Uncle Dan McLennan

Dan “Uncle Dan” McLennan was born in 1849 as a slave to Neil McLennan in what would a year later become known as McLennan County, named for his master. Uncle Dan became a beloved member of not only the McLennan family but of the Waco community as well. He is best remembered for his fiddle playing, carrying his instrument around town with him in a flour sack.

Life on the frontier provided a variety of challenges for Uncle Dan and his family. Uncle Dan’s father, Alf, also lived as a slave of the McLennan family and lost his ear when Native Americans attacked the McLennan farm. Uncle Dan himself, living as a slave in the backwoods of Texas, experienced several encounters with Indians, though all peaceful. As a boy, he learned to fish as well as hunt squirrels, raccoons, possums, and even deer, helping the family survive on the frontier.

Even after gaining his freedom at the end of the Civil War, Dan remained closely connected to the McLennan family. He was especially loyal to Catherine McLennan Davis, the daughter of Neil McLennan. According to Uncle Dan’s daughter, Mrs. Davis took Dan under her wing, becoming a mother of sorts to him. Catherine taught him to read and write, a rare skill for a born slave. In 1870, on Catherine’s farm, Dan married Ann, who would come to be known as Aunt Ann. They had twelve children, six boys and six girls, in their fifty years of marriage.

On a few occasions, Dan went on cattle drives with the McLennan/Davis family. He rode up to Kansas, bringing cattle down with him. Though he worked for a time on Davis land, Dan became a successful farmer in his own right, working his own farm. The family grew subsistence crops to live off of, as well as cash crops such as cotton.

Living in China Spring, Uncle Dan and his family frequently made the slow journey to Waco by horse-pulled wagon. Often the family would return home the same day, leaving at sunset and finding their way back in the dark. Several of Dan’s family members lived in Waco, and on occasion the family stayed overnight with one of his brothers who owned a saloon in town. In Waco, Uncle Dan was in high demand due to his great talent for fiddling. He often found himself hired by white families to play at picnics, reunions, and other celebrations. These festivities were large, all-day affairs, complete with music, singing, dancing, and piles of food. Sometimes Dan’s sons, also musically inclined, would accompany him, playing guitar alongside his fiddling.

Uncle Dan died in 1919 at the age of seventy-one. During his lifetime, he witnessed a monumental amount of change.  Waco and McLennan County were founded, and Waco blossomed from a village into a thriving city with nearly forty thousand residents. Born a slave, he experienced emancipation, dying a free man. He lived during a time of great transformation and the strife which came with it. Though a great deal of racial violence and tensions occurred during his lifetime, he was much loved by both whites and blacks in Waco and McLennan County. Uncle Dan and Aunt Ann are buried in unmarked, concrete-covered graves in a corner of the L. R. Davis Cemetery (as marked on the Waco History map) in China Spring.

Images

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ann

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ann

Uncle Dan was remembered for his large handlebar mustache, which he took great pride in waxing and twisting for special occasions. Here he poses alongside his wife, Aunt Ann. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Old Waco Settlers Reunion at Cameron Park

Old Waco Settlers Reunion at Cameron Park

Uncle Dan, though he is not visible in the image, played his fiddle at this reunion, and many other similar events. Before being driven to Cameron Park for the gathering, Uncle Dan reportedly drank a glass of straight whiskey, which was apparently a necessary step in preparation for fiddling.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Neil McLennan

Neil McLennan

This was the original cabin of Uncle Dan’s owner, located on the South Bosque and built in 1845. It is not clear if Uncle Dan ever lived in this cabin, but he would have lived in similar accommodations in his early years as a slave on the Texas frontier.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Waco City Square (c. 1865)

Waco City Square (c. 1865)

This photo of Waco was taken in approximately 1865. Marking the end of the Civil War, it was a period of great change for Waco, the state, and the nation. In this year, Uncle Dan gained his freedom along with many other McLennan County slaves, starting a new life as a freedman.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

China Spring Business District

China Spring Business District

Uncle Dan spent his life in the area of China Spring. This photo—taken circa 1915—shows what the town would have looked like at the end of Dan’s life. Several businesses, including multiple blacksmith shops, a United States Post Office, and a grocery and dry goods store, can be seen lining the main street along with horse-drawn wagons and buggies.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Bringing Cotton to Town

Maggie McLennan Gibbons describes her memories of bringing cash crops from their farm in China Springs to sell in Waco. | Source: Gibbons, Maggie McLennan, interviewed by Roger Conger and Bob Davis, November 18, 1968, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Remembering Uncle Dan and his Fiddle

Maggie McLennan Gibbons recalls her earliest memories of her father, Uncle Dan. | Source: Gibbons, Maggie McLennan, interviewed by Roger Conger and Bob Davis, November 18, 1968, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Entertaining at Waco Events

Uncle Dan was well remembered for his fiddle playing, offering entertainment for big occasions and celebrations as remembered by Gibbons. | Source: Gibbons, Maggie McLennan, interviewed by Roger Conger and Bob Davis, November 18, 1968, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Stephanie Endicott, “Uncle Dan McLennan,” Waco History, accessed June 24, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/143.
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