The Story Of Ellen Neal -- Part 4

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Part 4: Her roses still bloom in Gisela

In Parts 1, 2 and 3, we read that Ellen Neal, who was born on the Brazos and survived a Comanche Indian attack, married Will Neal and headed for Arizona Territory, arriving in 1889. Two years later, the Neal family settled in Gisela where Ellen's father had settled. They became friends with the Apaches who lived in the area.

In 1905, tragedy struck the Neal family again. Spring rains had been heavy and Tonto Creek was roaring. Will Neal had some goats penned on the far side of the creek and he knew they would drown because the water was rising. He knew he had to cross the creek and free them. Ellen begged him not to go -- she had a bad feeling about it -- but he ignored her pleas. Will knew of a place where the creek split into separate channels, and figured to swim his horse across there.

He successfully crossed the first branch of the flood, but when he tried to cross the second channel, his horse fell. As Will slid from the back of his horse, he grabbed for its tail, but missed. Frantically, he reached for a willow branch and clung to it for just a second, but the branch broke. He desperately struggled for his life, but the surging waters swept him away as his sons, Arthur and Riley, who had come along with him on foot were watching from the creek bank. They were helpless to save him. The horse swam out, but Will did not come up. The young men ran to tell their mother. It was almost more than she could bear.

They sent word down Tonto Creek for everyone to watch for Will.

Two days later, a cowboy found a hand sticking up out of the sand in the lower Tonto Basin, about five miles south of where Will went under. The cowboy roped the hand and pulled Will's body up.

He contacted some nearby ranchers. They made a coffin for Will's body, then loaded it on a wagon and hauled it to the Neal Ranch in Gisela.

Ellen was relieved that he had been found, but she was devastated at his death. The days were warm and his body was decomposing, so he was buried the next day. There was no time to notify family in Globe and wait for them to arrive, but somehow his sister, Lou, heard about his death. She arrived horseback from Globe just as they were covering up the grave. She was so mad that they hadn't waited for her, that she wouldn't even stay with the family. She stayed overnight with the Holder family, then rode back to Globe. Ellen placed wild roses from Texas on his grave. Will had died exactly 14 years after arriving in Gisela. They had come to Gisela on April 13, 1891 and Will had died April 13, 1905.

Ellen's daughter, Katie, recalled years later how miserable the following summer was for her and her sister, Annie. "Every single day that long, hot summer, Mama would drag me and Annie up to that cemetery. She would fall on Papa's grave and cry and cry. Annie and I would cry to go home. It was terrible."

Ellen never looked at another man. She was a good looking woman with a cattle ranch. Several men came to visit her in the following years and tried to be friendly, but she would hardly talk to them. She loved only Will and always would.

She carried on the ranching tradition with the help of her sons. Will had branded the Tree, a brand he had used in Texas. After the Forest Service formed in 1905, Ellen was informed that someone else in Arizona was branding the Tree -- that she would have to record a new brand. She started using the Valentine in about 1910, but didn't have it recorded until 1926. The brand has been handed down through the family. Riley Neal owned it for years, then Calvin and Anna Mae Peace. At the present time, Ellen's great-granddaughter, Jayne Peace, owns it. Ellen gave the Neal Ranch to her son, Riley Neal, in 1928. In 1960, he sold it to Calvin and Anna Mae Peace (Ellen's granddaughter), and it is still owned by the Peace family. Including Jayne Peace and her son, Shawn Haught, and his children, Hunter and Hannah Haught, seven generations of Ellen's family have lived on this ranch.

For the first 27 years of her life, Ellen had moved from place to place, often outside the fringe of civilization. When she finally reached her permanent home in Gisela, she didn't leave it for 30 years, and then it was just a trip to Rye with her son, Curtis. Ellen lived out most of her life on the ranch in Gisela. She learned to read after Will died and enjoyed reading every evening. She only had nine grandchildren, but she had 19 great-grandchildren, most of whom she rocked.

Following are her children's marriages: Arthur married Bessie Newnham and had three children: Steve, Leora and Tim Neal; Curtis first married Lottie Hardt and had a son, Buster Neal, then he married Belle Morgan; Birdie married Robert Duke Hale and had Robert, Ralph and Anna Mae Hale; Dollie married Forest Hale and had Myrtle and Clarence Hale; Riley married Mabel Ezell for a short time; Annie married Ed Conway, Floyd Nugent, then Porter Clark; Katie married several times, the last to Eldon B. Fisher.

Ellen lived to be 98 years old. The last two years she lived in a rest home in Phoenix due to health problems. She died in Phoenix on March 6, 1962, then was taken back to Gisela to be buried beside her beloved Will. The world underwent many changes during her lifetime, but she wasn't aware of most of them. She never saw an airplane, a television, or used electricity or a telephone.

Before she died, death had taken three more of her children: Arthur in 1948, Annie in 1957, and Birdie in 1959. Both Dollie and Curtis possessed the longevity of their mother. Curtis died in 1979 at age 95. Dollie died in 1983 at age 94. Katie died in 1984 at age 84.

The rose cuttings that Ellen brought from Texas in 1891, still bloom in Gisela today. Each year the roses bring thoughts of Ellen and her trip to Arizona Territory -- her happiness and her heartaches. Cattle in Gisela still bear her Valentine brand. Ellen left a rich legacy to her children and grandchildren. By example, she taught determination, endurance, persistence and faithfulness.

Descendants of Ellen Neal living in Gisela today include the Hales, the Ashbys, the Peaces, the Haughts and the Barkleys.

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