James Coryell was an experienced frontiersman, an excellent woodsman, a good marksman, and a brave soldier. Most people would say that he had an adventurous and exciting life. Zelma Scott’s book A History of Coryell County gives an excellent account of his life. This article is a short summary of the first part of his life, to be followed with the conclusion in a second article. To read a fuller history of James Coryell read all of the references I have listed. Expect to find some discrepancies within these bodies of information, as I have.
His father, Lewis Coryell (1763-1846) married Sarah Voshall and moved to West Union, Ohio where they raised 5 children. Of their 5 children only two would live into their 80’s, brothers Daniel and Archibald. James only lived to be 34, Salathiel lived to 41, and Elizabeth lived to be 42 years of age. Life was hard, dangerous and extremely unpredictable. James Coryell was born in 1803, the third of these five children.
James Coryell, age 18, originally came to Texas with a small group of Kentucky men who were in search of inexpensive land in Texas. Coryell traveled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and we can only imagine what an adventure that was for a farm boy. He continued to San Antonio, and in November of 1831, joined James and Resin Bowie, and a few other men on a spontaneous, but unfruitful expedition to search for silver mines in San Saba country. During this trip, they were attacked by Tahuacanoe Indians and Caddo Indians. Some reports by Clay Coppedge also list Waco Indians and spell the other Indian tribe Tehucanna. Coppedge’s report says there may have been as many as 160 Indians.
Bowie’s men fought the Indians bravely, but one man was killed and three wounded, one of which was James Coryell. Bowie’s official report said, “We could make no estimate of the loss of the enemy, but we kept up continual firing during the day, and had always some men (Indians) to aim at, and no obstacles to prevent the shot from taking effect. We saw twenty-one men fall dead, and among them seven were on horseback, and seemed to act as Chiefs, one of them very conspicuous, with buffalo horns, and I attribute to his death the discouragement of his men.”
Coryell recovered from this wound and went to the Brazos, near the present site of Marlin, Ft. Milam, where he made his home with the Andrew Cavitt family for several years. In 1835 he and Cavitt traveled to the Leon River to finally look for land for themselves. Cavitt was a slaveholder according to angelfire.com. Coryell located his headright of one-quarter of a league and gave his name to the stream, which became Coryell Creek. His was the first recorded headright in what would become Coryell County. The exact location of Coryell’s land is shown on a map from the late 1800’s in the Gatesville Library. It is a beautiful piece of property, located very near Pecan Grove Baptist Church and follows the Coryell Creek valley north.
Cavitt selected the land that lay adjacent to Coryell’s land on the Leon River, returned to Tennessee for his family, and slaves, and rejoined Coryell at Ft. Milam in February of 1836. The “Runaway Scrape” interfered with their plans and sent all the settlers in Texas in flight from the Indians and Santa Anna, who was persistently pursuing Sam Houston and pushing him toward the Trinity River. Accounts of other families in the “Runaway Scrape” tell that they were short of food and bedding and were cold, wet and hungry much of the time because of their frantic departure from their homes.
Coryell was working as a private for Captain Sterling C. Robertson’s ranger company but did not see action in the “Runaway Scrape”. Texas was in turmoil until after Houston’s victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. Clay Coppedge’s article “Life and Times of James Coryell” states that Coryell and Cavitt were among those who stayed and covered the settlers’ retreat. Read more about James Coryell’s life in the next article.
The Coryell Room named for James Coryell in the museum may be rented for groups. You may call Coryell Museum to make a reservation