The grandson of a Cherokee princess and a famous Texas lawyer, Forest McNeir grew up at Smith Point in Chambers County on Galveston Bay.
He lived there with his widowed mother, his grandmother (the before-mentioned Cherokee princess), and younger brother.
The story he relates below took place about 1883.
“When I was about eight years old, my uncle John Myers in Washington said that if I was old enough to write him a letter, he would send me a gun.
Mr. Le Bert (a boarder in the McNeir home) wrote a beautiful, open, curving, Spencerian hand, and he wrote me a model of a letter to my uncle. I hadn’t learned to write yet, but it didn’t take me long to make a pretty fair likeness of that original, and I’ve been writing just about the same style of penmanship ever since.
I can remember riding down to the Post Office, which was in one of the neighbor’s homes, to mail that letter, and then standing on the bay shore watching the Mail Boat get out of sight, and wondering about that new gun. I had never seen a new kind of gun. All the guns I had ever seen were old muzzle-loaders with long ramrods.
It seemed an awfully long time, but I suppose it was actually only about three weeks, before I received a postcard from the Adams Express Company in Galveston that they had a box for me. The next trip of the Mail Boat brought it. All of us were excited as we opened that box.
Inside was a beautiful Westley Richards, double barrel, breech loading English-made gun, the first breech loading shotgun that had ever come to that part of Texas.
The old time “b’ar hunters” from way up in the Big Thicket in Liberty County on the Trinity River rode eighty miles to see that new gun that you could break in two in the middle and load from the back end. Some of them wanted to borrow it to shoot “b’ars” with.
I am sure no child ever grew up so fast into a man as I did after I got that gun. I had the best there was in the country and I knew it, and I must try to act up to it, on an equality with it. I must try to be the best in whatever I tried to do all the rest of my life. Those were big thoughts for a little boy, but I dreamed them, I lived them.
Also in the box with the gun was a complete set of reloading tools, one hundred empty paper shells, five hundred primers, and one thousand wads; but no powder and shot, as that was against the rules of the express company. Then there were three heartrending days while I waited to get powder and shot from Galveston. I slept with that gun in bed with me for fear something would happen to it before the Mail Boat got back.
We had already read all the directions how to load the empty shells, so when we were able to we loaded a few to try out. My mother went with me to a big pond in the pasture. Two fat gray ducks at the far end of the pond flew up and passed close to me. I cocked the gun and shot at the first one and hit the second one. My mother nearly had a fit. I dropped the gun, yanked off my knee pants, pulled my shirt tail over my shoulders and went out after that duck.
Mother was doing a war dance (she was half Cherokee) on the bank and I was out of sight, so a neighbor woman from the next farm who had heard the shot ran over to see what was wrong. Soon I came out of the pond with the duck, brought down with my first shot with the new gun, and brought down on the wing. My mother said, “You got him, son. That was a mighty good shot.” She was a dead shot herself with several kinds of firearms.
The neighbor woman caught some of my mother’s excitement. “My! A child like that! Why, he’ll be the best shot in the world when he grows up.”
That neighbor woman must have been psychic.
Among his many shooting feats, Forest led the US team to gold in trap shooting at the 1920 Olympic games in Antwerp, Belgium.
That’s a long way from Smith Point.
He was also the Texas State Champion in 1917, 1935 and 1936.
Forest McNeir (far right) in his shooting suit about 1935. At far left is E. F. Woodward, co-founder of the Yount-Lee Oil Company.
In the final year of his life, Forest McNeir wrote his memoirs. What you just read is an excerpt from that book.
In the foreword said:
“I have written a good deal about when I was growing up in Texas over half a century ago because those times have vanished forever, and not many people alive today have any idea of what life was like then. If that part of the story sounds like ancient history, that’s because it is. Even the weather was different then and I can prove it!”
Only one batch of Forest McNeir of Texas was printed back in 1956. They are now hard to find, and quite expensive in good condition.
We are proud to bring it back to life for today’s Texans.