William ‘Curly’ Neal – mining history in Mammoth and Oracle

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By John Hernandez

Nugget

February was Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans and to recognize the central role African Americans played in American history. The month of February was chosen as it was the month that both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas were born. A man who played a central part in the history of Oracle and was important to the mining history of the “Old Hat” Mining District which included Mammoth was William “Curly” Neal. His wife Annie would also be a big part of Oracle’s history.

William Neal was of African American and Cherokee ancestry. He was born in 1849 in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. He ran away from home at a young age and worked odd jobs around train stations to survive. When he was nineteen he met William F. Cody. Cody helped him get a job scouting for the military during the Indian wars in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona. Neal would remain life long friends with “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He traveled with the army to Arizona in 1878.

After a year he left the army and began working as a cook for the Maison Dairy in Tucson. He worked for $40 a month plus room and board. He would later start up a livery business and eventually a stage line and freighting business. It would be the mining industry that would allow him to build his freighting business and become a respected and successful businessman.

When the Mammoth Mine was getting ready to go into production, Captain Johnson was the manager and he was looking for someone to haul ore from the mine to the mill. Neal was interested but did not have the equipment to haul the tonnage that was required. He convinced Johnson to advance him enough money to purchase some large Murphy wagons and mules to do the job. Johnson agreed but stipulated that if the ore was not delivered to the mill on time that Neal would have to pay the mill’s expenses. Neal agreed and kept his word and never had to pay as his deliveries were always on time. Neal traveled to Kansas City and purchased a number of specially built wagons and mules. He began to expand his hauling business.

Curly Neal obtained a contract with the government in 1885 to carry mail to Oracle. His route later included American Flag and Manleyville. In 1886 he had the lowest bid contracting to haul supplies from Tucson to Fort Lowell. His freighting business also hauled supplies to some of the mines on the north side of the Catalinas.

In 1890 Neal was awarded the contract for carrying mail from Tucson to the Mammoth Mine. The contract paid him $1,666 a year. Neal also owned a “public eating establishment” in Mammoth and had the contract to deliver fuel wood and water to the mine and mill. The livery stable and the stage line were moved to the corner of Pennington and Meyer streets in 1891. Neal purchased the property for $1,800 from C.T. Etchells. Both the hauling business and the stage line began doing well. To give you an idea of how the hauling at the Mammoth Mine was done and how well Neal’s business was doing, an article in the Mohave County Miner dated May 12, 1894 reported:

“One of the largest freighting outfits in the world is used in connection with the mill at the Mammoth property. The distance from the mine to the mill is three miles, all but half a mile down grade. Three teams move 145 tons of ore a day. Each team consists of twenty animals, and they draw four wagons. Three trips are made a day, usually without doubling, though sometimes one or two wagons are taken off at the uphill half mile. The wagons are immense affairs, almost as big as box cars. The tires are from four to five inches wide and from an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half thick. Wm. Neal is one of the best businessmen in southern Arizona.”

Besides hauling the ore at the Mammoth mine, Neal also transported gold bullion from the mine to a bank in Tucson on one of his wagons. He would take precautions changing the type of wagon, routes and delivery times each trip to avoid robbers. His wife Annie, known to be a crack shot, would sometimes ride shotgun. During one transport in a canyon wash somewhere between Mammoth and Oracle, his wagon was caught in a raging flash flood. He was able to make it to safety but the wagon and mules were lost, so was the gold. So well known for his honesty, the mining company did not question that the gold was truly lost. Although many searched for it, the gold was never recovered.

An ad for Neal’s stage line that appeared in the Tucson Weekly Citizen in the 1890s looked like this:

Tucson, Oracle & Mammoth Stage

Fare Tucson to Steam Pump $1.00.

Fare Tucson to Oracle, Mountain View Hotel and vicinity $3.00.

Fare Tucson to Mammoth $4.00.

Passengers entitled to 40 pounds baggage.

Excess baggage to Mammoth 2 ½ cents per pound.

Excess baggage to Oracle 2 cents per pound.

Expressage by stage to Mammoth 2 ½ cents per pound.

Expressage by stage to Oracle 2 cents per pound.

No package will be carried for less than 25 cents.

158 West Pennington Street.

WM. Neal, Proprietor

In 1894 construction on the Mountain View Hotel in Oracle began. Curly had it built for his wife Annie. It would have its grand opening in 1895. The Mountain View would become an internationally renowned resort. The hotel was said to have cost $90,000. The building that was once the Mountain View Hotel is now the Oracle Baptist Church on American Avenue.

Neal was also successful in the ranching business, owning the 3-N Ranch. An article from the El Paso Herald newspaper dated November 3, 1915 reported “William Neal of Oracle, Arizona has closed a deal for the sale of 1,500 head of cattle to New Mexico cattlemen. This sale aggregates about $40,000, and the cattle are now being shipped to New Mexico.”

Neal would die in an accident in 1936. His contributions to the history of Mammoth and Oracle are noteworthy. Although mining was more successful in the Mammoth area, the mines around the Oracle area were important to its history. Neal delivered mail and supplies to many of the mining camps that sprouted up in the Catalina Mountains and brought investors and people with money to the area. Neal’s knowledge of the area and his friendship with Buffalo Bill Cody brought Cody to Oracle. Cody would become involved in mining ventures in the area which also brought publicity for Oracle.

cost $90,000. The building that was once the Mountain View Hotel is now the Oracle Baptist Church on American Avenue.

Neal was also successful in the ranching business, owning the 3-N Ranch. An article from the El Paso Herald newspaper dated November 3, 1915 reported “William Neal of Oracle, Arizona has closed a deal for the sale of 1,500 head of cattle to New Mexico cattlemen. This sale aggregates about $40,000, and the cattle are now being shipped to New Mexico.”

Neal would die in an accident in 1936. His contributions to the history of Mammoth and Oracle are noteworthy. Although mining was more successful in the Mammoth area, the mines around the Oracle area were important to its history. Neal delivered mail and supplies to many of the mining camps that sprouted up in the Catalina Mountains and brought investors and people with money to the area. Neal’s knowledge of the area and his friendship with Buffalo Bill Cody brought Cody to Oracle. Cody would become involved in mining ventures in the area which also brought publicity for Oracle.

Courtney (305 Posts)


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