Biography of David A. Neely

DAVID A. NEELY. – The gentleman who forms the subject of this sketch was born to John and Mary Davis Neely in Murray County, Tennessee, on July 18,1823. In 1824 his parents moved to Carroll County, West Tennessee, and settled on government land. There he lived with his parents, his father following the quiet life of farmer and preacher of the gospel until the commencement of the Rebellion.

John Neely raised the first company under the Union flag in West Tennessee. All of his sons, five in number, joined the Union army; and only two sons lived to see peace proclaimed, the father and three sons being killed. Being the eldest of his father’s family he was kept busy on the farm, and only had the opportunity to attend school a short while in each fall; so by the next fall he had nearly forgotten what he had learned at the log schoolhouse the year before. Indeed he was far more interested in farming, hunting wild turkeys and raccoons than in securing an education.

On December 22, 1844, he was married to Miss Irena Kemp, a native of Georgia; and he then left his parents’ farm and settled on a rented farm, living one year in Carroll county. In December of the following year, he moved to Gibson County, and after six years’ residence there moved to Obion, Tennessee, where he stayed seven months. On July 18, 1852, he started to Missouri to take up government land. He found that all of the best land had been taken up; and, as his desire for a good farm was very strong, he resolved to go with his wife and three little boys to Oregon and get a donation of three hundred and twenty acres. He stayed to raise one crop in Newton County, Missouri, and then started across the plains, driving three yoke of oxen and one of cows.

In May, 1854, he was almost persuaded to stop in Kansas, as the prospects were very good there at that time, but instead he pushed on westward. When they reached Boise River, twenty-five miles east of Fort Boise, they were warned by the Snake Indians that they intended to make war for the gain of their property. There were three trains traveling near together, i.e. Yantis’, Jones’ and Estie’s trains, as they thought it necessary for their safety. On the evening of August 10, 1854, Mr. Yantis asked our subject to mount one of the mules and go back with him after some of his stock, which was missing, which request he at once complied with. They soon reached the rear of Mr. Jones’ train, and were warned that if they proceeded it would be at the risk of their lives, as the Indians had acted very insultingly and hostile; but they thought it best to go on after the stock.

They had ridden about three miles, when they saw some twenty horsemen in their front pass rapidly into the willow brush. They were just about crossing a low strip of country, which completely hid them from the level plain in front, and got their arms in readiness, resolved to go on notwithstanding they thought the Indians were laying in ambush for them. When they regained the level plain, they saw a man coming towards them, and soon recognized the long hair of an Indian, it being their custom to wear their hair long and dangling about the shoulders. They soon met the man; and he told them that he had their stock, and was taking them to a camping place only a short distance, and was very anxious that they should accompany him and get the stock, as he said he was going on to The Dalles and could look after the cattle no longer. Mr. Yantis proposed paying him to bring the cattle on; but he refused, and to Mr. Yantis’ question replied that he and one other man comprised the pack train. As Mr. Neely and Mr. Yantis had both counted twenty persons they rather declined going on; indeed, Mr. Neely said, “Darned if I will ride my mule to death for Yantis or any other man.” Mr. Yantis said he couldn’t blame him, and requested the stranger to bring the stock to their camp, which he still refused. As Mr. Neely was riding Mr. Yantis’ mule, his anxiety for its safety conveyed a great deal to Mr. Yantis’ mind.

So they returned to camp; and all hands commenced preparing for defense. The Indians visited the camp as they usually did; and, as some of H.H. Jones’ cows were missing also, Mr. Yantis and Mr. David Neely thought it best to go back and warn the trains just behind them, and also see what the Indians were doing. So, telling the women and children that they were going to look after the stock, they on the fifteenth got the trains on the move towards Fort Boise, where they expected to arrive that evening.

A.S. Yantis. H.H. Jones, Amon, Estie and Mr. David Neely went with two other men to see what the probable danger was. They soon saw the man they had met before. He said he was going to The Dalles; and another man and a squaw with him had Mr. Yantis’ stock, but said they had seen nothing of Mr. Jones’ stock. They soon found the camp of the two men; and it showed that there had been many Indians with them. H.H. Jones’ stock had been barbecued; and parts of the carcasses were still over the fire. All hands were satisfied that there was danger; and some of the men became very indignant.

Neely and Yantis started on to warn a train which they saw at a distance; and the others started back to Boise river. They had gone but a short distance when they saw that there was trouble ahead, and that the train was standing still. They at once wheeled their horses and galloped after the other party, and after going some distance got them halted; and all started back together for the train. When they got near enough they could see the Indians galloping past the train for the purpose of drawing the fire of the emigrants. When they got within a mile or so of the train, they saw that some of the party were hitching the oxen to two of the wagons; and they at once decided that the train had been captured, and that the Indians were starting with the women and children directly towards the brush where our party were concealed. At this critical moment Mr. Neely’s name was suggested as commander; but he at once declined in favor of A.S. Yantis, requesting all the men to keep cool, dismount, stand behind their horses, and take good aim before they fired.

They made a dash to take the wagons, notwithstanding there were some twenty Indians in charge of them; and as they passed a clump of brush two Indians came dashing out with their short stirrups, bobbing up high in the air, first on one side and then the other, with the intention of drawing the first fire of the white men and dodging it. In this they failed; and Mr. Neely started after one and Yantis after the other. Mr. Yantis wounded both Indian and horse; but the other escaped into the willows. At this time the firing became general from both parties; and, as Amon was standing beside his horse, Mr. Neely saw him drop his rifle and throw his hands to his head, having been shot through the head and hip at the same time. The poor fellow exclaimed, “Boys, don’t leave me here.” As the Indian straightened up from behind a bank, Mr. Neely snatched Amon’s rifle and shot at him. He disappeared; and Neely went to see what he could do for his wounded comrade, when Yantis exclaimed: “The boys are demoralized and gone; they must be stopped,” and started after them. Our subject asked Amon if he wanted his horse, but received no answer. At that moment his mule became frightened and started on a run; but he managed to hold to his double-barreled shotgun and stop the animal. He at once returned to Amon, but found him senseless and left him on the ground.

Mr. Yantis and the others were about four hundred yards away at the wagons, where the fighting was going on. The first fight in Mr. Neely’s sight was Robert Ward’s yoke of oxen, and the next a dead Indian. A little farther lay a young white man, and by his side another dead Indian. Tis young man was said to be a young lawyer from Massachusetts, and was decoyed out from the train to effect a compromise. His name was Babcock; and no doubt he killed the two Indians mentioned. As Mr. Neely approached the wagons, he heard Yantis appealing to the men to stick together or they would all be lost. The Whites and the Indians lay around dead or dying, the white men being Robert Ward and his son from Missouri, Samuel Malugen, Illinois, Babcock from Massachusetts, Charley (or Doc) Adams and brother, California, and three other men, nine in all.

There were some five Indians dead near the wagons, making seven he had counted killed by the train men; and the Indians afterwards reported that Yantis’ men killed five of their number, making a total of twelve Indians killed. The dead were left on the ground until the seventeenth, when Nobler’s and Yantis’ party went back to bury them.

William Ward, a boy thirteen years of age, was cruelly wounded, having been shot several times with arrows; but he succeeded in making his escape and was out on the plains for several days. Newton Ward was badly shot with arrows, and was lying under the wagon tongue, which prevented the horses from stepping on him. He said he held his breath as the Indians rode over him; and when he saw Mr. Neely he held out his hand and said; “How do you do Mr. Neely. We have been looking for you and Mr. Yantis a long time.” He was assisted up behind Mr. Neely; and they started for Boise. But he begged much harder to be left than he had to be taken; for his suffering was intense. Two Dutchmen were yet alive, and begged for water. The dead were lying around in all directions; and there were evidences that most of the fighting had been done hand to hand.

The men who had been killed so terribly bore nothing in comparison to what the women and children who were prisoners endured. Miss Ward only rode a few hundred yards when she jumped out of the wagon and was brutally murdered; and Mrs. White shared the same fate, though her son has never been heard of since. Two or three of the Ward children were burned before their mother’s eyes and Mrs. Ward was burned in many placed by red-hot irons.

The trip across the plains occupied five months and they reached White River, King County, Washington Territory, on October 1, 1854. On the 9th of October, Mrs. Irena Neely gave birth to the first white child born on White river. Mr. Neely at once located a home on the east bank of White River, where he still resides, having added two adjoining farms to the original Donation claim.

He had now the hardships to contend with of a new country full of Indians, with no roads. He had no money, and had a wife and four children to provide for. Their meals consisted mostly of potatoes and salmon, and sometimes of only salt and potatoes. However, he soon secured work away from home, and was obliged to leave his family alone four miles from the nearest neighbor’s, and not a sign of a road to go anywhere, all travel being by canoe. In 1855 he raised a small crop of potatoes, and a fine supply of flour just in time for the hostile Indians to get the benefit.

On the 27th of September, Enos Cooper said to our subject that he was very uneasy, as he thought hostilities were about to break out among the Indians, and proposed going in his canoe to H.H. Jones’ to investigate the situation, and asked Mr. Neely to clean and put his revolver in readiness for use. He cleaned and reloaded the revolver, put it in his pocket, and went to work. In a short time one of the little boys told him there were four Indians at the house wanting to sell some berries. He found two squaws and two Indians; and they proposed the berry trade, which Mr. Neely refused. The two squaws went out into the yard; and the Indians commenced making inquiries as to how many guns and how much ammunition our subject had. He told them he only had one rifle and very little ammunition, showing them some damaged powder; but they refused to believe it was all he had. After being accused several times in a laughing way of having more than one gun, he thought of Cooper’s revolver, and drew it out, showing them how fast it could shoot.

They were greatly surprised, and at once started up, one going between Neely and the gun, and the other to the door, when he saw their intention was to kill him with knives concealed under their blankets. Suddenly Mr. Cooper came in; and the Indians left, after which Mr. Cooper told the news that all the neighbors were on the way to Seattle for safety. Cooper had seen the four Indians at Neely’s place, and felt sure that he and his family were murdered. They at once made preparations; and all went to Seattle.

In a short time they returned home and gathered up the things they had scattered through the brush. On the 12th of October he started for Olympia; and, as his wife refused to stay alone, she accompanied him in an open scow; and they returned to Seattle on October 19th. It was rumored that all the settlers on White river were massacred; and on the nineteenth Mr. Neely, armed with a shotgun, started out to ascertain the facts. He reached Moses Kirkland’s about nine o’clock in the evening, and found everybody attending to their daily affairs with little fear of the Indians. On his return home he went to the mouth of Black River and found everything quiet, and so reported at Seattle, though almost before his story was told Kirkland, Cox and Lake were in town, and were certain all the settlers behind were murdered, which was indeed the case.

On October 23d a company was organized to go and bury the dead. Our subject joined Company H, of the First Regiment of volunteers, and acted as scout most of the time while in the company. At the expiration of the service of Company H, the Indians attacked Seattle; and shortly afterwards Edward Sanders raised Company A, which Mr. Neely joined, being elected second lieutenant. At the expiration of this company’s time he was in command of the company, and mustered them out of service on July 29, 1856.

Knowing it unsafe to return home, he remained with his family in Seattle until April, 1857, and then moved near L.M. Collins’ fort, on the Duwamish River, where he rented a place and managed to slip home once or twice each year in order to say that he kept up continuous cultivation on the Donation claim. There he lived in 1857, ’58 and ’59, when he returned to the Donation, and has lived there ever since, farming and dairying.

He now owns six hundred and thirty acres of land within two and a half mile of Kent, and eighteen miles from Seattle. He is engaged extensively in hog-raising, and is the king bear and cougar hunter of King county. Mr. Neely is sixty-six years old; and his wife is sixty-four. They have seven children living, and eight grandchildren. He is a Republican-Prohibitionist, and in favor of woman suffrage. He never held a civil office except that of postmaster. His religion is, “Do good to all, and be just and moral; and God will deal in justice sure.”



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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