The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., May 7, 1943, page 1

By Arlene Winchell Moore

     Peter Neal was an Oregon Pioneer of 1844, and came to Hood River valley to pioneer in 1860.
     I debated a little about featuring my greatgrandfather, Peter Neal, in an article. I am just a little like my father, Virgil (Doc) Winchell. I had been asked to furnish some data on pioneers of Hood River and in getting the information from him I remarked: "Dad, why do you take so little interest in pioneer things. There are so many things you could tell which most of the present-day people never even dreamed of?" Dad said: "Well, Sis, I'll tell you. Course I'm proud of the things my folks dared to do, but, you know, I just don't like to brag about them."
     My great grandfather, Peter Neal, and my grandfather, Jerome Winchell, came to Hood River to make this valley their home in 1860. My grandfather Winchell filed on the property now owned by Wilson Fike, and great grandfather Neal, father-in-law of Winchell, filed on the claim just south of the bridge crossing to Dethman ridge on Neal creek, which was named for him.
     Peter Neal was originally from Virginia, and began pioneering very early in life. We don't have any extensive records of these early wanderings, but we know they led him through the states of Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, from which point he joined a large wagon train, which crossed the plains in 1844 to the Oregon Country, in answer to the call of Marcus Whitman to settle the great Northwest Country or lose it to England thru the work of the Hudson Bay Trading Company.
     In Missouri, Peter Neal lost his first wife, the mother of our great-aunt Nancy. Later he married the mother of his rather large second family of children, one of whom was my grandmother, Julia Neal-Winchell and later, after my grandfather Winchell died, she became Mrs. John Divers. Mr. Neal was a large man, standing over six feet, two inches in his stockinged feet, and his little wife never weighed more than 90 pounds in her life. But what she lacked in size, was made up in energy.
     The Neal family crossed the plains in 1844. Though very little educational advantages in the way of "book larning" had come his way Peter Neal evidently had some executive ability as he was chosen unanimously by members of the wagon train to be their captain. Generally speaking, this wagon train made its journey with no unusual difficulties, and reached its destination in the fall of the same year in which it started its western trip. No hostile Indians gave them any trouble and their route was chosen to avoid the worst travel conditions.
     To the Neals came an event that, to say the least, was a bit out of the ordinary. Their daughter, Diana, mother of Milton Odell, was born when the trip was well underway. I find some conflicting records of the event. Some statisticians have stated that Julia Neal, my grandmother, was born enroute, but my aunt, Mrs. English, and my father both told me about their mother was born at Oregon City.
     On the way into the West, the barge carrying the families and supplies paused for a rest at or near the mouth of Hood river, and Peter Neal took his gun and strolled out through the forest of huge yellow pines, which stood all over the valley in those days. During the next 17 years the picture of those beautiful trees, in their mountain-girt valley, stayed always with him. For a number of years he worked as a blacksmith for the Hudson Bay Company at Oregon City.
     When the gold rush to California in 1849 became the prevailing urge, he moved his family to Salem and started for the gold fields. Arriving in California, he decided that a supply train from the Willamette valley would net him more and easier money than digging gold. On this venture, he cleaned up between five and six thousand dollars. Some time in the middle fifties, he moved his family to The Dalles, where he stayed only a short time and then returned to the Willamette valley. Early in 1860, he came to Hood River, where he lived for the next thirty years. All but two of his children lie in the little cemetery at the front of Van Horn Butte. His youngest and his oldest, Nancy and Boneparte, found rest somewhere in the Willamette valley.
     The first road constructed on the East side of the valley was built by Peter Neal, and his boys, in order to move the timber from his mill on the Neal creek to the river for transportation to The Dalles, where he did most of his cut. In those days, Wasco county reached from the Cascades to the Rockies, with comparatively few inhabitants, none of whom were interested in his problem. No help could be found from state or county. For a time he moved his timber along the foothills, keeping well back of the Foss place to the river. One fall he had sold a rather large order which called for quick delivery. Hurrying to deliver the lumber, he routed one of the boys with a heavier load than usual, with instructions to hurry it through to the river. Seeking to carry out his order, the lad got into dire trouble and soon found himself, with his oxen, wagon and lumber, at the foot of the East side slope, in a tangled mess.
     Peter Neal saw that, if he was to deliver lumber with any safety he must have a road and immediately went to work to build a road. This was the old road that used to come down in front of the Foss place and around the hills past the Benton Rand or Pullen place. This road was used nearly fifty years, with very little change as to grade. The original construction was done largely by hand and oxen-driven plows, and a hand-made drag to level off. It took 117 days to put the road in shape for travel.
     In 1886, the Harbison brothers, Sam and Bob, bought the farm and the mill, which had been in continuous operation since 1862, and after a short sojourn in the town of Hood River, Peter Neal moved to Roseburg, Oregon, where he lived until he died.
     The next year after the Harbison brothers bought the property, a heavy spring runoff washed the old mill away and completely destroyed the property. The old wheel, which had come up from the Bradford mill at Cascade Locks, burned by the Indians in the uprising of 1855, was crushed. Sam Harbison picked up one of the buckets later and it was turned over to the Oregon Historical Society.
     A little old school house built up on the site of the present school building, was constructed from the lumber cut at this mill. I believe that the building is still standing just back of the janitor's house at Pine Grove, now used for storage.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer