Saturday, November 26, 2011

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.

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