Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

News

August 7, 2011

Lost cemetery search begins Monday

Corsicana — Historians will begin gathering more evidence from a potential 19th century cemetery revealed by the evaporation of water in Richland Chambers.

The water level in the reservoir has dropped about five feet this summer, exposing two graves on the shoreline that haven’t been visible for two years. It is also possible that the graves are from one of a number of unmarked cemeteries in the area, said Bruce McManus, chairman of the Navarro County Historical Commission.

“There is a misconception that this is a slave cemetery, we don’t know that,” McManus said. “It’s possibly a slave cemetery because we had heard a rumor that there was a slave cemetery. But there is also a rumor that there is an Anglo cemetery. We won’t know for sure until the archeologists have finished their job.”

Archeologists will start work on the site on Monday and work is expected to be completed quickly, McManus added.

The shoreline discovery was originally made in 2009 by an unnamed individual trespassing on the site, said Detective Hank Bailey with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office.

When the human skeleton was found, detectives with the sheriff’s office did not know what to make of it until forensic tests showed the remains to be those of a 40-year-old African-American dating back to the 19th century, Bailey said.

“In 2009, some bones were discovered on the shoreline and from that it was discovered to be a grave site. I believe the Texas Historical Commission has found another grave site,” Bailey said. “We took custody of some of the bones in 2009, just to keep it safe until they could rebury them.”

The sheriff’s office still has custody of the bones today.

Since the 2009 discovery, archeologists from Southern Methodist University and the Texas Historical Commission have kept the site in mind. They waited until the water receded again to take another look at the site and gather more data.

McManus said there is evidence to suggest that the finds could be those of slaves belonging to a man named Prosper King Montgomery, Jr. Montgomery was registered as buying slaves in Mississippi around 1860 before buying land on the site of Richland Chambers in 1865, according to the 1870 census.

More interest in the site was sparked last week when the pelvis bone of a woman was found in the same area.

“When the lake is at its correct level the site is covered with water. Wave action has eroded about three or four feet of the land away and it has been uncovered,” McManus said.

“There are other missing cemeteries around the lake. Two had to be relocated before they built the lake and there are also Native American burials out there. But this is a rare find. If it wasn’t for the drought, this wouldn’t be happening.”

McManus said a visit has already been made to determine whether the site is still intact, and for more excavations.

“They will remove the remains, look for other burials and then they will be reburied according to Texas State law in an appropriate manner at a site yet to be determined,” McManus added.

“They will be going really quickly because it is an exposed site. Even though we are in a drought, if it starts raining it could get covered very quickly. This is our one shot. We may have to wait five years to get this chance.”

The work will be completed with the direction of AR Consultants, a company based out of Dallas and hired by the Tarrant County Water District, the agency that owns the water in Richland Chambers Reservoir.

—————

Oliver Sheehan may be reached by e-mail at oliver@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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