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Our Family History

By Daniel Jay Clemons, Oregon

Presented 4th of July 2010

Every year since moving to Oregon, we have joined other family members on Memorial Day at Roseburg Memorial Gardens in Roseburg, Oregon to visit and talk about our family that is buried there.  Each year, I would stand on my grandfathers grave and ask the question, "How in the world did life start for you in Arkansas?  What was your family doing in Arkansas?"  Then we would go over to visit his father John M. Clemons and all we knew of John was that his wife Elizabeth had auburn red hair that pops up in every other generation.  My daughter Corina has a tinge of Elizabeth's auburn red hair.  My dad had that same red in his hair.  It was just beautiful.  I had no red in my hair at all.   


One of us Clemons grandchildren, Dave Hodson, who lives in the Medford, Oregon area and grandson of Zella Zetta Clemons, started a search on and found out that Ron Clemons has been compiling our family history and tree for decades at some expense I might add.  I was stunned to find out that my great, great, great, great grandfather Henry Clements was a slave [a possible indentured servant] and [perhaps] tobacco plantation owner living in Orange County due West of Williamsburg, Virginia in the mid 1700's.  It has been passed down through the family that, "After drying tobacco, Henry packed it carefully in barrels and rolled it down horse trails 10 miles to town before there were wagon trails." [this was the common practice of the day].  It would have been easy for Henry to walk the streets of Williamsburg with a young George WashingtonBen Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.  I offered my DNA to help Ron find Henry's parents.  We came from England.  I am the son of Clinton Clemons, son of Charles Clemons, son of John M. Clemons, son of William Clemons, son of Thomas Clemmons, son of Henry Clements.


What's even more interesting is that my great grandfather John M. Clemons, the person we knew nothing about, came West in a covered Conestoga wagon during the height of the American western frontier.  He was born in Kentucky in 1849 and it was he and his father William, a civilian Civil War Scout and hero for capturing 3 deserters, that taught John how to live out of a tent and travel by wagon.  Before heading West, they sold their tobacco farm, equipment, and slaves.  One slave, not wanting to be sold, traveled West with the family.  He could have died in route we just don't know.  Letters describing hardship and death were found in a trunk, which was later stolen.  Among the letters, was an announcement for the sale of farm equipment and slaves.  So he traveled West with money.  A goodly amount of money because slaves sold for more than $1,000 in those days.  Coming West, John was more concerned for being killed by Indians than cowboys and bushwhackers.  He stated in his Will that he wanted his children to go to a good home if they were killed by Indians.  John's father William moves the Clemons family as far as Arkansas, where he died in 1899.  So that is how my grandfather come to be born in Arkansas.  Like everyone else traveling West, they stayed on established trails through Independence, Missouri.  Canada was offering free land so John took the family to Alberta where he homesteaded just long enough to sell and continue his move down through Washington state, which was probably to wet for his liking.  He stopped in Portland, Oregon long enough to build and operate a grocery story.  Selling that, he once again packed up the family and headed south stopping in Roseburg, Oregon where I was brought up as a little boy to later graduate from Roseburg High School.  My DNA says I am the great, great, great, great grandson of Henry Clements.

In the below picture, that is Mahala Clemons, isn't that a pretty name, John's mother standing off to the left.  My grandfather stands just behind his dad.  My Charles is 12-years old.  The picture was taken in Washington in 1902.  Mahala is wearing her one and only good dress.  Note the lantern hanging from the tree.  Top and Bottom Photos courtesy of Kevin Olund.

The middle photograph above  is a picture of me, Daniel J. Clemons, my grandfather Charles and my grandmother Marie.  You can see my grandfather had large hands much like his father John and grandfather William.  Our smiles are very similar.  I loved him dearly.  The photo was taken around 1950.

In the bottom photo above are the superstars of the family John's parents William and Mahala Clemons.  Bivouacking as an US Army Scout, William learned how to live in the great outdoors.  His enlarged hands show the work of a tobacco farmer.  He could have built this home for Mahala using the square hanging just to the right of the front door.  This picture was taken around 1875 in Arkansas.  The screen in the door was widely available by the 1870's.  You can see Mahala's broom just around the corner of the house and there is a chicken walking by.  The John M. Clemons look that I know came not from William but from Mahala.  The good head of hair we all enjoy came from Mahala.  She is wearing the same dress in this photo that she will wear in the 1902 Washington photo.  John bought her a little place of her own in Washington where she would live another 16 years before dying at the age of 92.  They are proud of the books they hold in their hands.  

Pictures of tobacco farmers and slave owners John M. and his father William Clemons to follow.  In the East, we are known as the Clemons family that headed West.  William named one of his son's
George Washington Clemons.  Ron Clemons who did all the research told me his grandfathers name was Daniel Clemons. 

Dan J. Clemons
1 July 2010