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  • Writer's pictureBill Cowan

The Tragic Death of Neal Munds

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

The View from Here

Munds Park history. Working Cattle at Clay Park - Photo courtesy of Sedona Historical Society. The Pinewood News.
Working Cattle at Clay Park - Photo courtesy of Sedona Historical Society

Dying young seems like such a mournful tragedy.

Youthful, vibrant and full of life,

holding bright promise for the future

that might have been in one moment,

And then suddenly gone in an instant!!

With only a sad enduring echo

That continues on in the memories

of the family and the ones who cared.

Yet a silent commemoration

of that young Spirit persists

beyond anybody’s knowing

of the joy and exuberance of childhood

Running through clear sunny days

with bright blue skies and green grass

in the shortened life that was… Neal Munds.

Neal Munds (William Cornelius) was born at Ten Mile, near Roseburg, Oregon in 1864, the middle son of Sarah Jane and William Madison Munds. William Munds had come west with the California Gold Rush from Missouri in 1849 before moving to Roseburg in 1857. He met and married Sarah, the daughter of Oregon pioneers, who had come to the Roseburg area via the Oregon Trail in 1843. Neal had two brothers - James T. a little older and John Lee who was younger. When Neal was 10 his father had an altercation with one of his wife’s cousins. As a result William brought his family and their herd of cattle to Arizona Territory in 1876. They settled first in Williamson Valley, northwest of Prescott and the following year the family moved into the Verde. They lived a short while near what would become Cottonwood before buying Riley Casner’s squatter’s rights to a quarter section of land along Spring Creek, a short tributary of Oak Creek above Cornville.

Munds Park History. Cattle drive at the mouth of Woods Canyon. The Pinewood News.
Cattle drive at the mouth of Woods Canyon. Photo courtesy of Helen Cain.

William Munds and sons drove their cattle into the high country and located a summer place in what became known as Munds Park in the Mogollon Mountains as they were known then. They spent summers here in Munds Park and winters in the Verde.

Horses then were the modern equivalent of the automobile and young men wanted flashy horses and fancy tack as today they want flashy cars and fast motorcycles. The Munds boys were always horse back and while the money may have been in cattle, both Neal and John loved good horses. Mustangs ran wild on the open range here and were free for the taking if you could catch them. Broncos were cheap and breaking wild horses to ride, pull a wagon or plow was a respected profession limited to men, young, strong and savvy enough to stay on the back of a wildly-bucking bronco bent on unloading a rider in any way possible. Horse races and rodeos were regular summer events here in the high country. There was always a large 4th of July rodeo in Flagstaff which Neal entered regularly.

Munds Park History. Holding cattle near the Flagstaff Shipping Corrals. The Pinewood News.
Holding cattle near the Flagstaff Shipping Corrals.

The Willard brothers came to the Verde in 1879 and shortly thereafter established a summer place at Willard Springs a ways north of Munds Park. The Willards also had cattle and shared a love for good horses. In the early days there were no fences and all cattle mingled freely on the open range. Local families would gather together in the spring and fall to round-up the stock and move them as a single herd to the high country or back down off the mountain. The herd was generally worked at Clay Park which is where Foxboro Ranch is now. In the spring, calves would be branded, earmarked and castrated. A family would then separate and drive their individual cattle to their summer homestead or camp location. In the fall the cattle were again gathered into a single herd and the keepers were separated out for the walk back to the Verde and the culls were herded into the shipping corrals in Flagstaff. After 1911 there was a rail connection to Clarkdale. Shipping pens were built so cattle could be shipped from there which simplified the process a bit. An interesting side note to this roundup process was that the local families mingled, courted and married much the same as the cows.

In the summer of 1887 Neal was 21. He and Jim were visiting friends up at Willard Springs when Neal took a dare to ride a mean outlaw bronco. He climbed aboard that bright summer morning and the struggle began. According to Munds decedents, “The horse bucked so hard, Neal’s head was almost snapped off but he was still riding when the horse ran into a tree and fell with him. Brother Jim rode south to Munds Park for a wagon but by the time he got back to Willard Springs Neal was dead. William Munds selected a burial spot here in Munds Park on a hillside in the pines where they laid him to rest near the family.”

So the next time you’re riding north on Interstate 17 and pass through the park at Willard Springs think of Neal Munds holding fast to the back of the wildly bucking horse and the tragic end to a young vibrant life taken away on a summer day a hundred and thirty plus years ago.

PLEASE!!! If you get out into our spectacular Northern Arizona back woods try to make the place better for your presence, do not litter, and please leave the area cleaner than you found it.

Enjoy Northern Arizona.

Questions or comments welcome. Please email me at or Facebook - Bill Cowan, Rimrock


Bill Cowan's book on the Verde Valley History is available at Candy’s Creekside Cottage in McGuireville, Arizona and from Amazon, eBay, and various other retailers, including the Verde Canyon Railroad.


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