Slave cemetery revealed by Texas drought

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on August 3, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 5 at 1:01 AM

Richland-Chambers Reservoir

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CORSICANA — Archaeologists have found two graves from the 19th century, and are looking for more along a shoreline receding from the lingering drought at Richland-Chambers Reservoir.

The Navarro County Sheriff's Office has one set of remains locked away in its evidence room, including a skull, jaw bone, several vertebrae and a few other fragments.

They may date back to Civil War times.

"This grave was actually uncovered by erosion from the water," said sheriff's office Sgt. Hank Bailey. "It was several feet deep years and years ago."

Forensics experts told Bailey the remains appear to belong to an African-American man, about 40 years old, who was likely a freed slave.

"We believe it was a person who worked on a plantation in that river bottom," Bailey said.

The reservoir is one of Tarrant County's water sources.

Cemeteries were noted and moved before it was filled in the 1980s, but this small cemetery was not marked, and the graves did not have tombstones.

Boaters first found the remains in 2009 along the shoreline. But lake levels rose again within days, quickly reclaiming the site.

So, for three years, archaeologists and historians have waited for the reservoir to reveal them again.

With the lake down almost five feet right now, archaeologists are back at work, looking for more graves before rain again refills the reservoir.

"It's not one of the great finds of history, but it's important to us on a local level," said Bruce McManus, chairman of the Navarro County Historical Commission. "It's one of the lost cemeteries we've been looking for."

The exact race and date of burial will not be known, McManus said, until archaeologists complete their work.

A lot of freed slaves lived in that area, and most of the Anglos are already accounted for in other cemeteries, he added.

The remains found at Richland-Chambers Reservoir will be reburied somewhere else.

The lost cemetery's exact location remains a secret because investigators fear looters will destroy what nature has preserved.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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