When I attempt to write a short sketch of the career of this noble and generous-hearted young man, and my early schoolmate, the involuntary tear drops on the paper. I am carried back many years to our schoolboy days and childish sports, before our selfish natures had assumed entire control of our actions, and when, if we had a vein of good feeling running through our thought it would not be crushed out by what society would think of our action if we took some fallen young man by the hand and gave him an encouraging word. How many young and promising men have been ruined and lost for the want of some such friend, who undeterred from doing their duty by what society would think of them, instead of frowning upon them for their offense and shunning them as they would a leper, would "condemn the fault and not the actor of it," and thereby let them know 'twas their fault and not their person they shunned.
Could they only know the heart and secret workings of the tortured mind of those they condemn, how different would they act.
Hugh O'Neal came to this place when a boy, in the year 1821. His father, Thomas O'Neal, lived on and owned the first eighty acres of land north of and adjoining "Camp Morton," where are now the State Fair grounds. He was poor, and could do but little toward the education of his children.
Hugh, being industrious and very energetic, managed to acquire a fair English education, studied law and rose to a respectable position in his profession. No young man in the State bid fairer to rise to eminence and distinction than he did. . When the California mania was raging, in 1849, his ambition prompted him to risk his chances for fortune in that golden region, and it was there he fell victim to that destroying demon (intemperance) that annihilates all that is good and virtuous in our natures, and sends us to an early grave unhonored and unsung. After his return from California he did but little business. True, he was successful in some very important cases intrusted [sic] to his care, but the love of drink and a disappointed ambition brought him to an early grave, with but few relatives, though many friends, to drop the sympathetic tear upon his coffin.
In his case I would reverse the quotation so often used from Mark Anthony's oration over the dead body of Caesar, which reads" "The evil men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones." I would say, "The good men do lives after them; the evil is oft interred with their bones." So let it be with Hugh.
Some of the new and present citizens of Indianapolis may ask who was Hugh O'Neal? To such I would say, he was the peer in social standing and superior in talent to many who now stand upon the top round of the ladder in this refined society. He was very irritable, and frequently let his passion get the better of his judgment, and would often make harsh and uncalled for expressions to those he had intercourse with, but was always ready, when the momentary ebullitions of passion were over, to make reparation for anything said or done.
On one occasion he and the late Governor Wallace were opposing counsel. The Governor rather got the advantage of Hugh, which made him very angry, and he was quite abusive, to which the Governor paid no attention, knowing that it would soon be over. After court adjourned, the Governor was passing by the door of a saloon. Hugh was some distance behind. He called out to the Governor to stop. After Hugh came up he said, "Let's have a drink." "Certainly," said the Governor; "that is the only sensible remark I have heard you make to-day." And all was as well with them as though nothing had happened.
"The social glass I saw him seize,
The more with festive wit to please.
Daily increased his love of cheer;
Ah, little thought he death was near.
Gradual indulgence on him stole;
Frequent became the midnight bowl.
'Twas in that bowl the headache placed,
Which, with the juice, his lips embraced.
Despair next mingled with the draught;
Indignantly he drank and laughed."
Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 111-114.