James and the Indians

About this story

 

This is a true story. It actually happened to my great-uncle, James Neddo. Isaac and Pauline were my great-grandparents. James was my grandmother's brother and when I was growing up I knew him as Uncle James. Of course, he was an old man when I knew him, about as old as I am now, but with not quite so much hair.

I never knew my great-grandparents. Isaac died 8 years before I was born and Pauline died just 3 years before I was born. I know what kind of people they were because of stories that were told to me. I also know that Isaac built strong fences. When I was a teen-ager, I repaired some of the fences that he built. Many of his fences lasted nearly 50 years after he died. In fact, in Saint Johns there is still a fence that he built around one of his pens to keep coyotes from raiding his sheep, and they moved from St. Johns around 1895.

Looking East, with the Oquirrh mountains in the background. Taken Memorial day, 2003.

 

Isaac and Pauline lived in the small town of Saint Johns, Utah with their family. At the time of this story, James was about 8 years old. He was the oldest child in the family. His sister Pearl was 6, another sister, Agnes, was 2 and Ivie was a new baby. Near their home lived his Grandmother Caroline and his other grandparents, George and Hannah Burridge.

This is the I. J. Neddo Senior family, probably around 1905. I believe the individuals are as follows:

Frot Row: Alice Osterhout, Isaac James Neddo Jr.'s wife and their child; George Neddo; Isaac James Neddo Sr.; Ann Neddo; Pauline Shaw Burridge Neddo; Ella Neddo; Agnes Neddo Lloyd

Back Row: Isaac James Neddo Jr. (James); Charlotte Neddo (Hutchison); Ivie Neddo (Rassmussen); Pearl Neddo (Zollinger); Archie Lloyd (Agnes' husband)

 

Saint Johns is a little bit hard to find on a map. If you follow I-80 west from Salt Lake you will find a town called Tooele (pronounced like two-willah). From Tooele go south into the desert and eventually you will find Saint Johns. Saint Johns is in a valley called Rush Valley. Some modern maps show the town of Saint Johns as Rush Valley, which is actually the towns of Clover and Saint Johns combined. Even today only 300 or so people live there, about the same number as lived there when James was a boy.

Saint Johns was and is a farming community. In the spring, plows turn over the ground and crops are planted. During the summer fields need to be irrigated and hay is cut and stacked to feed the animals during the winter. In the fall crops are harvested and the first frosts are felt. In the winter the wind blows and the snow drifts.

Always the smell of sagebrush is in the air. Every day animals need to be fed and watered. Cows must be milked and eggs gathered. The work never seems to be done.

On the east side of Rush Valley are the Oquirrh (pronounced O-Ker) mountains, which was taken from the Goshute Indian word meaning "wooded mountain." In the mountains there were heavily forested canyons with large maple trees, scrub oak, and red pine with trunks as large as three feet in diameter. Today the famous Bingham open-pit mine is on the east side of the Oquirrh mountains.

The Goshute Indians were noted for being very poor. Even before the white-man came, their land was the western desert areas of Utah and Nevada. They learned to live on "bread" made from grass seeds, ants and grasshoppers. The occasional jack-rabbit was a rare treat for these poor Indians. The Utes and Shoshones ruled in the mountains. The Apache and Navaho roamed the areas further south. Indian tribes bought and sold each other into slavery. To be captured meant a life without hope, filled with hard-work.

To the west were the high plateau desert areas like Skull Valley. Today the army occupies large areas of that desert. There, some of the most fearsome chemicals and bacterial agents known to man have been developed, tested and are stored. But when this story takes place, that area was just sagebrush and tough desert grass.

Isaac was a farmer and sheepherder. He had his own sheep that he herded but he also herded sheep for others. Every spring he would take his outfit - wagon, horses and dogs - and go into the mountains or the desert with the sheep. When fall came, he would return to town with the sheep.

They "grazed" their animals in the wilderness areas during the summer so the grass and hay from their farms could be used for the cold winter months. Sheep always had to have a herder with them for protection from coyotes, cougars and even bears.

Cattle could generally take care of themselves. They were allowed to wander the mountains, then in the fall the men would round them up and take them "home".

As Isaac wandered the wilds with his flock of sheep he frequently encountered bands of Indians. He always made a point of sharing whatever food he had with them. He also invited them to "stop by my home anytime you need to". He told them that his wife's name was Pauline and he told them of his small family. He also told them that at his home they were welcome to any food for them or their horses.

The Indians of the area, no matter which tribe, knew and respected Isaac. They knew that he always spoke the truth and was fair with them.

One summer day, just a few weeks after Ivie was born, Isaac was in the mountains as usual. Pauline had just baked some bread and made some butter for her family. The bread was on the table cooling and the butter was "resting" before she would put it into the cellar where it could be kept cool.

Pauline was just wiping her hands on he apron as she stepped to the door. She thought she'd heard horses outside, but she knew Isaac wouldn't be home for many weeks. "Who could be calling at this time of the morning", she asked herself. As the door swung open she realized that there were many horses and people outside her little log cabin. No, not just people, but Indians.

"What to do." Her father's house was about half-a mile away and anyway, he was no longer the proud and strong soldier that had helped settle this land. He was now an old man of 77 years. He was still loved by the people in Saint Johns, but he certainly was no match for these Indians if they meant to do any mischief.

The Burridge home in Saint Johns. The Neddo home was used for a barn for many years but eventually succumbed to neglect.

George and Pauline Burridge; Caroline Caldwell Neddo Dimmick McIntosh

Saying a prayer in her heart and gathering her courage, Pauline approached the tall Indian who seemed to be in charge. "What do you want?" she asked.

"You are Pauline. We are moving our village, looking for better hunting grounds. Your man, Isaac, told us to come here. He told us that you are brave and strong and that you would give us food and water and hay for our horses."

"If Isaac said it then I will. I don't have much food, but there is some fresh bread and butter in the kitchen. The well's over there, help yourself to the water. The only hay we have is in the big stack" as she pointed out to the field where there was a huge haystack, about 15 feet high.

"I'll get the bread and butter for you, but I can't climb up on the stack to get hay for you and our oldest child is little James here."

"You are brave and good just as Isaac said. Our little ones have not had much food for this journey" was the Indians reply.

As Pauline turned to go to the kitchen she heard the Indian say to little James "Would you get us hay for our horses?"

Hannah started to protest, but little James promptly answered "I'm too little to get up on the hay stack."

"Are you going to be brave like your father?"

"I sure am!"

Will you help us?", the Indian asked.

Hannah was fearful, but curious too as to just what the Indian had in mind. The Indian took James by the hand and led him to the haystack. The other Indians followed along as well.

When they got to the haystack, the Indian suddenly grabbed James ankle with his free-hand and holding him by one hand and one ankle started to swing James back and forth. Suddenly he pitched James up into the air and James landed on the top of the stack as Pauline shrieked.

"Throw hay down for our horses" ordered the Indian.

"Okay", said James and he started throwing arm-fulls of hay down for the horses. Soon there was enough hay on the ground.

"That's enough! Now jump!"

"Will you catch me?"

"Yes, now jump."

The Indian held up his hands. Isaac jumped out into space, trusting in the Indian to catch him.

True to his word, the Indian caught James and stood him down on the ground. Patting the boy on the head, the Indian looked at Pauline and said "James is brave and strong just like Isaac. Isaac is a good man who always keeps his word. Teach James to be that way too"

The Indian horses ate the hay, the bread was shared among the small band and they continued on their way.

That fall when Isaac came home, James had to tell his Papa first thing about the Indians. When James finished telling the story, Isaac held him and told him how proud he was and how much he loved him.

When James was a grown man he too was known for being brave and most of all for always being honest, just like his father.


About this story

dennis@heartslinked.com