fellow, fairly robust,” Dr. Owsley says, remarking on the remains at his feet. “It’s a coffin burial, very straightforward,” he says, “It’s aligned for standard Christian European east-west type of orientation.”

The wood is gone but coffin nails remain; that’s a distinctive grave for this area but consistent with an 1837 time-frame, the year Ranger Coryell was killed. “At this time period they tend not to have any coffin hardware other than just nails, they don’t have handles, anything like that,” Owsley said of the era.

According to Dr. Owsley, coffin hardware didn’t become more ornate until after 1850. “So, he’s [the body in the grave] still in the matter-of-fact, pretty straightforward run-of-the-mill, let’s-put-the-guy-in-a-box.”

There is no marker on the grave — in fact there are no pictures of James Coryell. A sculptor tells CBS 11 News that a statue honoring him, in nearby Coryell County, is admittedly a guess, based partly on a picture of his brother.

Members of the Texas Historical Commission literally stumbled on the grave while documenting a nearby slave cemetery. Local lore had Coryell buried just south of such a cemetery, under stones brought in from a nearby spring.

“For me, this is tremendously exciting,” says Dr. Jim Bruseth, the head of the Texas Historical Commission, who is supervising the dig.

james coryell dig Historians May Have Found Remains Of Legendary Texas Ranger

Experts from the Smithsonian Institution and archaeologists from the Texas Historical Commission examine a gravesite believed to be the long-lost gravesite of a pioneering Texas Ranger James Coryell. (credit: Texas Historical Commission)

The historical commission has located a potential DNA match to help confirm if the bones are Coryell’s. “The final, culminating piece of evidence will be the DNA analysis. We’re hoping that the bone is preserved well enough to have DNA in it,” Bruseth said optimistically. Dr. Owsley and the Smithsonian will help with the DNA analysis.

Since the grave is in hard clay, water has pooled in the bottom and increased the rate of decay. Despite that, the body has revealed some important secrets. So far, archaeologists have found teeth from the cranium, a button — possibly from his underwear — shirt buttons, a copper ring, and a metal piece in the chest cavity that may be an arrowhead; that would help confirm the true identity.

The arrowhead is key because Ranger Coryell was killed in an Indian attack while protecting settlers. Dr. Bruseth says the murder was tragic and unnecessary, because another group of settlers had killed some friendly Caddo Indians they mistakenly took for horse thieves. “So the attack on the Caddo, that resulted in James Coryell’s death, really was a revenge for a bad set of events that the colonists themselves had created on the Caddo people.”

Brantley Foster watched the dig with quiet reverence. He is a retired Texas Ranger and a director of the Former Texas Rangers Foundation, which helps the agency locate and honor former Rangers.

For Foster and other Rangers the dig is both historic and emotional. “He was serving to protect… that’s what all of us do,” Foster said as he watched archaeologists trowel and brush away dirt from the bones. “You know, Ranger tradition means a lot to us, and this is one of the guys who came first and made the reputation that we’ve been able to live off of all these years.” Foster added, “James and his fellow Rangers, the reputation that they made, we try to uphold today.”

Bruseth says if the bones are those of Texas Ranger James Coryell they will likely be re-buried in a perpetual care cemetery. And, if Foster and the Former Rangers Foundation get their way, there will be a permanent granite marker placed to honor his contributions.


One Comment

  1. MIchael says:

    I imagine Rick Perry would be proud of such a fine Texan be located after all these years. Too bad he plans to cut funding to the Texas Historical Commission and because of that we may never know the real history of this find.

    1. Julie says:

      I wonder how many trips he will be taking w/ his entire entourage this year?

  2. christine says:

    This is great news and I can’t wait to hear more on this archeological findings.

    1. 01markreel01 says:

      gotta love that history

  3. Capt'n says:

    Really? Rick Perry? But he told us all, over and over again in his campaign ads last fall, that Texas had a balanced budget! Ya, right. Give or take 24 billion! So it’s going to be cut cut cut. Can’t believe he drove Texas into a 24 billion hole, lied about having a balanced budget, and noone’s calling him on it!

    1. reddragon696 says:

      Every word out of that man’s mouth is a lie. Anyone who believes anything he says is simply fooling themselves. He is, after all, the one that said he had a ‘Clear Mandate’ from the people when he only got elected with 38% of the votes. If Texas Voting Laws were not so backwards he would have never been re-elected to office.

  4. JimboInPlano says:

    Capt’n – I’m no defender of RP but I think Texas is consitutionally required to balance its budget. Thus, his claim is, technically, true, but I’d bet we’d all agree quite disingenuously…

  5. Donald K Day says:

    a balanced budget is one thing. creating a fiscal deficit by overspending or under collecting revenues or both is another.

  6. OJE says:

    I think you should leave the man rest in peace and not be digging up his grave.

    1. 01markreel01 says:

      the man is not there anymore, just the now discarded remnant of his life on hearth. if what i have heard is true his spirit is still around and waiting

    2. Twayne Harris says:

      Perhaps he would rest in peace to be honored by his fellow Rangers and be given a place dedicated to him and the Ranger legacy.

  7. JoeH says:

    I agree with OJE,

    I think you should let the man rest in peace and not be digging up his grave.

  8. Jim says:

    Beware If you owe any money to anybody especially the government you can and will be dug up , and cloned, brought back to life and will have to work off your debt

    1. 01markreel01 says:

      good one, i’ll be sure to die in debt to the irs. thanks for the humor

  9. matt says:

    Murder? Murder my buttt. He was caught trespassing and stealing Indian land and got killed. Well deserved, you SOB

  10. Donnie says:

    Matt is superbly stupid

  11. bruce says:

    they started as Arizona rangers read your history

    1. timeteacher says:

      Texas Ranger lore dates the first rangers to 1823, when Stephen F. Austin employed ten men to act as rangers to protect 600 to 700 newly settled families who arrived in Texas following the Mexican War of Independence. While there is some discussion as to when Austin actually employed men as “rangers”, Texas Ranger lore dates the anniversary year of their organization to this event The Texas Rangers were formally constituted in 1835, and in November Robert McAlpin Williamson was chosen to be the first Major of the Texas Rangers. Within two years the Rangers comprised more than 300 men. Following the Texas Revolution and the creation of the Republic of Texas, newly elected president Mirabeau B. Lamar raised a force of 56 Rangers to fight the Cherokee and the Comanche, partly in retaliation for the support they had given the Mexicans at the Cordova Rebellion against the Republic. The size of the Rangers was increased to 150 by Sam Houston, President of the Republic, in 1841.

      1. 01markreel01 says:

        cherokee? in texas? don’t sound right to me

    2. owen says:

      the arizona rangers created 1901 texas rangers 1830s how can this be, this is from wikipedia.

      1. 01markreel01 says:

        don’t believe all that you read

  12. RVer2006 says:

    Does this mean that if we become and Archiologist, that it is acceptable to did up graves. When the identity is determined, the remains should be left where found and a marker placed at the site. I certainly would not want my family members that I have buried being moved from their resting place 100 or more years from now. That resting place was selected for a purpose.

  13. Bret says:

    Different time he thought he was doing the right thing and who knows he might have been.

    1. Anthony Madrid says:

      Considering he was defending a group of settlers who had nothing to do with the group that attacked the Caddo, you’re quite right. Doesn’t matter what era it is.

  14. Joe says:

    Yeah RVer, if you or I dig up a grave we’re grave robbers but if an archaeologists digs it up it’s for history. If I pick up an arrow head from my own pasture I’m stealing from history but if an archaeologist picks up 1,000 it’s for history.

    1. 01markreel01 says:

      right and if you murder 50 people you are a serial killer wipe out whole country and you are a great concorer

  15. Deborah says:


  16. Hugh says:

    Hey Bruce,They were Texas Rangers when Arizona was still Mexican

  17. Jeff says:

    Matt thinks he’s the spokesman for Indians, but obviously he’s a member of the dork tribe.

    1. 01markreel01 says:

      funny, texas was mexican ruled not indian, so what tribe are u from? the mexican were being harassed by the indian. back then who would really want texas anyway

  18. Pat says:

    A pox on those that try to turn a fascinating bit of Texas history in a cheap-shot political soap box. You dishonor a brave man and the history of this great state.

  19. J. Carole Clarke says:

    Wonder what Chuck Norris thinks about this find. Was Coryell ever mentioned in his show about the Rangers? Gov. Perry made both him and his brother Aaron honorary rangers.

  20. Miss Ellie says:

    I grew up on sotries of the Texas Rangers. “One Riot .. One Ranger”.

    We DO NOT need to cut funding of the historical commission. Have the lobiest take their money/gifts & give it to commission… OR let the lobiest have a bake sale to give to the commission. So much of what is “lobbied for” is not in the best interest of the tax payers.

    We need to honor our past & work in the present to have a future for our children.

  21. mark reel says:

    I’m from oklahoma, so i can’t comment on the political aspect of texas but if there is in fact good evidense to show that this might be the grave of a famous man. or the true identity of this person be proven than he or she may rest better knowing that they have been found and the grave can be marked properly. if this is the man they believe it to be was he really laid to rest where he wanted. what about the blood relatives still live although they would be very distant they could visit the site knowing for sure of there relation and maybe be the first to do so

  22. Jimmy Stephens says:

    I agree with Donnie.
    Matt, you are extraordinarily stupid, and dumb.

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