John O'Neal was born at O'Neals, California, which was named for his father who had established a ranch there two years previously. John's entire life was spent in the area. He established a ranch of his own and later acquired the ranch on which he had been born. He had little formal schooling, but, as a keen observer, became well founded in the fundamentals of livestock production.
Until 1916 John raised cattle. For the next ten years he switched to sheep, but then returned to cattle ranching. A permittee on the Sierra National Forest for fifty years, he was quite disturbed over its marked deterioration during his lifetime. He wrote "Two Blades of Grass Where Thousands Grew Before" in 1953 in bitter disagreement with the policies of the United States Forest Service in managing this forest.
An active member of the California Cattlemen's Association, the California Wool Growers Association, and the California Farm Bureau Federation, Mr. O'Neal was a tireless worker for the best interests of the livestock industry. Widely known in livestock circles, he was president of the Madera County Cattlemen's Association for fourteen years.
His concern over the encroachment of brush on range lands led him to become an early cooperator with the University of California in studies on improvement of rangeland and range-cattle feeding. He served on a committee of ranchers which obtained changes in the state law to legalize control burning in California and was a leader in the development and promotion of the Madera County Brush Burning Plan, which became a model for use in other counties. For the last ten years of his life John was an active member of the Range Advisory Committee of the State Board of Forestry. In 1956 the California Seed Association honored him with the "Range Improvement Award".