Of course, I knew where the first marked grave in Comanche’s Oakwood Cemetery was located. It’s marked very well. I also knew that the grave held a little boy called John Campbell Neely, buried January 30, 1861. However, it was many years before Linda Lu Burton Rippetoe, great-granddaughter of Fletcher and Sarah Elin, told me the story of the family who created and then lost the baby boy.
Sarah Elin Hicks was born May 1, 1838, in Tippah County, Mississippi to Joseph Hicks and Jemima (Cox) Hicks. She married Fletcher Holmes Neely on April 13, 1854, in Mississippi.
Sarah Elin lacked a few days being sixteen-years-old when she married Fletcher Holmes Neely in Mississippi, but she was one of the lucky ones. When she and Fletcher started to Texas by wagon, her parents, other family members, and slaves were with them.
When they arrived in South Leon (what is now the Newburg Community), they camped until a log hut was built. This hut served as protection from the bad weather as well as from the Indians; however, the cooking and most of the living was still done outdoors under a brush arbor. The strange thing about the hut was that it had no doors! To get in or out, the Neelys had to climb a ladder. Of course, the ladder could be pulled inside to allow even more protection from whatever was outside.
The Neelys first child, Joseph Mercer Neely, was born January 14, 1856, in South Leon, in the county that was less than a month away from becoming Comanche County, Texas. Joseph married Mary Jane Cunningham on March 30, 1875; he died July 14, 1918, and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, Comanche, Texas.
Marietta Neely was born March 27, 1858, in Newburg. She married John Bassett Burton. Marietta died March 13, 1950, and is buried in Comanche’s Oakwood Cemetery.
The third child, John Campbell Neely, was born February 5, 1860, in Newburg. Sarah Elin and Fletcher lost little John Campbell Neely on January 30, 1861, less than a year after he was born. The story goes that Fletcher rode a half-day from his home, grief-stricken, trying to find a suitable place to bury his son. Today, this Neely grave is labeled as the first marked grave in Oakwood Cemetery in Comanche.
Richard Vandine “Judge” Neely was born January 9, 1862, in Newburg, Comanche County. He married Ophelia Ann Gentry. Richard died October 1, 1905, and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, Comanche, Texas.
The Neelys had three small children when their life was interrupted by the Civil War. Fletcher was away for three years. He was a Bugler in Captain T.C. Frost’s Company, Colonel Ed Gurley’s Regiment, Texas Cavalry.
The couple’s last child was born in 1873. Octavia Neely was born September 10, 1873, in Newburg, Comanche County, Texas. She married Albert Leon Mills on November 13, 1895. Octavia died March 27, 1958, and is buried at Pearsall, Texas.
In 1874, Sarah Elin and Fletcher built their home in Newburg with lumber hauled from Waco by ox-wagon. It had three big rooms, a basement under one room, three fireplaces, and a lean-to, with a cistern at the back of the house.
Fletcher died on April 18, 1902. Sarah Elin spent her last days in Comanche at what is now 401 N. Austin Street, across the street from the Central Christian Church. After she reached the age of ninety, the family gathered for a big birthday celebration in the yard of what is known as the Neely House at 607 N. Houston Street in Comanche. Originally, this was the home of her son, Richard Vandine “Judge” Neely.
Sarah Elin was the first woman to cast a vote in Comanche. She chewed tobacco and a draw-string tobacco sack hung on her rocker. She died in her sleep at her home at the age of ninety-six on October 17, 1934. She is buried beside Fletcher in the Oakwood Cemetery, Comanche, Texas.