Thunder Butte

December 22, 2006

The Rest of Neal's Story

Neal Crowley Among His Antiques (Click to Enlarge) 

After Neal and Dorothy adopted two children, Neal started to collect antiques. Collecting things is a serious obsession among some members of the family. Even today, my own wife complains about my collections of “junk.” Well, Neal developed quite an antiques obsession. Written up in a full page section of one Sunday's edition of the Rapid City Journal, Neal's collection of antiques was described as “[w]hat happens to be the biggest and best antique collection in the state” of South Dakota. Neal's collection was so big that the house was overflowing, as were the yard and outbuildings. Much of it was crated up and warehoused in Faith. At least one out of state museum expressed interest in it at one point, but Neal viewed his antiques as part of South Dakota's history and wanted to keep them in the state. Unfortunately, we don't know what happened to Neal's collection.

Sometime in the 1960's, Neal and Dorothy briefly moved to Alameda, California. Two of his brothers (including my father), a sister, and his mother were all nearby. He tried his hand working a late night shift for a private security guard company, the Alameda Patrol Service. But, it didn't really work out. The nights were long. The pay was low. He felt cut off from the mainstream of society, and felt isolated. Then, he tried bar tending with his brother Joe at the Buckhorn Club in Alameda. This also felt like a let down and was hard to endure for a man who had been “someone” in the small town of Faith. He and Dorothy didn't stay long. It couldn't have been long. I was just a child and perhaps I was a small child at the time, but he was my favorite uncle, and I have no memory of his stay in California. He and Dorothy returned to Faith.

At some point, perhaps the late 1960s or early 1970s, Neal and Dorothy packed up again and became the off-season caretakers for a big, old hotel someplace – I believe – in Colorado for a couple of years. The building had quite the reputation of being haunted. They used to hear strange noises coming from various rooms and, after going to investigate, would find nothing amiss. Sister Cece and her husband Al went to visit at one point and Cece returned with her own story about how frightening the house was. She had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and had “felt” something watching her as she traversed the hallway in the dark. On finishing her business, she heard some noise – perhaps the creak of a door opening nearby – and lit out a a dead run for her bedroom. She didn't know what it was, but came home convinced that there was something pretty frightening in that house. Although Dorothy expressed some unease about the place, Neal laughed off the “ghosts.” He was a great teller of ghost stories from my earliest memories of him, and no doubt he found the house great fodder for more tales.

Soon after this, Neal and Dorothy divorced. Neal worked for awhile as a security manager at a casino in Reno, Nevada. By 1973, Neal was remarried to a woman from Faith, Chubby Escott. We visited Neal and Chubby in the summer of 1973 in Faith, when my family drove across the country sightseeing from California. I recall that Neal still had some remnant antiques in his yard at that point, but his large collection was gone.

According to my dad, “Neal and Chubby then went to Rapid City where he worked in a retail/wholesale business for a time, until he and Chubby took over the management of a tavern in Presho. While in Presho, Neal began to lose weight and was found to be suffering from cancer of the spleen. He made several flights to Mexico where he was injected with an experimental drug. For a short time he gained weight and felt better. He then began to fail and was hospitalized in Pierre. Joe and I visited Neal at this hospital and found him to be failing rapidly.”

I remember one of Neal's California visits during his trips to Mexico to get laetrile treatments. Even though most people were by that time saying that these treatments were medical quackery, Neal exuded confidence and stated his every intention to beat his predicament. Still, he looked thin and unwell. That was the last time I ever saw him.

Says my dad, “True to Neal’s nature, he was surrounded by friends and well wishers up until the end. One of his favorites, who visited him daily, was an Indian lady, I believe her name was Running Horse, but Neal always called her "Fast Pony", which she accepted with good nature, even appearing to enjoy his kidding. In the meantime, "Fast Pony” was knitting a heavy woolen, white comforter, of huge proportions. This comforter covered Neal’s casket and was [he was] buried [with it] covering him.”

My dad continues, “Mr. Escott, Neal’s Father-in-law, had a red, granite stone, one foot thick and large enough to cover the grave, installed over Neal’s grave. On the granite grave cover, he had inscribed the COWBOY`S PRAYER.* Neal’s favorite.”

O Lord I’ve never lived where churches grow;
I’ve loved creation better as it stood
That day you finished it, so long ago,
And looked upon your work and called it good.

Just let me live my life as I’ve begun!
And give me work that’s open to the sky;
Make me a partner of the wind and sun,
And I won’t ask a life that’s soft and high.

Make me as big and open as the plains;
As honest as the horse between my knees;
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains;
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze.

Just keep an eye on all that’s done and said;
Just right me sometime when I turn aside;
And guide me on the long, dim trail ahead-----
That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.

--Mike Crowley

*Authorship uncertain, but often attributed to Badger Clark, who was named the first Poet Laureate of South Dakota in 1937
Mike Crowley Friday, December 22, 2006


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