Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feild Ranch

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

From a visit in the mid-1950s: in front, Mike O'Neal and Andy.
L to R: W.C. O'Neal, Bill, Uncle Mark (with Stetson), Judy,
Jessie O'Neal, Buddy Feild, Aunt LaVerne, Stan Feild
My favorite destination as a youngster was the sheep ranch of my uncle and aunt, Mark and LaVerne Feild. Aunt LaVerne was the older sister of my mother, Jessie Standard O’Neal, and they were born and raised in Lampasas. When Aunt  Laverne and Uncle Mark were married, she moved to the Feild ranch, about 15 miles south of Lampasas in Burnet County. On weekend trips from our home in Corsicana to the Feild ranch, my sister and brother and I enjoyed the company of our first cousins, Stan, Buddy, Lynda, and Andy. We all devoured the feasts that were regular fare at Aunt Laverne’s table and she cooked on a big wood-burning stove. And I always looked forward to riding horseback past cactus and rocks and scrub oaks.
Ranch house, built in 1910, after the 19th century house burned

I was in my late teens when Aunt LaVerne told me the story of an 1889 ranch shootout between an ill-tempered cowboy and Uncle Mark’s grandfather, Andy Feild. The out-of-work cowboy wore a gun rig, but he persuaded Andy to hire him as a sheepherder. Within a few days it became obvious that the cowboy was neglecting his duties. After the second time a neighbor complained that Feild sheep were grazing his pasture, Andy fired the cowboy. Feild added that he could stay the night in his shed room off the kitchen, but must leave the ranch following breakfast. The discharged hand took the news with ominous silence.

Aerial view showing outbuildings and at right,
brick house which replaced the 1910 home

The next morning Feild was dressing when his wife came to tell him of sounds, like the clicking of a revolver, that she had heard from the shed room while she was preparing the morning meal. Feild pulled out a .41-caliber revolver he rarely wore, stuck it in his waistband, then went to the pen to mend harness before breakfast. His nine-year-old son Albert (Uncle Mark’s future father) tagged along. The disgruntled cowboy wolfed down his food, then rode his horse to the pen. He dismounted and tossed his reins over the low fence.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” he spat out, “you’ve fired your last man!”

He jerked out his handgun and snapped off a shot. The slug missed, and Feild whirled around, gun in hand. Feild charged, firing rapidly, and hit the cowboy in the elbow and chest. The man fled on foot, already in shock from his wounds and surprised that Feild was armed. Feild triggered another bullet which caught him between the eyes and hurled him to the ground.

The .41 Colt used in the 1889 killing
Andy and his son Tom
After Feild calmed his family, he saddled a horse and rode into Burnet, the county seat, to tell the sheriff. His sheepdog went to the fallen figure and began to lick the wounds. Suddenly the “corpse” moaned and began to move. Mrs. Feild and Andy loaded him into a wagon, and Andy’s father, Dr. Marcus Feild (who had brought his family to frontier Burnet County in 1856) was summoned. The wounded man lingered through the day and night, but he died just before dawn. Authorities exonerated Andy Feild, and the cowboy was buried in an unmarked grave.

Inside the house, Andy is standing beside the old wall
 phone that was in the hall of the 1910 house.
This spring I visited my cousin Andy and one of his sons, Tom, at the Feild Ranch. Years ago the ranch was designated by the State of Texas as being the property of one family for more than a century. The three of us walked around the old barns and other outbuildings and took photos. Inside the house Andy brought out the .41 Colt revolver that his great-grandfather used against the disgruntled cowboy. Long ago Uncle Mark placed staghorn grips on the weapon. I’ve photographed it for other books, but it was good to handle it again. And it was good, as always, to visit with Andy and Tom at this ranch which holds so many rich memories for me.
With Andy in front of one of the barns

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