WILLIAM HENRY 'Will' NEELY; April 2, 1866 to November 7, 1949; 83 years old
By Roy ”Buddy” Neely, Jr.
This is the story of the William Henry Neely family as a whole during the entire period of his life, from 1866 until 1949. There are many sources for events related here from cousins as handed down to them from their fathers and mothers, Will and Ulah’s children; they are far too many to acknowledge individually. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that very substantial contributions are derived from audio tapes made by Miles in 1987 and by Unice in early 1988, without which this narrative, and therefore our knowledge of the formative years of their generation would be much poorer. At the time their voices were recorded, both those uncles had in mind the importance they perceived of the preservation for future Neely generations of their memories of daily life. A verbatim transcript is not presented. However, the convention is adopted here to include many instances of direct quotations from either, in which case they are shown in italics. Those from Unice appear in the early part of the narrative, from Alabama until the mention of school at Barstow, and those thereafter are from Miles. Many of the stories quoted from them had long existed in the oral histories of our family in somewhat different versions, and which had been incorporated into an earlier draft of this document. It seemed that direct quotations from our parents’ generation in most cases would be more accurate and add the flavor of the narrator’s first hand account. Passages in quotation marks are verbatim from various other oral histories.
Blount County, Alabama 1865 - 1892 William Henry “Will” Neely was born in Blount County, Alabama, the eldest of five brothers, who, in addition to Will, were T.H., Stephen, John, and Ernest, and one sister, Madora.
Their father, Theophilus Monroe Neely, otherwise known as “Off" and their mother Sarah Hood, called “Serry”, were married in Blount County in 1865 where all their six children were subsequently born and raised.
Those were difficult years for farmers such as the Theophilus Neelys, working apparently marginal land, and evidence of that is handed down in oral stories. It is important to realize that this was the period of Reconstruction immediately following the Civil War, at which time the South was generally and greatly impoverished. Blount County is in the northeast area of Alabama in uneven terrain where farms were typically small, and larger flat fields are rare.
They lived in a log cabin on a rented hilly farm. The custom was to live on what could be produced on the farm and to purchase what could not be produced at a country store where there was a water-powered mill to grind wheat and corn. Papa (Will) didn’t talk too much about his life in Alabama, but I can remember him telling about taking a sack of corn on a mule to the mill to be ground. The purchases would be bare necessities such as sugar, coffee, spices, needles and buttons, but sugar would only be bought when the cane crop was a failure (so syrup could not be made). Cooking was done over a fireplace in cast iron vessels. The beds were made in the corners of the rooms with logs laid on the dirt floor in more or less squares and filled with corn shucks and covered with blankets and quilts. Much of the cloth was homemade. Will much later related to his son Roy’s wife, Elizabeth, that he was “a great big boy” or perhaps “nearly grown” before he slept in a house with a proper bed. In about 1878 their cotton crop was better than usual so they were able to pay of their accumulated bill at the store and have some money left over. Theophilus decided to surprise his wife, Sarah, by buying a dresser and mirror and wooden bedstead with springs and a mattress, which came to $50 more than the cotton had brought, the personal note for which was to be paid the following year after harvest. Unfortunately, the next cotton crop was not good so he had to take care of the note some other way, so he sold the hogs which were to be the family meat that winter. There was then no bacon, salt pork, ham, sausage or lard... they lived on corn bread syrup, turniup greens when available, and chicken now and then. Roy and his brothers later retold this story as an example of Off’s honesty and willingness to pay a debt no matter what the hardship. The women of the family thought it was an example of false pride to put the family’s welfare in danger to buy furniture that (no matter what our current standards) was not strictly necessary.
The previous paragraph is virtually the same and repeated from the
Thomas Neely-1728 project (Chapter 2) which described the life of the Theophilus family. It is told here again to emphasize the historical foundation of the struggle for survival with grace, which was an ongoing theme in our three previous generations, those of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.
The births of Will’s brothers were T.H. in 1868, Stephen Farris in 1869, John Theophilus “John T.” in 1875, and Ernest Monroe in 1879. Their one sister Madora “Dora” or “Duckie” was born in 1877. T.H. apparently did not survive childhood as he does not appear in the 1880 census and has not otherwise been heard from. The remaining five children all reached adulthood, married and had children of their own, although in widely varying numbers: Will had 15 children, Stephen Farris had 5, John T. had 7, Madora had 5, and Ernest had 1. We usually think of our grandfathers and great grandfathers as men of many years with long beards. Such was not the case with Theophilus; he died in 1880 after the hard winter of’79-’80 as a young man of only 31 years, and just 7 months after the birth of his youngest son, Ernest. His passing placed an even greater hardship on his widow, Sarah Hood, especially until her subsequent marriage to Andrew Jackson “Jack” (Unice records “Ike") Nation in 1885. A half brother to Will and his siblings was born to Sarah and Jack in 1886. He was named Hope Nation. These matters are discussed in greater detail in
Thomas Neely-1728 project (Chapter 2) and Chapter 24.
Papa never talked about church much, but he must have met Mother at church because her father, Stephen Allgood was a Primitive Baptist preacher, and a school teacher when he was a young man. In fact, Papa went to school to him a few months at a time and he finished about the fourth grade. Mother said she finished about the fifth grade. I think they both did well, going to one room, one teacher schools, but only when a teacher was employed, and when farm work and weather permitted the school to be in session. Will married Leota Ulahla Ildagirt Allgood on October 15, 1885 in Blount County when he was 19 years old and she was 17. Mother said that she eloped and married soon after she was seventeen in order to get away from her domineering stepmother, which is apparently why her other sisters did the same. (See chapter 4, page 122 for further explanation) Neither Papa nor Mother talked much about where or how they lived in Alabama after they married. It is understood that Will began farming on his own and, like his father, was not doing well on poor soil which was probably worn out from repeated cropping and erosion, and without supplementary fertilizer or crop rotation which were not available or known in that day and time. One repeated and thought to be reliable story from oral history has it that at some point after his marriage, probably in 1891 or 1892, Will traveled to Texas where he visited with relatives, probably Henry Wood and his wife Sarah Minerva Nation (who was a first cousin of Sarah Hood, their common great grandfather being Nipper Hood). The Woods lived on a farm near the community of Maloney in Ellis County some 35 miles south of Dallas. Will was favorably impressed by the rich dark soil in that Central Texas black land prairie, enough so that he took a cloth sugar sack of the dirt home to Alabama where he declared to Ulah, as he deposited it on the table for emphasis and evidence, “Mother, I’m never going to farm a poor piece of land again.”
Unice once said, in response to the question of what motivated Will’s move to Texas, that Will was looking for a better way to feed his family, a better place to farm, and that that was the same reason for the subsequent family moves to Nolan County, Texas; Barstow in Ward County, Texas; and eventually to Gilbert, Arizona.
Another well repeated and convincingly told reason Will came to Texas emerged from the John T. Neely branch during research among his descendants. Mac Stiles had heard from his mother (who was a daughter of Georgia Allgood, sister of Ulah, and also from Blount County, Alabama) that Will “had to leave Alabama”, but without knowing exactly why. John T.’s grandchildren later revealed that sometime in the early 1890’s, Will had been caught in a crime associated with liquor, undoubtedly in a desperate attempt to obtain money to support his wife and four children, and was due to go to the penitentiary. His brother, John T., not yet married at age about 17 and without dependents, somehow took Will’s place and served the sentence, allowing Will to be free to support his family. Whether the substitution was contrived, or whether it was with the approval of the authorities is not known. Perhaps a part of a “plea bargain/switch” was a provision that Will leave Alabama. No hint of this story has ever surfaced from Will’s descendants. In an effort to find supporting documentation, Mac Stiles visited Blount County in 2001 and found in the “Sheriff’s Feeding Accounts” in Blount County an entry for a John Neely, ca 1893 in jail for “selling liquor”. The inmates were required to pay thirty cents a day to be fed, and accounts were kept for collection of the amounts due. No other records were found. If true, why was this event kept such a secret? The answer from four of John T.’s grandchildren was simply that in that day and time, having been in prison was such a serious blot on a person’s reputation that it was just not talked about. Today, in retrospect, John’s taking Will’s place to prevent his wife and children’s starvation strikes one as a noble deed. How long was John T. in prison? We can only guess, but we know two facts that likely limit it. Will came to Texas in the late winter of 1892, probably after the completion of that crop year. Did the above event happen that fall? John T. himself also later migrated to Ellis County, Texas soon enough to meet and court Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Henson, whom he married in Waxahachie on December 30, 1895.
Ellis County, Texas 1892 - 1905 Maypearl, Maloney, Venus In December 1892 (probably), Will and Ulah and four children arrived by train in Dallas from Alabama. With them they brought their entire worldly possessions contained in the bags they carried and a 4 x 4 foot pine box. I remember him saying he got off the train with $12.50 in his pocket. The children were Erastus 5 years old, Clyde 4, Wastella 1, and Marcellus as a baby.
Uncle Henry took them to his place in a wagon where in a few days they had been placed in a small box house papered with peeling paper to help keep the cold Texas wind out. Uncle Henry furnished them with a cow to milk and corn to grind to make bread, and it seems there were turnips to eat.
Papa says there was a little cotton yet to pick but very little else that he could find to do. They first “stayed for a few weeks with Uncle Henry Wood” (preserved in Elizabeth’s handwriting) in Ellis County. According to Unice’s or Roy’s later oral account, an arrangement had been made by Will to become a tenant farmer and so they were able to occupy a small drafty house “on Little Onion Creek” near the community of Maloney in the southeast part of Ellis County, and some 15 miles from the county seat of Waxahachie. There followed 13 years of farming at several locations in the area of Maypearl in the western part of Ellis County, and nearby Venus in adjoining Johnson County. They lived in a succession of very poor quality houses, one being so open that the chickens could not be kept out. Another house had no cook stove so Ulah prepared food in an open fireplace. They were apparently very poor and times were hard, at least in the early years. The first summer in Texas (1893), Marcellous died before his second birthday. In 1989, Unice recounted that he had heard that when Marcellus was buried, on arriving at the burial site at Maloney Cemetery, rope to lower the little coffin had been forgotten, so they took the reins off of the team’s harness and used those leather straps instead.
Somehow Papa made contact with a Mr. Ike or Issac Griffith, (and his son R. Wells Griffith) a landowner and banker, and he would rent Papa a piece of land and after Papa made a good crop and improved the place, he would give Papa another. Any way you look at it, by the time I was born, November 15, 1902, Mr. Griffith rented him his home place with an upstairs in it. The stairs had no banister and they said I tried to crawl up the stairs and fell from about five feet up. We lived in this house about three years.
During the years in Ellis and Johnson Counties the family grew rapidly with the birth of Grover in 1893 Farrye in 1895 S T in 1896 Roy in 1898 Otto in 1900 Unice in 1902 and A E (Bud) and his twin E A (who survived only five months) in 1904. All the children were born at home with the aid of female relatives or friends. Doctors were few and far between even if their services could have been afforded. The principal crop was always cotton in black land central Texas in those days and there are recollections of long rows of cotton to be chopped in the summer and the same long rows to be picked in the fall. So we must imagine a picture of stair-stepped kids of all ages working in the fields more or less constantly to help make financial ends meet. By 1905 there were 10 children from ages 1 to 18, plus two parents; 12 mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. There must have been well worn and patched overalls, flour-sack homemade shirts and dresses, bare feet in summer and constant work, work, work, not only in the fields but the home as well. Two of the children were kept out of school each Monday to assist with the weekly laundry. Roy later said he regretted being old enough as a child to draw that duty. Nevertheless, this time of trial and training in pride and hard work was indelibly impressed into the character of all the Neely children. Roy, always the smallest in stature, fiercely claimed that he could outwork any of his brothers. Doubtless, similar claims were made by each of the others. Enormous pride in succeeding through sheer physical effort and dogged determination characterized the entire family.
The facts of Will’s mother, Sarah’s, life with her smaller children in Alabama after the death of Theophilus in 1880 are related in detail in Chapter 2, page 39, and Chapter 24, page 293, but will be briefly repeated here as follows. Some years after the second marriage of Sarah to “Jack” Nation, that union became intolerable, and probably late in the year 1893 or early 1894, Will went back to Alabama to bring his mother and remaining brothers and sister to Texas, or arranged for them to come. The group included Will’s brother Ernest, then 14, his sister Madora, 16, and his half brother Hope Nation, 7, as well as Sarah’s aged mother, Rachel Scott Hood, who was in poor health. Elizabeth’s handwriting records that “Maloney is where they, Sarah and Rachel, lived”, and “Grandma Neely and Grandma Hood are buried Maloney in Ellis County.” Rachel died April 18, 1894 and Sarah died May 15, 1896, according to entries in the Will and Ulah Neely Bible, although an entry in a local newspaper of the day indicates that Rachel died in 1896 also.
Nolan County, Texas 1905 - 1912 Wastella and Loraine
Papa, always looking for something to better our way of life, discovered what he thought was just the right thing. He found he could buy some good prairie land for one dollar per acre just ten miles north of the T & P (Texas and Pacific) Railroad and about eleven miles northwest of Roscoe.
By now he had teams and mules and horses, some cattle, but not much money. He persuaded Mr Griffith to lend him $1,000 with which to buy 640 acres in the northwest corner of Nolan County and 320 acres adjoining just across the county line in Fisher County. Papa evidently farmed one more year in Ellis County after he had bought the land (ca 1904), then took the older boys and wagons and hauled lumber 20 miles from Sweetwater, Texas, and with the help of neighbors built a two story house. At least part of it was two story. The upstairs provided the room on one side for the two girls (Wastella, 14, and Fairye, 10) and the other side was for all the older boys. The downstairs was under the boys room which was Papa and Mama’s room, and the younger boys stayed in it. Under the girls room was the living room, and off the living room was the dining room and kitchen. There was a well and elevated water tank (photo page 112) and water piped to the house, not in it. On the porch we washed our faces and hands before going in the house to eat and live. Water for cooking and dish washing had to be carried into the house and heated on the wood cook stove. Later we used kerosene for cooking because wood to burn was so scarce.
Will and family moved from Maypearl to Nolan County about December, after I was three years of age (November 15, 1905) when the house was already built. Dad had built a pond and we had to cross the pond to the pasture out there. We had a galvanized tank for the stock to drink out of and a barn and corrals for the animals. They had poplar trees along the way from the well out to the pond tall poplar trees, because I remember the pond had a lot of turtles in it.
The family lived at Wastella in that same house for six years. The last three children were born there: Miles in 1907, Otie in 1908 and Sarah Dixie in 1911. Erastus probably left home early in that time period, perhaps 1908. He married Lutie Tillie of Moody, Texas, a sister of our neighbor, in 1908 when he was 21.
Many things occurred during those years, growing up. We had to entertain ourselves, the children did. 1 don’t recall going to town anytime. We went to church, about eight miles west of there in what they call the Lone Wolf Community. The first few years the older children walked or rode horses to the school about two miles to the south and east toward Roscoe, but eventually Dad got the community to build a school on the land he donated, ten acres, about the center of our section in the northwest corner of Nolan County. It had an outhouse in one corner of the ten acres for the girls and one in the other corner for the boys. The schoolhouse was about in the middle of the ten acres. Now if you have a school house, you had to have a school teacher and since our family had most of the children in the school, Dad and Mother had to furnish a place for the teacher to stay and board for the teacher. That meant that the girls had to give up their room to the school teacher. So the girls had to move down into the living room. Evidently Papa felt it was necessary to enlarge the house, so they built another addition.
The school served for a church when we could get an itinerant preacher to preach for us. We had a foot pedaled organ, and so did the school. My older sister Wastella played the organ, mostly by ear, and later on Dad traded it for a piano and Fairye took a few lessons. The problem was, there was no one in the community to teach.
It may be deduced that Will was more prosperous in the early part of this period because the History of Nolan County records that “Will Neeley provided land when the Roscoe, Snyder, and Pacific Railway was constructed in 1908. Neeley named the town site for his eldest daughter Wastella. It soon had stores, a hotel, and a school, but it remained small due to the proximity of other towns.
The land northwest of our place included Scurry County with Snyder the county seat and further north was Post City and they needed a railroad and the railroad was to cross the northeast corner of our section of land, so Papa thought he would take advantage of this and build a town and name it Wastella after his oldest daughter. He had the town site surveyed into lots and streets and advertised and sold lots but not too many were paid for before Papa found after drilling several wells that it was not good drinking water in the whole area. Oh, we had good tasting water where we lived, but just half a mile away from the railroad. According to Wastella, the town’s name came from the railroad surveyors who needed a place name for the water stop to be established there. They asked Will the name of his oldest daughter, which they then applied to their survey plat. We might suppose that the fact that Will had given the land may have influenced their choice.
Now, Papa had put in a general merchandise store where the post office was located and Wastella was the post mistress. One cool fall morning Papa and Wastella were at the store a half mile away. Mother was in the garden, Fairye had stayed home from school for some reason, I don’t know why. Miles was a baby about four months old, Ellis was about three years old and I was five.
Ellis ran into the kitchen we don’t know yet what happened but it seemed that he tried to heat the fire and we think he tried to put some more wood in the fire box but he could not get it in all the way and returned the stick he had been trying to force in back to the wood box. Ellis eventually returned to the room where we were. I later opened the door to the dining room and went into the kitchen. I saw the wood box on fire with the flames going up the wall and immediately called Mother. She ran into the house and started the faucet on the porch and using a wash basin and bucket began dousing the fire, but it had already reached the ceiling. Papa heard Mother screaming “Fire, Fire" from the store and jumped on our little mustang pony, Daisy, and within two minutes was there and with an ax climbed on the roof chopped a hole in the roof and extinguished the fire before it destroyed the wall completely. That was why the new addition was hurried up.
They always kept a lot of chickens and evidently hatched their own chicks and turned the eggs every day and he would fatten them with oats. Papa must have furnished the oats so the little chickens would have green feed. Among other things, Dad put an orchard in. Between the house and the barn there was a low place and below the dam where he made the pond he put in an orchard ... maybe I ate some of those green peaches but I don’t remember getting the belly ache. I do remember going down there though...maybe that was the reason I was chastised for it .... Mother came out and got a switch off a tree at one end of the house I ran, but of course she finally caught up with me and I was dancing around and she made me dance a little more...that was one of my learning experiences... I had to obey Mother; when she said stop, not to run.
With further regard to standards of discipline, it is understood, but with only a few specific remembered examples, that Will was a rather strict authoritarian, and whipped his boys for whatever was considered to be out of line. Roy (at what age we don’t know) “got a bad whipping for forgetting to milk the cow one evening.” Miles recalled that “the only thing I was scared of was when I was anticipating my daddy’s stick. I was afraid of my daddy. He was the greatest guy in the world when I wasn’t ....... .”
We had plenty of milk and food was very simple...sweet milk and cornbread for supper, there was plenty. And for breakfast we usually had gravy. Or sausage and gravy. Yeah, sausage. And fry that, and get the grease on it and put flour in that and brown it and pour milk in it.
Someone outside the family once asked Ulah how she managed to feed such a large family and her reply was, “With a little bit of meat and a lot of gravy!” It was evidently devoured hungrily, and while certainly not nutritionally balanced by today’s standards, it was heavy on energy content, which was essential for hard working men and boys. It was economical as well, consisting of lard and flour and milk supplied by the family cow(s). Grover liked it so much that he earned the nickname, “Gravy Grover”. Roy, always the smallest boy, was once asked by his basketball coach at Barstow what he had to eat at home, and when Roy replied that it was mostly gravy, the coach then said, “Well then, eat more gravy.” Breakfast sometimes included oatmeal “that had been cooking all night in the slow cooker.”
Unice spoke as a matter of fact of the home garden, wherever they lived, as a regular and necessary source of foodstuffs. Chickens were always kept in substantial numbers, both for eggs and meat. In its two or three remembered variations, the story is told of the requirement that 91 biscuits be cooked each morning, and that it was regularly accomplished by two of the children, baked on 13 big lard can lids, 7 biscuits per lid. They had, literally, biscuits by the barrel, as a nail keg was the storage container. Wastella, from the early days in Ellis County when she was perhaps only six years old, made bread for the family every day. Dinner at noon at home only occasionally included meat, mostly fried chicken (two whole chickens for the family), pinto beans or black-eyed peas, and greens from the garden. It is surprising that we have heard little mention of potatoes. Hogs were raised and slaughtered beginning at the earliest cold spell in the fall so that the meat could be better preserved. This was their source of salt pork, sausage, ribs and especially the lard needed for cooking. Beef has been remembered as a rarity, although Will kept cattle to utilize the remaining stalk fodder after the maize harvest. When we got old enough to go to school, sometimes about the only thing we’d have to take was a baked sweet potato and maybe some .... melt a little butter and put some sugar on it, on a cold biscuit and put a couple of those in the pocket and that would be your lunch. At suppertime, if there were any leftovers from the noon meal, those portions were given to the men and big working boys. When the fields were too distant to drive the teams home at noon, lunches were packed in syrup buckets which contained, simply, biscuits or cornbread and cane molasses. Before supper we’d have to do all the chores, bring the wood in, milk the cows, take care of the animals and it was a right interesting life.
The family moved often. Therefore over the years there were many different home locations and varying food resource situations. Sometimes there were fruit trees which would have provided variation in the diet as well as vitamins not contained in cornbread, biscuits and gravy. Ripe fruit in season was a treat, and fruit could be dried for winter use as well. Roy, as an adult of many years, loved dried apples which likely traced from his boyhood. Plums and peaches seem to have been sometimes available as well. Fruit from wild plum trees were harvested some years when it rained in the “Sweetwater Breaks” about fifteen miles to the east of Wastella .... Mother and the two girls and ST would harness up the team and they’d use the wagon to go over there and bring back a mess of plums to make jelly and also plum pudding. And Mother would have cobbler, sometimes it would be buttermilk cobbler and sometimes it would be vinegar cobbler. Sometimes when we had syrup we’d make pop pop popcorn balls and we’d make taffy candy. Take your old biscuit and dun it in syrup and fry it in grease and make those sweet .... whatever you call ‘em. Plums were dried to make prunes. It is remembered by more than a few that Ulah made a delicious prune cake. Dixie Lou keeps the recipe from her mother who said she thought that Ulah made it up herself Kate still has that recipe handed down to her from Elizabeth. Grover told Rosemary that he had never seen icing on a cake until he was grown. Roy said that was because the cake got gobbled up as soon as it came out of the oven. On one occasion (his birthday?) Ulah made a prune cake for Red that “he didn’t have to share.” Peach pie was a particular favorite of Dixie’s, and she, like Grover, got a nick-name from it years later from her oldest granddaughter: “Peachie Pie Grandma.”
Another sweet they had was what Roy later referred to as ‘tea cakes’, which were roughly equivalent to today’s supermarket sugar cookies, or scones, except much thicker. They were made from biscuit dough to which was added eggs and a little sugar. Ulah is said to have always kept them on hand. A dessert they had in winter was snow ice cream, which was simply cream, sugar, and vanilla on snow. When Ulah went to town for the weekly grocery shopping (perhaps back in Ellis County) there were too many children for them all to go, so they would take tums, two at a time. In summer she would bring home a block of ice and the first thing they then did was make real ice cream for the whole family.
The stories of life in Nolan County are much like those previously from Ellis County. Cotton was the principle crop. When not needed at home, the children were hired out to work for other farmers, with all the wages being returned to the family. One nostalgia invoking tale from those years has Roy at Christmas time collecting a prickly pear (cactus) from the pasture and placing it on the dining table to resemble the shape of a Christmas tree, decorating it with tufts of cotton for the snow. Another year, they went as far as the Sweetwater Breaks to bring back a cedar tree. They had little money, but did what they could without it.
On one of those summer days four of the boys were working together in the fields; they were Roy, Otto, Unice, and Bud. Roy, whom his mother has said was the most stubborn of her children, and Otto, who was always big for his age, argued and got into a fight, resulting in Roy getting “the stuffing beat out of him”. Later at home on hearing the news, Ulah “whipped the daylights out of Otto” and severely reproached the two younger boys, Unice and Bud for not having stopped it.
The Neely brothers did not always live in perfect harmony. Contemplating that, one realizes that the principles of individual strength and pride of personality that were being instilled by their two parents through example and expectation could, and inevitably would, result in friction on occasion. At an older age, during some uncertain trip involving multiple wagons of cargo, possibly the move from Wastella to Loraine in 1911, S.T. and Otto together on the lead wagon got into a fierce argument. Otto climbed down and waited (hours?) for the next wagon, exclaiming, “I’m not going to ride another John Brown mile with S.T. Neely!”
The first year we were there (at Wastella) Dad plowed up 160 acres of virgin grass and planted cotton and it looked like a grown person could walk down through it and you couldn’t see his head. I remember Dad saying he was going to make a bale to the acre for sure, but he had only half a bale of worm eaten cotton altogether because the bollworms came in. Thereafter although we planted cotton every year, we were never able to get much of a crop because it didn’t rain enough.
There was still plenty of feed stuff milo maize; we’d have that to feed the mules and horses and cattle, we always had plenty ...Dad had a bunch of red cattle he raised to sell – we always had a cow to milk.
Will’s next younger brother, Stephen Farris Neely, had also emigrated from Alabama to Ellis County, even before Will did, in 1885 when he was sixteen (See Chapter 20). His five children, 2 boys and 3 girls, were all born in Ellis County between 1890 and 1900, and so were approximately the same ages as Wi1l’s six children from Wastella to Otto. In 1902 “Uncle Steve” had preceded Will to Nolan County, acquiring a 160 acre farm a couple of miles southeast of Roscoe, where he lived with his family until his death in 1940. Uncle Steve was a very good farmer. It seems certain that the two families living only about 10 miles apart for seven years, from 1905 to 1912, interacted from time to time. Indeed, at a chance encounter in Jal, New Mexico in 1960 between U.R., Jr. and Steve’s oldest son Claude, it was learned that, yes, Clyde, Grover, and S.T. were his (Claude’s) cousins and he played with them as children. It is reasonable to assume that Steve’s earlier presence in the area is how Will learned of the available land in northwest Nolan county that he purchased around 1904, as described previously.
Well, as the children got older, of course they began to party around and the neighbors were far away, distant, as I remember. Wastella and Fairye were marriageable of course, and many boys in the area wanted to go with them. One tried his best to get Wastella to look at him but she could never see him. His younger brother tried to go with Fairye but Fairye, fifteen or sixteen years old, she felt bashful and she never did let the two boys go with her very much.
Subsequently, in late 1911 or early 1912, the Neely clan moved and attempted to farm at Loraine in Nolan County, some 8 miles south of Wastella and 10 miles west of Roscoe. Unice related to me in 1989 during our conversations about that period of the family history, that they starved out at Wastella after six years …Dad gave up trying to farm up there and traded the Wastella place for a drug store in Loraine plus one-half section of land on the Nolan County-Mitchell County line which would have been about a mile from Colorado City, Texas. …he did plant some maize down there (that year). .. it didn’t make much because it didn’t rain much that year. Unice explained the unusual event of owning a drug store by saying that in typical fashion for Will, he did whatever he could to provide for his family. Miles remembers having his fifth birthday (May 13, 1912) when they lived in Loraine ...when we moved to Loraine and bought that drugstore down there we rented one of the better homes in town. It had an upstairs with a banister we could slide down.
As often happens in life, what we plan fails. Papa and the older children tried hard but the golden pot was not found. We lived and did the best that we could, I was never hungry nor discouraged nor did I hear complaints from anyone. I’d gone to school two years at the country school at Wastella, a one teacher school. But believe it or not, when you are in a one teacher school with eight grades in that one room, why you learn a lot. I remember taking the fifth grade examination in Texas history and I remember the teacher told me my brother and I did as well as some of those older children in there. Loraine was quite advanced to have the third and fourth grades in one room, first and second in another and the fifth in another. So the teacher put me in the third grade, decided I was too advanced and put me in the fourth grade.
Mitchell County, Texas 1912 -1913 Colorado City For three successive autumns, 1911 to 1913, Unice “and three of his brothers were sent back to East Texas to pick cotton to get money for food” (from a conversation in 1989 with Unice. His 1988 audio tape includes Fairye and Wastella and five brothers). It is understood from Unice’s memory that Will’s cotton crop for those years failed due to drought and so his children weren’t needed to harvest a crop at home. Perhaps they lived with and worked for Ulah’s sister Georgia and her husband Clinton Huffstutler who continued to farm in Ellis County West of Maypearl, but there is no specific memory to support that. However, it was remembered by Mac Stiles’ mother, Amia, who as previously noted was a childhood chum of Fairye’s from a decade earlier, that there was socializing among the teenagers of Will’s family and the Huffstutlers as well as others of the local Ellis County community. It seems clear that this could only have happened during those three fall trips. So there apparently were good times as well as work during those autumns. There remained other farming relatives in Ellis County (Wood, Hood, and Nation) as well as other contacts in the area where seasonal labor was needed to harvest the crop. ..,. the year we moved to Loraine, (late 1911) L at maybe nine years of age, had gone with Roy and ST and Fairye and Wastella and Clyde back to East Texas to pick cotton .... didn’t start to school until the last week in November.
By that time it is likely from other evidence that the three oldest boys, Erastus, Clyde, and perhaps Grover had already left home to be on their own. Grover’s first paying job when independent of the family, at about 15 years old, was driving a freight wagon. Clyde is remembered as having been “trading mules up and down East Texas”, that he was a cowboy and was known as “Jack” in those days. He married Mae Lehman in 1913 at the age of 24 in Henderson, Texas, about 150 miles east of Maypearl. Wastella married Roy Cornett in December of 1912 when she was 21; they moved to La Pryor, Texas to begin their family.
The remaining family living at home in Colorado City in the summer of 1912 consisted of the two parents and ten children: Wastella, age about 21, Fairye 17, S.T. 16, Roy 14, Otto 12, Unice 10, Bud 8, Miles 4, Leota 3, and Dixie 1. Grover may have returned for a short period in late 1912, to hire on at the gin for that season.
In 1912, Will “set up the farmer’s gin” in Colorado City and was its manager that fall ginning season. Little success was coming from the poor maize crop that summer on part of the land Will had southwest of Loraine (which was actually closer to Colorado City). Grover was seventeen years old at the time (actually nineteen). ... he fired this steam boiler with coal to run the gin… when they started to bring the cotton in with burrs, they had all these hulls, so they’d see if they might burn these hulls to save the coal; so Grover kept busy shoveling those burrs in there to keep the steam up to fire the engine. In the summer of 1912, Otto and Unice went to work for another farmer, in the vicinity of Colorado City, hoeing weeds and thinning cotton early in the season. ... He was going to pay Otto a dollar and a quarter a day and me a dollar a day to thin cotton well, he cultivated eight acres of cotton a day, that is forty rows hah’ a mile long and we were right behind him, just about a half a day behind him so we’d walk over that eight acres, that would be four acres each, twenty rows … we had a canteen of water at one end and a file each time we'd get there we'd hit the hoe a lick or two with the file to put a sharp edge on it and get a swaller of water and take right out again. You know if you walk five miles and use a hoe … you’re tough right away, you’re going all the time. We stayed down there and batched it. We had a cow, and we baked hotcakes for breakfast and cooked cornbread to take with us ... in the fall some deal was worked out and I went back down and stayed with them until November and helped them pick cotton (at age 10).
The gin deal played out after that one season in the fall of 1912 and then Dad rented a farm, four miles north of Colorado, right in deep sand ... a little community that had a school house and church up there and a store, about a mile and a hagwom that store on 120 acres of land, or maybe 160 acres. It had a lake right in the middle of it (a playa, common in West Texas, is typically a shallow depression of a few acres, with no outlet, in otherwise flat country) and the water dried up in late July. Dad planted 10 acres of June corn (in the lake bed) and made a good crop without any more rain because there was moisture in there and good soil and we had roasting ears. But there was quite a bit of milo maize that ST and Roy and I suppose Otto ... This is the only account ever mentioned regarding this farm which they worked just the one year of 1913. It was that fall that several of the children went again to East Texas the third time to pick cotton for wages, returning at Christmas, and so missing almost half a year of school.
We hired out and we picked cotton that fall (1913) and this time we didn’t start school ‘til after Christmas and this time Dad had made a trade with a man for some land out at Barstow, Texas.
We slept on the floor and ate salmon patties for breakfast. (Miles, astonishingly, at age six was in that group of brothers and sisters picking cotton “in East Texas” that fall of 1913) ... and so again Otto and Miles and Leota and Sara Dixie stayed there in the sandy land while we went, the rest of us, went over and picked cotton. (Miles): "No, I picked cotton that year." (Unice): "Did you pick cotton that year?" (Miles): "I sure did boy. All they fed us for breakfast was salmon patties." (Unice): "that’s right" (Miles): "...salmon patties and gravy. Whoooo!" (Unice): "Then at noon we had navy beans and the next day we’d have redder beans" (Miles): "Boy, those beans, you can use red beans, those white beans didn’t do me, I want some red beans." Apparently, Will kept Otto, the biggest boy at home those years to help with the farming and livestock. From Ulah’s viewpoint, it must have seemed like a three month vacation, having only a husband and one big boy and two little girls (Otie, 5 and Dixie, 2) to cook and care for.
Barstow, Ward County, Texas 1914 -- 1922 Not having had much success in Nolan and Mitchell Counties for several years, Will tried again to move to a place with more promise. The attraction was irrigated land, an opportunity never previously available. The location was a farm north of the small town of Barstow which lies six miles east of the much larger town of Pecos in Ward County, Texas. Barstow is some 200 miles east of El Paso on the T & P Railroad.
To make that journey, Will engaged a rail car appropriately known as an “immigrant car”, commonly used for such traverses. Into that box car were loaded all the household paraphernalia, the farm equipment, and the livestock. The family members (except the underage children) were supposed to pay regular fare and ride in the passenger coaches. However, some of the boys “stowed away” in the immigrant car with the livestock because Will didn’t have money for their passage. (Unice):. _ .we got on and Dad fixed a place for us to get in one end of the car with beds to lie down on with the animals in between, on the other side we had the farm implements we were going to take. I suppose the brakeman on the train suspicioned that... at least they were looking for hobos or people beating their way on the train... but this immigrant car would be a likely place the brakeman stuck his head in the door and demanded “anybody here? “ ._ ST decided he’d better play like he was a hobo, so he grabbed his jacket and crawled right out and took them with him...later he came back in, after an hour or so, about froze to death, those brakemen were looking for him, and he was hiding from them under the train, riding the rails and hiding, and then they’d get off going up a hill, they 'd get of and let the train come by slowly and check for him ._ he finally climbed back in... the next time a brakeman stuck his head in Roy was going to play like he was a hobo and lead them astray again. (Miles): ...somebody on the train crew.. came to look for us..so they came back and they got the lanterns and one of them says, “there, look at that coon there, you can see their eyes I didn’t move, I just sat back...I didn’t have sense enough to be scared I had too many big brothers to take care of me. Anyway, while they were gone we moved. Unice took a quilt and he went across the top of the mules, just got up on their backs and stepped on them from mule to mule but I was afraid to do that so I crawled down and I was going under their bellies when the train stopped and they came in there. I just stuck my head between an old mule’s front legs and I stood right up in under the mule and hid my hair up between an old mules front legs and that’s where I stayed until they left. I got out and went on across (under the mules) to where Unice was and he bedded me down on a doggone wagon wheel. (Unice again): But meanwhile these brakies knew that something was up and they talked to Dad back in the caboose (he was allowed to ride there without paying because someone had to take care of the livestock) and he finally admitted the situation and they understood that they had to get there some way and we weren’t bothered any more. So we rode all night to make that 164 miles to Barstow... now this was in early January (1914).
The Barstow place was in a farming area that drew water from the Pecos River for irrigation. The Pecos River water is not of good irrigation quality, being high in salt content. One has to have a fairly healthy imagination to recognize the Pecos as a river; it is a very modest stream, and not always flowing. It was Will’s first opportunity to try irrigated crops. He would have been, in 1914, 48 years old. Dad had bought some land had made a down payment on some land about four miles north of there ...my dad had ab"ah’a and then he had some cotton. We farmed there a number of years. The water was coming out of the Pecos River with a brush dam. The floods would wash it away and then we’d have to go back and stretch the cables back and put in more brush and then we could get some water out, you see.
In January of 1914, Miles started school for the first time having missed the first half of that school year while picking cotton in East Texas before the move to Barstow, and so did not succeed that first year. Gtie at age five and a half did not go to school until the fall tenn after her sixth birthday. She could read, I couldn’t read, so she read the arithmetic problems and I’d work them. She and Miles were then classmates (starting in the fall of 1914 in Barstow) and remained so all the way through their school years, graduating together in 1926 from Gilbert High School.
We have little particular information about the other children’s schooling in Barstow. From Unice: Well I must say that school was enjoyable for us. We walked about a mile or more to school. We would go out and play and have the biggest time in the world and we never felt like we was handicapped or underprivileged or anything wrong with us, fne. I know we didn’t have any equipment much, and the older children had a basketball they played with, and we younger children, the boys especially, our main entertainment was wrestling each other on the ground. In a few years they built a new school building. It was marvelous, a two story building with two classrooms upstairs and an auditorium with a stage, and then four classrooms downstairs didn’t have much of a library, but that’s what there was. They had, well I guess they had four and a half teachers in the elementary. Upstairs the principal taught the history class and a little bit of science and a smattering of agriculture, and the other teachers taught foreign language and math and English and songs. We had eleven grades.
Although much is made in this narrative of the more or less constant battle the family waged to obtain basic subsistence, it also seems that there must have been periods of relative prosperity. The evidence is that there were apparently enough resources, for example, to make the various long distance relocations. Also, we can note the classic 1903 studio photograph of the family in fine clothes that was made during the Ellis County sojourn. Of the nine children shown, the youngest, Unice who was born in 1902 appears as a baby on Ulah’s lap. There is some (only lightly supported) remembrance that Will had a reputation for being a better quality tenant farmer than some others; that is, he could take a piece of land that had been improperly farmed and turn it into a productive operation. If that were true, one might then surmise that he could have been able to negotiate better terms as a sharecropper. Otie remembers that the family moved nearly every year, but not necessarily in the context of an improving situation each time. Through the inevitable cycles of highs and lows in cotton market prices, and the favorable and unfavorable weather years, there must have been some periods when circumstances came together to Will’s financial advantage.
How else might he have achieved the documented titled land in Nolan County? And so at this juncture in our narrative we must invoke some such assumptions to account for his ability to finance the move to Barstow, acquire farmland there (although undoubtedly with a substantial mortgage), and have sufficient capital to fund at least the first crop year. There was a sizeable family to support. However, that also meant a large cadre of family workers whose efforts could be the enabling factor in a larger farming operation.
The years in Barstow saw a number of changes in family life. For one thing, there were no more tiny babies every two years. The youngest and last, Dixie was almost three at the time of the move to Barstow. The children were mostly going to school, especially when they were in the early grades. Otto may or may not have attended school in Barstow as he was about fourteen and normally old enough to have been in eighth grade, which was the highest he ever achieved.
Ulah was later remembered as having counseled her sons that if they weren’t educated, to marry a lady who was. It is interesting that several sons eventually did just that: Edna, Mae, Reedye, Elizabeth, Velma, and Bonnie. Ulah herself is clearly understood to have known the value of education, and even though she herself had only gone to perhaps the fifth grade, she studied. After she saw she was going to have a big family, she started studying. She learned the English language, to speak it perfectly and she would correct anybody who was as old as or younger than she was. She wouldn’t let us say “aint”. Wastella remembers her mother as always reading, especially when she was “sick” (translation: pregnant). Three of the Neely boys were in the armed service during World War One. Grover joined the Army, S.T. was in the Navy, and Roy the Marines.
In Barstow the farming power was still horse and mule teams. Late in that period Will acquired his first tractor, a Moline. Otto, poorly schooled, loved trying to read and learn from the tractor’s instruction book.
(Miles): Well, in 1914 when the World War I started and the year after that my daddy took a job, took another man’s (who had been drafted) place running a big company farm and the reason he got the job was because he had a lot of boys to work .... like men...a gang of boys who did it. I couldn’t wait until I got as big as any of them. My daddy taught me that. They'd let me work the little mules, the little horses, little things like that. I wanted to work the big mules. My daddy said when you are big enough to catch them and put the harness on them you can work them for a day. That next day ..... Otto got so mad at me he wanted to kill me. I’d harnessed his team up, it was the one he wanted to work that day.
Well, we just learned to be self reliant... ...I must have been twelve or thirteen years old and I was helping Dad to castrate the pigs. He said “Well, son, it’s your turn. “ and I said “Castrate one more and let me watch.” He says, “Oh all right, I thought you was paying attention, so pay attention. “ He castrated one more and I took the knife and I castrated that pig and it looked just like the rest of them did He said “Time to learn, time to learn.“ Everything that my daddy did I was supposed to know how to do it. I had some smart parents, I had some smart parents. That’s one thing, they taught me to work. It has never been clear just how the departure from the family of the various boys came to pass. In the case of Otto, the inference has been that he was a very good worker and seemingly had a bit of a special relationship with Will from the Nolan County days until the end of Will’s life. He was kept at home when the other big children were sent away to pick the fall cotton. He remained living at home through all the Barstow years although reaching 22 years of age then, and later in Gilbert lived with his parents until he was 28 years old. It is indirectly deduced that he began to farm some land on his own as early as age 17 in Barstow, yet still working for his father. He acquired draft animals and some farm equipment. The details of money transactions between father and sons have never been revealed, but one must assume that somewhere along the way in their late teenage years, each of the boys began to engage in at least modest independent enterprises that benefitted them individually. We are quite confident that earlier, during the Ellis County and Nolan County years, the money earned by all the children who were then at home went into the family coffers of necessity.
Although the family was never wealthy by even the greatest stretch of one’s imagination, there is some suggestion that their situation in Barstow was on average, shall we say, a good bit less desperate than in many previous years. Patsy thinks her mother, Dixie, came from a family “a cut above ordinary. They lived a little better than others.” Dixie is also remembered as having said that “When Unice was about to depart for college at Baylor in Waco, Texas, in the fall of 1920, Grandma, wishing him well, took fifty dollars from underneath a newspaper in the bottom of a drawer and said that it was all she had and Godspeed,” or words to that effect. Lorena is recorded as having said that “Will Henry was more prosperous in later life,” although whether that was in reference to Barstow or Gilbert is not clear.
In August of 1917, Ulah’s father, Stephen Calvin Allgood, died in Alabama. Ulah’s mother Martha Eldredge Jones Allgood had died 40 years earlier, and Ulah’s father had soon thereafter taken a second wife, Manilah Nation. Louella Kansas Allgood was the oldest of Ulah’s seven brothers and sisters, born in 1859. She was deaf and unable to speak intelligibly, due to measles in very early childhood (according to Allgood relatives). She was unable to provide or care for herself, and had therefore remained living at home with her father and stepmother all of her life (she was 58 in 1917). The situation with her stepmother, was intolerable after her father’s death. Ulah boarded a train in Barstow shortly thereafter and traveled back to Blount County where she “rescued” her sister and returned with her to Texas. “Aunt Kansas”, as she was thereafter known, remained a member of the household until her death in Gilbert in 1926. A more detailed treatment of this episode is found in Chapter 4, page 122.
Inquiries about the great flu epidemic of 1918 have drawn no memories of adverse effects while the family was in Barstow. Ethel, Red’s wife, remembers a substantial number of tragic deaths in her parents’ families in Arizona at that time. Will’s brother, John T., who was living at Sulphur Springs in Hopkins County, Texas died of influenza in December of 1918 Arizona 1922 -1949 Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Tucson In the fall of 1922, after farming for nine seasons at Barstow, Will decided to relocate to Arizona with those members of the family who had not yet left home. By then Erastus, Clyde, Grover, S.T., and Wastella had all married and gone on their own. Roy and Unice were in college at Texas A & M and Baylor. Fairye had begun her independent career working at a bank and living in La Pryor, Texas, where Roy and Wastella Comett and their two boys also lived. Clyde and Mae and their four children lived at La Pryor in 1922 as well. Therefore the remaining family at home in Barstow in late 1922 consisted of Will and Ulah, ages 56 and 54, Otto 22, Bud 18, Miles 15, Leota 14, and Dixie 11, seven in all, with Aunt Kansas making eight. Those were the family members who made the trek to Gilbert in late 1922.
The move was made in two different parts. Otto and Bud drove the fann livestock, the draft horses and mules as well as some riding horses, overland, on foot. A portion of this stock was evidently owned separately by Otto. Likely also were, and some recountings include, one or two wagons, one covered, presumably carrying supplies and feed for the trip. It was a long and arduous trip which was completed with their arrival in Gilbert on Christmas Day, 1922. The trip is thought to have taken 40 days or more. The distance was about 600 miles, and so the resulting calculation of 15 miles per day seems plausible, although by no means easy, and highly variable from day to day depending on the terrain, available feed and water and other factors. Finding water in that mostly dry and desolate landscape was a continuing problem. Roy told Kate a story he’d heard from his brothers that “on this trip one night they had to make a dry camp, having found no water for the animals. During the night the wind changed and the smartest of the mules was very restless. In hope and fear they turned him loose and followed ‘til he led them to water he’d smelled on the fresh breeze,” Much later, Bud told his son Bill that another time in New Mexico, they had to buy water at twenty five cents a bucket, a large sum in those days, and Bud’s exclamation was that he never knew horses could drink so much water.
The remaining five family members were remembered by Otie as having driven in two cars, arriving some weeks before the livestock. Will, Ulah and Dixie led in the first car, followed by Red and Leota in an open Ford. This is the first mention that we have of automobiles in the family, although it is possible that such vehicles were owned earlier, since Henry Ford had made the Model T ubiquitous before 1920. Although not mentioned in Otie’s memory, Aunt Kansas undoubtedly also traveled in the first car. Unice’s recollection in 1989 was that “Will traded the Moline tractor and cultivator for a Dodge touring car and a Studebaker. The remaining equipment and household goods were shipped by rail in an immigrant car.” This was the first mention of tractor power we noted.
S.T. and Bonnie were married in February of 1918, and their oldest daughter, Theo, was born in Ward County (Barstow) in 1919. It has been said that S.T. started fanning on his own, 10 acres, at Barstow, but moved to Tempe, Arizona to farm a 40 acre place soon thereafter. Erastus relocated to Arizona prior to Virginia’s birth there in 1919. Will’s knowledge of the better fanning prospects around Gilbert must have come from those two sons. My oldest brother (Erastus) moved to Arizona two or three years ahead of And then came ST and brought his wife who was my second grade teacher. Yeah, and Otto decided he was going to come out here, but he’d just started farming back there, he had some horses and wagons and he’d just gotten out here with his covered wagon in 1922. That was the middle of my freshman year, see, and that’s the first time I wore shoes to school. When I came to Arizona, my dad said, Miles, you must not go barefooted anymore. Period.
The basic reason for the decision to move to Arizona was the same as for all the previous moves beginning with the first one from Alabama to Texas in 1892, and that was that the opportunity for better farmland (and in this case, better and more plentiful irrigation water) gave hope for a larger income and a better life. That thread has been repetitive throughout the story of Will’s working career. It seems to be no accident then, that our own fathers and mothers have, from example and inclination, very largely succeeded in applying that principle to their own lives. And without being immodest, it seems abundantly clear that most of us in the grandchild generation of Will and Ulah have followed on likewise. I personally have always thought that the greatest gift my father gave me was the sure knowledge that I could work harder and last longer than most of my contemporaries in whatever endeavor was at hand, and in so doing, I could often succeed through sheer effort when others failed. As I look around at you, my cousins, I find no surprise in making that claim, because it runs throughout the family. During research for this book at one kitchen table, I heard it well said that “The Neelys were consistent, they were just not going to give up. They were independent. They didn’t depend on somebody else.”
Regarding the details of the disposal of the farm in Barstow, we are short on facts, so must resort to a degree of supposition, which runs like this. Will had some equity built up in his farm property through payments to the note holder over the nine years he farmed it. He needed capital for the move and to get established at Gilbert. Somehow, the result must have been that he was able to trade his equity and clear the mortgage, and in return received some cash, and also unencumbered title to 100 acres of rough semi-desert brush land in the region. That was the 100 acres that he admonished his children to never sell as it was “going to make you rich some day.” Sure enough, more than 50 years later it did yield worthwhile royalties from a major gas well with which it was pooled.
In 1922, that was the year we leased a place out east of Gilbert, four hundred and ten acres I believe ,.... He went in, and two of my brothers (likely Otto and S.T.), he had a half interest and they had a quarter interest each, and we farmed that year... it was all in alfalfa when we got it and sheep were on it. But we plowed up that alfalfa... part of it, and planted cotton. My dad had to have cotton, he always had cotton. That was his crop until late, very late in his life. That was just his staple crop. He thought he couldn’t make any money anyplace else. And his philosophy was, Hx cotton goes down, Qx' it’s cheap, plant more of it. He had a lot of boys you see, a good labor force, and he’d just plant more of it. I think we only farmed that place one year and then it sold. We lived there and then we moved down southwest of Gilbert on Warner Road. So we bought 160 acres...
Otto and Dad He made some money that first year. Dad bought a brand new Hudson automobile touring car. Dad bought Otto out after a year or two down there .... I was a sophomore down there when we lived on that place... and later graduated from Gilbert High School.
Otto continued living at home for several more years until he was 28 (he and Edna married on Christmas Day, 1928), although he farmed on his own in addition to partnering with Will some of the time. It is remembered that Otie and Dixie shared a bedroom in the southwest comer of the modest but adequate yellow house on Warner Road. It had a screened porch which accommodated overnight friends and relatives. There was a hay bam where the chickens sometimes laid their eggs, and Ulah had a bad fall from high stacked hay one time while looking for them. Aunt Kansas is remembered as always rocking in her chair on the porch, sometimes doing sewing handwork, uncommunicative except for grunts. She died in 1926. Bud left home and was on his own by the mid 20’s, possibly in 1923 when he was 19 years old. After graduation from Gilbert High in 1926, Otie attended the University of Arizona four years, living with Fairye during part of that time.
Miles also attended U of A for part of one year. Dixie may have also lived with Fairye at Tuscon for a year while attending nursing school about 1929-30. She married and left home at the end of 1930, the last of Will and Ulah’s children to do so.
Among the frequent visitors received at Gilbert was Will’s youngest brother Ernest (Chapter 23) who lived in Tucson until his death in 1937. He was accompanied on occasion by his son William Warren Neely who remembers that they sometimes brought Fairye from Tucson as well. He also remembers staying overnight and helping with the chores, which was usual for visiting relatives.
When Bill Cornett was a junior in high school in 1930, Will had leased a section of desert land at Coolidge which he was clearing and developing to farm. Bill stayed with Ulah and attended Gilbert High School. However, after missing six weeks during a bout with pneumonia, he had to drop out for that year and went to help Will on the new land. During that time Will became sick. Miles had been working with Erastus clearing 1700 acres of desert at Palo Verde (Buckeye) and came home to visit, but stayed to take over the Coolidge project. ...see, that was his problem. That thing gave him the ulcers. He was a worried man. The farm venture at Coolidge lasted only one year ... and I wanted to get out of the farming business. It was tough, this was the beginning of the depression, see. The depression was hitting and cotton prices were bad and they went from bad to worse.
There is a clear memory of Grandma Ulah visiting Roy’s family in Kerrville early in 1932 when I (Buddy) was four. The picture of her in my mind is of her sitting in a straight chair in my parents’ bedroom combing her long red hair that reached all the way to the floor; I thought it was beautiful.
I later was told that she had been visiting relatives in Maypearl (and perhaps Alabama) and came to Kerrville to visit four of her sons and their families who lived there at the time, including those of Unice, Ellis, and Miles. Wanda refers to this visit in her family narrative, Chapter 14. Although I was not aware of it at the time, Ulah was very sick. She had been having stomach trouble for some time. My mother (Elizabeth) and Ethel took her to see a specialist in San Antonio, about 60 miles away, on the recommendation of Doctor Cousins, who was Velma’s father. The specialist (surgeon) there said that she needed to have surgery using a special new procedure right away and that he could do it. Aunt Ethel related in November of 2000 that she had found the doctor very convincing and thought it should be done. Nevertheless, in a telephone call to Arizona, Will said that they had good doctors in Phoenix and Ulah should come home, which is what she did, saying, “I have to do what Papa says”. By advance word, Grover and then 4-year old Rosemary (and possibly her older sister Bettie) boarded Ulah’s homeward bound train as it paused passing through F abens for a short visit during the 25 mile ride to El Paso, where they got off Rosemary remembers her father being very sad, although not understanding why at the time. The surgery for cancer soon after was unsuccessful. Some remember that Ulah’s heart failed during surgery. Others recall that she died at home about a week afterward, on March 24, 1932.
Fairye lived and worked in a bank in Tucson starting about 1923, as indicated in her separate narrative, Chapter 10. She visited frequently with her parents and other family members around Gilbert and vicinity for the next ten years. In early 1934 it was realized that she had developed terminal cancer. She then moved to Gilbert and spent the last four months of her life at home with her father. She died in June of 1934.
Will married Anna Bradshaw, probably in 1935. “Miss Anna”, as she was known, had taught the first and second grades of school in La Pryor, Texas. In the years 1921 and 1922, Clyde’s oldest daughter Lorena and his oldest son C.W., as well as Wastella’s son Bill were her students. It seems probable that Will’s awareness of the possible availability of an “old maid” schoolteacher was from favorable word from Wastella and Clyde. Wastella remembered that her father wanted Miss Anna to come to Arizona to get married, apparently before they had yet met. Miss Anna replied that if he wanted her, he could come after her. In 1935, Will was 69 years old. That summer Will and his new wife visited Roy and family in Kerrville, Texas, Unice and family in Bryan, Texas, and Ellis and his family in Beaumont, Texas. Will and Miss Anna’s marriage was apparently amicable and lasted about a dozen years. She died about 1947, after having suffered from progressive dementia for some time. In her later years Otie had to help Will when Miss Amra had episodes that were difficult to control.
During Will’s final illness, he occupied Muriel’s bed at Otie’s house in Chandler, where he died on November 7, 1949. He and Grandmother lie side by side in the Mesa cemetery along with their daughter Fairye and Ulah’s sister Kansas. Will and Ulah’s combined gravestone includes the symbol of the Masonic Lodge. Nothing else has ever been heard about Will’s being a Mason.
Our Heritage Throughout this story we get glimpses, often indirectly but unmistakably, of strong family ties and loyalty, to a depth that seems to have generally diminished in America’s population in modern times. What a shame. It seemed surprising, but telling, to hear Miles words on tape fifty years after the event that as a young adult away from home while at college in Texas he was very homesick.
Also notable are the pictures we have of the family coming together for reunions numerous times, several of which are reproduced with this narrative. The earliest one we have that includes all thirteen children as well as the parents was made at Barstow in 1920 (page 64). We have heard no mention of a memory of the occasion. However, we do know that various of the older children had already left home and were living substantial distances away, so special efforts had to have been made to reassemble the clan that late summer day. The pictures of the July, 1931 reunion at Will and Ulah’s home on Warner Road in Gilbert will remain classic, as will those of the Christmas 1946 reunion at the American Legion hall in Tempe. There are others, some of which are displayed in this volume beginning on page 98. The current series of 22 consecutive Thanksgiving reunions of the descendants of Will and Ulah in Gilbert are further testimony of our commitment to family. It is hoped that this book will be of some value to generations of Neely descendants, present and future, to know something of their very valuable heritage, and to build on it in their own lives.
Following are a few miscellaneous comments and quotations that have been heard that contribute to an understanding of the strengths and character traits of our grandparents. There must be countless more.
A sharp business man. Kind of a stiff critter.
He was always trying to find a way to support his family better.
From a daughter: “We always lived a cut above other people.”
For an unknown period in his young adult days Will became “an importer of spirits from the islands.” From Elizabeth, “He was a bootlegger.” (in Alabama)
When visiting Roy’s family in Brownwood about 1942, Will replied to Kate’s request that he assist her with her (third grade) homework, saying “I don’t know how much I can help. I didn’t have much schooling myself I only went to the third or fourth grade to Master Allgood.” Stephen Calvin Allgood was a preacher, teacher, and the father of Ulah.
Will to Edna as he arrived on her doorstep one morning and finding her still in her robe: “It’s time to be up and at it!”
In later life when Will’s responsibilities had dwindled to insignificance, one morning early, Clyde went to Will’s house, and finding him up and about, inquired why, since “you don’t have anything to do.” Will’s reply was characteristic: “Well, yes, but it’s time I was up and at it!”
One cousin didn’t think too much of Will. “He was autocratic.”
In his older years in Gilbert, Will was driving on Baseline Road and had a little accident. His comment, “The only time I almost had an accident was when I wasn’t driving fast enough.”
“He was a hard worker. He cared for his family. We had smart parents. They taught us to work.”
Will was a member of the Gilbert Methodist Church for some time since it was the only Protestant church in town . This means there was no Baptist Church.
Will did not know his grandfather, Thomas Carothers Neely, and is said not even to have known his name. Will’s father, Theophilus, died in 1880 when Will was 14. Thomas Carothers died “after l866.” Will was born that year.
Hard working, tough, and a bit distant.
“Will was such a know-it-all, but with nine sons, I guess he had to boss people around.”
“She was one in a million. She always kept a clean house. She always made sure that the boys washed their feet before they went up to bed.”
“Grandma Neely was a lady of refinement.”
Someone outside the family asked Grandma which was her favorite child and she replied: “The one who is sick; the one who is in trouble; the one who is farthest from home, is the one whom I love the most at the time”.
“Grandma was fun and she was always doing something for someone e1se.”
“She was fun, stern at times, yet tender and loving.”
To Miles as he was leaving home for college: “If I could build a wall around you to keep you from harm I would start right now and wouldn’t stop until I finished.”
“She enjoyed life and tried to pass that on to us.”
“Grandma was a wonderful woman and could have fried chicken on the table for dinner very fast.”
“We are fortunate to be Will and Ulah’s grandchildren.”
“Ulah was a saint, sweet, sweet, sweet.”
Grover, at Ulah’s funeral: “She’s one of God’s choicest angels.”
Ulah is said to have regularly addressed Will as “Mr Neely.”
“In a different time and a different place, Ulah would have been a great woman.”
“Grandma was pretty patient with kids, but they were not spoiled.”
“All the daughters-in-law adored Ulah. But NOT Will Henry.”
Ulah said about Reedye, “That poor little girl, she won’t be' able to handle him.” (Unice)
When Ulah was nearing the time for her the surgery to attempt to remove her cancer, she was being cared for by Edna in Edna’s home. On request, Edna was ironing a dress and asked Ulah if that was the dress she was going to wear to go to the hospital. Ulah’s reply, with certain premonition, was that no, it was the dress she would be buried in. It is the same dress she wore for the photograph that appears on page 4 in this book.
Ulah’s last words: She had been singing, then said, “I hear my mother calling,” adding, to Wastella, “I’ve kept you from your family too long. It’s time for me to go.”