Between Two Contending Forces

 

In my last entry I speculated whether events other than the deaths of two of his adult children drove my great- great-grandfather, William John Clarke, to take his own life in October of 1894. A comment from my brother-in-law about the financial panic of 1893 jogged my memory and sent me scurrying back to review Rulers & Rebels, A People’s History of Early California, 1769-1901 by Laurence Shoup. I recently read this book with particular interest in how historical events may have affected my ancestors who farmed north of Sacramento. After more careful review, and getting my dates straight—bingo! Not only was there a panic in 1893—the biggest depression the country had ever faced up until that time—but a railroad strike occurred in the summer of 1894 which had dire effects on the farmers in California who were unable to get their crops to market, or even acquire sacks to harvest the wheat in.

 

The 1870 census states that William John Clarke’s real estate was worth $124,440 and his personal estate was worth $20,000, so he was quite well off. Although there was also a financial panic and a railroad strike in the mid 1870s, he seems to have weathered those crises. But by the fall of 1894, when he took his life, he may have been wiped out by one-two punch of the depression in 1893 followed by not being able to get his wheat and other crops to market during the summer of 1894. As supporting evidence I offer a line from a letter written by Clarke’s stepdaughter (my great grandmother), Lizzie (Tenney) Clarke Cain, after her stepfather’s death. She states that William John Clarke was once well-to-do but the land was mortgaged and “it all went for bad debt”. I have also been able to read the probate proceedings that occurred after Clarke’s death on the Ancestry.com website. Clarke’s widow, Catherine (Foster) Tenney Clarke, was left only with their home and some personal belongings. It is true that everything else was sold off or repossessed.

 

The Pullman Strike of 1894 affected the entire country, but was particularly brutal in California. The strike began when the American Railroad Union called for a nation-wide strike against the Pullman Company in Chicago, where workers were being subjected to horrible conditions. It was not a strike against all railroads, only the Pullman Company. All trains were to be allowed passage with the exception of those carrying Pullman cars. Southern Pacific in California reacted by unnecessarily placing Pullman cars on every train, including mail trains, whether they needed them or not.

 

The strike was largely supported by the populace initially, because it was largely recognized that the railroads had a monopoly while both state and federal governments looked the other way. When Eugene Debs, the leader of the American Railroad Union was testifying before Congress during the strike, he was asked if he believed in government ownership of the railroads. He replied,

“Yes sir; I believe that Government ownership of railroads is decidedly better than railroad ownership of the Government.”

However, as the strike went on and became more violent, and neither side would compromise, public support began to wane.

 

The governor had called up the National Guard, sending them to Sacramento to guard the Southern Pacific Railroad yard. Hundreds of strikers were also in the area and things were quite tense. The Woodland Daily Democrat ran an editorial on July 2, 1984, that summed up the situation:

 

It is an anomaly in civilized society in having some of the characteristics of organized warfare in presence of the reign of law and peace. That is the condition that confronts the people of California today.

The opposing forces are the Southern Pacific Company on one side and its employes [sic], swayed and influenced by a powerful labor union, on the other. In such a conflict it is to be presumed that both sides are prepared to make some sacrifices that will involve losses to both of a very serious character. Both seem to fear that if any concessions are made looking to a settlement, precedents will be established that will in the future operate to the disadvantage of whichever party makes the concession.

The corporation contends that the success of the strikers will mean that henceforth the most trifling differences between labor and capital will be arbitrarily settled by the interference of labor organizations, and that every employer in the country will be made a party to any trouble that may exist between every other employer and his help.

On the other hand the labor organizations insist that this is a boycott against Pullman and not a strike against the Southern Pacific, as they have no grievance against that company, and that if Pullman triumps[sic] they will be crushed and labor may as well surrender unconditionally to aggregated capital and organized monopoly, all the rights for which it is now contending.

Between these two contending forces, and in no way responsible for the actions of either, stands the public, the inoffending people, whose losses are infinitely more than the combined losses of both parties to the irrepressible conflict. Business is at a standstill; freight and passenger traffic are blocked; grain cannot be harvested, because the farmer can get no sacks; thousands of tons of fruit are rotting, because transportation is denied; and all this is occurring at a time when the people are least able to withstand the effects of such a disaster. They have not recovered from the effects of the recent panic, and it would be impossible to imagine a greater misfortune to California interests than that these labor troubles should have occurred at this time.

 

The information I’ve read about William John Clarke’s suicide stated that he was despondent over the deaths of two of his adult children. It’s true he shot himself on the grave of his son Willie. You can’t say he didn’t have a flair for the dramatic. But Willie had been dead for four years. And Celia, his youngest daughter, had died almost a year previously. I can’t say that sadness around the deaths of his children didn’t play into his decision to end his life. But it just didn’t add up for me. In investigating the historical events of the time I found what I submit is a more believable reason for his suicide. The Pullman Strike of 1984 was indeed a disaster for my great-great-grandfather. I believe he was crushed between two contending forces.

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The Miner-Turned-Farmer Takes a Wife

I’ve gotten bogged down in telling William John Clarke’s story like a Conestoga wagon mired in the mud. I’ve got to move this thing forward because I have so many other tales to tell, including a recent family history road trip to Plumas County, California, where I learned so much more about the Clarke family’s interconnection with the Stovers, a pioneering family who ranched near what is now Chester beginning in 1859.

Truth be told, the next part of Clarke’s story is a bit of a mystery to me, one (or several) I’m dying to unravel.

The facts I know are that Clarke got married on July 5, 1867, at age 47 to Catherine Foster Tenney, age 25. It was his first marriage, her second. At this time Catherine had one child, aged 4, by her previous husband, Willard Tenney, and was seven months pregnant with a second child. The four-year-old was Elizabeth. “Lizzie”, as Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 6.36.43 PMshe was called, was my Nana Marge’s mother, i.e. my great-grandmother. Here’s how the record of William and Catherine’s marriage license in Alameda County appears (see last line–and you can click on image to enlarge):

The boy who was born two months after Catherine’s marriage to Clarke was William Dougal Clarke, or “Willie” as he was known. He was always passed off as Clarke’s son. But I have evidence to the contrary in the form of a letter written in 1897 by Lizzie Tenney Clarke to a cousin on her mother’s side back in Illinois. This letter was written one month after her mother’s (Catherine Foster Tenney Clarke) death. The tone of this letter is distressed, and Lizzie voices longing for connection with her mother’s side of the family.

 My mother never even told me that Willie was my brother. He always felt nearer and dearer to me, than any of the rest, if I do say it my self…I never can forgive my mother for not telling me things she ought to have told me…

So, it certainly sounds like Willie—who died tragically in a hunting accident at age 23, a young married man with a pregnant wife, Anna Louisa Stover—was not Clarke’s son at all but was likely Willard Tenney’s progeny. From all accounts Clarke appeared to dote on “his” son, in any case.

Catherine Foster was born in Ireland, northern Ireland specifically, and not so far from where Clarke was born and raised.

Unsolved Mystery #1: Did their families have any connection back in Ireland?

By 1848 Catherine had emigrated to the US with her parents and siblings, as a brother was born in Illinois that year (Catherine’s mother was also married twice, once to Edward Little and then to James Foster, and had children with each). The 1850 census finds the family living in Rock Island County, Illinois, where Clarke also lived for 10 years prior to striking out for California. Given the difference in their ages Catherine would have been a child of 7 at the time he left Illinois for California at age 29, but I wonder if their families knew each other? I suspect they must have but I can only speculate at this point. One of Catherine’s half-sisters, Elizabeth Little, married William John Clarke’s brother, Noble Clarke, but so far I don’t have the date or location, only that they eventually lived in Yolo County near William and Catherine.

Unsolved Mystery #2: What, if any, was the connection between the Little/Fosters and the Clarkes in Rock Island County, Illinois?

Catherine’s first marriage occurred in Illinois on September 27, 1861 to Willard Tenney, whose family can be traced back to the Yorkshire district of England from whence they traveled to New England in 1638, to escape “religious persecution”. (They were apparently much aggrieved that King Charles had ordered that “no hindrance should be thrown in the way of those who wished to dance or shoot at the butts [a target] on Sunday afternoons.” Hmm.) By the 1800’s some of the Tenneys had ended up in Illinois via New Hampshire and earlier, Rowley, Massachusetts. Records indicate that Catherine and Willard and their infant daughter Lizzie came to California via wagon train in 1864. I hope to eventually discover which route they traveled and where they first settled. The next piece of information I have is documentation of Catherine’s marriage to Clarke in 1867. What happened during those three missing years? How did Catherine Foster Tenney and Clarke meet? Inquiring minds want to know.

Unsolved Mystery #3: What happened to Willard E. Tenney?

He just seems to disappear from all records. It seems clear from some of Lizzie’s letters to her cousin Eddie in Illinois that her mother was not widowed, but had left her father, whom she says she never remembers seeing (i.e. she was too young at the time of the divorce to retain any memory of him).

 Do you ever hear of any of my fathers people. Don’t you know, I just get to thinking of him. Sometimes knowing how terrible he felt, when mama left him for another. I don’t see how she could do it, for she told me he was just as good and kind to her as he could be. The other one [William John Clarke], was not, but it best not to talk of the past, when it is so unpleasant. But you have no idea how I feel when I think of poor old father. I never knew whether he died or was killed or what became of him. My how I would like to have had him with me in his old days.

Lizzie never knew what happened to her father, nor do we. I find this very puzzling in light of all the records that are available to us now. He does not show up in census information, no death certificate, nothing on Find A Grave (a wonderful website for finding where people are buried). I haven’t given up, however. Still searching.

Our story ends today with William John Clarke and his bride, Catherine (Foster) Tenney Clarke settled on their ranch in Yolo County where they proceed to produce five more children in addition to Lizzie and Willie.

 William John Clarke
William John Clarke
Catherine Foster Tenney Clarke
Catherine Foster Tenney                         Clarke
Taken on a road trip that took us through Nebraska in 2013.

William John Clarke’s Long Journey to California

I knew that Clarke journeyed from Illinois to California in 1849 for the gold rush, but I hadn’t been aware that his journey originated in Ireland, where he was born and raised. His father, Dugald Clarke, was actually of Scottish descent. The English had actively encouraged the colonization of Ireland by giving land (after taking it from the Irish) to people who would settle in northern Ireland from the 1600’s onward. I look forward to learning more about the history of the Clarkes before they got to Ireland as currently I don’t know if it was Dugald Clarke himself who moved from Scotland to Ireland, or if that move happened in prior generations. What I do know is that Dugald Clarke and his wife Jane Tease (a native of Ireland) lived in Carricknamart in County Donegal, Ireland and had seven children. William was the third-born child, but the first of the siblings to leave Ireland, sailing for America in 1839, when he was 19 years old. He was not the last. Four of the seven Clarke siblings immigrated to the states and three of those ended up in California.

William originally landed in New Orleans in1839. Within six months he had moved up the Mississippi River to Illinois, where he lived for ten years, in Mercer and Rock Island Counties. While living in Illinois he worked as a cabinet maker, and became a naturalized citizen in 1848.

One thing I have learned in researching family history is that every fact or answer only serves to bring up more questions. I wonder why William entered the states via New Orleans rather than New York or some other common port of entry? And then, why Illinois? Perhaps he had family or friends already settled in those areas. Perhaps some day I’ll come across the answers.

Meanwhile, continuing with what we do know, in 1849 Clarke joined a wagon train with his friend, John Adams, and departed from Camden Mills, Rock Island County, Illinois. Destination: the California goldfields. They left on March 27 and arrived at Johnson’s Ranch on July 11, 1849. In between were many tedious miles as well as adventures. Here are some early excerpts from his journal:

April 3, 1849  Eight miles west of Iowa City:

Still in our camp and all well and in good as spirits as could be expected on account of the weather. They tell us here that there has been four hundred teams passed this place for California this sping. It began to rain yesterday about ten o’clock AM and continued on to rain to about ten today and I think it rather uncertain when we shall leave here except it changes fast and dries up we cannot.

April 13, 1849 Warren County, Iowa

The night being so cold we had to take turns about and get up to build fire as our blankets was on our horses. Left camp and resumed our journey at 9AM. Traveled nine miles and nooned. Roads generally good with the exception of one slough. After dinner and feeding our horses we started again. Had two miles of good road but after that the farmers changed their fence which caused us to pass through about fifteen or twenty sloughs of the worst kind. Our horses mired down and we had to unload and carry on our luggage about one hundred yards after which we fastened ropes to our hind axle tree and pulled it back. Traveled to Chapman’s Grove, there camped for the night. Had to carry our water about one-fourth of a mile, making today twenty-one miles. This grove is in Warren County, Iowa.

April 20, 1849 arrival at Council Bluffs, Iowa

This morning had breakfast at a earlier hour than common and rolled out for the bluffs. Traveled to Kanesville [as Council Bluffs was then known] and stopped for some time. Got six bushels of corn at $1.75 cents per bushel and also one hundred weight of bacon at eight dollars per hundred. Registered our name in the register office. Paid ten cents to register our name and had a paper sent to [undecipherable–looks like Arainfro]. After noon resumed our journey and came to the upper ferry on the Missouri River where we met G.B. Davis, J.M. Gilmore and Johnathan Emes. We camped to Monday [April 22].

April 22, 1849 Council Bluffs, Iowa

We formed a company of twenty-five wagons and drew up a constitution and by-laws for to act by when we resumed our journey. Appointed James M. Gilmore Captain, Wm. Clarke wagon master for our trip. At four o’clock PM traveled three-fourths of a mile and recamped for the night. Our ferriage was nine dollars and twenty-five cents and work our passage.

I will move on with Clarke’s story now, but intend to post other excerpts of his journal during the next couple of months on their corresponding dates.

According to his diary, he and Adams got to the “diggins” on July 18, and commenced gold mining on August 1, 1849. (“Hangtown”, now Placerville, CA, is where he arrived per his later application to the Society of California Pioneers.)

He was a miner for about six months and was apparently rather successful but he became ill from the poor diet of hard-tack and rusty pork, and left the mines, traveling to the burgeoning City of Sacramento, some 45 miles to the west, to recover. As it turned out, he did not return to mining but after recovering his health turned his hand to various enterprises, and made some astute business decisions along the way. I admire his flexibility and his ability to form a new plan when his current plan proved unworkable, a skill which requires the ability to see one’s life and events as they are, not as one wishes them to be.

Next time: William John Clarke takes on a business partner, engages in a variety of ventures, and lands in Yolo County.

Where to Begin?

It’s difficult to know where to jump in to the family history, but as I intend to focus—at least initially—on the family of my maternal grandmother (Marjorie Cain Hoffman Meckfessel aka Nana Marge, 1904-1998), William John Clarke (1820-1894) seems a likely choice.

William John Clarke
William John Clarke

William John Clarke was my grandmother’s step-grandfather. He’s an ancestor I’ve been aware of for many years thanks to the fact that he kept a diary while journeying west by wagon train in 1849, and that the notebook somehow survived. The small, leather-bound journal was discovered in 1931 by a man who had purchased a ranch in Colusa County that had been owned by Maggie and Warfield Powers, Maggie (Margaret Jane Clarke, 1869-1930) being one of WJ Clarke’s daughters. When this man came across the journal in an old trunk, rotting in a barn on the property, he was kind enough to pass it on to a friend of the Clarke family. It was eventually given to my grandmother.

The original diary from 1849
The original diary from 1849
The original diary from 1849
The original diary from 1849

In the 1980’s the journal was borrowed by some of my mother’s cousins who were interested in family history. They copied it, typed it up, had it bound, and handed out copies to the family. I admit that after giving it a quick look and finding much of it rather dry reading, I let it sit on my bookshelf for many years before I read through the entire diary. When I finally sat down and read it, I found it fascinating, especially since it did not end with his arrival in California at the gold diggings, but had information about his activities after he arrived. I’ll be sharing a lot of information on his various adventures and undertakings, but meanwhile I’ll just say that he is a key ancestor who was attracted to the land in Yolo and Colusa Counties and was one of the early farmers in that area.

Reprinted version of the 1849 diary
Reprinted version of the 1849 diary

I have to stop and give a shout out to the industrious and talented women who in addition to making the journal available to us, also conducted extensive research on WJ Clarke, for which I’m very grateful, and they did it when family history sleuthing required much in the way of letter-writing and wearing down of shoe-leather, before the internet! I’m going to credit them right now as I certainly stand on their shoulders: Joyce Dawley and Marilyn Kelly Ornbaun, who are both great-granddaughters of Clarke.

Our ancestors’ stories are all the more fascinating when placed in the context of historical events. I find Clarke to be an interesting character as his personal history was influenced by events that occurred “across the pond” in Ireland and Scotland, while as an early comer to California he actively participated in the making of history including the gold rush, the building of the City of Sacramento, and influencing farming methods in the Central Valley. His story is anything but dull, from his early migrations, to the mysterious circumstances of his marriage to Catherine Foster Tenney (1842-1897), whose first daughter by a previous marriage, Elizabeth Tenney Clarke (1863-1933), was my grandmother’s mother—and whatever became of that first husband, anyway? Elizabeth, or Lizzie as she was called, laments the fact that she never knew what became of her real father in a letter she wrote to a cousin after her mother died in 1897. This letter also reveals some startling information about one of her siblings, Willie Clarke, information her mother had kept from her.

Hello world!

I decided to start this blog because I love to write, and I have recently been completely geeking out over researching my family history. Why not combine the two? Family members have been asking me about my research and this will be a great way to keep them informed. I plan to write about my ancestors as well as my experiences–successes and roadblocks–as a newbie genealogist.

My name is Holly Holbrook. I was named after my paternal grandfather, Hollis Holbrook. The story is told that upon hearing what my name was to be one of my aunts declared I should be called Hollyberry, and the nickname stuck within the family. It especially evokes warm memories of my maternal grandmother, Nana Marge (Marjorie Meckfessel), who always called me Hollyberry.

So, welcome family, friends, and other family history nuts, to the hollyberryblog. I look forward to reading your comments and sharing information.