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Feb. 20, 2007
Fulton Mansion Dig Turns up Piles of Bones
FULTON, Texas — Make no bones about it. The Fulton family, who lived along the South Texas coast in the late 1800s, ate pretty high on the hog.
They may indeed have eaten pork, but a recent archeological dig behind the historic site tells us that the Fultons definitely dined on turtle soup and beef, among other things.
That’s the preliminary conclusion drawn by Chris Ringstaff, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department archeologist. Ringstaff has been conducting an archeological dig behind the bayside mansion built by George and Harriett Fulton in the late 1870s in preparation for construction of a new Visitors Center slated to begin next year.
Ringstaff says during the excavation of several four-foot deep exploratory trenches last month, two piles of bones were exposed that were later determined to be those of sea turtles without skulls and flippers, the appendages likely having been used to make turtle soup for Fulton feasts.
“Man, if the bones had been related to the Karankawa who once inhabited the coast, it would have been unprecedented since to my knowledge there is no documented Karankawa turtle processing sites,” Ringstaff said. “What this appears to be is that someone went out into the back 40 and tossed out the bones.”
The TPWD employee said he recovered some saw-cut pieces of cow bone, as well, from within the second pile of turtle bones, which is an indicator of age. “Karankawas typically didn’t eat cows and didn’t use saws,” he noted.
The excavation revealed two piles of bones 20 feet apart and about a foot thick that had decomposed and compressed, according to the archeologist. A third cluster has been discovered between the two, but Ringstaff says since the excavation’s present scope is to assess the presence and significance of the archeological deposit rather than recover data, it will be left alone.
“It’s interesting because the find directly relates to the Fultons,” said Ringstaff. “We know they had turtle on the menu. They had live turtles in pens, which were in a submerged gated area down the road, so the archeological evidence is consistent with what we have in the historical record.”
Ringstaff said an archeological dig for cultural artifacts must be done before construction starts to comply with state and federal law. He explained that’s because matching federal funds are being used to build the Visitors Center, any work on the site must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as the Texas Antiquities Code.
The Fultons’ diaries, letters and other keepsakes donated to the University of Texas provide insight into social aspects of the family’s life back before the turn of the 20th century. The artifacts have revealed, among other things, that Harriett had a garden out back that would have been located not far from where the turtle bones were found, and that the Fultons were financially well off for Texans of that time period.
Fulton, a successful cattleman and merchant, put his considerable mathematical and engineering aptitude to work in construction of the three-story, French Empire-style that featured rarely heard of conveniences on the Texas frontier in the late 1800s. He equipped the house on Aransas Bay with an air conditioning and heating system, indoor plumbing, sound-proof insulation and other amenities.
For now, excavations have ceased due to winter rains that have filled the sandy trenches with water. In the meantime, representatives of the National Park Service are due to visit to look at the turtle bones from a biological perspective to determine how species more than 100 years ago might have been impacted by coastal canneries and those who dined on the reptiles.
The Fulton Mansion State Historic Site is operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which offers tours of the mansion Wednesday through Sunday. For more information about the historic site or house tours, call (361) 729-0386.
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