John Harwood Pierce: Ranger of the Plains

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John James Pierce
Genealogy of John Harwood Pierce:
8th Generation

John James Pierce [8th generation] was born between 1820 and 1828, and died before 1900. He and his descendants form the eighth American generation of Pierces in our family tree. His father was John James Pierce [7th generation]. John James Pierce [8th generation] was the father of John Harwood Pierce, who is the central focus of this Pierce family genealogy.

John James Pierce [8th generation] was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. There he grew into maturity and became a Methodist Missionary. He married Mary Almira and relocated to Waltham, Pontiac Co. Ontario, Canada. His brother, Harwood Pierce and sister, Julia Pierce, also relocated to Canada. At this point in the history of the American frontier, Canada lured many young New Englanders to immigrate to this rugged frontier of promise and fortune. For a young Methodist Missionary, it was a land full of heathen indians and solitary fur traders in need of conversion and religious training.

John James Pierce eventually settled in Waltham in the Province of Quebec. There he built a rugged cabin near a major waterfall on the Black River. When John James Pierce's first son, John Harwood Pierce, was a mature man living on his own in New York, he remembered his childhood home in Waltham with these words:

Every river, pool and lake in that region has yielded its fish in abundance to my lure. Every den and swale, every cliff and crag, were known to me; and the bear, the deer, the mink, the beaver, the fox, the wolf, and the panther or mountain lion, were the victims we gloried in deluding to their death. It was war, and we would have gone down in the fray if they had the better skill. Often, we were near to death with the powers of the wilds proving stronger than we, but God's goodness remembers the sparrows. Black River on which the "Pierce Place" is situated, is a deep, dark, swift, dangerous stream. It buried my brother Louis.

In this wilderness on the banks of the Black River in Waltham, John James Pierce [8th generation] and Mary Almira had three children. Their first child was a girl and they named her Clarissa Matilda. She was born 31 July 1844. Four years later, on February 29, 1848, they were blessed with the birth of a son. He was named John Harwood Pierce in honor of his father, John, and paternal grandmother, Fanny Harwood. The last child was Lewis. The first two children were destined to grow to maturity and have children of their own; however, the youngest, Lewis, died in childhood by drowning in the Black River near the family home.

When John's eldest son was 42 years old and living in New York, he wrote an autobiography in the form of an epic poem. The poem is a handwritten manuscript entitled, A Ranger's Biography. The first four stanzas of that poem give much detail about the family's early home on the Black River in Waltham.

Far in the North where the glaciers glide,
And the bark canoe with its skillful guide,
Shoots through the foaming rapids where,
The rocks are thick and sharp and bare.
Far in the North where the sun dips low,
And the red skin bends the savage bow,
Land of snowshoes and cabashaws,
Bears and wolves with bloody jaws,
This is the place where I was born
And six foot deep was the snow that morn.

No bridal robe is half so fair,
As the snow and frost the pine trees wear,
And the tender songs of the swaying limbs,
Is wedding march or funeral hymn.
Stately and strong their spires arise,
And over their tops the vaulted skies.
From the mountains' brow the falls out spring
The foam turns frost on the breezes wing,
Casting the diamonds far and wide,
From the lowly vale to the mountain side,
No purling brook but a mighty river,
A force that makes the great rocks quiver
And the double base of the ceaseless roar
Grows loud or low as the wind sweeps o'er.

The grottos and caves, the sculptured halls,
Beneath and back of the grand old falls,
Nature's work shop, wonders home,
Every niche from floor to dome,
Is filled with the gems and curious arts,
That are worked without hands, or eyes or hearts.

An old brown house, and numerous fields,
The orchard garden and thicket yields
Fruits and flowers and singing birds,
While mother's and sister's loving words
Awakes the music of heart and soul,
Sweeter than all the notes that roll
From organ's tones though rich and grand,
When the keys are touched with the master's hand
And mother's mother I see her face,
Bright with love and sweet with grace.
The brow was seamed and the eyes were dim,
But God loved her and she loved Him.
Wild were the boys in that backwoods home,
And the girls were wild as the deer that roam
Nature was strong in their bounding veins,
Colts that never were broke to reins
And so it came that one fine day.
I picked up my bundle and walked away,
I was less than twelve when I left my home,
And never since then have I ceased to roam.

We learn a great deal from this poem. First of course, we are given vivid images concerning the natural beauty, awesome splendor and primitive conditions of life in and around their frontier homesite. We also learn that there were few or no neighboring settlers, so the children's childhood friends were all indian children. We can also assume as a Methodist Missionary, John James Pierce's main converts were indians living in the area. We learn that Mary Almira's mother lived with them and was much loved by her grandchildren. We learn that the family home had an organ that their father played. We learn that the rugged brown house was surrounded by cultivated fields, an orchard and berry thickets. We learn that the eldest son, John Harwood Pierce, was a wild child who left home permanently at the early age of 11. In his poem, the mature John Harwood Pierce suggests that the reason he left home was due to some sexual indiscretions with one or more young indian girls. We can only imagine how furious his Methodist Missionary father must have been when he found out about these sexual encounters with his converts. We can also only imagine how overwhelmed with sorrow the whole family must have been when they learned that young John had run away from home and could not be found.

Some time after his young son ran away from home, John James Pierce [8th generation] and his brother, Harwood Pierce (also a Methodist Missionary who was living nearby in Renfew), were called by their church to undertake a mission in the Southern states. They were sent to preach abolition of slavery. However, once they arrived, they were met with reverees and severe violence at the hands of the Southern mobs. As a result, they returned north. At Davenport, Iowa, John James Pierce [8th generation] met Judge Loren T. Hill, and at his suggestion undertook a journey to Nebraska to buy land. He purchased the old town site of Ionia for Judge Hill and sent word to Waltham for his family to join him in the west. At the time he sent for his family to join him in Ionia, Nebraska, the family consisted only of his wife, Mary Almira, and his daughter, Clarissa Matilda. His son John Harwood was already living on his own as a migrant farm worker in Illinois. His mother-in-law was apparently deceased at this time.

So it was that Mary Almira Pierce and her young teenaged daughter Clarissa Matilda Pierce undertook the long and dangerous journey to Ionia, Nebraska on their own. Later, when John Harwood Pierce was an adult, and obviously had the opportunity to hear these stories first hand from his sister and mother, he wrote about this about their trip from Waltham, Canada to Ionia, Nebraska.

[Mary Almira Pierce] and daughter, Clarissa Matilda undertook the long and dangerous journey. They travelled the first lap of the trip by water, and were shipwrecked, barely escaping in their night clothes in an open boat. The journey across Illinois and Iowa was accomplished in rude ox carts, devoid of springs, and with high wooden wheels hewed out of solid timbers. The country was new and the roads were rough. Very often, stretches of corduroy road would extent for miles. Clarissa Matilda Pierce walked the entire distance across the State of Iowa, preferring to walk rather than ride in the ox carts. The caravan would make, on average, about ten miles a day. But the journey was made, and a home was built on the banks of the Missouri River about three or four miles above the old town site of Ionia. This farm has long since been swept into the treacherous river. John James Pierce, [8th generation] is buried on the hill overlooking the town of Vermillion, S.D.

What we know about the family's life in Ionia, Nebraska, comes mainly from a brief letter in the family archives written in 1915 from Clarissa Matilda's son Walter Smith to his uncle, John Harwood Pierce. Walter writes that his mother was one of the cleverest women I have ever known She was a queen in her own right. If she had the opportunities of some women, she would have been an international figure. I haven't the slightest doubt of it. He also writes about wanting the addresses of his uncle's nephews in Canada and we assume he means the children of his Uncle Harwood and Aunt Julia. Walter writes that he remembers your mother [Mary Almira] very distinctly as the dear good grandmother she was. She used to feed me as a youngster, upon crackers and glucose syrup until my young heart was lifted into the seventh heaven. I shall never forget to my dying day the perfectly glorious trips we used to make from our home in Ionia, to Grandmother's place farther up the river.

John James Pierce died sometime before 1900 on his farm in Ionia, Nebraska. He is buried on a hill that was once near or overlooking the family farm. Today, after the mighty Missouri River changed its course, that hill is located in Vermillion, S.D.

59. John James Pierce, born between 1820 and 1828, and died before 1900.

married Mary Almira.

62. Clarissa Matilda Pierce was born in Waltham, Quebec, Canada, 31 July 1844 and died in Modesto, California, 8 Dec. 1905. On 6 May 1862, Clarissa married Charles Henry Smith (b. 23 July 1841 in Marlow, NH; d. 19 Sept. 1907 in Santa Cruz, Calif.) The marriage took place in Ionia, Dixon Co. Nebraska and the service was performed by Judge Loren T. Hill, founder of Ionia and a close family friend of Clarissa's father John James Pierce. In the early years of their marriage, Clarissa and Charles Smith made their home in Ionia, Nebraska. The Smith family lived a small distance down river from John and Clarissa's mother, Mary Almira Pierce. Clarissa and Charles had eight children: Lucy Jane Smith (b. 9 Oct. 1864); Justin George Smith (b. 9 Sept. 1867); Arthur Almon Smith (b. 12 Oct. 1869); Albert John Smith (b. 16 Jan. 1872); Stella May Smith (b. 26 Nov. 1873); Walter Henry Smith (b. 12 Jan. 1877); Carl Clide Smith (b. 26 Jan. 1881); and Ida Mable Smith (b. 17 Nov. 1887). The first six children were born in Ionia. The family later moved to Modesto, Calif. It is possible that the last two children were born there. Their third child, Albert John Smith married Ednah Martha Powers. Their sixth child, Walter H. Smith has very fond memories of his loving grandmother [Mary Almira Pierce] and extraordinarily intelligent mother [Clarissa Matilda Pierce]. Around 1915, Walter served as Pastor of the St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church, 211 Monroe Street, Monroe, Michigan.
63. >>>John Harwood Pierce born in Waltham, Quebec, Canada, Feb. 29, 1848; and died in Los Angeles, California, Sept. 22, 1925. John was married five times and had five children. John married Marie E. R. De Belisle (m. November 22, 1871) and they had a child, Edgar B. Pierce (b. 10/18/1872). His first wife, Marie died shortly after Edgar's birth. In 1878, John married his second wife, Ruth Walker. They had a daughter, Mary W. Pierce (b. 1879). Their marriage ended in divorce (July 10, 1883). Three months before John's second marriage to Ruth ended in divorce, John had twins (a girl and a boy) with Clara (b. Broderick, widow of Jonas E. Parker who died 3/5/1882). The boy was named Council Broderick and the girl, Helen M. Broderick (later, when Helen married, she took the last name Turner). John later made Clara his fourth wife; however, in between, he married his third wife, Lucy A. Wellerman. Lucy and John had no children and the marriage ended in divorce (May 5, 1897). On the same day that his divorce to Lucy was granted, John married Clara Broderick, the mother of his twins. Council and Mary were fifteen years old at the time of their father's marriage to their mother. Thirteen years later in 1910 when John was 62 years old and living in Oakland, California, he married Johanna Dorathea Schoofs. At the time, he was still married to Clara and therefore, his marriage to Johanna was bigamous and invalid. Of course, Johanna did not know this. John and Johanna had two children. Melvin John Pierce was born July 17, 1911. Seven years later, when John was 70 and Johanna 35, they had a daughter, Stella Mae Pierce (b. May 12, 1918). [Stella Mae Pierce is still alive today. Stella is the mother of the author of this Web site.]
64. Lewis Pierce. Died in childhood by drowning in the Black River near the family home in Waltham, Pontiac Co., Province of Quebec, Canada.

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The 9th generation starts with Part 1 of
the biography of John Harwood Pierce.

Biography:     Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6    
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Send all inquiries to the author, Barbara Case, at:  ~  Last Updated March 20, 2009