Charlie Neebo was Kent County’s Forrest Gump
Last week, I began recounting the unlikely – but absolutely true – story of Charles Coombes Kneebone, who for most of his life was known as Charlie Neebo.
Charlie lived his early life in Orford Township, Kent County, but by the time he was 19 decided he wanted a more exciting life than being a toll-keeper at the Thames River at Moraviantown, as his dad was pursuing.
Charlie set off for the United States in 1861 and, through pure good luck (or is that bad luck?), became part of some of the Wild West’s most controversial, rambunctious, exciting and violent episodes.
Last week, I left you with a puzzle. I wanted you to guess the name of the famous outlaw Charlie befriended in New Mexico during the tumultuous Lincoln County Wars. The man’s name and whose picture is featured here this week was “Billy The Kid”,
After Billy the Kid’s death at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett, Charlie’s comment was, “He wasn’t that ruthless a fellow that Western history had made him out to be.”
But perhaps Charlie was comparing Billy the Kid to his own violent and ruthless life.
Charlies decided in 1885 to settle down. He purchased his own ranch (called “H3”), located near the border of Nebraska and South Dakota. There he made friends with the local Sioux tribes, as well as the French settlers living in the area. He loved horses almost as much as he did hard drinking and excessive gambling, and started to train and trade animals with the Sioux at a nearby reservation.
In 1885, Charlie also married. He was 43 when he married 24-yearold Anna Sorenson (1861-1929). The couple had three children born at Fall River, S.D.
Although older now, Charlie could still not resist a good fight and became involved in the various skirmishes leading up to the bloody massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D. Injured before the Wounded Knee massacre, he was again able to escape sure death.
In 1892, Charlie sent word back to Kent County and to his 16-year-old nephew, John Thomas Kneebone, that he wanted him to come out to South Dakota and become a rancher. The young lad took his uncle up on the offer and soon became a rancher near Charlie’s ranch.
In 1920, Charlie and his wife, Anna, moved to Portland, Ore., where he took up gardening and writing letters to the many friends he had made during his rather bizarre and tumultuous life. Since he never learned to read or write, he dictated his letters to his daughter Maud, who dutifully sent them off to the intended recipient.
In one of the letters sent to an old acquaintance, Charlie summed up his life as follows: “I have been a cowboy for over 40 years. I have driven herds of cattle from the Gulf of Mexico to South Dakota. I have driven on several occasions cattle for 96 miles without any water. I am a veteran of the Civil War and an ex-Texas Ranger. I knew Billie the Kid well. He was a good friend to me. I have known Buffalo Bill since 1867. Now, however, I have settled down here on a ranch.”
Very few cowboys from the time received as much mention in obscure archives, personal letters, books, memoirs and journals of the time than the boy from Canada’s Kent County.
Charlie was described in one as “a man as ready to take a life as a drink. He was a staunch friend to the few he cared for but a dangerous enemy for those he didn’t. He was a man who would, either sober or drunk, heed very few restraining voices.”
Like Forrest Gump, Charlie Neebo had that uncanny talent of being present at some of the most important and most historic events in American history. He was part of the American Civil War, the Lincoln County Wars of New Mexico, a member of the Texas Rangers, part of the rise of the cattle industry, played a pivotal role in the bitter disputes between cattlemen and homesteaders, and was at Wounded Knee and many other but important developments in U.S. history.
He was also lucky enough to have known personally many of the key historical figures of that time. People like General William Tecumseh Sherman, John Chisum, Charles Goodnight, William Bonney (“Billy The Kid”), General Custer and Buffalo Bill, to name a few.
He was one of the most talked about archetypal figures of the Wild West that most people have never heard of – and he was from Kent County.
William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kids, was a friend of Kent Countyborn Charles Kneebone, who was better known in Wild West circles as Charlie Neebo.