Janice Williams

Mary Neely Day

In Mary Jane Neely, Newspaper articles, Second generation on August 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Saturday afternoon, before heading out to the Cunningham Reunion, I was in the Newburg Room of the Comanche Museum. I got to meet several members of the Neely family visiting from Amarillo and El Paso while I was there. It was fun to see them discover this great newspaper article on the wall about their multi-great-grandmother Neely. She is not the Mary Jane Cunningham Neely of the original 12 children of the Cunningham family, but their daughter-in-law, the wife of Joseph Holmes Neely.



Here is the text so you can read it

Honoring a Comanche County native, Governor Mark White proclaimed Saturday, December 28, as Mary Neely Day in Texas in honor of an outstanding woman, Mary L. Neely of Hudspeth County.

Mary Neely was born in 1880 in Comanche County to Frank and Lucretia Holmsley. On December 28, 1985, she celebrated her 105th birthday. Her father was a frontier doctor and she was his assistant during her girlhood. She used this early medical training for the next several decades, ministering to the needs of family and neighbors in isolated West Texas communities where there was no other medical help.

At age 23, she married Joe Holmes Neely. Their honeymoon was a three-month trip in a covered wagon to New Mexico, where several months later their first child, Joe Jr., was born. They moved back to Texas to manage a ranch where Mrs. Neely faced rattlesnakes, panthers, and outlaws. She had to rope wild cows to get milk for the family to drink.

In 1905, the Neelys moved to Dell City, Texas, where they managed another ranch for ten years. Their second son Tom was born there. In a final move, the family bought several sections of land west of McNary, Texas, near the Rio Grande, and about 75 miles down the river from El Paso. They made the move in wagons and a Model T Ford, according to Mrs. Neely, “driving cattle eight or ten miles a day, keeping them out of bogs and arroyos, dodging flashfloods.”

At that time, the border was a haven for Pancho Villa’s band and cattle rustlers and the Neely’s newly acquired house was full of bullet holes. Their ranch was a success, providing them with the necessities, plus cattle, hogs, cotton, and mohair to sell.

Wherever she lived, Mrs. Neely used her medical training, treating broken bones and wounds, and acting as midwife for neighbors on both sides of the border.

In addition to grueling work, heavy outdoor ranch work and keeping a frontier household going – and acting as the only medical help within many mile, the 4’ 11” Mrs. Neely found time to read aloud daily to the children. The family valued education and Mrs. Neely has continued her reading, study and intellectual correspondence throughout her life.

Her husband died in 1952 and for several years Mrs. Neely, known as “Grandma,” continued to run the ranch by herself. She now has sold or leased portions of the ranch, but she still lives in their original adobe ranch house with her son Joe and his wife.

Mrs. Neely has combined rare qualities in her unusual life that has spanned more than a century: fearlessness in the face of frontier dangers, selflessness in caring for family and neighbors, and lifetime pursuit of knowledge. She has developed words of wisdom in raising her family and doing so much good in her corner of the state of Texas. “I learned long ago to be happy. I could never understand how people can waste their lives in hatred and misery when there is so much love in the world that is theirs if they will look for it and give some in return.” Governor White’s proclamation notes, “Few of us will have the opportunity to live a life such as Mary’s. But we can all learn from her, if only through her basic philosophy, “You’ve got to do the best you can with what you’ve got.” He designated December 28 as Mary Neely Day in honor of this pioneer woman “whose life epitomizes the greatness that is our heritage.”

“White Proclaims Mary Neely Day.” Comanche Chief 2 January 1986: unknown page.

If you find that I have transcribed this wrong, please let me know. Also note that I can’t find the connection to the other Holmsleys in our family at this point.


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