THE INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEW WITH: Jack McNeill & Lola Mae McNeill
DATE: March 23, 1990
PLACE: Valley Mills, Texas *
INTERVIEWER: Jane Wilmer
JANE: Jack, you were telling us about the Volunteer Fire
JACK: You want to hear some more about the Volunteer Fire
Department? Well, there's not much more to tell you.
JANE: Well, the part that
JACK: The first fire .truck we had was nothing more than a
stripped down chassis of a Model "T" and it had a big water
tank on it and that was what we squirted the water from / therest
of it was bucket brigade. But after a couple of years
or so, they bought a fire truck and we had a fire truck and
I was a charter member and Don Beditoe was the fire chief.
Dan Beditoe was a blacksmith. A very fine fellow. And
every Friday afternoon, late, we would have a drill .. off
the fire truck. We would go around and hook up at fire
plugs and so forth and we would go through town with that
siren a-going and old man, what was his name, lived across,
* Valley Mills, Texas. S. Bosque County - 1854. Named for
an early grist mill. Pop. 803 - 1940, Pop. 1,037 - 1950.
Handbook of Texas - page 828.
JACK: that was across the street from the garage •• oh, I
can't think of his name, but he just fussed like the devil
about that fire truck going down through town so fast, 'they
ought to stop it.'
JANE: Would you say Nesbit or something like that?
LOLA: No, it wasn't Nesbit. It
JACK: No, it wasn't that. That was another garage.
JANE: The other guys, were they like the doctor and
the different people in the town, can you remember what
their jobs were when they were •••
You mean the fire department?
Oh, no •• the people were .• Gordon Knowling was a
Honey, they won't know those names.
Well, that's okay.
Makes no difference •. they were just a bunch of
people that lived there. Most of them were young, you know
•. and I was young in those days.
But in 1990, I'm not
JANE: Well, it was an exciting thing to do.
JACK: Oh, yeah, you bet. But another thing about valley
Mills was •• my uncle, A.A. McNeill, that owned every kind
of a store you can think of, literally has sold everything
from knitting needles to thrashing machines, he had farms
and he had cotton buyers and grain buyers, owned the grain
JACK: elevato~s and also owned the wate~ wo~ks. The wate~
wo~ks; the wate~ in Valley Mills was pu~e A~tesian water ••
and it was free-flowing and they didn't have to pump it.
But it was so pu~e that the ga~ages in Waco that used a lot
of batte~y wate~ batte~y wate~ has to be pu~e you know ..
they would b~ing •• they would come out the~e in t~ucks with
ba~~els and get •• take ba~~els of that wate~ back to Waco
to use in batte~ies. The ga~ages ove~ there would.
JACK: So that way they didn't have to buy distilled wate~.
So, the~e you go.
JANE: Well, that is really good.
This is Jack McNeill in Salado, Texas. Bo~n and
~aised in Valley Mills, Texas.
JACK: I was bo~n July 23, 1907, and today is March 23,
1990, so it's been a while - but you want to know some mo~e
about small towns, pa~ticula~ly valley Mills where I was
born. But let me tell you something, befo~e I fo~get it,
about Valley Mills. The~e's a lot of characte~s in that
place. I mean some ~eal cha~acte~s •• even though it was a
small town, but the constable was Ab Howard .• and we used
to have .. uh .. a picnic in valley Mills eve~y year. A
kind of a carnival it ~eally was, merry-go-~ounds, fe~~is
wheels and all of that so~t of stuff, every year, and Joe
Howa~d was the man that was behind it. And he had a tailo~
shop in Valley Mills, but there was ' a lot of fights and
all that kind of stuff going on. Ab Howa~d had a lot of ••
JACK: had his hands full looking af te r things of that sort.
And he was trying to separate a couple of fellows that were
fighting, fighting with knives, and Ab got hurt with a
knife. And he was walking down the street in Valley Mills
one day and some woman stopped him and says, "Oh, Mr.
Howard, I heard that you got cut with .. with a knife
trying to stop that fight." He'd been cut right across the
cheek of his rear end •• and he told this lady, "Oh, yes,
I'm doing fine, I'm doing fine." She says, "Well, where did
they cut you?" He says, "Right over the heart •. " but that
was pretty cute.
But Valley Mills was founded in early 1850s. My
grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Presley Booth was a lawyer in Waco,
come from Louisiana, where his wife had a couple of
plantations and her mother had three plantations down around
New Orleans. But after the Civil War, the carpetbaggers
were terrible. They just overrode the country and my
grandmother had two plantations up in the northwest part of
Louisiana. They sold one of them for gold and moved out and
went to Texas, and landed in Waco.
Father was a doctor in Waco for several years. He
was the first recording secretary for the Waco Medical
Association, was turned into the •• uh .. no, they called it
first the Waco Medical Association then it turned into the
Texas Medical Association.
But he decided that Waco was too rough a place to
raise a family of kids so he sent one of his compadres, a
JACK: Mr. McGee, out to look for something where he could
put some mills, and so forth. Mr. McGee found a place about
25 miles up the Bosque River •. where the Chisholm Trail
crossed .. right in a bend of the river, where it was
shallow enough for them to cross. So they moved out there.
Father built a had built, a sawmill, grist, flour mills,
and so forth, and he spent 50 or 51 thousand dollars
($50,000 or $51,000) in gold for the machinery for those
mills way back in about 19 •• the early '50, '51, '52,
something like that ., and that was a lot of money in those
days. But Grandmother was already .. she already had 2
kids and was pregnant with the third when she moved out to
the little town they called Valley Mills. It was in the
Valley and the mills, so they named it Valley Mills
And Grandfather •• and Grandmother, when she had that
child she was pregnant with when she moved out there, was a
girl and that was my mother, Kate Imogene Booth ., the first
child born, my mothe r was the first child born in the little
town of Valley Mills. Anyhow, Grandfather gave land for a
cemetery and a lot of other civic projects and people began
to move in fast. Now, that side of Valley Mills was on the
south side of the North Bosque, r ight in the bend of the
river or pretty close to it •• and later on when the ra il
the Santa Fe Railroad came through, it was about a mile
north of the Bosque River and Valley Mills gradually just
moved over there.
Well, that left the old cemetery back over on the
JACK: south side. And I've ridden over there with my
mother in a little horse and buggy quite a few times to that
old cemetery but I was so young I didn't know what was going
on. Anyhow, that's a long time ago. But the information
that you want on a small town, the first thing says general
stores. Well, we had stores just like any small town had.
We had barber shops, beauty parlors, filling stations, all
kinds of stores. It was a regular small town .. and it had
about, oh, around 8 or 9 hundred people in it. That's
pretty small .. and rivalries with other towns - we didn't
have any rivalries with other towns to speak of.
Clifton was 10 miles on up •. which is now Highway 6.
Meridian was the county seat and all three of the towns were
pretty much the same size. Clifton was a little bit bigger
and today, is the best town in Bosque County. Valley Mills
is still there and it's a bedroom for a lot of people from
Waco. They say there's several thousand people that live
around, up to 5,000 people that live around Valley Mills and
places but you wouldn't know it passing through there.
But and the funeral and burial practices, we had a
funeral home, of course. It belonged to my uncle. They had
other kinds of businesses but I can remember when one of my
mother's sisters died, that she had some kind of disease, I
can't tell you what it is that you swell up •. and they had
to knock a hole in the funeral parlor to get a casket that
they had to build for her to put her in she was so big. And
it wouldn't •• the casket wouldn't go in the hearse, they
JACK: had to put it on a flat bed truck to take it to the
And local entertainment. We didn't have much local
entertainment. The schools had a band always, which I was
in When I was a kid, but I can remember when I was small, we
had Model T's were in style. They used to rope off Main
Street fo~ a block and they would build a platform out in
the middle of the street and we had boxing, we had dancing,
we had old fiddler's contests and all kinds of stuff. That
was on Saturdays. Everybody used to come to town on
Saturday , but they don't do that anymore. Saturday, you can
hardly find anybody in town •• most any place that doesn't
have a big shopping mall and banking - we had a bank.
Of course, we did. We had 2 banks. Uncle Mark was
president of a bank, I've forgotten what they called it, and
then there was Valley Mills First National Bank. Uncle Met
Tweedy, we all called him uncle Met, that was quite
well-to-do, he had a gin in town as well as another gin that
ginned cotton and he owned the bank and his nephew Roy Pool
was the bank manager. And I was in the bank one day when I
was young and I heard Uncle Met tell Roy .. he was fussing
at him about he ought to get some of that money out of there
- loan it out. He says if you can't loan it at 4 or 3
percent, loan it at 2 percent, get it out of here - and
that's the way it went.
Celebrations included family reunions. We used to
have big reunions .• down in the park. There was a park down
JACK: on the river which was almost a mile .• south of
where Valley Mills was now since the railroad came through.
And it was quite a quite a place, quite a celebration
every year besides the carnival that came to town every
But the North Bosque was a good river for fishing.
An awful lot of catfish •. we used to seine catfish at least
once a year out of that river .. a lot of people would
and they'd take a lot washpots down at where the crossing
was where the Old Chisholm Trail used to be, there was a big
gravel bar there. Valley Mills was paved with gravel from
that place used to be .• and they would have big
fish fries about 4 or 5 washpots full of fish cooking.
That was one of the celebrations that was really something.
We enjoyed all that catfish.
And the town growth had declined. The town still
doesn't have more than 12,00 people in it. Waco was too
close .• but they had most anything that you would find in
any small town. Newspapers are sources of social history.
We always had a good newspaper. A fellow named Mr. Carter
had the first newspaper and then a Mr. Bishop took it over
and we always had a good weekly, a weekly newspaper.
Clifton has now taken it over for a county paper.
And the water system belonged to my uncle Arthur. He
owned the water system and I can remember when he was going
to build a swimming pool by that big old water stand, a
great big water tower. It started from the bottom and went
JACK: straight on up.
And they dug out a great big space fo r a swimming
pool and before they concreted the floor of it and the sides
and so forth, they let water run into that big excavation to
settle it down before they went to work on it. And it ••
the place was full of water one day and the next morning
when they went up there, that water was all gone. Therre was
a hole in one end of it and it had drained out - so we got a
pretty big hollow spot down through the country there
Local industry: Cotton, grains and mills. We had
two cotton gins. Met Tweedy owned one and Mr. Goodall owned
another one •. and at one time, somebody had left a note on
the gin door, on Mr. Goodall's gin door I believe it was,
that they werre going to burn those gins down. But Mr.
Goodall and Mr. Tweedy were good f r iends so they decided
they better - they'd better protect those gins at night and
they both had shotguns and they were •• so often , they'd
patrol those gins and they were walking around, I think it
was Tweedy's gin, one night and they came face to face with
each other and one of them said something and the other
d idn't answer and it was Mr. Tweedy that said something, Mr.
Goodall didn't answer. Mr. Tweedy blew his head off with a
double-barrel shotgun. That was too bad.
Schools: We had a very good school. All of the
school grades were in the same building. It was a two-storry
brick building, a very nice building, for that size and all
JACK: the way from the first grade to the e leventh or 12th
and I finished high school there, started and finished
Volunteer Fire Protection: I think I've told you
about that before •• before this . Law Enforcement: That
was Mr . •. oh, I can't think of his name right off the bat
Howard .. was the law enforcement for many, many years
in that town and the town's doctor - we always had a
doctor. I had an uncle, Dr. McNeill, that was a doctor.
There was Dr. Jarrett there. Later on, there was a Dr. Long
there - and I worked in the family drugstore and I have
the Dr. Long's office was acrOss the street upstairs, the
second story. And I have taken medicine over to him quite a
few times for rattlesnake bites and twice I've been over
there to help him sew up some Negro that ., the Negroes used
to have fights with knives •. and help him sew him up. I've
seen them with their gall bladder hanging out, their tonsils
hanging out •.
The old man - they used to have •• in the town's
government, we had had about the same thing as every
othe r town does. You had a City Council and that was the
size of it. The coming of the railroad, I've told you about
that. Telephone systems - we had a telephone system. A
fellow by the name of Mr. Griffin put in a telephone system.
Everybody in town had a telephones but I can remember when I
was a small lad, we used to have to, if you wanted to talk
to somebody, you you had t o hand-crank it first and then
JACK: talk to centrral. And it used .• we called them then,
telephone batterries. They werre about 3 inches in diameter
and about 7 inches high. There was two o f them.
And a Saturday in t own - I've told you about that.
That was parrt of the entertainment we had and Interfaith
Religious Revivals - that was one of the big attractions in
any small town - was a big revival every summer and most
every church - each church in town would have their own
revival , Baptist, Methodist, the Christian Church - my
mother belonged to the Christian Church and I did too,
naturally, which didn't •• didn't last too long, there
wasn't enough people in it. They finally closed the door.
But therre was one lot in t own that was about a half a
block, wherre there was an enormous tabernacle •• uh .. the
sides of it werre •• was just big wire fencing around it and
a roof over it with wooden shingles. And it would hold an
awful lot of people. But that tabernacle has l ong since
been gone and since the railroads don't stop •• since the
trains don't stop at small towns anymore, they moved the old
Santa Fe Railway Station down on that lot and fixed it up
and now is the Bosque County Heritage Society, •• Museum .,
And, also, they have the whole parrt of the block is
rented ou t each year for people to have family reunions -
and you have to have yourr name in the pot two or thrree yearrs
ahead of time to be able to get into that spot. It's full
everry summer, and they always have a Fourrth of July
celebrration therre. You can't rrent on the Fourrth of July.
JACK: About 3 yea~s ago on the 4th of July, I p~esented
them with a pictu~e of my g~andfathe~ fo~ the .• the pe~son
that was ~esponsible for Valley Mills.
And the town's music teache~s - the ~e was one famous
lady the~e by the name of Minnie Fitzhugh that taught, I
guess, every kid that g~ew up in Valley Mills - she taught
them piano. And the Postal Se~vice: We had a Post Office
and I remembe~ that the~e was •. uh •. we had ~u~al ~outes
and but we didn't have a postal service that delivered
mail to you~ house, you had to go to the post Office to get
you~ mail - u n l ess you lived out in the count~y and you we~e
on a ~u~al ~oute and a fellow by the name of Buddy Bi~ch
had 2 ~outes and he would make them • . make his ~ounds in a
Model "T." And when it was muddy weathe~, he put chains on
all fou ~ wheels of that thing. It was funny looking but
that's the way he had to get a~ound. And he had one ~un
that he did f~om ea~ly mo~ning until about noon and then he
had one that he sta~ted off afte~ noon with anothe~ one and
got back late ~ in the day, way late~ .. And those 2 ~uns
togethe~ we~e the largest ~u~al ~oute deliveries in the
United States at that time - and that's a fact .• but they
late r broke it up.
Natural Disaste~s: Floods, tornados , d~oughts,
fi~es, etc. We didn' t have any floods. We didn't have any
tornados. My mothe~ used to tell me about a to~nado when
she was young that moved the house around a little bit.
Droughts, I can remember a drought •• uh .. that was .. I
JACK: can't tell you - that must have been about in the
early 20s and it - well, it was about that time it started
but it lasted for seven years and there were many farmers
and a lot of ranchers that lost everything. Fires - we had
nothing more than small town fires with the exception of -
we had one nice hotel that was a brick hotel that burned. I
think I told Jane about that and that's about the size of
it. That's the end of your requests •• so Jane, I hope
this is enough for you.
END OF TAPE.
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