A Community of Scalawags, Renegades, Discharged Soldiers, and Predestined Stinkers?: A History of Northern Jackson Hole and Yellowstone’s Influence, 1872-1920”
Slippery “Coonskin,” “Mink Skin,” “Beaver Tooth”
Charlie: Master of the Art of Deception
Charlie Neil, a local businessman, arrived in Northern Jackson Hole in 1908 just when the notoriety of tusk hunting seemed to be dissipating. It wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of the local game wardens and thus began the law enforcement officials’ long standing efforts to apprehend Charlie during his illegal poaching activities. Besides his clever ability to elude arrest and smooth-talk his way out of charges when arrested, Charlie blatantly bragged about his illegal exploits. As a consequence, the many stories and rumors about Neil, fictitious or otherwise, probably served to take the attention away from the illegal activities of other local residents. There was hardly another person in northern Jackson Hole as well-known as Charles M. Neil. He was accepted by the community and ran a legitimate business helping travelers entering and leaving northern Jackson Hole, as well as providing a service to the local people. His store and dance hall were well-known. His physical appearance was best described by the 1909 jail record in the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office (Uinta County 1909):
“Scar over left eye. Small scar left side of chin. Mole in center of breast. Upper teeth protrude and 2 center ones are gold, freckled hands. / Age: 37 eyes: brown height: 5′ 11 1/2″ beard: sandy mustache ight: 175 occupation: rancher complexion: dark nativity: Irish American hair: dark brown” Fig. 66. Charles and Henrietta West Neil ca. 1901. weight 119 Slippery “Coonskin Fig. 67. Steamboats “Coquille” and “Wolverine” tied up at Coquille River docks of Coquille, Oregon, ca.1910.
Marion Allen, further described Charlie as a “big man and usually wore a big coat and vest, with a big gold watch and a heavy chain across the front of the vest” (Allen, M., 1981). Eunice Braman, who worked for the Neils also described Charlie as tall, big and blustery and an individual who liked to talk to people, telling outrageous stories and jokes (Braman, 1989). Charlie liked to drink, so telling stories came quite naturally. Beryl Wolff felt he was very entertaining when drunk (Wolff, 1990), but M. Allen (1981) mentioned he could also become “quite quarrelsome when he was drinking.” Charlie Neil’s career began in western Oregon. There, Henrietta West and Charlie Neil (Fig. 66) became partners in business, legitimate or otherwise, when they were married in Myrtle Point, Oregon, on April 3, 1901 (Coos County, 1901). When Charlie Neil died, the Jackson’s Hole Courier (1936) mistakenly listed their marriage date as 1902. The newly-married couple in 1901 were residents of Coos County and immediately left to reside in Curry County, Oregon (Myrtle Point Enterprise, 1901). They were married in the home of Richard West (Coos County, 1901). Henrietta was born in Lookingglass, Oregon, March 16, 1878 (Grants Pass Courier, 1968). Her parents were Elizabeth Buel and Joe West (State of Oregon, 1968). Even though Henrietta tried to reform Charlie in Jackson Hole (Wolff, 1990), she became his accomplice. According to the many stories told by local residents. In contrast to Charlie, she was only 5 feet tall. Eunice Braman (1989) described Henrietta as a hardworking person: working in the store, churning butter, making pies and cakes to sell, keeping chickens to sell eggs and maintaining a fine garden for their personal use. She also served meals in her home. Some people thought Henrietta was ornery; but Eunice, who worked for the Neils, didn’t find her that way. She was always busy and serious. On top of all of her chores, Henrietta liked to hunt big game and grouse and also to fish. After Charlie’s death in 1936, she married Edward Isaacson, Charlie’s employee. They soon moved to Oregon, where she lived until she was 90 years old (State of Oregon, 1968). Not much is known of Charlie Neil’s past before he married Henrietta. When Charlie died, the Jackson’s Hole Courier (1936) reported he was born June 28, 1872, in California. That date was substantiated in the 1920 U.S. Census, as well as jail and homestead entry records. There is some indication that Charlie Neil was actually born in Oregon instead of California. On the 1902 Voters List for Curry County, Oregon, he stated that his birthplace was Oregon (Curry County Historical Society, 1902). On the 1900 U.S. Census (1900b), his birthplace was also listed as Oregon. Because of some of his activities, he may not have wanted to be traced to that state, prompting Charlie to claim 120 I. 1 P P K R Y ” C O O N S K I N California as his birthplace when he was in Wyoming. The Jackson’s Hole Courier goes on to say that a half-brother and niece who lived in Salina, Oregon survived him. Before Charlie Neil came to Wyoming, he was closely associated with a frontier area in Oregon comprised of Coos and Curry Counties. Because of the harsh environment and wilderness character of that country, Neil acquired many traits and skills which prepared him for the rigors and isolation of northern Jackson Hole. Transportation in that part of Oregon was a problem because of the mountains and timbered hills, so the rivers and sloughs became the highways to the ocean. The Coquille River was the principal river with its many riverboats serving the towns of Coquille, Myrtle Point and Bandon (Fig. 67). This river was also important for farmers, for the best agricultural lands were located along the Coquille River and its tributaries. “The rest of Coos County was covered with forest so dense that some of the early settlers became discouraged by the immensity of the timber and left for other parts of the State” (Oregon Historical Records Survey, 1942). The same could be said for Curry County. Road travel was terrible and the stage route from Myrtle Point to Roseburg, which was the nearest big town inland, “was one of the toughest routes in the state with deep mud in winter and smothering dust in summer” (Beckham, 1986). The editor of the Coquille newspaper reported that farmers were imprisoned two-thirds of the year because of bad roads (Coquille City Herald, 1902). A letter to the editor expressed the residents’ frustration with their roads: “Everybody knows our roads are an abomination to a civilized humanity. No one attempts to get over them no matter how pious they are, but that their cusses, uttered or unuttered, are a thousand times deeper than the mud, and that gets very near Hades. Our roads are simply awful. In fact, we haven’t got any for I take it, a ‘road,’ accurately defined is ‘an open way for passengers and common traffic,’ but there’s nothing of the kmd hereabouts, that I know of” (Coquille City Herald, 1902a). Such conditions helped to isolate this Oregon wilderness area which was well-endowed with wildlife. “There were bear in abundance, bobcats, marten, fisher, raccoon, mink, civet cats, skunk, otter, and muskrats by the thousands. Even the big timber wolf, now practically extinct in Oregon, were here in great numbers. Probably not another spot within the entire Pacific Northwest boasted more game birds and animals per square acre than did Coos and Curry” (Peterson and Powers, 1952). It was not surprising that wholesale slaughter of the elk and deer occurred there, for their hides and teeth brought fair market prices (Peterson and Powers, 1952). In this type of setting, Charlie Neil’s personality and character were molded and his skills as a trapper and salesman were developed. Able to adapt to the harsh conditions, Charlie was regularly traveling between Port Orford in Curry County and the Coquille area in Coos County as a young man. The first official notice of Charlie’s occupation and travels was in the U.S. Census (1900b) for the Parkersburg Precinct in Coos County. At that time, he was a boarder in Parkersburg and his occupation was a “traveling clothing salesman.” Parkersburg (Fig. 68) was a sawmill town at the mouth of Bear Creek on the Coquille River near Coquille (Dodge, 1898). Another hint as to Neil’s activities was a newspaper report that “CM. Neil, the fur buyer, of Myrtle Point was in town today. He is buying quite a quantity of furs in Coos and Curry Counties, and is paying good prices” (Coquille City Herald, 1901). Then switching to Curry County, the Port Orford Tribune (1901) reported that “Charley Neil is still in the market for furs, and is doing a rushing business. He will make his last shipment about the first of April, and those having furs to dispose of can leave them at Kerr SC Co’s store.” In addition to buying and selling furs, Neil was known as a trapper on the Coquille River (Port Orford Tribune, 1909). After his honeymoon in Port Orford in 1901 (Port Orford Tribune, 1901a), Neil settled with his new bride along the coast of Oregon between the towns of Port Orford and Gold Beach in Curry County. Neil must have kept in contact with the Coquille area, for the newspaper. Myrtle Point Enterprise, still followed the activities of Charlie. Neil was still buying furs in December of that year (Port Orford Tribune, 1901b). The Neils built a home on Euchre Creek near the coastal town of Ophir, Oregon, in April 1902 (Port Orford Tribune, 1902). Charlie was still in his element. 121 Slippery “Coonskin” •^iiiIM <l 1m it ^ r -^ H^r’rrr!- Fig. 68. Parkersburg, Oregon, which burned in 1906. He was near the fine hunting and trapping areas of the Rogue River and its tributaries, as well as the wilderness of the coastal mountains. Charlie immediately’ established a store on Euchre Creek, buying most of his supplies from Port Or ford (Port Orford Tribune, 1902a, 1902b). The Neils became solid citizens of the area. Henrietta became superintendent of the Orphir Sunday School and parties were held in the Neil home (Port Orford Tribune, 1903, 1903a). By 1903, Charlie acquired a nickname, “Coonskin Charley,” which was used throughout his dealings in Oregon. That was the first of several names used to describe Charlie during his lifetime. The Port Orford Tribune (1902a) reported: “D.L. Moore of Euchre Creek, was doing business in Port Orford during the week. The gentle voice of Coonskin Charley, the Euchre Creek merchant, was also heard on our streets.” Neil used the nickname to his advantage when he advertised his fur business in the newspaper and called himself “Coonskin Charley” (Port Orford Tribune, 1903b). While in Oregon, Charlie started a series of deceptions which were to continue throughout his life. Some of those became criminal activities. When Charlie was involved in a 1909 Oregon incident, the newspaper reiterated an earlier account: “The story is recalled in this connection of the time Schiller Hermann grub staked Neil for a season of trapping. Neil was to pay in hides as they run. The account dragged on for many months and finally Mr. Hermann, who was in the general merchandise business here, asked him about the hides. ‘You were to take them as they run?’ suggested Neil. ‘Yes,’ acquiesced Hermann. ‘Well’ said Neil, ‘the last I saw of them they were running like — ‘ “(Port Orford Tribune, 1909). An illegal activity was reported in 1903 that ran counter to Charlie’s reputation as a good citizen of Curry County. “Chas Neil, who was placed under arrest at Port Orford last week on the charge of having deer skins in his possession, was dismissed for want of evidence” (Myrtle Point Enterprise, 1903). Immediately following the above incident, Charlie miscalculated again and was caught in another deception: “Charles Neil of deerskin fame and who advertises in the Recorder as ‘Coon Skin Charley,’ it appears is not expert enough to distinguish between fox and wild cat skins. There is a bounty of $2.00 on wild cat scalps in this county and last week Mr. Neil turned in to the County Clerk six scalps, and made an affadavit that they were wild cat scalps, and 122 Slippery “Coonskin” received $12.00 for them. It was discovered soon after that they were fox scalps and Mr. Ned was promptly arrested and locked up on the charge of perjury” (Port Orford Tribune, 1903b). In April, after landing in jail, “Charles Neil succeeded in getting his bonds reduced to $200 dollars. This amount he raised and deposited with the proper authorities, and is now at liberty” (Port Orford Tribune, 1903c). Apparently, things were getting out of control for Charlie, for it was reported in August: ” ‘Coon Skin Charley’ Neil has skipped. Circuit Court was drawing too near to he comfortable. He sold the merchandise in his store at Euchre Creek to Milton Moore, and departed for parts unknown” (Port Orford Tribune, 1903d). “Parts unknown” became Council, Idaho, a small, isolated, lumber town near the Snake River where Neil was reported to be running a restaurant (Myrtle Point Enterprise, 1903a). Charlie continued to reside in this area and expanded his business: “CM. Neil has opened up a new place of business in the Couch building and will keep on hand a choice line of confections, cigars, groceries, etc” (Weiser Signal, 1904). Neil was mentioned again in the newspaper in 1905: “John Addington has gone to Council to clerk for CM. Neil” (Weiser Semi-Weekly Signal, 1905). Neil also acquired a second nickname. He was referred to as “Mink Skin Neil,” the fur and junk dealer, in Council (Fig. 69) (Charles Winkler Memorial Museum, no date). In 1904, Charlie and Henrietta were listed as residents of Council when they started to buy real estate. By 1905, the Neils owned about 65 lots in that town ¥ig. 69. “Mink Skin Neil” (Charles Neil), a fur and junk dealer, with badger in Council, Idaho, between 1905-1908. Inset shown below. (Adams County, 1904, 1905). By April 1907, Charlie and his wife had sold off most of the lots and were probably ready to move further east (Adams County, 1906, 1907). Charlie Neil claimed on his Homestead Entry of 1914 (U.S. Land Office, 1914) that he still owned 52 lots in Council; but the Council, Idaho, records do not support that statement. The Jackson’s Hole Courier (1936) reported that Charlie Neil came to northern Jackson Hole to settle in 1908. According to Charlie’s testimony on his Homestead Entry (U.S. Land Office, 1914), he 123 Slippery “Coonskin” Fig. 70. Henrietta Neil in front of their one-room house, ca. 1910. Fig. 71. Charlie Neil’s store along the Buffalo Fork River. established actual residency on the land Sept. 1, 1908, and built his house on Sept. 20, 1908. In addition, he or his wife were always present on the homestead from 1908 to 1914, the time of the Final Proof of the Homestead Entry. Even though Charlie claimed the foregoing, the U.S. Census (1910) did not list Charlie as being in the precinct. It did list an “Etta Neil” who was married and owned a home free of mortgage. Henrietta Neil, Charlie’s wife, signed her name “Etta Neil” on one of the deeds sold in Council, Idaho. There is some indication that Charlie did not want his presence in Jackson Hole known at that time. That circumstance will be discussed later. Both names appeared on the next U.S. Census (1920a). Charlie Neil lost no time filing for a homestead entry of 163.07 acres which he accomplished on Sept. 19, 1908. The Patent was issued Aug. 11, 1915 (U.S. Land Office, 1915; Teton County, 1915). Charlie had some trouble meeting all the requirements, for his proof was rejected by the Assistant Commissioner on May 5, 1913, for the following reason: “The proof shows residence upon the land since September 1, 1908, but fails to show any cultivation. It appears that about 40 acres of the land in question have been cleared and wild hay cut therefrom. It is not shown that the land is unfit for the raising of an agricultural crop. … Clearing of the land and cutting hay therefrom does not constitute cultivation” (U.S. Land Office, 1914). Charlie immediately appealed to the Secretary of Interior within the time limit required: “that he believed at the time of making such proof as aforesaid, that the testimony given by him and his witnesses as to improvements were sufficient to enable him to get his patent, and in this way be relieved from further trouble in connection with final proof; that to have offered his proof at the time he did, to wit, November 2Sth 1912 was an innocent error on his part, and was not made for the purpose of misrepresentation of the facts; nor for the purpose of deceiving the Department” (U.S. Land Office, 1914). Charlie went on to say that he would accomplish the cultivation necessary before the Final Proof Forest Ranger Rudolph Rosencrans testified that Neil produced 45 tons of native hay, 15 tons of grain hay and a liberal supply of vegetables in 1914, making a total of 18 acres under cultivation (U.S. Land Office, 1914). This must have been enough to satisfy authorities for he received his Patent the next year. Again, Rosencrans described Charlie’s land as “benchland with a moderate slope toward the south. Lots 1 and 2 are bottomlands along the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River” (U.S. Land Office, 1914). After Charlie’s death, the homestead was divided and now is the Heart 6 Ranch and the Buffalo Valley Ranch (Braman, 1989). According to Charlie Neil’s Homestead Final Proof in 1914, the following homestead improvements were listed: 124 Slippery “Coonskin” one-room log house (Fig. 70), two log stables, one wagon shed, two store-houses and a dugout cellar. He also pastured cows and horses (U.S. Land Office, 1914). There was no mention of a store at that time. The date Charlie started his store on the Buffalo Fork is not known. However, the old timers have mentioned dates between 1915 and 1919. At first, Neil ran the U.S. Reclamation Commissary at Moran which was next to Ed Sheffield’s pool hall and gambling establishment. He then moved his business to his homestead which was on the improved Togwotee Pass road (Sheffield, Ben, Jr., 1989; Markham, 1972; Allen, M., 1981). The U.S. Census (1920a) recorded Charlie’s occupation as a “retail merchant” (Fig. 71). According to Marion Allen, “the store was run like some of the modern bargain stores are now. The cases of canned goods were just opened and set around the walls and down the aisles and the dry goods, etc. were handled the same way” (Allen, M., 1981). Allen continued by telling a story of a mosquito tent he bought from Neil’s store in 1923. He liked it so well that when he returned to the valley in 1930, he went back to the store to buy another one. When Marion asked Charlie if he had any, “he looked at me as if he thought I wasn’t very smart and said, ‘Sure. I’m still open.’ When he made no effort to get one I asked him where they were and he just said, “Where they always were.’ So I wandered around the store, climbing over cases and sacks until I found a couple of boxes of mosquito tents” (Allen, M., 1981). On the plus side, the Neil store was well-stocked with staples. Also, it appears that Henrietta and Charlie (Fig. 72) never turned anyone down who asked for credit and Charlie didn’t send out bills, for he felt he would eventually be paid (Allen, M., 1981; Wolff, 1990). If this was true, the northern Jackson Hole settlers were probably grateful. Eventually, in addition to their store, the Neils ran an eight cabin road camp and restaurant and sold gasoline to the many automobile travelers passing over the Togwotee Pass road. Also, they contracted for someone to run a horse concession and to put up hay to carry their stock over winter. In later years, Neil would get his supplies in Idaho Falls at wholesale Fig. 72. Charlie and Henrietta Neil companies and brmg them to his store on the front steps of their store. ^^ his truck. Also, he would get his gas with his truck from the Riverton refineries (Braman, 1989), hauling it in 50-gallon barrels. Archie Germann, an early settler, also remembered Charlie’s impressive ice house as being the best in the valley Germann cut ice for Charlie on the Buffalo River. The whole house was lined with ice to keep food cool (Germann, 1990). Another legitimate business run by the Neils was a dance hall which was a 50-foot x 50-foot log building with hardwood floors and not much else. This building is still standing today; with many additions, it has become the main lodge for the Heart 6 Ranch (Braman, 1989). According to the newspaper “the dances were popular, at first, then unpopular when Charley’s personality became too personal. So he closed it up, and left it to the bats” (Jackson Hole Guide, 1964). Fig. 73. Charlie Neil’s old store and home as it looked in 1989 on the Buffalo Valley Ranch. 125 S L I !■ P E R Y “COONSKIN Fig. 74. Beaver pelts hanging on the wall of Charlie Neil’s store. The Neils’ first store was a separate building from their home which was west of the store. In the early 1930’s, the Neils built another store and home and lived in the dance hall when their home was being constructed (Braman, 1989; Wolff, 1990a). The store and home are still standing today connected by an addition on the Buffalo Valley Ranch (Fig. 73). Charlie Neil had acquired the nickname of “Beaver Tooth” in Jackson Hole because of his protruding front teeth and his beaver trapping skills. As one might expect, Charlie’s wife disapproved of the name. When Slim Lawrence was passing the Neil store and asked where “Beaver” was, Henrietta hit him over the head with a broom (Lawrence, 1982). Nevertheless, the name was in common use throughout Neil’s life in Jackson Hole. Neil’s skills as a trapper were described by the Jackson newspaper: “He was a trapper, beaver his specialty. It wasn’t so easy in those days to make a living. Nature had dumped into his lap the means for making a living, and he meant to take it, law or no law. Behind his craftiness we find a sense of humor. It was fun to get out of a tight hole and broadcast each episode as though it was too good to keep to himself” (Jackson Hole Guide, 1964). Marion Allen, an acquaintance, reported that Charlie was a very successful beaver trapper (Fig. 74). “Mr. Neil was one of the old school of beaver trappers. When he got to a stream where he planned to set traps he would take to the water and wade up, but would never walk up the banks of the stream. This was done in the early days so the Indians or other trappers could not see the track, especially if the traps were camouflaged. Later this method was used so the game warden couldn’t find the traps. This was hard work for some times the trapper would walk a mile or more up a stream carrying his traps, anchor and scent stick. He carried all this in icy cold water for the trapper knew it took cold water to make good hides” (Allen, 1981). Charlie Neil also mastered the art of deception. One of the most blatant J examples of this was in the following letter by Andrew ‘ Guzikicwicz, Officer in charge of the Snake River Soldier Station in 1912, writing to the Superintendent of Yellowstone Park: “The day of 13th this month, 1912, a man known in Jackson Hole as. Curly Brown came into the Station asking for a help to search after his friend O’Neil which, befallen by a sudden madness threatened him with pistol, spoiled some of his own rations, took Brown’s horse and went into hills. Pvt. Parrilt, during the patrolling tour of Corp. Guzikicwicz’s, in charge of Station, rang up Headquarters and got permission to send a soldier for humanity’s sake to search after apparently mad man and save him from starvation or death in snow. Pvt. Mulliken went out with the result that the mad O’Neil took the road for Moran, Wyo. and headed for farmers settlement. The name of O’Neil is known to well to every ranger and assistant game warden as renowned pocher and my opinion is, that the sudden madness was a stratagem and while everybody will search after him in one part of the county, he-with the clear brains, will trap the beaver in another” (Guzikicwicz, 1912). Marion Nethercott reported another deceptive technique: “He’d get on a pair of webs and walk for 20 miles backwards. They (game wardens) thought they were following, but he would be coming home” (Nethercott, 1972). As one would expect from his past history, Charlie Neil ignored the Wyoming laws as he continued his beaver trapping and beaver pelt marketing. Dealing in furs was 126 Si. IPPFRY “CoONSKIn” always his livelihood and it was hard for him to change his ways. Since 1899, beaver have been recognized in Wyoming as a valuable asset and were protected by the state. The Wyoming Legislature prohibited the killing of beaver except under certain circumstances. “It shall he unlawful for any person to kill, wound, ensnare or trap any heaver, or kitten heaver, within the State of Wyoming, for a period often years, from and after the approval of this Act. Provided: That any resident tax-payer and honafide owner of real estate in this State, may, upon his own premises, kill or destroy heaver when necessary for the protection of his dams, irrigating ditches and trees, and to prevent the overflowing of water on his lands. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall he deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall he fined in any sum not less than twenty nor more than fifty dollars, and shall he sentenced to the county jail for a period of not less than twenty days” (Session Laws, 1899). During most of the time Charlie Neil lived in northern Jackson Hole, the Game and Fish laws were enhanced and refined: the time period prohibiting trapping and killing of beaver was extended; landowners needed permission of the State Game Warden to destroy beaver doing damage to their land; beaver hides had to have a Wyoming game tag in order to be shipped or transported out of the state; and a license had to be obtained to buy or collect raw fur for sale or shipment. The law left a lot to be circumvented by Charlie in order to carry out his lively business of trapping, buying, transporting and selling beaver hides. While most of the Justice of the Peace records for northern Jackson Hole have been lost, one can still trace Charlie Neil’s disdain of Wyoming game laws through newspaper accounts and official court records. After coming to Wyoming in the fall of 1908, Charlie Neil’s activities started out with a “bang” in 1909. It was not his year! He was immediately arrested in January 1909 by Forest Rangers John Alsop and Ed Romey on the charge of illegally trapping and hunting on the Teton State Game Preserve and fined $50 and costs by Justice of the Peace Cunningham (Jackson’s Hole Courier, 1909). John Alsop told the following story which might have referred to this incident: “I looked across the flat and saw a man we had heen looking for and trying to catch. They called him ‘Beaver Toothed Charlie’ his last name was Neal. I said to Ed, ‘There goes Neal and it looks like he has a heaver on his hack’, so we got down, got on our snow shoes and took after him, hut he had too much of a start and we had to come hack. I phoned to the Supervisor and told him what we had seen. He said, ‘you had hetter go down to the Justice of the Peace and get a search warrant. Be sure to put everything in the search warrant that I thought was in the house and not search for anything hut what was in the warrant,’ so I had to snowshoe six miles down to Fred Cunningham’s and get a search warrant. This Neal was a man that always rose early and he gone hefore anyhody got around which was why he was hard to catch. We got our warrant and came hack. I phoned to Rosencrans who lived two miles ahove Neal’s place that we were leaving at two o’clock in the morning and to meet Romey and me at Neal’s. We had four miles to ski and it was cold that morning, ahout 10 helow. He had’ nt gone out that morning and we waited around awhile until, it heing so cold we could’nt take it any longer, I said to the others, ‘I used to play joothall and learned to shoulder. I know that the door is holted, hut I think I can hreak it loose.’ I took a run and jumped with my shoulder against the door and knocked it plumh off. I and the door landed inside. A heaver hide fell heside me. Romey rushed in and said to Neal, ‘you hehave now, and everying will he lovely.’ He took the guns at the head of the hed, emptied them and staked them outside. I read the search warrant and expected to find heaver hides in his hed hetween the mattresses or underneath on the springs. I searched everywhere and found nothing until I got to his wife’s trunk. She hegan to cry and said, ‘I just ironed yesterday and have everything pressed and put away and I hate to have you disturh them.’ When she opened the trunk it looked just as she said it would. I looked at it and almost weakened hut thought, it won’t hurt anything to run my hand down the side and see. I no more than got started to feel down the side when I found heaver hides clear to the hottom, eleven of them and we had a nice case, so we had to take him to the justice hut couldn’t leave the woman alone. We looked around and found a little sleigh, a kind oftohoggan, so Romey and Rosencrans on skiis pulled her 5 miles to the settlement” (Forest Service Old Timers Club, 1956). Again in 1909, Neil was arrested on April 14; but this time he was sent to jail: 127 Slippery “Coonskin” “Valdez Allen of Moran, Constable, was in Jackson over Sunday, with a Mr. Neil in custody of the same place, enroute to Evanston where Mr. Neil will lay out a sentence oj 60 days, in the county bastile. Bejore judge Cunningham, Mr. Neil was found guilty of a violation of law by trapping heaver” (Teton Valley News, 1909a). According to the Sheriff’s Jail Record, he was sentenced to serve 60 days and to pay a $100 fine and costs. Charlie claimed he could not pay the fine and, as a consequence, his sentence was extended to 164 days in jail starting April 22 (Uinta County, 1909). Apparently, he was released early and back in Jackson Hole in September, for Ranger Rosencrans wrote the following September 24, 1909, entry in his diary: ‘Assisted Constable Allen and Fred Cunningham in arresting CM. Neil, went with them as far as Pacific Creek and returned to stat ” (Rosencrans, 1909). On April 18, 1913, Charlie was again arrested for illegally trapping beaver on the preserve. This time he pleaded “not guilty” so the case was sent to the Lincoln County District Court in Kemmerer. The case did not come up in that court until May 14. On May 9, Charlie asked for a continuance using the following reasons why he could not go to trial without his witnesses: “… that I have used due deligence and effort to have the said witnesses here at this term of court; that by reason of my financial condition, I was, and am now, unable to pay the cost necessary to get said witnesses; that said witnesses are not absent by reason of any act on my part; that I believe if the said witnesses were present, they, and each oj them will testijy that I am not guilty oj their own knowledge” (Lincoln County, 1914). The judge refused the request and the case went to trial on May 12 (Kemmerer Camera, 1914). The jury was instructed to decide “beyond a reasonable doubt” and they found Charlie Neil “not guilty as charged” (Lincoln County 1914). Also, Charlie Neil appeared in Teton County Court when on June 9, 1926, he “knowingly, wilfully and unlawfully have, keep and possess fine beaver skins, the said Charles M. Neil having not then and there made an affidavit to the affect that beaver was doing actual damage on his property and said beaver skins not then and there being tagged with Wyoming Game tags” (Teton County, 1926). There was no official record of how this case was resolved. A $500 bond was posted. The official record showed another case which went to District Court. Charlie was charged with possessing 11 beaver hides unlawfully on June 16, 1933. He was arraigned on October 23, 1933, and was fined $104 or “in default of fine,” was to be jailed for 90 days (Teton County, 1933). When Charlie was arrested, the Jackson newspaper described him as a “reputed game poacher, who for the last two decades has occupied a prominent place in the Justice Court records on game charges” (Jackson’s Hole Courier, 1933a). Charlie Neil developed and refined many other deceptive maneuvers and techniques to get the illegal fiars out of Jackson Hole and market them. Consequently, Charlie or his wife took furs out over Teton Pass or the Reclamation Road at the north end of the Tetons. William Balderston, a shrewd observer, worked on the construction of Jackson Lake Dam in 1913T915 and related the following: “Beaver Tooth Neal was a frequent visitor in the camp and was of great interest to everyone because he was such a character and had a reputation as a beaver poacher. The game wardens used to catch up with him quite often and he had to resort to special tactics to get his illegal skins out of the valley. The story was told that at one point two officials of the Dam were headed out to Ashton over the Reclamation Road. Beaver Tooth asked \ them f they would take out his bedroll as he was going out on horse back and did not have room for it. They willingly took the bedroll out and left it at the Government Warehouse in Ashton, whereupon Beaver Tooth came in a few days later and j picked up the ‘bedroll’, which was pretty well filled with beaver 1 skins” (Balderston, 1978). Charles Purdy of tusk hunting fame lived at Loon Lake along the Reclamation Road. Purdy did not like Charhe Neil; he felt a person couldn’t trust him and that he was a scoundrel. Purdy reported that Neil was arrested when he drove a team and a wagon with a false bottom over the Reclamation Road. Beaver hides were stored in the bottom (Sharp, 1991). Another route used for transport of Neil’s illegal furs was over Teton Pass. The most frequent story told was about Henrietta; pretending to be mad at Charlie, she left every spring with her trunks, never to return. In a month 128 Slippery “COONSKIN or SO, she would be back after selling the furs hidden in the trunks under her personal possessions. When all else failed, Charlie would use the mail to market furs. “He used various devices to slip his illegal pelts by officers. One was to found the ‘Leader Fur Company’ of Elk, Wyoming. Neil bought furs from outside Jackson Hole and then shipped them out agam with his own, illegal pelts in the bundles” (Calkins, 1973). One of his Leader Fur Company tags is preserved in the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum (no date). It was only a matter of time before Charlie’s fur company operations and manipulations ran afoul of the law. It was reported that “a charge of operating a fur company, known as Leader Fur Company, without a license” was transferred directly to District Court (Jackson’s Hole Courier, 1933a). Consequently, on June 21, 1933, Charles Neil was charged with the following: “wilfully, unlawfully, and knowingly deal and engage in the business of raw hides and furs, the said Chas. M. Neil then and there having failed to first obtain a license from the state game and fish commissioner of said state of Wyoming.” Once more, his case was dismissed for lack of evidence (Teton County, 1933b). Without remorse, Charlie established other fur companies. Eunice Braman remembers one called the Square Deal Fur Company. It was used by Charlie to ship his furs (Fig. 75) to a fur company in St. Louis (Braman, 1989). Probably the most revealing record of Charlie’s dealings were two letters written by him in 1920 to M.H. Crabtree of Dubuque, Iowa. The letterhead on the September 30 letter was from yet another company run by Neil (Neil, 1920a): Chas. M. Neil & Co. Dealers in Raw Furs and General Merchandise The following are the letters: “Dear Sir: April 24, 1920 Your letter at hand. Contense noted. Will say I have any amount of elk teeth. Cow teeth are from 2.00 to 8.00 per pair. Bull teeth from 6.00 to 45.00 per pair. Acording to quallity have handled same for 30 years and am a good judge of value. Send me currency by registered letter and tell Fig. 75. Charlie Neil (right) with coyote pelts hanging on the side oj his store. What you want and I will do the rest. Will send them to you by reg. mail but Please don’t let any one know how you get them. Chas. M. Neil & Co.” (Neil, 1920a) “Dear Sir: Sept. 30, 1920 Your letter Sep 23 at hand. We note you want a lot of things. Will say we handle hides & furs of all kinds also elk teeth but are not so fond of paying express both ways as to send you a lot of stuff to some bank or Ex agt. We have banks at home. I have send no less than 100 fine furs and elk teeth this year and had them all returned. If you want something tell me what it is and send the money then I will send it. I can get ready sale and do sell hundreds of teeth each month. Chas. M. Neil” (Neil, 1920a) Another fur company of Charlie’s appeared in documents recorded in the Teton County Clerk’s Office as the Wyoming Muskrat and Beaver Farm Corporation. In 1922, Charlie Neil bought the Roland P. Hunter homestead (Teton County, 1922). Charles Neil sold that property by General Warranty Deed in 1925 to the Wyoming Muskrat and Beaver Farm (Teton County 1925a). This was a stock transaction with no money involved. The ultimate purpose appears to have been a means for Charlie to transform his Wyoming Muskrat and Beaver Farm from a paper corporation to one with physical assets. This is revealed when one looks at the makeup of the Corporation recorded in an affidavit to clear the title to the Hunter property signed by Henrietta Neil Isaacson, after Charlie’s death: 129 Slippery “Coonskin Fig. 76. Main street of Coquille, Oregon, 1911. “that in truth and in fact, the said Chas. M. Neil and myself and the Wyoming Muskrat and Beaver Farm were virtually one and the same person in this, to-wit: That the said Chas. M. Neil, was President of said corporation, and I was Secretary, member of the Board oj Directors and stock holder therein; that said corporation issued hut five hundred shares of stock, 250 thereof to Chas. M. Neil by Certificate No. 1 thereof; 249 to Henrietta Neil by Certificate No. 2 thereof, and 1 share to Edward A. Rice by Certificate No. 3 thereof; that all of said stock thereof including the Certificate No. 3 of Edward A. Rice for one share, has been returned to this affiant” (Teton County, 1941). Any other use of that farm by Charlie or Henrietta was never discovered. As with beaver poaching, Charlie Neil’s other illegal activities were not violent crimes; but they were serious ones. In 1909, his past from Oregon caught up with him when a sheriff from Coquille, Oregon, (Fig. 76) came to Idaho to extradite Charlie and unleashed a bizarre set of events. On September 16, 1909, a grand jury in Coos County, Oregon, accused Charlie Neil of two accounts of forgery and one of obtaining money by false pretenses (Coos County, 1909, 1909a). The crimes were committed on August 24 and 25. Two of the indictments were for forging checks and one for the following: “The said CM. Neil on the 24th day of August, 1909 in the County of Coos and State of Oregon then and there being and then and there intending and devising to cheat and defraud Robt. R. Watson, the duly appointed qualified and acting Deputy County Clerk of said Coos County, did then and there unlawfully, feloniously and designedly represent and pretend to said Robt. R. Watson that he, the said CM. Neil, did between the 10th day of February 1909 and the 20th day of March, 1909, kill six coyotes within said Coos County, and did exhibit to said Robt. R. Watson the scalp of six animals, and that thereupon said CM. Neil did make, subscribe and swear according to law to the truth of a certain affidavit before said Robt. R. Watson as such Deputy County Clerk as by law required” (Coos County, 1909a). While Charlie had received a bounty of $60 for the coyotes, contrary to his sworn affidavit, they were not killed in Coos County. After the indictment, a Bench Warrant was sent out for the capture of Neil to be returned to Oregon (Coos County, 1909, 1909a). That probably precipitated the arrest of Charlie on September 24, 1909, by Rosencrans, Allen and Fred Cunningham as reported in Rosencrans’ diary (Rosencrans, 1909). A St. Anthony, Idaho, newspaper on October 14, 1909, related the following: “Some time ago Sheriff Cahoon received word from the authorities at Coquille, Oregon, to the effect that a man by the name of CM. Neil, was wanted there upon three charges — two of forgery and the other perjury. The individual was believed to be in this country and a search was at once instituted, resulting in the capture of Neil in the Jackson’s Hole country. He has been confined in the county jail here for some time | past awaiting the arrival of the sheriff from Oregon. This officer was on his way here a few days ago and upon his arrival at Boise discovered an error in the extradition papers and had to return to Oregon to have same rectified. Word received recently states that Neil is an all round crook and will surely serve the balance of his days in the penitentiary if landed in the state of Oregon” (Teton Peak-Chronicle, 1909). On October 28, 1909, the same newspaper reported that “CM. Neil a prisoner who has been held in the county jail for 3 weeks awaiting the arrival of Sheriff Gage, of Coquille, was delivered to that officer the latter part of last week. Neil made his escape at the state line and the 130 .Slippery Coons officers are on the lookout for him again” (Teton Peak-Chronicle, 1909a). The Coquille Herald gave a more elaborate account: “Sheriff Gage returned Sunday evening from Idaho, whither he had gone after Chas. M. Neil, known in these parts as ‘Coon Skin Charlie’, who had been apprehended for passing forged checks, represented to have been drawn by business men of Myrtle Pomt, but he had no prisoner. As the train gained the summit of the Blue Mountains and was pulling away from Kamela, and gaining headway down the descent, Neil gave the Sheriff the dodge and jumped off It was in the night, and before Mr. Gage could get off the train Neil had made his escape in the darkness” (Coquille Herald, 1909). When Charlie made his escape, the Port Orford Tribune (1909a) humorously reported that “the sheriff did not have him properly Gaged.” It wasn’t long before Charlie was apprehended again in February 1910. The following sensational headlines and account appeared in the newspaper: “NEIL IS IN JAIL Sheriff Gage Finally Lands Slippery ‘Coonskin Charlie. Sheriff Gage arrived in Marshfield Wednesday having in custody ‘Coonskin Charlie Neil and the latter gentleman is now in the county jail awaiting the pleasure of the court in disposing of his case. Neil was taken at Pocatello, Idaho, and is wanted here to answer to the charge of having passed forged checks, of Myrtle Point banks, to which he had attached the names ofL.A. Roberts, George Martm and W.A. Neal. The checks were in small amounts. Neil is also wanted in Curry county to answer to an ancient charge. He had been arrested there and in a gambling game made it possible for him to obtain his liberty. He had also escaped from Sheriff Gage a month or two ago, but the officer made certain of his man this time and brought him safely through. Whether Neil’s case is heard at this term of court or not depends on himself. He can appear now and plead guilty, if not his case will go over to the April term and he will be kept in the county jail meanwhile. Sheriff Gage says that he had no trouble at all in bringing his man in, but he took no chances” (Myrtle Point Enterprise, 1910). Fig. 77. Myrtle Point, Oregon, The Coquille Herald (1910) gave a possible reason why Charlie was apprehended: “Mr. Gage offered a reward of a hundred dollars for Mr. Neil, ‘Coon Skin Charley’s’ recapture which was soon accomplished at Pocotello, Idaho. Mr. Gage now claims to have paid the largest price for a coon skin of any man in Oregon.” Charlie pleaded not guilty and sat in the Coquille jail until the next session of Circuit Court. The jury on April 23, 1910 found that the defendant was not guilty of obtaining money by false pretenses (Coos County, 1910a). On the two counts of forgery the jury and Prosecuting Attorney recommended Neil be released under his own recognizance to report once a month: “that while we believe the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments, we do not believe that a conviction can be had unless certain witnesses attend from the state of Illinois in one case and Ohio in the other case” (Coos County, 1910). The newspapers had a heyday, and Charlie loved every minute of it. “Chas. Neil, the much talked of ‘Coon Skin Charlie, was a little too smoothe for the prosecutors. His plans were too well laid and his stories so smoothely woven that it was impossible to convict him and he was allowed to hike for his home in Wyoming, where we presume he will again embark in the coyote business. He furnished lively entertainment for the court and all attending during his trial” (Coquille Herald, 1910a). The Port Orford Tribune (1910) reported Neil’s skills: “‘Coon Skin Charlie’ beat the lawyers and the court, and is now a free man, having won honors as a skillful witness and manager. He would make a great criminal lawyer.” Charlie Neil felt so good he even held an “impromptu 131 P E R Y C O O N S K I N farewell reception” outside in Myrtle Point (Fig. 11^ with 100 people attending (Myrtle Point Enterprise, 1910a). After this incident, Charlie returned to his Wyoming residence. In contrast to his activities in Oregon, Charlie continued his lawlessness in Wyoming. He liked his whiskey, and it was inevitable that he would be charged with illegal possession. On June 29, 1926, he was arrested for possessing one half pint of moonshine whiskey. C.R. Van Vleck and Bruce Porter put up a $500 bond; but later in District Court, he was found “not guilty” (Teton County, 1926a). The official record also showed that Charlie was sued occasionally. Eight companies authorized the Inter Mountain Association of Credit Men to collect $3,364.51 worth of unpaid bills for goods and merchandise delivered. According to the affidavit, Charlie Neil used the following technique to avoid payment: the Credit Men claimed that “Charles M. Neil has removed from the State of Wyoming and is about to become a non resident of the State of Wyoming with intent and effect of hindering and delaying his creditors in the collection of their debts.” This tactic did not work, for the sheriff attached Charlies land and 70 spools of wire netting (Teton County, 1925). Apparently, Neil finally paid the money; for when he died in 1936, his homestead was still in his estate (Teton County, no date). In another case. Art Blair sued Charlie Neil to recover his wages for “work and labor performed.” Charlie appealed and tried another maneuver involving his wife. She swore the following in District Court: “that the defendants physical condition is such, at this time, that he will he unable to travel in order to attend court in this case on the 24th. day of June, 1933; that the defendant Chas. M. Neil is suffering from an ailment in his hack, usually called Lumbago, and is taking medicine, and affiant has to continually apply hot pack to defendant’s hack; that affiant and her husband reside about 45 miles from Jackson, Wyo. that the defendant is conjined to his bed almost all the time and it would be impossible for him to attend court at the date above specified.” Art Blair filed an affidavit June 24, 1933, in support of his case: “that he firmly believes that defendant’s physical condition is at this time simulated, that the defendant is an able bodied and strong person and is able to do or perform any kind of travel at this time and at a time prior to this time; that defendant Charles M. Neil is not suffering from any ailment in his back of any importance whatever, that he is not suffering from lumbago, that he is not taking medicine, that he is not having hot packs of salt or any packs applied to his back. This affiant is informed by two competent witnesses, assistant Game Wardens, who have the said defendant under arrest for violation of the J laws of the State of Wyoming in relation to illegal possession of heaver and fox hides and who examined the physical condition of said dejendant recently, that said defendant is not suffering from any ailment whatever, for that when said witnesses were not present and were observing the said defendant without his knowledge, he was able to travel all over his place and premises in secreting and causing to he secreted, heaver and fox hides, illegally in his possession to keep the same from being found on said premises by these witnesses who had search warrants therefor.” Charlie lost the appeal and was fined $50.76 plus costs (Teton County, 1933a). During most of Charlie’s life, official records seem to imply that he spent an inordinate amount of time conniving and undertaking illicit schemes. Charlie Neil continued his activities up until he died of pneumonia on June 1, 1936 at Rexburg, Idaho. He was 64 years old (Jackson’s Hole Courier, 1936). After a search of official Idaho and Wyoming records, no death certificate was found, which is quite a mystery (State of Idaho, 1992; State of Wyoming, 1993). Beryl Wolff was able to clarify some of the circumstances surrounding his death. Charlie and the hired man had gone to Idaho Falls for supplies and on the way back, after dark, their truck stalled. The hired man left Charlie, who had been drinking, and went for help. When they returned to the truck, Charlie was outside the truck, lying down, wet and cold. He died that night of pneumonia (Wolff, 1990a). Even though Charles M. Neil was “the character” of northern Jackson Hole who was habitually engaged in a wide variety of “schemes,” he was nevertheless graciously and generously eulogized by the Jackson’s Hole Courier (1936): “Mr. Neil, or ‘Charlie’ as he was familiarly known throughout the valley, was a leader in his community. Kind hearted and generous always, no man broke or injunds, was ever turned hungry or in want of shelter jrom his door. His place was always ‘open house’ to the worthy in need and although he did not acquire a great deal of this worlds goods his courage and cheerful spirit never faltered.”