Sunday, October 9, 2011

John Henry Neal, Jr. by Ken Neal

John Henry Neal, Jr. (1847-1912)

by Ken Neal

Magazine Mountain – West Central Arkansas

The view from the mountain top is spectacular, overlooking deep valleys and streams. Foggy mornings make the higher points stand out.

While there is a high point known as Magazine Mountain, the entire area of west-central Arkansas is mountainous. Mountainous as mountains are known in the Ozarks. However, a spot less than 2,800 feet above sea level is generally described as a hill and “hill country” pretty well describes the area encompassing the counties of Logan, Yell, Perry, Conway, Garland and Hot Spring.

Timber is mostly hardwood and scrub oak underbrush, with southern pin in spots. Largely sandstone, topsoil suitable for farming is the exception. The area has a wide variety of wild life and even today, with roads and highways crossing the area, it is wild country.

In 1880 Magazine Mountain was wild and remote. Travel by horseback or wagon pulled by mules and oxen was slow and at the very least uncomfortable.

John Henry Neal, Sr. arrived in Arkansas in the early 1800’s and by 1850 census records indicate a John Henry Neal living in Montgomery County, Arkansas. John in 35, his wife Mary is 30. Elisa is 13, Alfred is 12, James is 8, Matilda is 4, John is 3 and Sally is 5 months old.

The 1860 census has no mention of John Henry Neal and his family, however, Civil War records indicate John Henry Neal, Jr. enlisting in the Union Army on November 21, 1864 in Lewisburg, Arkansas and became a member of the Union calvary. He is described as 5’4, hazel eyes, light hair and fair complexion. He is listed as being born in Hot Springs County, Arkansas and works as a farmer.

The earliest records indicate that he was born in 1847, so he is likely fudging his age to gain entry into the army or Union recruiters have rounded him up to “volunteer”. Exploits of the Union cavalry in Arkansas claim that the state was so rough that the shoes of horses and mules were regularly worn off.

In 1870 census, John Henry Neal, Jr. is found living in Plant Township, Pulaski County, Arkansas. He is listed as John Henry Neal, 23, wife Elizabeth, 21, and with a child named Jamie (age uncertain).

By 1880, John Henry Neal, Jr. is in Washington Township, Conway County, Arkansas. He is now 33 years old and his wife is Melissa Ussery who is 23 years old. Elizabeth is presumed dead, although records showing this are not available. Two children are listed on the 1880 census entry as well, Joe T., age 11 and Alfred, age 4. Joe T. is likely Elizabeth’s child referenced in the 1870 census as “Jamie”.

Melissa died on September 18, 1880 while giving birth to Radford Andrew Neal. It is believed that he was Melissa’s only child and family stories indicate that Radford did not have any full brothers.

In 1900, John Henry Neal, Jr. is living in Mountain Township, Garland County, Arkansas. John Henry is approximately 50 years old, his new wife is Sarah Margaret, age 47, and nine children are listed ranging in age from 19 to 4 years old.

Family stories indicate that John Henry proposed to Sarah Margaret Bland by riding his mule up to Sarah’s house (she was recently widowed) and calling her outside. “Sarah, would you like to get married?” Drying her hands on her apron she replied that she “allowed” that she would.

“Well, get your bonnet then.” Sarah went back in the house took off her apron, put on her bonnet and then climbed onto the back of the mule with John Henry to go get married.

In 1910, John Henry Neal, Jr. is living with his daughter Stella in southern Oklahoma. He is 63 years old. Radford is living nearby and is 29 years old. He is married to Mary Elizabeth, age 23, and they have two children, Addie Pamela, age 5 and James Henry, age 4.

Radford prided himself in being an expert with horses and mules, especially mules, however it is likely that John Henry was the original expert. Radford also played the fiddle and Ulster Scots (which the Neals probably were) are known for playing jigs and reels on the fiddle, unlike some Scots who played bagpipes. It is likely that John Henry also taught Radford to fiddle.

John Henry Neal dies in 1912, age 65 near the small town of Stidham, Oklahoma. He is buried in Lenna Cemetary and his gravesite is marked by a white tombstone issued for U.S. veterans. That same year, Radford and Mary have a son Rufus Leslie Neal, a.k.a. Fred R. Neal.

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