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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

Historic Joe Lee

On FM 2184, about four miles SW of Rogers.

by Clay Coppedge

JOE 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.

Joe 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.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"

January 22, 2007 Column

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