by Erna Egan, Granddaughter
William Neves is said to have been born at Cross Ran, Waldron, Sussex England, September 10, 1847. An intensive search was made for his record, and finally his christening was found at Uckfield Parish as follows: William, son of Dinah Cornwall, christened 27 October 1847.
His mother, Dinah Ashdown, married Abraham Cornwall, a sawyer, at St. Ann’s Lewes, Sussex on 10 November 1841. Two children were born – Ruth in May 1842 and Amos, 3 November 1844. Abraham died 28 October 1844 in Mayfield, age 26 – cause of death – effusion on the brain. On April 29, 1849 Dinah married Robert Frost, laborer, in the parish church. She died 21 October 1850 at age 29 of gastritis. Between the death of Abraham Cornwall, her first husband, and her marriage to Robert Frost, her son William was born and christened at Uckfield. Uckfield is about five miles north of Sussex where William is said to have been born.
A William Neves was probably the father of William, and the family apparently had knowledge of this, as William is listed in the 1851 census as William Neves Cornwall, living with his Uncle Richard Ashdown and his family along with his half brother and half sister, Amos and Ruth Cornwall.
Richard Ashdown grew up in Mayfield, and married Ann Burgess. They settled in Vickfiled, where three children were born to them, William, Annie, and Richard Jr. From here they moved to Wellbrook, a little village of about a half dozen houses joined together in a row, with a nice garden in front for each family, and a brook of clear water running at the rear.
In 1852 he moved his family to Brighton, Essex Co. Brighton is a town on the south coast of the English Channel. Here he had work as a pit sawyer and the children could go to school at the National school at the corner of Regent St. and receive a common education.
It was here he first heard of the Mormons. They took in a lodger by the name of David Oxley who worked in a carpenter shop with a Mormon elder named Jiles. The elder sent books and tracts for Richard to read. They interested him very much. He was the first member of the family to join the Church. He invited other elders to the home and soon the whole family joined the Church. His sister Alice Ashdown Hook and all her family also joined the Church. They were baptized on the 23 of June in the English Channel.
After living in Brighton about six years he moved his family to Aldershot where he found work at sawing. Here again he was instrumental with others in bringing several families into the church. Having lost his job again because of his joining the church, he moved again. This time to a town called Fornham where he found work. Here he met a traveling elder named Edward Phillips, whom he assisted to preach the gospel in outdoor meetings in all the towns around, and soon a branch of about 25 members was organized. All of these families immigrated to Utah in 1861, except 4 who came in 1860 and crossed the plains with handcarts. This large group crossed the sea from Liverpool to New York in a sailing vessel called the Manchester. They were five weeks on the water. They came as far as the Missouri River by rail and up the river to Florence in a steamboat called “The West Wind”. From here they started their journey across the plains by ox teams in Captain Eldridge’s company. They arrived in Salt Lake City in 1861.
William Neves remembered the trip as a long, tiresome one and many people died. He walked all the way. It was his task to gather wood for the fire and help with camp chores. One evening they were late making camp. He spread his blanket on the ground by a sage brush and went to sleep. Next morning he got up and there under the edge of his blanket was a big rattle snake. He had either spread it over the snake or it had crawled there during the night.
When coming to Utah he learned the carpenter trade and worked on the Salt Lake Temple. When he moved to Millville, he worked at the Logan Temple until it was finished.
When he was 21 he was engaged to a girl named Fannie. His brother Amos went to Millville and married a girl named Elizabeth Shaffer. Will went up to see his brother and fell in love with Elizabeth’s sister Abigail. Fannie released him from his engagement and he and Abigail were married in 1870. They lived in Salt Lake about a year then moved to Millville where four children were born: Nancy Ann, Dinah Alice, Abbie Eve, and Rosabel, twins. The twins died shortly after birth.
This was the time of polygamy, so he married a second wife, Olive Ann Hovey. He built a small house on the other side of the 15 acre lot the family now lived on. Olive had four children: Joseph, Earnest, Emeline, and Mary. Mary died at one year of age. Abigail now had three more children: John Isaac, Hyrum Lafayette, and Richard Carl.
A law had been passed making polygamy a crime punishable by a fine or imprisonment. He had no money to pay a fine and couldn’t make a living for his family if he were in jail, so he left and went to work on the railroad in Wyoming, later to Cordelane, Idaho. While there a Curtis boy drowned in the lake. They hunted for his body and dragged the lake but couldn’t find him. One day a ship came along, stirring up the water, and his body came to the top.
He was in Washington in April. He went out the back door of the place he was staying. There was a cellar under the house with a trap door opening by the steps. Someone had left the door open. It was dark and he stepped off into the cellar and broke his leg at the hip. He was in the hospital six months. During this time his family at home were having a hard time to get along. He had sent them nearly all the money he had, but it was still not enough for two large families.
Abigail and her son Will and her nephew Amox took the wagon and went to Ogden on a two day trip. They bought a load of salt and started back home. It was late going over the mountain. It clouded up and started to rain. It was so dark they could hardly see where they were going. Abigail took off her white apron and tied it over head and walked ahead of the horses so they could see where they were going. After they got home, they went to Fish Haven and traded the salt for fish. This was a two-day trip. When they came back to Millville, they sold the fish and made a small profit.
She now had four more children – Louis Henry, Wilford Trane, Lilias Elizabeth and Chester Earl.
Volunteers were called to colonize the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming. As Brigham Young had said they would build up a large Mormon Commonwealth in the west and that every nook and corner from San Francisco to Salt Lake and every valley in the west should be colonized by the Mormons, they decided to go. Will had a 120 acre farm at Trenton, Utah. He borrowed $120 on it to help buy an outfit. He never did get any more for it. He traded the house in Millville for one wagon, one team, a harness and 1000 lbs. of flour. He bought another wagon and team and they packed some furniture, bedding, and dishes, their clothing and keepsakes into the two wagons. He left all the money he could for Olive and her children and their home and lot.
On the 18th of July 1894, they started for the Big Horn Basin. There was William, his wife Abigail and their ten living children. Their oldest daughter Nancy Ann was married to Lars Nelson. They had one wagon and four horses. The day they left, the youngest daughter, Lilia stood sick with typhoid fever, but they put her to bed and went on.
When they got up in Blacksmith Fork Canyon, they met some men driving cattle. When they told them where they were going, the men said, “You had better stay here, that is a terrible place, cold in the winter, no lumber for homes, you can’t raise anything, and the wind blows all the time.” This left them discouraged, but they had sold everything they had, so they went on. Going up Danish Dougway their only gun slid out of the wagon – or so they thought. This left without a gun to get fresh meat.
They went through Bear Lake Valley up Twin Creek Canyon to Hams Fork, where they met the old immigrant trail. They had been told there was a wagon road, but when they got in Twin Creek Canyon they had to follow the railroad track. The canyon was so narrow that most of the time if a train had come along it would have hit them. In the evening after traveling all day they got through the narrow part and had just pulled the wagons down on the creek to camp for the night when a long freight train came through.
They came to Green River and ferried across. The floods had cut back the bank on the other side and it took them a half day to get the wagons up the steep bank above the river. All the company but Abigail wanted to stop and homestead there. It was a pretty country, lots of level land and close to their old home, but she insisted on going on. Her cousin Eliza Shulmadine was in the Big Horn Basin and had written of what a wonderful place it was and she was sure it was better than this country.
At the Sandy River they crossed at the historic “Big Sandy Stage Station” and at the little Sandy Stage Station also. South Pass was almost deserted. It was an old mining town. There were just a few old buildings and a large graveyard. At Lander, Abigail had a tooth pulled. It had ached for a long time, but that was the first dentist they had found. Lander was quite a town.
On they went, thru the Indian reservation and at Fort Washakie, they saw an Indian mother washing her small baby in the cold water of the river. It was early in the morning and very cold. The baby screamed but she kept right on as if it was the usual thing to do, which it was.
They got off the main trail and came to the Windriver Canyon. They couldn’t find the ferry so they forded the river. The horses had to swim and the water came way up in the wagons. The cows were washed way down the river and it looked like they would be drowned, but they finally got to shore. When they came to Owl Mountain, it took them all day to get up. They put all the horses on one wagon and pulled it to the top. They brought the horses all back and pulled up another wagon.
They camped that night on tip and started down the next day. It was a very steep, narrow, rocky dougway with a deep precipice on one side. Lars and Lou were riding in one wagon with four horses on it. At one steep place the brake block broke and the wagon started to roll. There was nothing then to hold the wagon and it ran clear up over the wheel horses before it stopped. They had a terrible time to get poles to pry the wagon off the frightened, bruised horses, untangle the harness and keep from rolling over the bank into the canyon below. Finally they all got to the bottom and camped for the night to make repairs.
A rancher who lived close by the creek where they were camped came over that night and asked where they were going. When they told him, he laughed and said, “You are there now.” Abigail and the rest couldn’t believe him. They had heard so much about this wonderful country and this was nothing but dry, barren hill, sage brush and cactus flats. No beautiful level farming land and timbered mountains. They thought surely it must be better further on.
Two more days and they were at Grass Creek. A tire ran off one hind wheel on Will’s wagon and before he could stop, the wheel broke. They had no way to repair it, so they fixed a pole for that side of the wagon to slife on and hold the wagon up. They drove on 30 miles to Meeteetse, a small town on the Greybull River. Everyone was so downhearted they could cry. They thought of the home they had left to come to this wilderness. Lars was as disappointed as the rest and felt as bad, but he threw his hat high in the air and yelled “Hurrah for the Big Horns”. Then they all had to laugh.
It was August 18. It had cost Will 18 dollars to get his wheel fixed and they had $18 dollars left. It was almost winter with 13 people to feed and no place to live. Next day they came on down the Greybull River to Jim and Eliza Shulmadine’s place. It was twenty miles from Meeteetse and 8 miles above Burlington, at about the headgate of the Burlington canal. Eliza was Abigail’s cousin. They turn the tired teams in the pasture and Will, John, and Hyrum helped Jim shock his grain and put up his hay. They stayed there for two weeks and then they all moved down the Greybull River to Otto on Monroe Johnson’s place. Al the boys worked for different people and took their wages in food.
Will homesteaded a quarter section one mile southeast of Burlington, and Lars took up the same, 160 acres one mile northwest of Burlington. A year later William Jr. homesteaded 160 acres adjoining his father’s on the east. They went to the mountains above Meeteetse, a distance of fifty miles to get logs. The trip took five days and they built houses on all three places.
The first three winters the roads were too bad to drive to Billings, 125 miles, which was the nearest flour mill, so they ran out of flour. Johnson Saunder got some rollers and rolled out the wheat. Although it was very coarse flour it could be made into bread. They had no way to clean the wheat so they all had to watch out for rocks when they ate it. Some of the folks ground their wheat on a coffee mill.
Will was now called Sr. He and William Jr. and Hyrum all did carpenter work. They built a lot of houses around Burlington. Abigail did nursing for 20 years. William St. made coffins for all who died in that vicinity. They built a four room house which was small for their family. They planted an orchard, built a barn and soon had a home again.
Sometime during the spring or summer of the year 1894, the Mormon people became desirous of organizing a branch of the church. Joseph I. Reid wrote to President Wilford Woodruff asking for information as to how to get a branch started, and in reply President Woodruff advised that the members call a meeting and choose the one they wanted to preside. A meeting was called, a secretary appointed and the people unanimously nominated William H. Packard.
He chose Martin Black and Harry Stone as his counselors. However, Harry Stone moved away shortly after and William Neves was sustained in his place. William Packard acted as Presiding Elder until July 30, 1899, when he was set apart as Bishop of the Burlington Ward by Apostle Woodruff. Burlington Ward was then part of the Woodruff Stake. He and his counselors served as the bishopric until May 1901, when the Big Horn Stake was organized and James S. McNiven was chosen to take his place.
In 1896 a Relief Society was organized with Abigail Neves as president of that Society. In 1898 Apostle Woodruff came out and set them apart officially as officers.
Abigail helped at all the births and deaths within a radius of 20 miles, and had a small black-topped buggy and drove a team of white horses. She hardly ever had time at home as someone was always coming for her.
In spite of the serious tasks that had to be done every day, the people of Burlington had time for fun and good times. There was visiting, parties and dances. About the year 1898-1899, Thomas Davidson built a dance hall on the southeast corner of his place. This was used for dances, parties, and for dramatic plays, generally given by local talent.
One of the outstanding plays put on in the early days and one perhaps best remembered was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. This was put on in about 1906. The principle characters were: Uncle Tom – played by William neves, Sr.; Simon Legree – by Hyrum Neves; Little Eva – by Francis Hensley; Topsy – by Roah Dunsworth; George and Eliza (colored slaves who crossed the river on the ice) – by Charles F. Hensley and wife; Mr. St. Clair (Eva’s father) – by John Caulfield; Mrs. St. Clair (Eva’s mother) – by Nellie Packard; Miss Phoebe – by Miss Condrun; Sambo (little colored boy) – by Joe Preator; Cassie (slave) – by Sara Preator.
Sister Abigail S. Neves was a wonderful pioneer woman and her counselors and secretaries also. They did a great work in early days among the sick and the needy. Sister Neves especially ministered to the sick in the district – often going as far as Cody and Meeteetse areas. All kinds of sickness needed her time and help – there were no doctors. Most of the children born during the first fifteen or twenty years were brought to birth by her kind care. No one who knew Sister Neves will forget her. She served as Relief Society President as long as she lived – though her counselors were often changed. Early visiting teachers went in the wagon, taking their small children with them also a pound of butter, a loaf of bread, or whatever they had to take that might be needed by those whom they visited.
All this time they had wanted a large house so they would have room when their children came home with their families. In 1913 they got the logs and started a new house. It was to be modern, large and beautiful. The boys helped their father when they could, and he worked on it all the extra time he had, and bought the material as he could get the money. Abbie took sick and soon the doctor bills took all their money. She had always kept hoping they could get moved into their new house so they could be comfortable, but they didn’t get it finished. She was sick for a year and a half and died February 17, 1915, at the age of 62. Her husband made her a beautiful casket and she was buried on the hill north of Burlington. He was never well or happy after that. The house was finished enough to move into, but it was not completed. He lived in it just a short time and died on March 30, 1916, just thirteen months after his wife.
He had the lumber for his own casket to be made like his wife’s, but he died in a hospital in Billings and they bought a casket to bring him home for burial. He was buried beside his wife. His burial and his wife’s were two of the largest ever held in Burlington, with over 50 wagons and buggies following the hearse to the cemetery.
Family records research work done in England
History of Burlington Comp. by J. McIntosh
History of Big Horn Basin by Charles A. Welsh
Lithographed by R.K. Neves American Falls, Idaho June 1973