John Harwood Pierce: Ranger of the Plains

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  Genealogy:     1st     2nd     3rd     4th     5th     6th     7th     8th    

John Harwood Pierce
Biography: Part 3  1876 to 1887

Ranger: Business CardJohn 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.

John Harwood Pierce Owner of Western MagazinePublished 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 downtown Chicago.

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, A Ranger's Biography, John described this troubled period in his life as follows:

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.
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 follows:
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 superior...
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.

Click Part 4 here, or below, to continue this biography.

Biography:     Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6    
Genealogy:     1st     2nd     3rd     4th     5th     6th     7th     8th    
Send all inquiries to the author, Barbara Case, at:  ~  Last Updated March 20, 2009