John Harwood Pierce
Biography: Part 3 1876 to 1887
John Became a Celebrity. In 1876, John Harwood Pierce and Captain
Jack Crawford traversed the Black Hills sending exciting stories back to the
Omaha Bee concerning the problems brewing among the
gold miners, indians and military troops lead by General George A. Custer.
John's reports were published under his colorful nom de plume:
"Ranger of the Plains," or just "Ranger," for short.
After he returned from the Black Hills, John found that he had become
quite a celebrity. He had a fancy business card printed with "Ranger,"
his nom de plume in the left corner under the logo of a bee, the symbol for
the Omaha Daily Bee.
Prime of His Life. John Harwood Pierce, Ranger of the Plains, was in the
prime of his life! He was 28 years old, single, slender, relatively tall, and very good-looking.
People were attracted by his commanding self-assurance, and his ability to hold them
spellbound with stories of bigger-than-life exploits. He was the "rock star"
of his day, invited to parties with all the richest and most influential people in Omaha
and surrounding cities. With celebrity status, came a high-paying job as a
noted journalist. Women loved him! They loved the contradiction between his rugged
frontiersman veneer and his soft inner soul, full of poetry and fine letters. John had
no trouble attracting the attention of the most beautiful ladies in town. Good-looking
and aggressive women threw themselves at him in droves. John wasted no time
developing his skills as a ladies' man.
Conceived an Illegitimate Daughter Named Helen. Sometime during this period in
his life, John conceived an illegitimate daughter. She is mentioned only once in
his archival papers. That mention occurs on a civil war pension application form that
John filled out on January 15, 1898. Among his known children, in the space where one
records living children, John includes the names of one mystery child: a woman named
"Mrs. Helen M. Turner." Although he gives the dates of birth for his other
children, he gives no date of birth for Helen. She is recorded as a married woman with
the last name of Turner. It is unknown what her maiden name may have been. If she were,
indeed conceived during this period in his life, then at the time the pension application
form was filled out, Helen would have been 21 years of age. Obviously, John kept sufficient
knowledge concerning the child or her mother to know Helen's married name.
Published a Magazine Devoted to the Intellectual Progress of the
West. Sometime before 1877,
John moved to Chicago. No doubt, he carried his fame and reputation with him.
With his skill in journalism, power to move smartly among the rich and famous,
and his innate ability to raise capital for a new investments, John was able to find a
financial partner for a new business venture. Together John and his partner, Mr. Patton,
founded the Western Magazine. On its cover, the magazine described itself as being
"Devoted to the Intellectual Progress of the West."
The cover also contains the subtitle: "Containing Besides Original Matter
Selections from the Best Current Foreign Literature."
The magazine was edited by Mrs. Helen Ekin Starrett and each issue was heavily illustrated with
engravings. The magazine was headquartered in the fashionable Lakeside Building, in
Described the Young Settlement of Sioux Falls. The magazine included poetry,
short pieces of literature, and essays on government, science
and the arts. The magazine contained many of John's own personal poems, stories and essays.
In one essay for the magazine, John describes the abundant natural resources of Sioux Falls,
North Dakota. He paints a magnificent picture of a young settlement destined to become a
great city. In particular, he describes how the falls could be used for hydroelectric power and
how "reservoirs will of course be eventually constructed so that the floods of autumn
and spring can be utilized, by being stored up as a reserve force until the dry season
requires this aid to sustain the volume of waterpower." He enchants readers with
his vivid descriptions of the Sioux River Falls:
For beauty, there is not a spot on the Western prairies that compare with this
wonderful falls, embowered in a grove where art has aided nature to attain perfection.
The river suddenly dashes over precipice after precipice and into vast pools
of boiling, whirling, sparkling waters, only to repeat the same in an endless variety
of startling and beautiful forms, until at last, at the bottom of a rugged canon,
you look up at the fertile prairie above, and wonder how such a romantic spot could
be found in the monotony of the Western plains.
Trip in a Hydrogen Filled Balloon. In another issue of the magazine,
John describes in greater-than-life, breath-taking detail,
his personal trip up in a hydrogen filled balloon during a thunderstorm. It was exciting,
almost sensational journalism such as this that captured the interest of readers
and made his magazine an immediate financial success.
Married Ruth C. Walker and Has a Daughter, Mary.
Sometime around 1878, when John was living in Chicago and actively managing
The Western Magazine, he met and married his second wife, Ruth C. Walker. A
year later, Ruth and John had a daughter; they named her Mary W. Pierce. This must
have been one of the high points in his life. No doubt, with John's high income and
good-looks, Ruth must have been a woman of considerable beauty and high standing. John
would have naturally treasured and spoiled his newborn baby girl.
Sold the Magazine. But, John was born with an innate and self-destructive restlessness:
an inability to stay focused very long on any single endeavor, no matter how profitable or
successful. In 1880, after two short years, John sold The Western Magazine at a significant
profit and moved on to other pursuits. In his own words, in his autobiographical poem, A Ranger's Biography,John
described this period in his life when he founded, managed, and sold
The Western Magazine as follows:
- And then to "The Western Magazine"
- I gave some years of labor
- And sold it when high tide had seen
- The public praise our "Saber."
Annulment and Women Trouble.
What other pursuits John may have turned to in the next few years is yet a mystery.
The author assumes, that John remained a journalist. Perhaps John, Ruth and their daughter
Mary continued to live in grand style in Chicago. Perhaps they moved back to Omaha, Nebraska.
At this time, all that we know about John's life, is what we learn
from reading Ruth and John's annulment papers. In 1883, when Mary was four years old,
Ruth took John to court to obtain an annulment of their five-year old marriage.
From these papers we learn that the marriage was dissolved by the court of
Ponas, Dixon County, Nebraska because the defendant, John Harwood Pierce, "committed adultery
with Mrs. F. C. Bauker." Ruth was granted full custody of their minor child Mary.
Furthermore, because of John's "receipt of a large salary as a Journalist," the
court awarded Ruth $20.00 per month in alimony.
Seven years later, in his own words from,
Biography, John described this troubled period in his life as
John hints at suffering a major clinical depression when he writes:
"I've drained the dregs of gall / Can I say more."
In the dedication to A Ranger's Biography, John
mentions the baby daughter Mary whom he was forced to abandon, as
- And I sought and found a wife,
- But joy has wings,
- Mine was the fault, darkening our life
- With sorrow's strings.
- Ask me not to tell you all,
- My heart is sore,
- I've drained the dregs of gall
- Can I say more.
- To my daughter "Baby" sweet I cannot see, tears blind my eyes.
Affair with Clara Brodrick Parker and Birth of Council. Unknown to Ruth at the
time of the annulment of her marriage, John was carrying on a love affair
with another woman besides the one named in the annulment papers. This woman was Mrs.
Clara Brodrick Parker, a beautiful young widow. Clara's husband, Zenus
Elliot Parker, died four months before Clara and John conceived a child. On April 22, 1883,
three months before Ruth and John's marriage ended in an annulment, Clara
gave birth to a son. John and Clara named him Council Brodrick Pierce. At the time Council was
born, Clara had a seven year old daughter by her late husband. That child was named
Nellie May Parker. Clara was in the difficult position of being a beautiful young
widow with a seven year old daughter and an infant son. It is natural to assume that she
would have pursued John to marry her, especially after his marriage to Ruth ended in an
annulment four months after their son was born. For whatever unknown reasons,
a marriage did not take place at this time; however, John made Clara his fourth wife in 1897
when Council was 15 years old.
It is unknown what type of relationship existed between John, Clara and his son, Council.
Obviously, he claimed paternity and Council did carry Pierce and not Parker as his last
name. It is possible that the couple lived together and passed themselves off to
neighbors as man and wife. Perhaps, they only visited with each other from time to time.
After all, John's profession at this time required that he travel frequently to other cities
wherever news was happening.
We do learn from a poem that Clara wrote when Council was a young man, that
John must at least have visited with Clara and his young child and took them places.
In this poem, Clara reminisces about a visit with young four years old Council
and his father to the zoo.
- Papa Will it Bite?
- A boy of four, with eyes of blue,
- Our sunshine and delight,
- Would often ask, when at the "Zoo,"
- "Say, Papa, will it bite?"
- He always kept close by our side,
- Our hands in his held tight;
- Each animal the query raised,
- "Say, Papa, will it bite?"
- The bears would play their funny tricks,
- Much to his great delight.
- He shyly feeding them would say:
- "Oh, Papa, will it bite?"
- The many wonders of the "Zoo"
- Amused this little mite,
- Who in his baby innocence,
- Cried: "Papa, will it bite?"
- A hundred months have passed since then.
- Our boy a man not quite,
- But asking deeper questions far,
- Than, "Papa, will it bite?"
- We pray our Heavenly Father now
- To guide his steps aright;
- And may the demon's many forms
- Ne'er have the power to "bite."
- Mrs. Clara Pierce
- Minneapolis, Minn.
Famous Journalist on the Move.
A year after Council was born, John was living in Chicago working on the
staff of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, representing them at the Santa Fe Territory Millennial and New Orleans Expositions (i.e., the World's
Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, 1884-1885, New Orleans,
La.). At the latter exposition, John also served as secretary of the
Press Association, so he was well-known to reporters of his day.
In Love with Inventions. John was fascinated by all
the inventions he saw at these
expositions. These were the grand happenings of his century and John was
proud to serve a leading role in bringing news of these marvelous new
contraptions to a growing nation thirsting for new technology. John was excited
by all the marvelous machines that he saw. America was in the heat of an
Industrial Revolution. The future appeared to belong to whomever could invent the
next great machine.
John Became an Inventor.
John was never able to stay focused on one thing for a long time. At this
period of his life, he turned away from a lucrative career as a journalist
and began to study mechanics and to work on various inventions of his own.
Lived in Omaha, Patented the Electic Bell.
John's first, and perhaps most profitable invention, was a
mechanical doorbell which resembled and performed better than more
expensive electric doorbell competitors. The bell was named: The Electic
Bell. With John's penchant for self-promotion, he had these words
inscribed on the side of his bell: Pierce's Electic Bell. [Note
there is no typographical error here, there is no letter "R"
in the name Electic!] The Electic Bell was a push button, mechanical
device with a luminous button. The bell was designed to look like a more
costly electric bell, but it operated through a manual mechanism.
Manufacturing emphasis was placed on producing a bell from long-lasting
pure metals, which produced a fine tone and resonance. A prospectus
and advertisement for the bell explains:
...As we do not need the expensive batteries, and their
still more expensive hidden wires, we make prices far below the Electric
Bell manufacturers, and we also undersell many of the makers of lever,
crank, and pull bells, while our goods are infinitely
The Electic Bell came with a five year warranty beginning of the
date of first manufacture, January 1, 1887.
Partnered with Mr. McCague.
In order to manufacture the bell, John needed financial backing from a
man of wealth. He found his partner in a Mr. J. L. McCague of Omaha Nebraska.
Mr. McCague was given the title of President and Treasurer, while John served
as Vice-President, Manager, Secretary and Superintendent. The name of their company
was The Bell Manufacturing Company. The bell was distributed and sold by Peck, Stow and
Wilcox, a famous and very large distributor with headquarters in New York City and
Southington, Conneticut. The Electic Bell quickly became a very profitable commodity
and provided the two investors with a steady income.
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