> Constance Neagle
 

 

Luverne Schoolchildren-1932

 

A Brief Sketch

by

Granddaughter Patricia Davidson-Peters ©1999

Connie in 1931

John Neagle, who was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1833 came with his father to America when he was in his twenties and settled in New York where he married Ellen Croty. Their son, William Francis Neagle, who was born in Chatsworth, Illinois in 1870 is the father of my grandmother Connie.

Connie's father William came to Barnes county, North Dakota in 1892 and was united in marriage to Clara A. Danforth at Valley City. To this union was born one son and four daughters: William, Helen, Ruth, Constance, and Mildred Neagle. They lived on a section and a half of land three miles from school and five and a half miles from the small farming town of Luverne. Besides their crops, they had plenty of good pasture for their cattle and horses which were mainly used for field work although they did have lighter horses. According to my grandmother, they drove a team of horses to school until the older children no longer went, and then she and her younger sister Mildred, rode horseback.

The Neagles also had a surrey, a two-seater with fringe on top, and a lamp on front driven by a pretty pair of white horses. Her father was usually the one who drove this, using it to take the children to church. The town didn't have a Catholic church which her father would have preferred; but it was a church all the same, and by time they came home from services, his wife Clara had a meal spread for the family and whoever might have come back with them.

 The single buggy that they owned was mostly used by her mother Clara who took it to town where she sold or traded the cream and eggs for flour, sugar and things they did not raise on the farm. They always had a big garden, but also grew their own corn, beans, and potatoes - my grandmother doing the shucking, shelling, and hoeing until 1925 when her father died.  Only twelve years of age, she then took up the outdoor chores right along beside her brother Bill. She had the chores of milking the cows and driving the horses in the fields, and worked so hard that her brother bragged to the neighbors that he felt better with her in the field behind the horses than any hired man he'd ever had. This not only made her feel good, but it saved the family from hiring another hand.

 When that same summer came my grandmother was hired out to a family who was building a new house. Her days were filled with carrying water, wood, and washing dishes - but she also took to making bread as the lady of the house would go off to the city and not have the time herself to do it. Many times this lady did not come home until past the evening meal, so that my grandmother would also cook and prepare the meal for nine men.

Her only salvation was an older uncle who also worked there. As they did not have electricity, he would help light the wood stove which she used to bake bread, pies, or cookies each day for the men who came in for coffee break in the morning and afternoon. All of this she did at two dollars a week, for fourteen weeks - and during the entire time she worked there, she went home but once.

Fortunately, school came easy for her and she was able to stay out in spring and help plant the crops like most of the young school boys did. Because the boys were needed on the farms, many of the young men dropped out of school to work the farms, but Connie managed to work on the farm and finished eight grades in seven years, and then four years of high school in three and a half years.

She graduated and went on to college where she worked for her board and room for one year. Afterwards, she received her teacher's certificate and taught school to fourteen children - eight grades, for eighty dollars a month in a one-room school house about a quarter mile from the place where she stayed.  - On her teacher's certificate her duties included "that the teacher is to do the janitorial work of the school." And that "Each teacher in the common schools shall teach pupils, as they become sufficiently advanced to pursue the same, the following branches: Orthography, reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, language lessons, English grammar, geography, United States history, civil Government, physiology and hygiene, giving special instruction concerning the nature of alcoholic drinks and other narcotics and their effects upon the human system."

After she'd gone off to teach, her brother hired on another hand to replace her, and her life began to be her own. Feeling that teaching was not for her, she did not teach the second year, but decided to go to work in a general mercantile store. 

In the spring of 1933, when she was about twenty, Vernon Davidson rented a farm with a lovely big house on it. He planted his first crop and began raising cattle for his father and brothers who were butchers in a neighboring town. Feeling settled, he asked Connie to marry him. The two had known each other all their lives, having attended the same school and social functions but they had also dated other young men and women so that it was never decided upon that they would marry, they simply chose to do so. So like his own father, Vernon married a neighboring farm girl - this marriage took place in Valley City in 1934.With the beginning of their new life together came the drought - first one year and then the next. Fearing even more difficult times, my grandparents auctioned everything off on the farm and headed out to Arizona in the fall of 1935.

Luverne School Children-1933

My grandparents arrived in the small agricultural and farming community of Phoenix which was sunk into the clay baked desert, and decided to make the small city their home. Since the building of the dams was essential to the growth of Arizona, my grandpaís involvement with it, has become somewhat of an historical tale in itself.

While working on the reclamation and reconstruction of the dams, which was for the purpose of modifying and increasing the capacity of the spillways as well as strengthening the concrete buttresses, my grandmother lived with him in the work camps. She worked nearly as hard as he did, canning meat and vegetables and cooking meals for many of the men in the camp. She endured the heat, rattlesnakes, and inconveniences of living in the middle of the desert with a sense that she was doing nothing remarkable, but rather that which simply needed done.

After a sixty-foot fall at Parker dam in which my grandpa was injured and laid up for nearly a year, my grandmother supplemented their income by waiting tables in a central Phoenix diner. They had also purchased not long before this, two cabins and a filling station that served the farmers on the far outskirts of west Phoenix.  Before, and after his injury, my grandmother ran and cared for these while my grandpa was working at the dams and was later laid up.

 When he recovered, my grandpa began working as a cement finisher and later became a licensed cement contractor. Selling the service station and cabins, they later bought a ranch off what is now known as Thunderbird Road in what was then, a little farming community called Peoria. Here they raised their three children LaVerna, Victor, and Daryl, until 1954 when they moved into the city of Phoenix.

In the years that followed, my grandmother became a bookkeeper for other companies and eventually retired. She and her sister Ruth have been, and still are involved in the Odd Fellows and Rebeka's Lodge - both have previously been Regional Presidents and have obtained the highest of honors within the lodge.

Connie presently lives in Glendale, Arizona - just east of Peoria. She is 86 years old, the grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of eleven. Always on the run, off to North Dakota, Nashville, California, Canada, or just buzzing around the state for the lodge meetings, she remains active and involved in her community, volunteering and helping when needed - but above all, she has retained the values and hardships of her North Dakota roots which have made her a woman well admired by all.