Gary O’Dell observes as George Crothers and Alex Metz work with a ground penetrating radar to scan for disturbances in the dirt to help locate John McClelland’s grave. 

Gary O’Dell has been extensively researching Royal Spring for the past decade. 

On Tuesday, O’Dell along with George Crothers and Alex Metz scanned the grounds around Royal Spring for a possible grave. 

“What we are doing is we are investigating the possibility as to the remains of John McClelland could be discovered,” O’Dell said. “We have a pretty good idea from the documentary evidence that his remains should be up here on the hill (next to KU) somewhere above the (Royal Spring.)” 

In Fall 1775, John McClelland led settlers to the area, he said.

But, they didn’t know John Floyd had already surveyed the land a year prior. McClelland and the settlers built a fort. 

“(Floyd) offered to sell the property to John McClelland,” O’Dell said. “They never were able to finalize the deal because John McClelland was killed in an Indian raid in the fall of 1776. 

“According to the accounts he was buried just outside the fort. That’s what we are looking for today.“

Crothers, an archeologist and Metz, a grad student at University of Kentucky set up a ground penetrating radar to scan for disturbances in the soil beneath. 

“The radar is basically making profiles of the radar energy going through the ground and what it’s reflecting off of, so we’ll look for breaks in the soil underneath that could be a pit or a grave shaft,” Crothers said. 

Unmarked cemeteries are often what Crothers receives calls about when it comes to utilizing the ground penetrating technology. 

“Graves can be tricky,” he said. “They’re not always easy to identify. If they’re in a vault, in a casket you can usually see them, but if it’s just a shaft dug in the ground, what you’re really looking for is disturbance in that natural Strata.” 

No records have surfaced of McClelland’s body ever being exhumed and moved, O’Dell said. 

“There surely would have been a note somewhere in the histories about that, he said. “So, it’s very likely that he is still up there.” 

Lyman Draper, an amateur historian, according to O’Dell, in 1838,  left a hand-drawn record of where the fort once stood and where McClelland’s grave was marked. 

“He said that the fort was 40 paces from the spring and that the grave was 20 paces from the spring,” O’Dell said. “So, that gives us a pretty good idea as to exactly where to look for the remains.” 

Both O’Dell and Crothers agree that finding it depends on how much disturbance has been done in the past and how much fill dirt has been put over it. 

“There is no guarantee we are going to find anything,” O’Dell said. “Maybe it is a long shot, but it is definitely something that is worth pursuing. 

“(We) would like to mention that the mayor’s office have been extremely helpful with this. They are going to foot the bill. It’s not particularly expensive, but it is kind of them to be willing to dedicate some city resources to finding John McClelland if it is possible to do so. They also contacted Kentucky Utilities and got permission for the scan to be made.”


JAMES Scogin can be reached at jscogin@news-graphic.com.

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