By Heidi Bingham
So much has been written about his death and little, as far as I can find, about his life. So far, I can’t find a life history. We’ll have to put the pieces together from dates and what has been written about him in others’ life histories.
Richard was born the 15th of July 1882. He was the eighth of twelve children born to his mother Abigail. His father also had four other children with his wife Olive Hovey. Two others were born after Richard’s birth, making Richard one of seventeen children. The two families lived next to one another, and were close until the Manifesto. Two years later his father made the difficult decision to separate the two families.
Grandma described him as a big man with brown hair and blue eyes. He enjoyed boxing and would lift a railroad tie with one arm every morning as a weight. He was both a farmer and a veterinarian.
Carla Neves Loveland records, “Richard Carl Neves and Samantha Johnson were married 19 June 1903. They had eleven children. In 1911, three sons were born within seven and half months. They died soon after birth. After Elnora died, there was a six-year gap between the three older children and the younger ones.” (page 2 CNL)
Richard never knew his youngest daughter, Carla- she was born six months after his death.
LaVerle Neves shares a couple of interesting memories of Richard in Their Roots were Long and Deep page 177, “Uncle Dick, fourth of the boys, was four years older than my Dad (Wilford) and the two were inseparable both in life and death. He married Samantha (Mattie) Johnson, my mothers Aunt, June1903, had eleven children and raised her sister’s orphaned baby, Louis Robinson. After Owen, Eldon and Lucy, the next three, (Richard Jr. and twins, William and Wilford) all born within the year 1911, died at birth. Elnora, next in line, only lived nine years.
He and Aunt Mattie not only schemed to get my parents together, but generously offered a room in their house, for their first home. Their younger daughters, LaRena, Delna, Vera and Carla came along in the same time sequence as the kids in our family so that each of us had a special cousin to pal with.
Dick, like his brothers, was in the Mutual Superintendency, and helped build up the community. When he died, at the hand of an assassin, in June 1923, Papa, first on the scene, was too late to help and listened to his dying words, “Wilford, it was in cold blood.”
Owen Neves wrote the following, recorded in “Their Roots were Long and Deep” page 178.
“Father dearly loved to box. A set of boxing gloves was one of the first things a person had to have, in his opinion. One year, when we still lived on the place east of town, Father took four head of horses and went to Billings. He took boxing lessons from a Professor Topp, while he was there. This man, Topp, at one time had been a sparring partner of Jack Johnson, and was a great teacher. Two things my Father loved to do were arguing religion and boxing. He had my brother Elden and me lifting a railroad iron and take exercises to build up our muscles and wind, and tried to train me to be a prize fighter, but I just didn’t’ take to it like he did.”
Eldon records, “My father always went by the name of Dick, and his horse was also “Dick”, named before we got him. He talked of changing it, at first, but the horse responded so well to “Dick” that he let it be. This horse carried the “T”, belonging to a Mr. Tatman. According to legend, Tatman had imported some blooded horses and turned them out on the rangeland south of Burlington, known as Tatman’s Mountain.
I don’t know how many men had tried to break the horse before Uncle Hyrum got him, but he traded the horse to Father after he couldn’t get him to work either. There were marks on his collar, that father could never curry or brush away. Though most of the great horses around, were “T” horses, Old Dick was the greatest, classed almost as an outlaw. I suppose he and Father were kindred souls- both tops among the tops.
Old Dick was a race horse. One well remembered race was a half mile and someone else was riding him. When they crossed the finish line, well ahead of the other, Dick celebrated the victory by bucking off his rider.
I know the love between a horse and owner is a two-way thing, and I know from experience that horses can have special feelings for different people. To my knowledge, this horse never lost a race, be it a forth mile or 100 miles. He just had what it takes. But the love affair between father and Old Dick, was headed for tragedy.
While Father was away and the horse was in the pasture, he got tangled up in the fence and cut so badly that he bled to death before anyone found him. From where he was laying, Father always figured Old Dick had come looking for help from his best friend and master, but it was too late.”
This account is by his son, Eldon. A more complete record can be found in the book Sagebrush and Roses A History of Otto and Burlington Wyoming by Carla Neves Loveland. This account can be found on page 180 of Their Roots were Long and Deep.
“There was a dance in the town of Burlington near the end of the summer if 1922, that will never be forgotten by the Neves family. When my brother Owen and cousin Lou arrived, bent only on having a good time, Lou asked Melita Perkins to dance. When she refused, he tried to pull her onto the floor, but her mother intervened and Lou walked away.
Her father was angry when he heard what happened and took after Lou. Now Owen, being a pretty husky kid, pitched in to help Lou and soon had the man pinned to the ground. He held on until his assailant fought back by shoving his fingers in Owen’s eyes and snarling, “Kid, if you don’t quit, I’ll jab your eyes out of their sockets!”- and Owen let go.
The next morning his eyes were swollen and blood shot, and appeared to be permanently damaged. This so upset my Father that there was no stopping him, though Owen begged to be allowed to take care of it himself- and I think he would have. But the eye gouging was more than Father could take. When he arrived at the Perkins place, Mr. Perkins met him at the door with a gun, but Father just walked in and took it away.
He later said that when he saw Mrs. Perkins crying he handed the gun back and left, realizing he had been in the wrong for forcing himself into another man’s house. Uncle Wilford rather told him the same thing, but agreed that he might have done the same thing under the same circumstances.
This incident should have ended then and there, and but for the town gossips, might have. My father never made any further move toward him. But Perkins, who had a reputation for being handy with a gun, had lost face in front of his family- and the storytellers had a hayday! Some said, “Old Dick Neves really took water”, while others told how he had taken away the gun. After that, things were bad for months. Neither could make a move toward peace, without losing face or being called a coward. With all this friction, something was bound to happen, and did.
June 18, 1923, almost a year later, school elections were held and quite a crowd was in town. Perkins was there talking to a Mr. Ilif, but Father paid them no mind. We were getting ready to go home and Mother was taking the kids to the buggy while Father went for the mail. On his way to the Post Office, he passed the two men standing by the Pool Hall, Perkins turned to follow and tapped Father on the shoulder. After a few words, both walked around the north side of the building; two shots were heard and Perkins came running around the building. As he passed Mr. Iliff, he bragged, “I told him I’d kill him- and I did!”
Palmer Gormley, the deputy sheriff, lost no time getting Perkins out of town and on the way to Basin. I guess that was a good thing. If Uncle Chester could have gotten to him there would have been one more killing.
It has always seemed a gross miscarriage of justice that Perkins was acquitted by the court- but that’s what happened. I have been told by some of my friends, however, that he was on trial for the rest of his life and, no doubt, would rather have been dead. I don’t know, but he did have his troubles. It was always an ordeal for Owen and me to meet him on the street. We could have easily taken a gun and dropped him, but our Mother’s influence, stayed our hands.
At the time of the killing, Owen and I were on the upper Bench, plowing for Bill Mecker. We were just finishing up and getting ready to bring the outfits home, when Ira McIntosh and Frank Isobel arrived. After they told what had happened, Owen asked if Father was still conscious and Ira said, “Yes, after the shooting he was.” While Ira took our horses and outfits home, we hurried off with Frank not knowing our Father was already dead.
Father’s body was laid out on the ground north of the building, waiting for the County Coroner, when we arrived. Uncle Chester was with him and apologized to us for letting his killer get away. It seemed like the hand of destiny had moved him out of the way while the shooting was going on. As Chester had heard rumors of trouble, he was prepared to act. At the time, however, he was on his way to Grandmother McIntosh’s house, south of town, taking his baby daughter, Miriam. When we finally got to Mother, they had put her to bed in a room of the Old Dustin Hotel. Her words to us, as we approached, affected our actions toward Perkins from then on. “It’s a terrible thing,” she reminded us, “but I would rather have it this way than the other.” (Meaning death was not as bad as killing.)
A few nights later, I dreamed that Perkins had shot Owen. He was lying on a cot and Father was dressing his wounds. I was out with a wash dish full of bloody water. He looked at what I was doing and said, “It’s all right son. We won’t do anything about it.” This was so far removed from the way he usually acted if anybody hurt his kids, that I felt he was giving me a special message.
Perkins had a hearing, in a few days, and was let loose on bail. He came back to Burlington where we met him nearly every time we went to town. I hope none of you will ever have to experience the frustration that racked my body at theses times. Though I’m sure others have felt the same way. I had always kind of liked Meleta Perkins, before this time- more or less from a distance. One day, I was riding horseback on the road going east from Burlington, when I met her and her little brother on their way into town. A terrible feeling of hate came over me as she came in view and my face, pulled out of shape from scowling, must have been a horrible sight. I could tell she had been crying, or was about to, and when she looked up and said, “Hello Eldon”, her voice sort of quivered. Nothing she could have done or said, would have taken the hate out of me like that did. I never had anything to do with her after that, but I never blamed her again for what her Father had done. Our County Attorney was a poor one so the family got together and hired Mr. Gofopert, a lawyer form Cody, to take our case. Uncle Will, Aunt Nan, Aunt Alice, Aunt Lilias, Uncle Wilfford, Uncle Hyrum and Uncle Chester all chipped in to help pay his fee, but I got the feeling he received a better deal from the
other side, to throw the case. That may not have been necessary though, because I heard later that the Judge and two of the Jurors had been against us from the start.
On the first ballot, ten were for convicting Perkins and two were not. As these men refused to change their minds, the Judge eventually turned the murderer loose, rather than have a “hung jury” and go through the whole thing again.
I suppose he was right. Mother was expecting Carla, at that time, and probably could not have stood another trial. But the judge’s message to Perkins was the hardest things I ever had to swallow. “There are a lot of Neves’s around Burlington,” he cautioned, “so you had better carry a gun.”
Only in the last few years, have I been able to hear the name of “Perkins” without it bringing back that same old feeling. ”
I’m including this next story because I think it offers a necessary perspective. It is also taken from Their Roots were Long and Deep. LaRena Neves wrote this letter to the editor of the Neves Family New Letter,
I promised your Dad I would try to write this, but please do not feel you need to put it in the newsletter. It may not even be a proper subject, or not at all newsworthy to other family members. I am just keeping a promise, the rest I leave to you.
It was several years ago, while I was working in South Big Horn County Hospital, Greybull, Wyoming, that the phone rang at the desk one morning. The change nurse answered and said, “We have a nice old man coming in, very ill as he has had a stroke. His name is Edgar Perkins.”
I remember just standing there for awhile, then I also remembered another fact. We were there to take care of everyone who came in, which including this man. My mind was in such turmoil, wondering if I should explain the situation tho the head nurse, who knew nothing of this, whether I should refuse to take care of him or whether to become deathly ill on the spot. That last would have been ideal at the time.
Then I realized that all must be kept in the past. Nothing would be said by me, nothing that could be picked up and gossiped about or become the subject of avid conversation- the facts again distorted as they had been, so cruelly, years ago. No good would come from their knowing.
In the days to follow, it seemed the head nurse deliberately assigned him to me every day. Of course this was not so, as she knew nothing of the past. She also did not know how many times I slipped into the ladies room or nurses lounge, to fall on my knees and pray for the strength and courage to care for this man.
As I bathed him each day- sometimes many were necessary as he was in a coma and also incontinent, I would look at his hands, they seemed to fascinate me, since they were the ones that held the gun that killed our Father. Then, forcing myself back to my task, other nurses helping when he needed to be moved turned or otherwise cared for. They would discuss “this poor old man”, pat and talk to him, even though he could not hear. That I couldn’t do this went unnoticed.
Once I had an overwhelming desire to scream, “Do you know who I am, or that I am taking care of you?” But fortunately, reason came to my aid in time. When I could not leave the room to pray for strength, I would recite the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, etc,” especially verse five, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” I knew if he should realize who I was, the shock might kill him and I would be as guilty as he.
Edgar Perkins kept slipping farther and farther away, and at no time did he regain his consciousness. Some of his children came during his last days, and I had this hurdle to deal with, but by then, I felt stronger.
We had known each other as school children in Burlington, and I wondered what would occur when we met over their father’s death bed. But, they were most courteous and waited until I was off duty to talk. When they told how they appreciated what I had done, there were tears in their eyes, and we cried together.
For the first time, I realized that our part had been easy, compared to theirs. They had been subjected to a lifetime of pain and disgrace for the terrible deed that was not of their doing. Yet they had borne the burden.
Our Mother, with help from the Lord and Owen and Eldon, had raised us with love and in the Church, with a knowledge of the gospel, while the Perkins family became scattered. One of them had died in a terrible accident and none of them remained in the Church or received comfort from it’s promises.
I sincerely hope that this experience has made me a better, more understanding person. Now, I can truly say, “I am thankful I was given this opportunity for spiritual growth.”
1. CNL- notes by Carla Neves Loveland in Grandma’s files