Saturday, November 26, 2011

Radford Andrew Neal
By Ken Neal
According to family lore, Radford Andrew Neal, my grandfather, was part Cherokee Indian. My own father, Fred R. Neal, always told me that grandpa’s mother, Melissa Ussery, was Indian but no one knew how much.

This has always puzzled me. Although Melissa died when Rad was very young, perhaps even when he was born, he should have been told by his father, John Henry Neal, how much of an Indian his mother was.
Dad often quoted grandpa as being proud of his Indian ancestry, often quoting Indians at the expense of whites, in sayings such as “White man make big fire and stand far away from it. Indian make little fire, and get close to it.”

Or, he would say, “I thought you had enough Indian in you to have good teeth.” Or, he once said that he choose to “go white,” implying that he could have followed Indian ways more closely.
Melissa’s heritage was brought home to me recently when it dawned on me that my Grandpa Radford obviously has Indian blood. The few pictures we have of him show that, particularly the one shown here. It was taken in the fall before he died in December 1937. He had just turned 57.
But Union Army records show that his father, John Henry Neal, was 5 feet, two Inches tall, weighed about 110 pounds, had blonde hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. Of course this when John Henry was about 18, so he might have grown some, but he certainly wouldn’t have changed the color of his eyes or his complexion.
Since Radford was the product of John Henry and Melissa, Melissa must have been mostly Indian, because Radford looks to be Indian. However, genetics are unpredictable. Radford’s last son, Junior Earl, was the spitting image of his father who produced Junior with Mary Elizabeth Ervin, who claimed not a trace of Indian blood.
I have not been able to find any mention of Melissa beyond the 1880 U. S. census, which found her the wife of John Henry on Magazine Mountain, Arkansas, birthplace of Radford Andrew.
In checking Cherokee records, I do find many Indians with the last name Ussery. I once found an Indian named Ussery living in the general area who had two slaves girls listed as mullatoes. One would have been the same age as Melissa.

Given the wild and remote area that was Magazine Mountain in 1880, it is not hard to imagine that John Henry, having lost his first wife, Elizabeth, would have married an Indian or a mullato and in the tenor of the times, did not broadcast the heritage of his wife.

The 1880 census, taken when Melissa was carrying Radford Andrew, shows her to be 23. The family claim that she was half Indian probably is accurate.

The John Henry Neals
By Ken Neal

The view from the “mountains” is spectacular.

While there is a high point known as Magazine Mountain, all of west-central Arkansas is mountainous only relative to the surrounding terrain that ultimately slopes to the Arkansas River. “Hill country” is probably a better description for the area in the counties of Logan, Yell, Perry, Conway, Garland and Hot Springs.
But Magazine Mountain stands out enough for the French explorers to have considered it a mountain and for later settlers to have found it a bit cooler and less buggy than the lower areas along the Arkansas which are hardly hundreds of feet above sea level. Plateaus of friable land attracted them.
There is a wide variety of timber, mostly hardwood and scrub oak with some southern Pine in spots. Topsoil is thin, shot through with sandstone, making farming difficult. Even today, with roads crossing the area, it is a wild country with a great range of wildlife.
In 1880, it was far more remote than today. Then, travel was onhorseback or by wagons, often pulled by mules or oxen. There were two John Henry Neals in the area. The census of 1850 shows the first John Henry living in Montgomery County, Arkansas. John Henry is 35 and 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 3-year-old boy is John Henry the second. We are sure the father and son were named John Henry because of a letter written by the younger John Henry’s daughter. Referring to her half brother, Radford Andrew, she assured his children that she and Rad had the same “daddey” but different mothers and that their father, the second John Henry, had the same name as his father.
The 1860 Census does not list either Neal, perhaps because the Civil War interfered. We do know that the younger John Henry enlisted in the Union army on November 21, 1864 in Lewisburg, Arkansas. He is described as 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with 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 he was born in 1847, so he would have been 17 or 18 when he enlisted. He served until after the end of the war in 1865. It is claimed that the state is so rocky that the Union calvary in Arkansas regularly wore the shows off horses and mules. This is particularly interesting because John Henry and Radford, his son, were reputedly experts with mules.
In 1870, census takers found the younger John Henry living in Plant Township, Pulaski County, Arkansas. He is 23, his wife, Elizabeth is 21 and they have a child named Jamie of uncertain age.
In 1880, the census takers located him in Washington Township, Conway County, Arkansas. He is now 33 years old and his wife is Melissa Ussery, 23. Elizabeth is presumed dead although records are not available. Two children are listed on the 1880 census as well. They are Joe T, 11, Alfred, 4.
Radford Andrew Neal was born Sept. 18, 1880. Other records indicate Melissa died the same day, presumably in childbirth. This makes sense. Radford had no full brothers or sisters. The letter telling of the John Henry Radfords was written by Stella, Radford’s half sister. Stella was younger than Radford and had a different mother, making it certain that Melissa died sometime between the birth of Rad and Stella.
Naturally, the 1890 census records that could shed some light on this burned. None of the Neals are mentioned in the few 1890 records that survived.
In 1900, the younger John Henry Neal is living in Mountain Township, Garland County, Arkansas. He is 50, his wife is Sarah Margaret, 47, and nine children are listed, ranging in age from 19 to 4 years.
Family lore is that John Henry proposed to the recently widowed Sarah Margaret Bland from the back of a mule. Having called her out of the house, he said, “Sarah, would you like to get married?” She “allowed” that she would.
“Then get your bonnet on.” It is said that she went back into the house, took off her apron, put on her bonnet and climbed on the mule behind John Henry and they went off to get married.
Interestingly, we found a Radford Bland in the cavalry at the same time as John Henry who lived on a farm not far away with his wife Sarah. Radford Bland died about the same time as Melissa Ussery. He is quite a bit older than Sarah, who is about the same age as John Henry. Could this account for Radford Andrew Neal’s name?
Radford prided himself in being an expert with horses and mules, especially mules, but it is likely that his father John Henry was the original expert. Radford also played the fiddle and it probably was John Henry who taught him.
John Henry is found living with his daughter, Stella, and her husband near the little town of Stidham, Oklahoma in 1910. He died in 1912. He is buried in the Lenna Cemetery and his grave is marked by a white tombstone issue for U. S. veterans.
On Feb. 17, 1914, Radford and Mary Ervin have a fifth child, a son they named Rufus Leslie. He later changed that name to Fred Rufus Neal. He is the father of Kenneth Neal, who in turn is the father of Patrick Neal, the originator of Neal Archives.