Remains of 100-year-old skeleton returned, buried at Oak Ridge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2003

A group says a prayer over the remains of an unidentified man laid to rest in northeast Warren County Wednesday. From left are: Kerry Southern; Steve Bryant, First Presbyterian Church pastor; Fred Newcomb, Anderson-Tully Inc. logging supervisor; Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace; Jay McKenzie, sheriff’s department chief of investigation; L.W. “Bump” Callaway III, executive director of the Warren County Emergency Management Office; and Ben Dosher.(Melanie Duncan Thortie The Vicksburg Post)

[11/6/03]The funeral procession was a Caterpillar backhoe, two Ford pickups and a bloodhound named Roscoe.

They led the way to a new burial site for a young man who is believed to have died more than 100 years ago and whose bones were found nine years ago by a hunter scouting for deer near the Oak Ridge community.

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“I was walking down the hill and saw a white place in the ground,” said Ben Dosher, who lives in Louisiana and was walking around on the land owned by Anderson-Tully Lumber Company.

“I started digging around it with my pocket knife,” he recalled. “When I saw his face, that’s when I left him.”

Warren County authorities were notified, including L.W. “Bump” Callaway III, coroner at the time, and Martin Pace and Jay McKenzie, who were both investigators with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.

They enlisted the help of the Mississippi Crime Lab, which enlisted a specialist.

The forensic anthropologist’s report showed that the body was a Caucasian man who was about 18 to 26 years old when he died, was of slight build and was probably about 5-foot-6. His remains also indicated he had suffered from a disease or ailment that affected his skeleton, Callaway said, but there’s no way to tell what actually caused his death which was estimated to have occurred about 1900 or before, he said.

Since no buttons, buckles, or hardware from a casket were found with the remains, nothing else is known about him. Erosion apparently revealed his body.

Wednesday, almost all involved when the body was found were back. The Rev. Dr. Steve Bryant, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, officiated at the gravesite, which is now under a poplar tree.

“With someone we know virtually nothing about … no details, we can know some other profound things,” he said. “We can believe he was a child of God. We can know that he had people in his life who loved and cared for him and mourned over him when he died.”

“We can make the assumption that he died as a person of faith and is with God.”

After prayers were said and dirt was piled onto the makeshift casket, a rubber box sealed with duct tape, the burial crew reflected about having returned the man to his roots.

“He was born and raised out here,” said Kerry Southern, who lives near where the remains were found. “And I’m glad we finally got him back.”

It was when Memphis-based Anderson-Tully, which owns or manages vast tracts of forest land, cut timber this spring, that a way was cleared for the men, trucks and equipment to have a proper burial for the bones released by the Crime Lab and kept in storage for the past nine years.

“I’ve spent many years as an investigator and have worked countless death investigations,” Pace said. “But there’s always a victim’s family that ultimately would take responsibility for the final arrangements.

“Though there was no reason to believe this was a crime victim, I felt strongly that we should shoulder the responsibility of returning this person to the countryside where he’d originally been buried.”