Linda Burton Rippetoe has been a special friend of mine for years. For one thing she’s a history buff and for another, she’s a worker, and I do mean a worker! At 90 plus years, the lady rancher is still more active than 90% of the folks I know, and she goes like that old proverbial house fire every single day.
This past week, Linda and I worked on the info that will be going on two of the signs in the new heritage park in Comanche. The first will be part of the exhibit that includes the log cabin that Linda’s Joseph Mercer Neely and Mary Jane Cunningham Neely once lived in. And that was all it took for my mind to wander to where it has wandered so many times in the past…little Sarah Elin Hicks Neely…and yes, I always put the word little in front of Sarah’s name…at least I put it in front of the young Sarah.
Fletcher Holmes Neely and his wife arrived on the Central Texas frontier in 1855. According to Sarah Elin Neely, she was less than excited about coming to Central Texas. A bride of less than one year and only sixteen-years-old at that, Mrs. Neely and her new husband arrived in the town of Waco, Texas during the winter of 1854. Coming from Mississippi, this was quite a shock, to say the least!
By her own admission, Mrs. Neely was a very timid young bride; when she heard the stories about the “wild frontier,” she begged her husband to stay in Waco for the winter. Waco was only a rough trading place, but at least there were people there. However, as soon as spring arrived the next year, the adventurous Mr. Neely pushed on westward, and the couple put up a tent in South Leon, called Newburg, Texas today.
The Neely’s camped for six months before building a log shelter. It was at this point in the story that was wondering through my mind that I stopped, immediately back in the 21st century.
“Linda! If the men would build it, and if we can find the old logs, what would you think of our building a replica of the very first Neely cabin?” I asked my friend. You see, the cabin that is under construction in Heritage Park at the moment is the 2nd Neely cabin. The first…Oh, my! It is probably that first cabin that always causes me to think of the teen Sarah Elin as little Sarah…
“This hut had no doors, as they had no lumber, so the gable ends were left open and they crawled over the wall for their entrances and exits. This was only a hiding place from the Indians and a place to retreat in extreme cold for the real business of living was carried on outside. The cooking was all done outside, at first on a campfire and afterwards on a fireplace. The dining table was slabs of wood from the Leon laid on upright logs. Over this they erected a ‘brush arbor’ to protect them from the sun.
“A cottonwood tree, split and hollowed out was used as a refrigerator to hold the balls of butter and the milk. For unlike many settlers the Neely’s realized that cows gave milk and butter.”
So…please don’t tell Tommy Alford, Cliff Conway, Eddie Cox, or any of the other hard working men…but Linda and I are hoping very strongly that maybe, just maybe, they would consider creating this exhibit as a tribute to little Sarah Elin Hicks Neely.
Wouldn’t it be cool? We hope you will think so when you visit…after we build it of course.
And, by the way, Sarah had her first baby on January 14, 1856. I’ve often wondered if she was still climbing up and down that ladder, bless her little heart!