On FM 2184,
about four miles SW of Rogers.
by Clay Coppedge
LEE - You
wouldn't know it by driving through this old community now - you might
not even know you were driving through it at all - but the pioneering
Bell County settlement of Joe Lee has produced two of the state's
most respected historians, Ron Tyler and Malcolm McLean.
McLean, 92, wrote the entry on Joe Lee in "The Handbook of Texas,"
which coincidentally was edited by Tyler.
In the brief Handbook entry for Joe Lee, McLean lists the population
in 1990 as two. And no, those two people are not Tyler and Lee. Neither
lives in Joe Lee now, though each has deep roots in that rolling prairie
land. If you consider as Joe Lee the area around Reed Cemetery and
the County Line Baptist Church, it appears to accommodate a lot more
than two people anyway.
McLean is best known for compiling the 19-volume collection "Papers
Concerning The Robertson Colony in Texas." Aside from his family roots
in the area, Jefferson Reed, a member of Robertson's colony, provided
land for the settlement and named it Mud Springs.
The general consensus is that Reed named the area for a large spring
that provided water for cattle, which kept the area muddy.
The settlement of Joe Lee predates the founding of Bell County by
50 years with the first settlers arriving there in the 1830s. For
a time, the community had a school, the Mud Springs School, but it
consolidated with the Rogers school district in 1958.
The settlement was renamed by Reed's daughter in 1912 by taking the
name of two prominent business owners - Joe Reed and Lee Underwood
- and combining the first names.
Lee is on FM 2184, about four miles southwest of Rogers.
As an active community it extended to near the Bell-Milam County line.
The school McLean mentions in The Handbook of Texas was built about
1870, according to the two-volume "Story of Bell County." The same
source notes that W.C. Sypert, "an old Texas veteran and land owner,"
served as the teacher.
The County Line Baptist Church is still in operation. The church is
located near the Reed Cemetery and the McLean Cemetery. Both cemeteries
are maintained by descendants of the pioneer Bell County families.
Tyler, director of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, was a curator
and assistant director of history and assistant director for collections
and programs at the Amon Carter before going to work for UT and serving
as director of "The Handbook of Texas." The Handbook is an encompassing
six-volume encyclopedia of people, places and events in Texas history.
Tyler is the author or editor of 22 books, including "The Big Bend:
The History of the Last Texas Frontier" and "Alfred Jacob Miller,
Artist As Explorer: First Views of the American Frontier." He also
edited the highly regarded "The Slave Narratives of Texas."
Driving through Joe Lee now you might not sense the deep history that
lay upon the land. But a visit to either the McLean or Reed Cemetery,
and you might feel the prairie wind breathing the history that came
from this place.