The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 706
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Texas after 1874, until his death three years later from tuberculosis. Born in Vir-
ginia, McNelly and others moved to Texas in the 1850s. In the Civil War that fol-
lowed, he served as a common soldier in the Fifth Texas Cavalry in Sibley's
ill-fated campaign to take New Mexico. In time, McNelly also served with other
Confederate officers, rose to the rank of captain, and fought with distinction in
battles in Texas and Louisiana. His wartime career showed several things: he ex-
celled as a scout; he gained stature with the capture by his command of several
hundred federals at the battle of Brashear City in Louisiana in 1863; and he was
seriously wounded at the battle of Mansfield in that same state the following year.
The authors correctly assessed this performance when they wrote that McNelly
"had been truly tried" (p. 47).
The role of L. H. McNelly as a captain in the Reconstruction State Police of
Governor Edmund J. Davis has been downplayed by historical writers. From
1870 to 1873 McNelly gave creditable service to state law enforcement. Al-
though criticized by his superiors for not answering communications, filling out
forms, and following procedures, he pursued and assisted in breaking up the
Pearce gang of outlaws. As a state police officer McNelly was a man of action-
sometimes making arrests without bloodshed, sometimes pulling his weapons, as
he did in a courtroom melee in Walker County, to uphold law and order. The
editors of a contemporary newspaper said it best: that we "have not been disap-
pointed in the man" who accepted a captaincy in the State Police" (p. 69).
The position of the bearded McNelly as an officer in charge of a militia com-
pany that ranged the land in South Texas brought together his training as a sol-
dier and his experiences as a lawman. On the one hand, McNelly and the men
under his command captured John King Fisher and they quieted things tem-
porarily in the Sutton-Taylor feud through patrolling, spying, and being ready to
take action. On the other hand, McNelly and his "Little McNellys" saw the Texas-
Mexico border as a war zone. In order to catch horse thieves they executed His-
panic prisoners, invaded Mexico-the Las Cuevas War in 1875, and supposedly
told American federal officials at that time to "go to hell" (p. 240). In this phase
of his career the exploits of Captain McNelly have become part of the Texas
Too often in Ranger chronicles the impetuous McNelly has been seen in an ei-
ther-or equation: either he is an heroic figure or an individual who used ques-
tionable methods to gain limited goals. The authors of this volume, however, have
painted a more complex portrait of McNelly as a Ranger captain. They covered
his considerable accomplishments. They noted that his lifelong achievements
brought him to the attention of people in powerful positions. And they showed
his overbearing personality and his inability to leave his post when his deteriorat-
ing health no longer allowed him to lead his men in the field or carry out his pa-
perwork responsibilities. Whether a saint, or a sinner, or a bifurcated character
-you be the judge. Then Leander H. McNelly, unorthodox border captain, can
rest in peace.
Jamestown Community College
HaroldJ. Weiss Jr.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/762/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.