Rose Davidson in
Heart O' Texas News
30 April 1931
No pioneer edition of this section would be complete without a sketch of
the life of the late J. S. Neal of Rochelle.
Uncle Jim, as he was familiarly called, came to McCulloch in 1886 and with the exception of five years spent in San Saba County in order that his children might have advantage of the schools, he lived here until his death three years ago.
On coming to this county, Mr. Neal purchased the old Doffmire ranch on Little Brady Creek some eight miles southeast of the present town of Rochelle, and was among the first to advocate wire fences, hauling supplies from Brownwood, usually taking four days for the trip. To build the fences was one thing, to keep them staying "put" was quite another since it was not unusual in those days for ranchers to work all day putting up a fence only to find it the next morning cut between every post.
Uncle Jim" followed the cattle business from the time he was old enough to ride a horse until too feeble to be engaged in active work. Early in life he was recognized as a leader and became a "boss" on the range and many of his old time friends now living (among whom we may mention Bill Floyd, Sam Kincaid, Austin Kimbrough, the father of our present sheriff) still refer to him in their minds and hearts as "the Boss."
Just as he was recognized as a leader in the pioneer days so did he prove a leader later on in life. A firm believer in schools he lived to see the present Rochelle school grow from a one teacher affair in a little unpainted "plank" house to the splendid school it had become three years ago, taking great pride in the fact that he had been able to help in a great measure the bringing about of its success and having served as school trustee eighteen years in succession.
Although of limited education himself (as to books) yet he was known throughout this section for his intelligence and power to grasp situations, and many people today still remember the wise council and advice as well as more substantial assistance rendered them by this kindly man, who never turned away from anyone in distress, but always "headed" the list of any worthy cause.
As in the case with the majority of "old timers," Uncle Jim was careless in dress, in fact, boasted he never wore a "paper collar." An amusing incident in his life he always enjoyed telling was: While attending court in another county as a witness, and being examined as such, he was asked by what he termed "a smart Alex jack-leg lawyer," with sarcastic expression, "Well, Mr. Neal, just what is your vocation?" To which the rather shaggily dressed figure in the witness chair replied to the young lawyer's consternation, "Well, at present I am a rancher, farmer, merchant, banker, school trustee and Democrat!"
The two outstanding "highlights: in his long, busy and eventful life probably were, first, while living in San Saba County during the mob reign in that part of the country, he received (along with many other law abiding citizens) his orders to leave the country on short notice-his only reply was that he expected to stay until he could "borrow meal from the man who tacked the notice on his front gate."
The second is elucidated by the following narrative:
When Owen Wister wrote his "Virginian," he spent a great deal of time around the country near Rochelle. While sitting around the "Cow Pens" he gathered material for the book. One story he retold was on Mr. Neal in the early days. The young crowd like to dance in those days of square dancing and old time fiddlers, so they would often meet at different houses for the evening. Mr. Neal was much younger and not included in the invitation. They continued to meet and dance long after all of them were married and had babies. So one evening young Mr. Neal and his friend, Kendricks, decided to "crash" the party (but not in the usual way.) They very quietly crept through a window in the room where all of the little ones were sleeping-just as quietly changed all of the babies' clothing (coats, dresses, each one in turn was undressed). Then stepping outside "shot up the dance." Confusion reigned, mothers rushed in for their babies and couples hurriedly disappeared into the night. After reaching home they soon discovered the mistake in children and some were furious while others were saved by their sense of humor. all in all it was a huge joke, but it took at least forty-eight hours to make the necessary exchange of children and for peace to be established in the younger married crowd. You who saw Gary Cooper in the "Virginian" remember this joke played by Mr. Neal and his companion which originated in McCulloch County.
This story was told to me by Mr. Neal's son while I was lunching at Rochelle in the little cafe which advertises "We trim our windows but not our customers." Nice place, too.