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Last week we wrote about Fount and James O’Neal, born in Texas, but participants in a story-book journey ending in Colorado’s San Juan Basin in 1876.
The O’Neal story has all of the ingredients of a Hollywood cowboy adventure.
Most of my information on the O’Neal family, along with quite a collection of early-day photographs, came from Gordon O’Neal, who lived in the Pagosa area until a few years ago. Gordon had one of the best collections of old pictures I know about.
I don’t know what happened to the collection after Gordon left Pagosa Springs. He was kind enough to let me copy a number of those photos in a black and white darkroom I set up at home. In fact, most of the history pictures in my collection were obtained using the same method.
Gordon’s brother, Shag, still lives in the Pagosa area, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him in a few years. I’m sure another generation of O’Neals who follow Gordon and Shag still live in the area.
The O’Neals, along with friends, were from Dublin, Texas. To summarize the O’Neal story, they, with their wives and children, left Texas in 1875, driving a herd of longhorn cattle. Since Dublin is in the central part of Texas, their horseback journey kicked up dust across a major portion of the Longhorn State before they settled in on the Pecos Trail, also known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, pioneered by western history icon Charlie Goodnight. The journey carried the party up the Pecos River and across a goodly part of New Mexico to Raton Pass, where they left the river and cut across to Cimarron, N.M.
They spent a year in Cimarron before crossing the Rocky Mountains on their way to the San Juan Basin.
In Cimarron, they were attacked by Jicarilla Apaches, who stole some of their cattle. I have found in New Mexico archives proof that, many years later, they were reimbursed by the U. S. government for the loss of cattle.
The party saddled up again in 1875 and headed for Colorado, settling first just north of today’s Aztec, N.M. Some of the group moved to Pine River (today’s Bayfield), where they homesteaded in 1879. A few years later, in 1888, they moved to the Pagosa Springs area where they homesteaded north of town. The area where they homesteaded is still known as O’Neal Park.
Another family group homesteaded in the San Juan Basin in the Aztec area in 1876, after driving a herd of longhorn cattle from Texas. They were known as the Cox party.
The Cox family members were well-known throughout the San Juan Basin including the Pagosa area and were involved in a range-war type shootout in Durango. I mention the Cox family because I have always wondered if they were connected with the O’Neal party. Because the O’Neals are the focus of my story right now, I will talk more about them and other members of their party next week.