Leander H. McNelly Papers
Manuscript Collection: MC084
Civil War hero and captain in both the Texas State Police and the Texas Rangers, Leander H. McNelly was born in Virginia in 1844 to P. J. and Mary Downey McNelly. The family moved to Washington County, Texas, in 1860 where they raised sheep. McNelly joined the Confederate Army when sixteen years old and served in Sibley's New Mexico Campaign, the Battle of Galveston, and the Louisiana campaign. General Thomas Green recommended McNelly for a commission as captain of scouts in 1863. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Mansfield in April 1864, but returned to his command and continued with his scout company until 1865 when he was assigned to Washington County to arrest deserters.
After the war he returned to Brenham, Washington County, where he married Carey Cheek. During the Edmund J. Davis administration he was one of four State Police captains from 1870 until April 22, 1873, when the Texas State Police force was disbanded. He was appointed a Deputy U.S. Marshall April 4, 1873.
In July 1874 McNelly was commissioned captain of a thirty man volunteer militia from Washington County in the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. For four months until it was disbanded, his company successfully mediated the civil violence in DeWitt County caused by the Taylor-Sutton Feud. In the spring of 1875, McNelly was called upon to raise another company of Texas Rangers to be stationed in the Nueces Strip, a hotbed of cattle thievery and banditry. During his eighteen months on the border with Mexico, he actively pursued gangs of cattle rustlers on both sides of the Rio Grande. Although criticized for his extra-legal crossings of the Rio Grande and his methods for obtaining information, he often dealt in situations where the legal system was paralyzed by the very outlawry he confronted. In June 1876 he and his company of Texas Rangers captured King Fisher, a notorious outlaw, and 800 head of stolen cattle. After transporting Fisher to Eagle Pass, the local authorities freed Fisher and the cattle inspector refused to inspect the herd, so it too was set loose.
By October of 1876 McNelly's health had greatly deteriorated. To great public outrage, William Steele, the Adjutant General, relieved him from service citing the cost of his medical care as the reason. Leander McNelly retired to his farm in Burton and died of tuberculosis September 4, 1877. He was survived by his wife and two children.
Legal documents, correspondence, printed materials, and a photograph document the final four years in the life of Leander H. McNelly. The legal authority for McNelly's work is recorded with a certified copy of S. B. 259 constituting the rangers, and four commissions - two from the State of Texas (1874, 1876) and two from the United States Marshall's office (1873, 1874). Of particular interest is an oath of office and an affidavit signed by Maverick County Sheriff C. J. Cook on June 5, 1876, appointing McNelly a deputy sheriff. This occurred the day after King Fisher was captured and allowed McNelly to transport his prisoner legally to Eagle Pass. Petitions from the citizens of DeWitt County (1875) and Blanco and Gillespie Counties (1876) reveal the impact McNelly and his troop of Texas Rangers had on the communities in which they served. Resolutions (5) composed by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Masons record McNelly's standing in the community at the time of his death.
Correspondence (4) received by Leander McNelly documents his work in the Texas Rangers. Of particular interest are two letters (1875) resulting from McNelly's exploits in the Nueces Strip. The first, from Governor Richard Coke, commends McNelly for "the signal blow struck the freebooters on the 12th day of June last" and expects "your continued efforts will contribute greatly towards the restoration of peace, and a sense of security to our long suffering border." The second letter (December 1, 1875) from Frank Leslie, demonstrates the enormous national interest in the exploits of McNelly's company on the border. An 1899 letter from N. A. Jennings, author of A Texas Ranger, discusses the success of the book with McNelly's widow, Carey, and admits to inaccuracies. Two letters written by Carey to her nephew T. H. McNelly in 1933 provide the provenance of the collection.
Printed materials contain two certificates (1875, 1876) documenting McNelly's good standing in the Labadie Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Burton, Texas. Newspaper clippings (3) include the text of the 1874 proclamation by Governor Coke establishing the Special State Troops and an 1892 announcement of a Pension Roll for Rangers who served 1855-1860 in the Indian Wars.
The cabinet photograph of Leander H. McNelly is undated. The provenance of an illustrated poem, "Father," is unknown.
Restrictions on Access
Terms Governing Use
Open for research by appointment.
Copyright has not been assigned to the San Jacinto Museum of History. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Library Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Jacinto Museum of History as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.
[Identification of Item], Leander H. McNelly Papers, MC084, San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston, Texas.
Thomas H. McNelly, Sr., 1942. Loan Conversion, 2001.
Processed by Sarah Canby Jackson, 2004.