Thomas Peyton “Peyt” McNeill, rancher and state representative, was born on August 15, 1843, in Texas to Archibald McNeill and Cynthia Jemima (Edwards) McNeill. His father was an influential citizen who had served as a tax collector and sheriff of Montgomery County, Texas, around 1841 and served in the House of the First and Second Texas legislatures from 1846 to 1849. The family lived in Colorado County at the time of the 1850 census and then moved to Refugio, Texas, by 1860. Census records for that year show that T. Peyt McNeill attended school as a young man. The family was evidently comfortable, with a $3,800 personal estate value in 1860. T. Peyt McNeill married Sarah Elizabeth Neal on October 13, 1860. She died in 1865, and no records indicate that they had any children.
On March 8, 1862, McNeill enlisted in the Confederate Army in Bexar County. He served in James M. Norris’s Frontier Regiment, in Company H under Capt. John Dix and attained the rank of fourth sergeant. This group did scouting patrols in West Texas, with its main concern being attacks by American Indian groups. He served until February 14, 1863.
When he left the army, McNeill struck out on his own. He settled in Lagarto in Live Oak County to become a stock raiser. He married Mary Pearce on October 11, 1866. They had at least nine children: Peyton, Wallace, Leslie, Archie, Claude, Herbert Bruce, Marvin, Charles, and Sherrod. In 1870 the value of his personal estate was an estimated $5,000, with real estate being an additional $1,200. His agricultural career was not without setbacks; he lost a thousand sheep to disease and another thousand to weather according to the 1880 agricultural census. In this time, he was able to rely on his 400 horses and 186 head of cattle, as well as his corn crops and peach trees to avoid financial ruin.
By the 1890s McNeill had become one of the wealthiest citizens in the county and sold a thousand head of cattle at market annually. He joined the Farmers’ Alliance and raised stock and crops on his 12,000-acre ranch. When dissident Alliance members founded the People’s party, he was among their number. In 1894 McNeill was elected to represent District 88 (Atascosa, Karnes, Live Oak, and Wilson counties) in the House of the Twenty-fourth Texas Legislature.
As a representative, he proposed several reforms in line with his Populist beliefs. These included bills increasing the accessibility of free public education and requiring certification of teachers in the public schools. He served on the committees for Revenue and Taxation as well as the committee for Stock and Stock Raising. He was in favor of a strict “law-and-order” approach to laws and punishments, evidenced by his proposal to make robbery a capital offense. He also carried forth his party’s anti-monopoly stance by presenting a petition of his constituents against allowing the Aransas Pass Harbor Company’s appropriation of land in and around Nueces County. He was the only member to vote “nay” on H.B. 564, which required county commissioners to count the money held by county treasurers and reappraise the books to determine the county’s financial situation. His reasoning is lost to time, so why he voted this way is unknown. His service as a representative was punctuated by absences on account of illness, which presumably contributed to his death at the age of fifty-three on October 23, 1896. He was buried in Lagarto Cemetery in Live Oak County.