This is a story of the life of Dave O'Neill and was submitted by his son Bill O'Neill. The book is a wonderful account of his life and the times in which he lived, and I would like to thank Bill for sharing his family treasure with the Wise County Researchers. Following are excerpts from his book, some are funny, some are sad, some are harsh, and all are honest accounts of his life 
and those who shared it with him. 


The Life and Times of a Mountaineer Game Warden
by Dave O'Neill


    This is the story of my life, as related to my son Bill, in his home in Whittier,  California, in the years 1965 and 1969. I am now in my 72nd year, and I can look back on a life of hard times and good times, of smiles and sorrows, with a great many fond remembrances and but few regrets.
    I was born near the Appalachian Mountain coal mining town of Norton, Virginia, on May 25, 1898, the fourth child in a family of nine boys and four girls. My father was a wandering Irishman named William Joseph (Billy) O'Neill, from Newburg, New York. He was a railroad construction foreman and one of the best-known, best-liked men in Wise County. We learned very little about his family or his early life, other than that he had a brother named Jack and a sister named Kate, of whom he was very fond. He ran away from home as a boy of fifteen, in the wake of an argument with his father. As he left his father told him, "Don't ever darken this doorway again!". He didn't. Billy O"Neill (called "Pop" or "Uncle Billy" by his children) lived until 1934, becoming addicted to alcohol in his later years. I remember him as one hell of a man.
    My mother was the former Henrietta Nickels, the only child of David and Clara Beverley Nickels. She was born at Cornville, in Scott County, Virginia, and later lived at the Nettle Patch, in Wise County, at the head of Clear Creek. The Nickels and the Beverleys were descended from the Scotch-Irish pioneers who settled the Appalachians several generations back. There was said to be a trace of Indian blood in the family---but the same is said of most old families in that area. The Indian blood may or may not be there. My mother was a very tall, strong, God-fearing woman who somehow managed to smother each of her thirteen children with more love than most people know in a life time. She outlived my father by some twenty-five years.

      I grew up in times much harder than exist anywhere in this country today. I left school to work in the coal mines when I was nine years old, and there was nothing out of the ordinary about my doing so in that time and place. Nor was there anything unusual about seeing a nine-year old boy get killed ot crippled in the mines. It happened all too frequently.
    I escaped the mines to fight in a war, and later was fortunate enough to land a job as Wise County Game Warden. Both the man who preceded me and the man who followed me on that job were assassinated. I held the job for thirty years, and it is of my experience in the mountains during those eventful times 
that most of this book is written.

     Most people, in reading an autobiography, subconsciously class the writer into one of three categories: a) liar: b) egotist; c) both. It is my hope that on reading further, you will decide that I belong in none of these categories. I have tried to describe things as they happened, without overplaying my role or offering alibis for my own shortcomings. If I am to be judged, let the jurors in reaching a verdict consider first: a) Was he a product of his times?; b) Was he a man?
    If I had it all to do over again, I would choose the same route. In a way, law enforcement (especially as it relates to fish and game) is like show business : you're on the spot every minute, but if you do a good job, you serve the public in a most gratifying way. You help people enjoy themselves. The fellowship of good peace officers, the public respect, the special privileges that an officer enjoys are things that money can't buy. A man who spends his life in a factory or behind a desk or a plough can't imagine what it's like.
That's why I wanted to write this book.

Dave O'Neill
Fort Pierce, Florida



William Joseph "Billy" O"Neill, (born October 15, 1861-died September 15, 1934) and Henrietta Elvira Nickels(born June 11, 1874-died September 26, 1960) 
Married September 19, 1891. 

She was daughter of David Crockett Nickels and Clara Beverley.

Their children were:
Bridget Elvera, July 18, 1892

John Richard, December 28, 1893

Clara, January 1, 1896

William David, May 26, 1898, mountaineer game warden

Stallard Moranlee, August 1, 1900

Sampson Elmer, October 7, 1902

Thomas Kern, December 25, 1904

Katherine, March 3, 1907

Robert Paul, March 9, 1909

James Earl, December 15, 1910

Joseph Woodrow, June 26, 1913

Henrietta Lenora, July 12, 1915

Victor Felix, November 11, 1918

The family of William and Henrietta O'Neill, at the "Old Home Place" near Norton, Virginia in 1916. 
Back row, left to right, Dave, John, and Jim Baker, 

Vera's husband holding their son Bob. 

Middle Row: Clara, Stallard, Vera, holding daughter Arlene, Sam, and Tom.

Front row: Paul, Billy, holding Joe, Henrietta, holding Etta, Kate, and Jim. 

All children present and accounted for excpet Felix, who was born two years later.


Excerpts from The Book

Early Days
In the Coal Fields of Kentucky
Off to Join the Navy
The Philadelphia Years
The All American Laundry
Law Enforcement
Open Season on Game Wardens
Mountain People
Friends and Family
Parting Shots

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