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The O’Neals — early day pioneers

I noticed an item about Ebon “Buck” O’Neal in the 90 years ago column on Page 2 of the Aug. 27 issue of the Pagosa Springs SUN.

The item was extracted from the Aug. 29, 1919, edition of the SUN. The article stirred my brain waves a might.

Some years back I had the privilege of talking for some time with Gordon O’Neal, one of Buck’s sons. I obtained a lot of my old pictures by copying pictures Gordon had in his possession. Gordon is gone now but I think his brother, Shag, is still in town. I hope I am not wrong about Shag.

Buck was widely remembered by Pagosa old-timers for various and sundry pranks and other questionable activities. Fishing was one of those activities.

What is not as well known is the pioneering role the O’Neals played in settling the Four Corners Country.

John Ebon (Buck) O’Neal was born near what is now Bayfield, Colo., July 4, 1885, the twin brother of Lucy O’Neal Irwin. He married Nellie H. Tallman at the Toner Ranch in the Upper Piedra Sept. 30, 1930. He died Jan 8, 1953. I believe I remember, but I’m not too sure of it, that he and his wife may have lived in the house on the hill formerly occupied by an old Pagosa school building that burned.

Buck was the son of John S. O’Neal, who was born in Texas in 1847, the son of George Washington and Mary O’Neal. The first 25 years of his life were passed in Texas. In 1875, he moved to Colfax County, N.M., and three years later homesteaded on the Pine River in Colorado. When I talked to Gordon back about 1980, he said the O’Neal log cabin on Pine River (near today’s Bayfield, which hadn’t been invented at that time) was still standing.

While reading through microfilm at the Fort Lewis Center for Southwest Studies several years ago, I ran across an item pointing out that the O’Neal family had been paid a sum of money by the U.S. Government reimbursing them for cattle stolen by Indians at Cimarron, N.M. (Colfax County).

John O’Neal moved to Archuleta County in 1887, establishing a ranch in the Upper Piedra area still known by old-timers as O’Neal Park, He maintained a residence in town, served on the town board, and as a county commissioner. He married Virginia Keith Oct. 3, 1860, by whom he had twins, Ebon and Lucy. John O’Neal passed away in 1899, The recently restored house on the corner of Lewis and Fourth Street was originally built by John O’Neal.

In truth, the O’Neal family move from Dublin, Texas, to Pagosa Springs is the stuff western movies are made of. John didn’t come alone. In the party were his half-brother James, Henry Gordon, members of the Keith family, wives, and maybe more.

The entourage was driving a herd of Texas cattle, longhorns, you know, and laid over for three years at Cimarron, where they were attacked by Indians leading to the reimbursement mentioned earlier in this article. I’m guessing those would have been Jicarilla Apache Indians. Knowing the Texas party stopped at Cimarron leads me to believe they had been following the Pecos Trail.

More next week on the O’Neal family.