The Story Of Ellen Neal -- Part 3

BACK TRACKIN'

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Part 3: Gisela became her home. She didn't leave it for 30 years.

In Part 1, Ellen was born on the Brazos River in Texas, survived an attack by the Comanches, married a drifter, then married Will Neal. In Part 2, the family headed west to Arizona Territory, crossing west Texas and New Mexico. They became involved in a conflict remaining from the Lincoln County War and left under the cover of darkness. They arrived in Globe in 1889. Two years later, they decided to move to Gisela.

Ellen did not look forward to making a traveling wagon her home again, for she was again with child, but Will promised her if they liked Gisela and were able to buy some good farm and ranch land, he would build her a permanent home. On this promise, she prepared for the move. Her children were growing. Arthur was now 8, Curtis, 5, Birdie, 3, and Dollie, 1 year. Neely, Arthur and Curtis helped Will drive a small herd of cattle and horses, while Lula rode in the wagon and helped Ellen with the little ones. The trip was uneventful until they reached the Salt River. The spring rains had been unusually heavy and the river was too high to cross, so they set up camp and waited.

A week later, the water level was down and Ellen managed to get the wagon across without any problems. Lula and Curtis had to sit flat in the wagon and hold Birdie and Dollie. Ellen was very fearful that one of her children would drown, but everyone crossed safely.

The family traveled up Tonto Creek. The further they traveled, the rougher the country became. This was the Tonto Basin -- home of the Apache Indians. By 1891, most of the renegade Apaches had been captured, but many of the Indians who were taken to the reservation at San Carlos had returned to their ancestral homes because they had been treated so badly. They knew if they caused trouble, the Army would be after them, so they were peaceful if left alone.

One evening as Ellen and Will were making camp, a small band of Apaches rode up to their camp. Ellen was stricken with fear, grabbed her little children and hid in the wagon. The terror she felt as a child when the Comanches attacked her home would never leave her. Will and Neely tried to communicate with the Apaches and somehow found out all they wanted was tobacco and coffee -- two things they had learned to like on the reservation. Will gave them what they wanted and they rode off.

Ellen slept light that night, although her pregnancy was draining her and she needed restful sleep. Will and Neely took turns watching the livestock. Everyone was a little uneasy. The next morning as Ellen was preparing breakfast, the Indians rode up to their camp again. This time they wanted horses. Will gave them five and they left without incident.

Two days later, they looked down into the Gisela Valley and saw Tonto Creek winding through. The next morning, April 13, 1891, Will tied the four-horse team to the back of the wagon and told Ellen and Lula to round up the little ones and get in. The men had tied ropes to the back of the wagon as an extra precaution. Their horses could hold the wagon if something spooked the team. In later years, Ellen told her family how frightened she had been coming down the long ridges into Gisela and she described what she observed: "I saw nothing but cactus and mesquites. It was the most God-forsaken place I had ever seen."

The next day Will and Ellen looked at the places for sale and chose the one owned by John Sanders, the presiding elder of the Mormon settlement. Ellen had a better opinion of Gisela after she saw the irrigation ditches the Mormon people had dug, the beautiful gardens they had planted, and the big fruit orchards.

Ellen planted the rosebush cuttings she had brought from Texas. A little bit of Texas would always be with her. Will gratefully turned his horses and cattle into the big irrigated fields where grazing was plentiful.

The fall after the Neals settled in Gisela, Will and Dan rode to Fort Davis, Texas to get the two hundred head of cattle they had left with their stepfather, but when they arrived, they found that he had turned the cattle out. They never saw their mother or stepfather again.

Four months later, on Nov. 20, 1891, Ellen delivered a son, William Riley Neal Jr., her first child born in Arizona. Lula and two Mormon women helped with the delivery. He was known as Riley.

By spring, Ellen was living in her new house. It was small, but it was the first house she had lived in since she had left Texas six years earlier. The family had lived in the wagon while Will was building the house. He built flower boxes under the windows and she made curtains out of flour sacks -- her dream had come true. Many evenings Ellen rocked her babies in her rocking chair near the fireplace while Will softly played his fiddle. There was plenty of food and for the first time in many years, Ellen could relax. Gisela became her home and she never left it once for the next 30 years. The first time she left was in a model-T car driven by her son, Curtis, in 1921, and that was just a trip to Rye.

In 1897, Ellen's youngest sister, Lula, married Knight Parker and moved to Globe.

Ellen grew to love her home in Gisela more and more each year. She and Will were very happy. On Aug. 17, 1897, Ellen had another daughter, Annie Laura, whom she named after her two sisters. Ellen's oldest child, Arthur, was now 16. Her family was growing up and life continued to be good for them.

Ellen became friends with the Apaches who lived in the area. They wanted work, so Will hired some of the men to help plow his fields and Ellen hired some of the women to help her with the washing. Ellen was fascinated with Apache weaving techniques. As soon as the Indians discovered this, they began trading her baskets for coffee and tobacco. After the Mormon families left -- some went to Mexico, some to Lehi, and some to Concho -- Ellen was lonesome. She became life-long friends with some of the Apache women. One woman told her "There is a story in the stars." In the evenings, they sat on the porch and visited as darkness settled over the valley. The Apache woman would foretell of future happenings -- and many times she was right.

On Jan. 19, 1900, Ellen had another daughter, Katie Mae, later known as Catherine. Then in 1902, she had another daughter who died shortly after she was born. Will, alone, buried the baby in the Gisela Cemetery. The marker simply says "Neal Baby." Life, in general, had become better for Ellen, but heartache followed her.

Next week is the last of the four-part story on Ellen Neal.

Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, authors of Back Trackin', own and operate Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. The company has a growing selection of books on the history of Payson and Rim country. Call 474-0380 for details.

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