A no-good skunk lit out for Nebraska


Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

Fasten your seatbelt, reader.

This is the story of George Washington Clear, born in 1849, the youngest son of Phillip and Mrs. Clear.

On June 7, 1871, Clear married a young woman from Union City, Ind., named Anna Moist.

George and Anna soon raised a baby they named Myrtle.

George started a grocery store in Union City. Bills piled up.

By 1876, George made ends meet through numerous forgeries.

He even sold a phony mortgage on his mother’s farm near Bartonia, Ind..

Faced with arrest, he abandoned his wife, child, and mother.

He ran off to Omaha, Neb., where he had a pal, a fellow skunk happy to cover his tracks.

Anna found a teaching job in Randolph County. She remained an educator, quite distinguished, all her life. She became mother and father to Myrtle.

Our clever George W. Clear must have worried his wife Anna might Google him. So, he took on a new identity. Clear renamed himself Harry Claire.

“Harry” found a job teaching in Nebraska two miles west of Omaha for the 1884-1885 year.

“Harry” and his Nebraska buddy planted a bogus obituary of George W. Clear in the Omaha Bee on Sept. 8, 1884. The pal or Harry mailed it to Indiana for Anna Clear and George’s mother to read.

“Harry” courted a 19-year-old Nebraska society woman named Henrietta (Nettie) Dorsey. Her daddy owned a grain elevator.

Harry was much older and cut years off his age to deceive Nettie.

Nettie was wild about Harry. Harry was wild about Nettie. They set the wedding date.

George told Nettie he made enough money to support her. Which, he didn’t.

Common sense would tell you to ‘fess up and call the whole thing off, but not Georgie.

To get a pile of cash, he returned to Indiana to rip off his mother again, plus steal from one of the richest citizens in Richmond.

In addition to serving as a Pennsylvania Railroad executive, Col. John F. Miller was like the Hertz of Richmond.

If you needed horses and a carriage, he’d rent you them.

So, “Harry” posed as the Rev. Frank Curtis. He claimed he needed a carriage for a wedding event.

He picked out two sorrel horses and a fancy buggy. If you’re gonna be a hoss thief, why not swipe the best, right?

He left without seeing his dying mother in Bartonia. Instead, he wrote a $600 check and signed her name. (She died on Dec. 31, 1885, a week after her son’s marriage to Nettie).

Coming back to Indiana was sheer stupidity. Someone recognized “Claire” as Clear.

Wayne County sheriff Alex Gorman obtained a photo. He reprinted hundreds of copies on postcards and sent them to postmasters and law enforcement out West.

Bingo. The postmaster of North Fork, Neb., identified the Hoosier loverboy.

He wrote the sheriff a discreet note back.

The sheriff informed Nettie’s family of “Harry’s” scam after the couple married on Dec. 23, 1885.

Nettie’s cousin, a furious J. E Yost, confronted Harry on his honeymoon with Nettie at Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Shamed, Harry fled. A humiliated Nettie came back to North Fork with Yost.

Sheriff Gorman took a train to Nebraska and met with Nettie.

She and the sheriff conspired.

Nettie showed the sheriff letters of apology from Harry signed “your loving, loving husband.”

Harry hoped she forgave him. He told Nettie to write him in care of a mutual friend.

She did — as the Sheriff dictated — saying she would meet him at an Iowa train station.

“I’m your Nettie,” said Sheriff Gorman, introducing himself at the train before slapping hardware on the bridegroom’s wrists.

Gorman described George looking paralyzed.

George was caught red-handed. He had sold the team and carriage to separate individuals, but he possessed Col. Miller’s harness with its distinctive M logo.

George tried bluffing. He denied being George Clear.

It was no use. He pleaded guilty. A judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

After George got out of prison in 1890, he moved to Louisville and then just disappeared. (A family historian of Nettie’s claimed he ended up working in Illinois as a soda fountain worker, but I cannot verify that claim).

Nettie married and moved to Portland, Ore.

Anna Clear moved to a teaching job in Union City and retired in 1922. Daughter Myrtle married Joe Thornburg in Union City.

Anna in 1945 died at 95 following a fall down a flight of stairs. She had been a member of First Christian Church for 80 years.

The Union City Times-Gazette reported that husband George W. Clear preceded her in death.

If you live long enough, even scandals have a way of disappearing.

Hank Nuwer is an author and part-time lecturer in Ball State University’s School of Journalism and Strategic Communication. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.

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