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Also The Ballad of Harold & Emily       Pix from the 08 Reunion.
And from my father's side: Back Home in Indiana  &  The Fire    This page  Introduction  The People  The Story

The Clare Family

John and Michael Clare - The Bushwackers

Some of the more colorful of our forefathers,
The Bullwhackers, John and Michael Clare


Dear Clare Family member,

Grab a comfortable chair, lean back and take a few moments to stroll down memory lane with us. We — Marge and Mary — are writing our family history.

Our father, Harold, was the oldest of the ten children of  — John J. Clare, so our version of The Clare Family Story is from the first-family perspective, and it is a fascinating story.

This story is not definitive, but we hope it will pique your curiosity. We have tried to be accurate, and there may be more insights, but we want our family story to be preserved.

During get-togethers in Mission, Texas in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008 we gathered information from many sources. Special thank-yous to Truman Clare (the youngest of the second John Clare family) and Marjorie Clare Durgin (a cousin in another line) for their help with the story. Without their input, this story could not have been written. Mary’s son J R edited and put it online. Thanks also to the many family members we talked with on the phone to gather their stories, too.

We are grateful to God for our heritage and our families, for leading and guiding all of us through the adventures of our lives and for strength, perseverance, courage and wisdom to face each day with hope and love.

We hope you enjoy this trip back in time.

With love and affection,
Marge Sweeney and Mary Compton


The Clare Family Story

Do you suppose Michael and Hanora Clare really had 18 children? Wow! There are few records to support this fact, but it does appear in his obituary. One census record shows only 11 children reached adulthood. Either way, that is a lot of kids!

Michael Clare, Sr. (1792-1863) was born in Rathdowney, Queens County, Ireland, about 45 miles west of Dublin. As a young man, he was talkative, witty and full of imagination. He married Hanora Campion in 1820 and together they tried to make a living on land he got from his father.

Most Irish farms then were about 50 acres, but the land was full of bogs, which were common in Ireland because of poor drainage and high rainfall, and made it difficult to cultivate. Potatoes were their main crop. Michael probably also had a few cows as well as pigs and goats. Irish farmers raised vegetables to sustain their families.

Like about 94% of the people in Ireland, they were Catholic. The Church was powerful and a major influence in their daily lives. Schools were strict and demanding, and very few children attended past the age of 14. Although the church fed many of the poorest, life was difficult, and there was never enough food.

A typical house would be a box-like cabin with thick stone walls, a thatched roof and a hearth in the kitchen for cooking. Everyone had a small shrine of the Blessed Lady and Sacred Heart, where the families prayed. The children slept in the loft and the parents in the one bedroom. We found this picture on the internet.

sod house

Michael and Hanora spent years barely getting by and hearing of the wonders of life in America and the opportunities here. The adventurous young couple started saving money for passage to the New World. They left for America in 1827 when Michael was 35.


They had little more than a bag of their possessions in their arms, faith in their God and hearts full of dreams. Hanora was pregnant, but they didn’t let that dampen their spirits. In 1827, the fare from Ireland to America in 1827 was $3.45.

It would be so fascinating to know how difficult the trip was and how long it took to get to Boston, but we do know they made their way to Liverpool, England, then set out on their adventure to America. The voyage was rough. Hanora was sick and their baby, our great-grandfather Michael Clare, Jr., was born as they entered Boston Harbor in 1827.

From Boston, they moved to New York, where Michael, Sr. became a teacher, although he was barely able to support his family. Because of the prejudices against Irish Catholics in America, life here proved extremely difficult. Plus, they were homesick for their beloved homeland. So, in 1836, Michael and Hanora returned to Ireland with children.

Emigration Papers


They went back to farming, but things weren’t improved. Many thousands died in Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845-1847. Because of the blight and the poverty, there were no potato crops, so Michael decided it was better back in America. And he again set sail, although it is not known whether Hanora accompanied him or waited until he got established.

According to papers filed in the National Archives, he arrived in Boston the second time on June 12, 1849, at a time when Ireland’s population dropped from eight to three million people.

all those clares

Elizabeth Riley, John J Clare, Margaret Clare Sweeny, Tom Clare, Mary Clare Costello
Bridget and Michael Clare

Documents show Michael Clare, Sr. (then about 63) and Michael, Jr. (about 28) became citizens in 1855, and Hanora automatically became one because her husband was. Although Michael was educated enough to be a teacher, he believed “education was a ruination of children.” This fact was stated in several documents and is still bewildering to his family.


Now we turn to two of Michael and Hanora’s children, Michael Clare, Jr. (1827-1903) and his brother John J. Clare. According to the family Bible, John was born in Queens County, Ireland in 1836. John married Margaret Cecilia D’Arcy, and they had eieleven children. (This is the other John Clare, not our grandfather.)

Bridget Clare

Hanora (Clare) Meany, daughter of Michael, Sr. and Hanora Clare
Married 24-year-old William Meany when she was 15.

On December 7, 1851 in New York, our great-grandfather Michael Clare, Jr. (born in Boston Harbor in 1827) married Bridget McDermott, a comely Irish lass with flaming red hair. How we wish we had a color picture of her! This family characteristic is still seen in many Clare descendants.

Knowing how difficult life was in New York and hearing of the wonderful opportunities in The West, Michael and John and their families picked up their belongings once again and again headed further west. They settled in the Kansas Territory, moving first to Atchison, then to Leavenworth in 1855, when Michael’s name appears on the Kansas Territorial Census.

Children of Michael & Bridget

Children of Michael and Bridget — John Clare, Tom Clare,
Maggie Sweeney, Lizzie Riley and Mary Costello

Following the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s, thousands of wagon trains headed west, and many of them started from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where John and Michael, who was working for the government as a herdsman for $30 a month, were living.

The brothers became “bullwhackers,” slang for teamsters, who earned $30 or more a month. They were employed by the government in the freighting business and led many wagon trains from Leavenworth to Laramie, Wyoming and points westward into California.

The West was opening up and military stores, supplies and merchandise had to be moved there. Mile-long oxen- or cattle-pulled wagon trains wended their way across rough fields and mountains. It was big business in those days — and tough! Weather was always a factor — extreme heat, snow or rain.

John and Michael Clare - The Bushwackers

The Bullwhackers: John and Michael Clare

Bullwhackers were hardy citizens, and it was said that cattle did their best pulling in direct proportion to the energy and fluency the driver delivered. We suspect there was a lot of rough language!

In wet weather, wagons got mired in the mud up to their axles and the cattle up to their bellies. Indian attacks were likely. Corralling livestock at night kept them from being stampeded by Indians. Wagons were drawn up in a circle and chained together with cattle in the center. We still use the expression “circle the wagons” when things get tough.

Michael Clare's Grave

Michael Clare, Born April 11 1827
Died January 4 1903

The wagons made slow progress across the plains, averaging about two miles an hour. On good days they could make 20 miles. Our two Clares must have been of hearty stock, because they stayed with the business for four years.

Kansas became a state in 1861, and by 1866 work on the main lines of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha and from the Kansas Pacific extended west. The railroads were fast becoming an efficient mode of transportation, and the overland stage ceased operation in the winter of 1866.

Both Michael and John bought land in Kansas’ Mt. Pleasant Township, and once again they became farmers. John and his family stayed in Kansas and many descendants still live there. One of that John Clare’s grandchildren is Marjorie Clare Durgin, who lived in the Des Moines, Iowa area and has done extensive research into the Clare family history. She helped us greatly with this story.

Her side of the family had many Clare family reunions in Kansas, so there’s a whole other Clare clan out there for us to investigate. One interesting story is how John was gored to death by his “friendly” bull. This was the brother of Michael, Sr., though, not our John Clare. The Johns and Michaels do get confusing.


Cortland School Where Nellie Taught

District School #46 Where all the Clares went to
grade school and Nellie taught from 1915-1917

In about 1876, Michael and Bridget moved from Kansas to Cortland, Nebraska. Our grandfather, John J. Clare (1864-1937), was the second of Michael and Bridget’s then seven children. We believe our grandfather had, at best, only an 8th grade education, because his father Michael didn’t believe in educating children.

Some have said John would have been a veterinarian if he had the chance. He had a great love for animals and liked taking care of them. John was an interesting character. He was a good farmer and was well liked. It was said he would give anyone the shirt off his back.

Alice (the first) and John Clare, Sr.

John Clare, Sr. and the first Alice

John Clare, Sr. had two wives named Alice. He married Alice James in 1891 in Cortland, Nebraska, and they had six children: Harold (our father), Marie, Leo, Nellie, Alice and John.

Along the way, John inherited property two miles north of Cortland from his father, Michael. But John put that property in his first wife, Alice James’s, name. Since he was engaged in buying and selling cattle and other products, it may have seemed a good idea to save the farm from creditors.

school in Cortland, Nebraska

School in Cortland, Nebraska

But the first Alice died from tetanus-lockjaw in 1908 when she was only 39, without a will. By Nebraska law, two-thirds of her property then belonged to her six children and only one-third belonged to her husband. This proved to be a big problem later and a source of much anger and family dissension.

At the time of the first Alice’s death, Harold (our dad, who was the oldest) was only 16 and Johnny, the youngest, was only 4. We don’t have much information how he managed with six children and no mother. Marie, who was the oldest girl (14), probably become the surrogate mother, along with Nellie and Alice.

After the first Alice’s death in 1908, John Clare, Sr. married Alice Kelley (34) in 1911, and they had four children, Tom, Gene, Leland and Truman. They built a very nice home on the property near Cortland that had belonged to his father.


John's second wedding picThe Second Alice

"John J. Clare, of this vicinity, and Miss Alice Kelly of Lincoln, were united in marriage this (Thursday) morning at 8 o'clock at St. Mary's Catholic church, Omaha. The groom needs no introduction to the people of Cortland, where he has resided for the past thirty years. He is a member of the live stock buying firm of Clare & Lucke, and is also one of our progressive farmers. He is a booster for his home town, is a genial fellow and has a host of friends. His bride is an accomplished young lady, popular in Lincoln society. She is highly esteemed by all who know her. Mr. and Mrs. Clare are expected to arrive from Lincoln Saturday evening and will at once go to housekeeping on the Clare farm, northeast of Cortland. The Sun joins in extending congratualations and best wishes."

John and the second Alice had four boys. Theirs may not have been the ideal marriage for several reasons including the 13-year age difference, his six children from his first marriage, huge financial problems and distinct personality differences. In this day, Dear Abby would have discouraged such a union.

In 1921, farm prices dropped. Everything was depressed, and because John could not pay off his bank loans he had to file for bankruptcy. No one had any money. People survived by growing their own food and buying second-hand clothes.

That’s when they learned that John owned only one-third of the property. It was a shock to the second Alice, because John either didn’t realize it himself or had never told her that he owned only a third of the property. They hired lawyers to defend against bankruptcy, but eventually the children were forced to sign over their rights to their land.

1910 Overland

Leo, Marie, John, Alice, Nellie and Harold
in a 1910 Overland with John Clare, Sr.

However, the second Alice had inherited some other property from her family, and that was kept in her own name. John Clare’s second family farmed that property and sold the produce and grains to support the family for many years. This property problem was the main cause of the estrangement of the two families.

When John married the second Alice, the children from the first marriage went to live with other family members and had to fend for themselves. Many stories have been told about these difficult days.


Queen Incubator

Chicken yard on farm north of Cortland: Johnny, Alice and Leo Clare,
Bud Sweeney, Marie and Nellie Clare in a publicity shot for Queen Incubator 


Why did John Clare allow this? Who was concerned about these first six children? Who was responsible for feeding, clothing and educating them? How did they manage through all their growing-up years? There are many questions and history provides us with few answers.

The second Alice did not allow her four children to associate with her husband’s first six in any way. There was no communication between the two families, and those were tough times for both and very little money for any.

The circumstances of John’s death in 1937 (at about 72) are also perplexing. He became ill and had a serious heart problem, but the second Alice did not inform any of his first family. Some of them happened to stop in Lincoln to see him on their way to Omaha and were disturbed to see his condition.

The Second Alice & Family

John J. and Alice K. Clare with Thomas J, Eugene F,
Leland T and Truman Clare (sitting between his parents)

They knew he needed to be in a hospital and would have insisted he be taken to the doctor when they returned the next day. But when they came back they found he had died. Our father Harold did not even know that his father was ill and was very upset not to be informed of his father’s illness and death.

Truman, the youngest of the second four children, told his mother that he would not allow the feud to continue after her death. When she died in 1955, he contacted the children from the first family and started the healing process. Through the years the children of the two families became good friends and spent many good times together.


Poker Game at Leo's Farm Reunion

All ten of John Clare’s children became successful and happy — despite being part of an amazingly dysfunctional family during the Depression Era. Possibly because of the unusual circumstances of their upbringing, the six children from the original family remained close.

Through the years. Leo and Nellie made their homes in Nebraska; Marie lived in Chicago; Alice lived in Denver, Colorado; Johnny in Worland, Wyoming; and Harold’s family settled in Casper, Wyoming.

We remember many family reunions in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. The Nebraska families loved coming to Wyoming or to Johnny’s beautiful cabin in the Big Horn Mountains; and Alice’s home in Denver gave us all a taste of the big city.


Family Reunion in Nebraska

Family photograph including Mary Clare Compton and Jim Clare, among many others

We especially loved the reunions at Uncle Leo’s farm and in Beatrice, Nebraska with Aunt Nellie. The older generation loved playing cards out in the yard. What stories they exchanged!

The women prepared fantastic dinners that were eaten out in the yard. The younger ones enjoyed watching Leo’s son, Keith Clare do his chores and playing in the barn or on the haystacks. In the evenings, the older cousins went to dances at churches in other towns.

We all piled in those old cars and flew down those dusty roads — Jim, Keith, Ruth, Dorothy, Mary Alice, Jim Clare and Mary. Do any of you remember those fun times? The younger cousins Lois, Margie, Catherine, Pat, Tim, Jack, Phyllis, Chuck, Jim and Jere Atkinson enjoyed being together and playing with some other cousins.

Of the first six children, Harold became a land developer in and around Casper. We love to tell the story of our father, who met Emily Brian in 1914, then were married in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1917, and came to Wyoming to become homesteaders.


Harold and Emily's Homestead outside of Douglas,
50 miles west of Casper, Wyoming

Mary has written a story of their experiences, and that story is an important part of the Clare Family Story, too. We’d love to be including the stories about the other nine siblings, because it’s a fascinating story of how they all survived their amazing childhoods.

Leo was a successful farmer in Nebraska. Johnny owned and managed a large auto parts store in Worland, Wyoming. The daughters, Marie, Nellie and Alice married successful men, and their children were well educated and many have college degrees.

All of the second family were also successful, and many of their children are doctors and lawyers. Education was a big priority with all these families, undoubtedly because of the restrictions placed on the earlier family members through the years.

Emily Clare in Play

Emily in Play (second row, second girl, in black with sword)

Tom and Gene settled in Lincoln, Nebraska; Leland lived in San Antonio, Texas; and Truman (the only surviving child of John Clare) retired from a large law practice in Lincoln, Nebraska and lives in Florida. Truman has been another valuable resource for information for this Clare Family Story.

After the reconciliation, there were many get-togethers between the two families and they became very good friends. Through the years, Truman has always remembered all the brothers and sisters by having Masses said yearly for each of them in the church in Cortland, Nebraska.


These are the characters of our story.
There are many others, but these are
in our direct family line.


Michael Clare, Sr. (1792-1863) and wife, Hanora Campion, (1807-1867)
parents of:

Michael Clare, Jr. and the former Bridget McDermott

Michael Clare, Jr. and wife Bridget
taken in Two John's Studio
132 S 11th in Lincoln, Nebraska

Michael Clare, Jr. (1827-1903) and wife, Bridget McDermott, (1821-1900)
parents of:

Great Grandpa & Grandma James

Philip Henry James and his wife is Catherine Kepler
Married 11 April 1866 in Beaver, Ohio

John Clare (1864-1936) and first wife, Alice James (1869-1908)
parents of   Harold, Leo, Marie, Nellie, Alice and Johnny

First Alice's Six Children

The First Alice's Six Children: Leo, Nellie, Johnny, Alice, Harold and Marie

John Clare and his second wife, Alice Kelley (1877-1953):
parents of  Thomas, Eugene, Leland and Truman


Truman, Rosemary, Mary, Leland, Gene, Mae, Leo, Rose, Jo and Tom

Alice's Second Four Children

Second Four with Johnny:  Leland, Eugene, Thomas, Johnny and Truman


Harold and Emily Clare

Harold J. and Emily Clare in their thirties

Harold J. Clare (1892-1962) and wife, Emily (1894-1972) —
parents of  Jim, Mary, Lois, Brian and Marjorie

Clare Kids

Lois, Jim, Brian and Mary (Marjorie was born in 1934.)


Leo (1890-1978) and wife, Rose —
parents of   Ruth, Keith and Dorothy

Leo Clare Family

Leo Clare Family: Ruth, Dorothy, Rose, Leo and Keith

Marie (1894-1962) and husband, Sam Burchell
no children

Marie and Sam Burchell

Marie and Sam Burchell

Nellie (1898-1981) and husband, Tim Sullivan —
parents of  Mary Alice, Catherine, Patricia and Tim

Nellie Clare Sullivan's Family

Nellie Clare Sullivan's Family: Nellie, Tim Jr.,
Catherine, Tim, Mary Alice and Patricia

Alice (1901-1968) and husband, Roy Atkinson —
parents of  Jim and Jere

Alice and Roy Atkinson family

Jim, Alice, Jere and Roy Atkinson


John (1904-1980) and wife, Lela,
parents of  Jack, Phyllis and Charles

John Clare Family

John Clare Family: Jack, John, Charles, Lela and Phyllis


We hope you have enjoyed this Clare Family Story. Time and geography may have separated us, but family is important, and we want these ties and memories of family be kept alive. Hopefully, we’ll meet some of the other family members along the way.

Audio Sample - From Clare to Here by Nanci Griffith   A Clare Benediction by Escolania Del Escroial & Lorenzo Ramos   Clare de Lune by Chie Nagatani, Kerrilyn Renshaw and Lisa Spector — piano   Clare Everymore by Neal Caine — gentle jazzy     

If you have corrections or additions, email J R.

Thanks to all the family members who provided old family photographs.