When you live in a small town it is easy to believe that the rest of the world has forgotten you, if it ever knew you existed in the first place. It is also easy to believe that no one cares anything about your small town heritage. However, that is far, far from the truth.
December 28, 1985, was the day declared by then Texas Governor, Mark White, as Mary Neely Day in Texas, “in honor of an outstanding pioneer woman,” read the 12-23-1985 issue of the Brownwood Bulletin. The governor went on to call Neely an “outstanding pioneer woman,” from Hudspeth County, Texas.
Of course, before she had probably ever even heard of Hudspeth County, Mary Neely was a girl in Comanche County. Born in 1880, Mary was the daughter of Frank and Lucretia Holmsley. Frank was a country doctor, and Mary became his assistant at an early age.
When she was 22, Mary Holmsley married Joe Holmes Neely, another well known name in Comanche County. In fact, today I live on the corner of Elm and Neely Streets! The newlyweds were able to take a three month honeymoon although not to any destination that you would think of today.
No, Mary and Joe “honeymooned” in a covered wagon, and it took them three months to get to their destination in New Mexico. Of course, as you would assume, Mary was expecting her first son (Joe, Jr.) by the time she reached her new home. Just because a new century had turned did not mean that life immediately changed for people, especially not for those people who lived in the western portions of the state.
The Neely family moved back to Texas before second son, Tom, was born, and Mary often had to act as doctor for the people since many times she was the best her part of the country could offer in the way of medical training.
The last home for the Neely family was located on the Rio Grande, about 75 miles 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.'”
Of course, by 1915, Pancho Villa was a name known across the west and especially in Texas. According to Mary, the “new” home of the Neelys sported the bullet holes to prove the presence of both Villa and cattle rustlers. A
As rough as times could be in the West Texas of the early 1900s, the Neely’s hard work paid off, and the couple made a success of their lives there on the river.
When interviewed in 1985 (by then she had been a widow for 33 years), Mary said, “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.”
In Governor Mark White’s proclamation, he said, “Few of us will have the opportunity to live a life such as Mary’s…But we can all learn from hers, if only through her basic philosophy- ‘You’ve got to do the best you can with what you’ve got'”
And just in case you haven’t put the dates together in your mind, Mary Holmsley Neely was 105 when she spoke those words!The rest of the article can be found in this edition of the Brownwood Bulletin.