The Cliffords, Part 2: Family Scandal

This is a continuation of my account on the Clifford family. For more information, see Part 1.

In 1878, Sophia Clifford sold the land that she and Lewis had bought in Iowa. Apparently her sons (Fred was 20 and Charles was 15) wanted to seek more opportunities out west rather than stay and work the farm in Iowa. In the 1880 Census, Sophia was living with her daughter, Maria Schumacher and her family in Iowa. I haven’t been able to find Fred and Charles on the 1880 census. They could have been anywhere.

By March 1885, Fred Clifford, age twenty-six, was working as a laborer in Johnson County, Kansas, and staying in a boardinghouse kept by a remarried widow named Martha Bryan Evans. Mrs. Evans had a beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter named Ella Mae Bryan. Fred and Ella Mae were married on July 6, 1885. They had five children, including a set of twins. Here is a list of their children:

Dorothy Mae Johnson killed by a truck

Dorothy Mae Johnson, granddaughter of Fred and Ella Mae Clifford, was run over by a truck at the age of four or five.

  • Leo Dalmar Clifford, born April 1886 in Kansas, died 11 June 1959 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. He was listed in the 1921 Canadian Census living in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, working as a logger. I have found no evidence that he ever married.
  • May Clifford, born November 1889 in Kansas. She married Clyde A. Johnson in about 1909 and they lived in Kansas City. They had two children that I know of, Dorothy Mae Johnson and Leo Clyde Johnson. Dorothy Mae was tragically killed at the age of four or five (The newspaper says she was age four, but I have her birthdate recorded as 12 October 1909, which would make her age five in April 1915.). She was run over by a truck as she was crossing the street behind her mother. The accident happened in front of the Johnson home at 804 East Fourteenth Street in Kansas City in April 1915. Leo Clyde died in 1913 at the age of fourteen months of bronchial pneumonia. I don’t know whether they had any other children.
  • Gladys Clifford, my great-grandmother, born 12 September 1892 in Argentine, Wyandotte, Kansas. She married Vernon John DeWitt on 25 December 1916. Vernon and Gladys moved to Kansas in 1923 and spent the rest of their lives there. They had nine children. All of their children lived to adulthood and had families of their own. Two of them are still alive.
  • Louis or Lewis Clifford, born 25 December 1894 in Argentine, Wyandotte, Kansas, died 15 August 1898.
  • Irene or Lorene Clifford, born 25 December 1894 in Argentine, Wyandotte, Kansas. She married Ralph Raymond Bobbitt on 25 December 1916, the same date her sister Gladys was married. The Bobbitts had six children and lived in Nebraska. Irene died 6 April 1976.

[15] DEWITT Vernon and Gladys wedding portrait cropped

Wedding portrait of Vernon and Gladys (Clifford) DeWitt, my great-grandparents.

Louis and Irene were twins. There is another “Twin Clifford” listed on online trees. I believe this is because my grandmother had heard from family members that there was a twin but they weren’t certain what the twin’s name was. Fred Schumacher, son of Maria/Mary Clifford and Heinrich Schumacher, wrote my grandmother in the 1960’s and said Ella Mae and her children stayed with a relative in around 1898 while their father worked as a smelter. He said the twins’ names were Lewis and Lorene.

Around 1890-1900, Fred’s mother and brother came to Kansas to live near him. I don’t know if Ella Mae had met Fred’s family before or not, but at this time she was apparently smitten with Fred’s younger brother Charles, or else Charles was smitten with her. Either way, they fell in love with each other. In 1900, Charles took Ella Mae and her two young daughters, Gladys and Irene, to Nebraska where they started their own family. Ella Mae and her children are listed in the 1900 Census twice: once with Fred in Kansas, and once with Charles in Nebraska. I have found no evidence that Charles and Ella Mae were ever married, and I have not found a divorce record for Ella Mae and Fred.

Ella Mae 1900 census crop

Two records from the 1900 Census layed out side by side. The one on the top is Ella Mae with Fred and her mother in Kansas, the one on the bottom is her living with Charles in Nebraska. Note that it states that she and Charles have been married for four years (the number “4” in the last column).

It is really sad that they chose to do this. Not only did Ella Mae abandon her husband and her oldest two children, but she married her husband’s brother, meaning that any ties with the Clifford family were forever abandoned. I have been told that my grandmother had a hard time uncovering this story when she was doing genealogy research a few decades ago. The family chose to keep quiet about the scandal, which is understandable, but someone knew what had happened, and my grandmother managed to figure it out. Another part of the story that I have been told is that Charles Clifford slept with his gun under his pillow every night, because he was afraid that his brother would come and take his wife back. One can only imagine that kind of fear.

Here is a list of the children of Charles Clifford and Ella Mae Bryan:

  • John Arthur Clifford, born 16 July 1900 in Nebraska, died 3 October 1918 in Geneva, Fillmore, Nebraska, age eighteen. The obituary says he died at his parents’ home, but it doesn’t say why. I suppose he had an illness of some kind.
  • Bessie Rasher

    Bessie Rasher at the Lakeview Nursing Center, Grand Island, Nebraska, around 1991-1993.

    Bess “Bessie” Clifford, born 12 January 1903 in Daykin, Jefferson, Nebraska. She married Harry Edwin Rasher on 31 October 1921 in Geneva, Fillmore, Nebraska. They had two sons, Walter and Robert. Harry worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and Bessie was a telephone switchboard operator until her sons were born. Bessie died on 6 December 1993 in Grand Island, Hall, Nebraska.

  • Ida Mae Clifford, born 9 May 1907 in Nebraska. She married Theodore Harms Wilhelms. They had at least one son. Ida Mae died 3 February 1959 and is buried in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California.

One thing that is unclear to me is whether, genetically speaking, Gladys, Louis and Irene Clifford were Fred’s children or Charles’s. My grandmother recorded that they were Fred’s children, but then I wonder why she took them with Charles to Nebraska but left the oldest two, Leo and May, in Kansas. At ages fourteen and eleven, Leo and May were old enough to decide to stay with their father, so perhaps that is the reason. But it isn’t clear when Charles and Ella Mae met, or when they fell in love, etc. So it is possible that some of the younger children were Charles’s. Margaret Carlson, daughter of Irene Bobbitt, wrote to my grandmother in a letter that “it was determined that Fred was the father of Gladys and May and I guess Leo.” This sounds like a reasonable conclusion based on the 1900 census records, but I don’t see a way that we can be 100% positive on this. I don’t think we will ever know for sure, and it doesn’t really matter, since Fred and Charles are brothers and we can still trace the line back further without knowing who the actual father is. (I hope any family members reading this aren’t offended that I am discussing this. I am just trying to establish what I know and don’t know about Ella Mae and the Cliffords.)

Sophia Clifford died in 1901, and Fred Clifford died in 1906, both in Wyandotte County, Kansas. The money from Fred Clifford’s estate was used to buy a home for Leo and May to live in with their grandmother, Martha Bryan. Charles and Ella Mae both died in Nebraska, Charles on 19 September 1946 and Ella Mae on 14 November 1944.

Margaret (Bobbitt) Softly, Ella Mae Bryan, Charles Clifford, Frances Bobbitt

Left to Right: Margaret (Bobbitt) Softly, Ella Mae (Bryan) Clifford, Charles Clifford, Frances Bobbitt. Photo probably taken in the 1940s. (If you happen to have a better copy, please scan it and send it to me.)

That is all I know about the Clifford family. If you have any questions, corrections or additions, please leave a comment or contact me at marykoeven@gmail.com.

One thought on “The Cliffords, Part 2: Family Scandal

  1. Mary, again I Thank You for all this Clifford info. The “scandal” is very interesting and I often talked with Aunt Margaret about it but the Fred, Ella Mae, Charles triangle was a bit of a mystery. You have unraveled quite a bit of it.
    The reunion was good. Only around 30 there but its always good to visit with our close relatives at least once a year. Hope you can make it some time.
    Joyce

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