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Wagon Ruts West

By Ralph Ray Keeney

Published in 1983


    The following selection is taken from "Wagon Ruts West" written & published by Ralph Ray Keeney in 1983. The book  is currently out of print. This section is published with the kind permission of Ralph Ray Keeney. The book this selection is drawn from is under copyright and permission has been granted for educational purposes and it is not to be used in any way for any profit or commercial venture.

Click here to read letter of permission.

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The following is Section 21

Claire H. Keeney


___John, Sr. (1750? - 1845?) Married Martha -
| Jonathan Anthony (1778  - 1850)
| ___ John Jr. (1780 - 1845) Married Mary Ramsey Buckhalter, 1805
| |   Mary (1806 - 1850-)
| |   Thomas (1808 - 1842)
| |   Isley (1811 - 1842)
| |   Jonathan (1813 - 1878)
| |   James (1816 - 1885) 
| |   Abraham (1818 - 1843)
| | ____Andrew Jackson (1819 - 1898) Married Elizabeth Mulholland, 1841
| | | Frances Ann - drowned with Mother in the Missouri Riv.
| | | 2. Married Hannah Daniels Cooper (daughter, Anna Cooper)
| | | Elias P. (1852 - 1857)
| | | James Madison ( 1853 - 1913)
| | | George R. (1856 - 1859)
| | | William Daniel (1857 - 1930)
| | | ____John Blanden (1859 - 1942) Married Ella Hurt, 1881
| | | |    Maude (1882 - 1958)
| | | |    Rhoda C. (1884 - 1884)
| | | |    Ira Marvin (1885 - 1945)
| | | | ___ Willard Warren (1888 - 1958)    Married Alice L. Crall, 1920
| | | | |      Jack LeRoy, 1921
| | | | |      Ralph Ray, 1923
| | | | |      Harold Blanding, (1925 - 1925)
| | | | |      Loa May, 1926
| | | | |      Ida Dee, 1929
| | | | |     Billie Fae, 1932
| | | | |      William Warren, 1933
| | | | |____Bessie Jo, 1935
| | | |______Glenn (1894 - 1954)
| | | 3 Married Amanda Jane Morse Matthews, 1861 (daughter, Rebecca)
| | |      Martha Ellen "Matty" (1862 - 1911)
| | |      Benjamin Franklin (1865 - 1935)
| | |      Andrew Alva (1866 - 1954)
| | |________Thomas Paine (1869 - 1947)
| | Rebecca (1821 - 1895)
| | Eli (twin) (1828 - 1878)
| |___________ Elias (twin) (1828 - 1910)
| Thomas (1782 - 1846)   
| Nancy ( 1786 - -- )
| James (- - - )
| Hiram (-- - )
|_________Others -

Clare H. Keeney Family

Clare H. Keeney

Clare H. Keeney
(B. 1900 -- Jasper, Ore. -- D. Sept. 3, 1982 Whittier, Calif.)
Son of James Madison and Mary Handsaker Keeney

The following is an account of the Keeney family given to Ralph Keeney (Author) in 1982 by Clare Keeney:

My Father, James Madison Keeney, son of Andrew Jackson Keeney, was three years old when they crossed the plains. I heard that Grandfather Keeney had been married twice but never knew which children were by which wife. I knew my Father to have one sister, Martha, who married Nelson Handsaker. My Father's brothers were; Al, Tom, Ben, and John.

Because of that marriage between Nelson Handsaker and Martha Keeney, there son, Willard Nelson Handsaker, and I share a unique relationship, we are both first and second cousins at the same time. His Father, Nelson, and my Mother, Mary Handsaker were cousins, and his Father, Nelson, married my Father's sister.

Willard Nelson Handsaker, sone Nelson Handsaker, who is 94 years old, nearly blind, but extremely sharp mentally, may be able to give more facts about the Keeneys. He dug up a missing portion of our Grandfather's Handsaker Diary while crossing the Plains, re-edited Grandfather's book, "Pioneer Life", and included other stories about the Handsakers and Keeneys.

Uncle Al Keeney I knew very little about; I can't remember of ever seeing him.

Uncle Tom, as I remember him, I think he was a salesman and went to Jamaica and China for some big company. He was a great prankster and gagster, and one evening at the dinner table, when he was back on a visit, someone asked him how many natives he had under him. He jumped up, looked around at his empty chair, and said, "Why I don't see any at the present time," then sat down and went soberly on with his meal.

In his later years, in Portland, I visited him, and at that time he was retired and vitally interested in politics. He would orate at length about some politician or political conditions, and wrote many letters to office holders telling them where they were right or wrong, and just what they should or should not do. I always enjoyed him very much.

Uncle Ben was a politician and a good one. He was Assessor of Lane County, Oregon for many years. He assessed the poor people lightly, and made up for it on the wealthy, and they both loved him. He was a chicken fancier, and bred Barred Rocks for show, and had many cups and ribbons to show for it.

He had two sons, Hugh and Hobart. Hugh was a carpenter, like his Dad had been in the beginning. Hobart had always been afflicted with asthma, and I don't know what he did in his mature years.

Uncle John was a Sheriff out in Eastern Oregon. Around Condon, Oregon I believe. There is one story that I heard about him (true or false, I don't know), because I heard if around the fireplace at the farm at Dexter when I was a small boy.

It was said that a man had committed some sort of a crime and the town-folk had chased him and had him holed-up in a barn. Someone had sumoned Uncle John, and when he arrived, knowing the man by name, called to him, and identifing himself, commanded that he come out with his hands up. The man replied that he would not, (but in stronger terms, I believe.) "All right," replied Uncle John, "If you don't come out by the time I count ot ten, I'm comin' in and only one of us is comin' out standing up." And he begin counting, slowly. But, before he had finished, the man threw out his gin and came out.

I never saw Uncle John but once, and that was when I was a lad of about ten I believe. He had come over from Eastern Oregon to deliver a prisoner to our local authorities. We had moved to Eugene by then, and he came and spent the night with us. I remember how impressed I was by him. (My Uncle, a real live Western Sheriff!!) Especially when I noted that he carried a revolver in a sholder holster under his coat.

He was not a large man, but very quick and decisive in his movement. And I can remember thinking to myself, "If I had been that man in the barn, I would have came out also."

I can tell you more aobut my Father, James Madison Keeney, of course, because he was my Father, and I loved him very much. He was the eldest of the children, and the younger boys looked up to him as an example. It was said that when they were very little, and had done something of which they knew their parents wouldn't approve, they would always try to alibi by claiming, "brother Jimmy doooes it!" But, it was reported, they never got by with it.

In a published short story, inn later years, while not trying to picture him, I used a father-character, very similar to my Father and said; "A kindly man, was my Father, but stern in the ways of justice." And I think that described my real Father very well.

The family was traditionally Democratic in politics. But when Father went to the Polls to vote for the first time, a man not knowing this, tried to buy his vote for the Democrats; it angered him so that he voted Republican, and remained a Republican the rest of his life.

I know little of life on the farm at Goshen. I only know one story. That was when one of the younger boys was trying to break a young horse to ride, and the horse threw him. Father had a very bad cold, or flu, or some such, but when he saw this happen, he called to his brother to get right back on the horse, because if he didn't, it would make an outlaw of the animal and would have to be rebroken every time a person got on him. But the brother had had enough, and didn't want anymore, so Father got on him and rode the horse to submission, even though he was spitting blood when he got off.

As a young man, Father drank some, and smoked and chewed tobacco. When he got married, however, he stoped drinking, simply saying that he didn't think whiskey and marriage mixed. And he never drank again.

As I have stated above, Father was stern in the ways of justice, and was always aready to fight for his underdog. And this almost got him into trouble one time, I remember.

It was after we had left the farm at Dexter and move to Eugene. One summer evening, a family across the street had gotten into a ruckus, and the much younger son-in-law was slapping and pushing the father-in-law around. Father stood thhis as long as he could, then started to shout at the younger man and started across the street toward him. But Mother, who knew Father's habits very well, was standing by, watching him, and when this happend, she ran to the center of the street, grabbed him by the oattails, and pulled him back. Mother had a bit of "spunk" also, and our Father knew it. So, he came back peascefully, and with but very little argument.

My parents had four children;; Belle, Harry, Arther, and Claire. They came by "twos". Belle and Harry were much older than Arthur and I. In fact, Belle was twenty years older than I, and she so happened to be my teacher in the third grade at Old Patterson School at 13th and Alder St. in Eugene. Later on, Belle married Nelson O. Williams, a minister in the Christian Church, and spent some time in the middlewest before coming back to Oregon, after her husband died. She had five children; James (who died shortly after birth), Mary, Oscar, Frances, and Dee. Mary became a school teacher, liek her Mother; Oscar was a physician and surgeon; Frances, a housewife and mother; and Dee, a business woman.

Harry worked for the Carnation Milk Company in Washington State for some time; turning to banking, working in Eugene, then he conducted his own small bank in Creswell, Oregon. In later years he went into the undertaking business and owned his own establishment in Independence, Oregon. In 1918, he entered the regular Army as a Captain from the National Guard. He had no children.

Arther went right into the undertaking business from high school, and remained in it most of his life. He owned an undertaking establishment in Corvallis, Oregon for many years, then move to Amarillo, Texas, where he was in the monument business. He served as First Sergent during World War One.

He had two daughters, Nell and Jane. Nell married and raised a family; Jane is in charge of an Entertainment Unit for the Armed Service in Oklahoma.

Claire, the youngest of the family, was born in Jasper, Oregon, moved with the family to Dexter, Oregon, where Father operated a farm for Grandfather Handsaker for a number of years, and where he begain his schooling in the old, one-room schoolhouse.

From there, the family moved to Eugene where he continued his schooling through Grade School, High School, and College. And it was in High School that the theatrical bug first bit him and infected him with the desease that has followed him all the rest of his life.

To aid and abet this afflictiion, the head of the Dramatic Department of the University saw him in a high school play and invited him to join his department, when entering college. What could be sweeter? And sweeter still, since he had been hankering to join the Army ever since the War started, but had not because he was the last to remain with an aging Mother; But now came the word that all High School Seniors could go on into college and join the Army S.A.T.C. This was the Student Army Training Corp., a pre-officer's training program of the regular Army.

After the War, he remained at the University of Oregon, majoring in dramatics and writing cources, playing some forty or so parts, and acting as a student instructor in theater make-up. Due to a mix-up in his credits, although he had taken an extra year in college to make up high school deficiencies, when he skipped his Senior year to go into the S.A.T.C., and had completed all college requirements, with credits to spare, he was denied graduation. And so, he gained the distinction of having gone through high school and college, completed both, and not graduated from either one.

After college, he played in Stock Companies up and down the wes coast for three years, then entered Government Service in the U.S. Treasury Department, where he remained for thirty years, writing and acting on the side.

As a result of the latter activities, he has been an author, actor, playright, lyricist, librettist, and composer, had been made a Fellow Of The International Biographical Association, based in Camberidge, England; and appears in two books -- The International Authors and Writers Who's Who and The International Who's Who of Intellectuals, which are being distributed throughtout the world. Nationally, he will be found in the National Playwrights Directory, ASCAP Biographical Dictionary; American Biographical Institute's Pioneer Drama Service's Biographical Directory of Playwrights. Copies of most of his works are on file in the Division of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Wyoming.

One of the most outstanding Keeneys, I think, and one who will remain in the memory forever, was "Blind Johnny" Keeney, of whom you have probably heard. This is how I knew him, however I'm not sure, but I think he was my Father's cousin. By what connection I don't know. Anyway, just about everyone who lived in the Willamette Valley in those days knew "Blind Johnny", as he traveled all the roads, usually on foot, carrying a violin case in one hand and a stchel of his "wares" in the other, or supended by a sholder strap, to leave one hand free for the walking stick, which he used to tap out conditions in the road or path ahead of him.

He also played for dances, skip-ta-ma-loos, or any gathering where music was desired. Perhaps I shouldn't say "played". He "fiddled". Everything by ear, of course. And if some of the younger generation didn't know whata a skap-ta-ma-loo dance was, it might be explained as being more like our square dance of today, where the dancers capered about, singing such elevating ditties as------

    • Rats in the sugar bowl, skip-ta-ma-loo,
    • Rats in the sugar bowl, skip-ta-ma-loo,
    • Rats in the sugar bowl, skip-ta-ma-loo,
    • Skip-ta-ma-loo, my darling!
And on, and on, and on. There were dozens of such verses.

Johnny lost his sight by being kicked in the face by a horse when he was a small child. It depressed the bridge of the nose between the eyes until it was almost flat. And, although the sightless eyeballs were slightly distended beyond the flattened bridge, Johnny was a very good-looking man. His sense of distance and timing were almost unbelievable. It was said that when he was small he was sledding with the other boys. At the bottom of the hill they used, there was a fence that halted their further progress, and Johnny, just like the others, always knew where to roll off into the snow, just in time before hitting it.

I have seen this uncanny sense demonstrated, for I have stood and watched as he came up the road to our front gate at Dexter, knowing better than to offer assistance, for Johnny resented that, unless he asked for it. But Johnny never missed, he always turned in at exactly the right spot.

(End of Letter)

Claire Keeney suffered a stroke on July 12th and passed away at Whittier, California on Sept. 3, 1982.

John Keeney

Lethe Rychards home

Lethe Rychards home -- Springfield, Oregon. Left to right: Arther- Chancey- Lethe- Ralph- John (Blind Johnny, white headed)- Eva. Eva and husband had hotel in Salem in 30's. They had lived in Mother Wigles' home earlier in her marriage at Springfield, Ore.

Bline Johnny's Violin

Clair Keeney, Long-Time
Area Actor, Writer, Dies

Claire H. Keeney, author, actor and a Whittier resident for approximately 40 years, died Sept. 3 in Chapman General Hospital, Orange, after suffering a stroke July 12. He was 82.

A grandson of pioneers who emigrated from Illinois in ox-drawn covered wagons, Keeney was born in Jasper. Ore., and educated at the University of Oregon.

His publish writings included a book on theatrical make-up, lyrics for several songs and 17 on-act plays, two of which were fist produced at Whittier High School. He was a member of ASCAP -- the American Society of Compossers, Authors and Publishers -- and had served as a board member of the Hollywood Authors Club.

As an actor he appeared with West Coast stock companies and little theaters including the Whittier Community Theater. He had a bit role in the famed World War I movie "All Quiet on the Western Front."

These twin enthusiasms, writing and acting, Keeney successfully pursued as sidelines during a 30-year career with the Alcohal, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department.

His plays, virtually all of them comedies, included "Old 'Skin'-Flint," "Once an Actor," "Pity the Poor Fish" and "Major Milliron Reports," first published seperately and then together, in 1953, in a volume titled "Curtain Time."

Amoung his other plays were "For the Love of Mike," 1966, and "Begone, Begonia," 1976. "Pity the Poor Fish" and "For the Love of Mike" had their premiere performances at Whittier High School.

"Old 'Skin'-Flint" won first prize in a national contest conducted by a Midwestern Writers' Conference in Chicago.

Keeney's wife, the former Katherine (Kay) Bush, died in 1974.

He leaves a nephew, Dr. Oscar K. Williams: nieces, Frances W. Leep, Neil Keeney Burieson, Jane Keeney, and Mary Williams; and cousins Morton Bristow and Gene Handsaker.

Cremation was scheduled and a memorial service will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, in the mortuary chapel of Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier.

Whittier Daily News, Sept 6, 1982

Son of James M. and Mary S. (Handsaker) Keeney

Harry G. Keeney, cashier and one of the directors of the Creswell Fruit Growers Bank of Creswell, is a bright young business man who is filling his present imporant position with credit to himself and satisfaction to the stockholders of the concern. He is one of Oregon's sons, having been born in Goshen, October 20, 1881, the sone of James M. and Mary S. (Handsaker) Keeney, the former of whom was born in Missouri and latter in Oregon. In this state they were married and have here resided for many years. For eighteen years, the father served as Postmaster of Jasper, Oregon, after which the family moved to Eugene where they resided for a time and later engaged in farming near Dexter. Subsequently, he returned to Eugene and here spent the remainder of his days, his death occurring in February, 1912. The mother, who has attained the age of fifty years, is still residing in Eugene. They were the arents of four children, of whom the subject of this review is second in order of birth, the other members of the family being Belle, Arthur L. and Clara H., all of whom reside at home.

Harry G. Keeney was reared in Oregon, where he attended both the common and high schools and later took a course in business college at Seattle, Washington. After laying aside his text books, he became a clerk in the Dexter Horton National Bank of Seattle, remaining there for two and one-half years. He then entered the employ of the Pacific Condensed Milk Company, with whom he then continued for two and one-half years, when he went to Coburg, Oregon as an employee of the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company, his connection with this firm being of short duration. He then became a clerk in the First National Bank of Eugene, filling this position until July 12, 1911, when he entered the Creswell Fruit Growers Bank of Creswell, in the capacity of cashier, a position which he still retains. The bank was orgainized February 20, 1909, with the following directors: L. D. Scarborough, George L. Giffrey, J. F. Weeks, F. W. Ogram, and Harry G. Keeney.

Mr. Keeney was married on October 18, 1906, to Miss Delia G. Tibbetts, who was born in Oregon, May 28, 1884, a doughter of Mrs. Mary J. Tibbetts, who resides in Ashland. Mrs. Tibbetts was the mother of seven children: E.N., who is a railroad engineer and resides in Portland; V.H., who is also a railroad employee and resides in Springfield; C.R., a resident of Sacramento, California; E.R., a realroad engineer of Roseville, California; Delia G., now Mrs. Harry G. Keeney; Zuliene, who married R.D. Gray, a traveling salesman of St. Paul, Minnesota; and one who died in infancy.

In his political faith, Mr. Keeney is an adherent of the principles and practices of the Republican Party and is at present, City Treasurer of Creswell. Fraternally, he is a member of the Woodman of the World, serving as clerk of the camp. He is one of the bright, young businessman of Creswell and in his public connection as well as in his private life, he has formed a large circle of acquaintances amoung whom he is a favorite. He gives the strictest attention to affairs of business, being particularly accurate in accounts and displaying good judgement in all his buiness dealings and relationships. He is a young man of whom Creswell is justly proud, being prominent not only in business circles, but also in a social and fraternal way.

Mac and Nell Burleson

Mac and Nell Burleson

The following is a letter received from Nell (Keeney) Burleson, one of the daughters of Arthur Lewis Keeney and Ada Josephine More Keeney. Arthur was a brother of Claire Keeney. The other daughter is Jane Willetta Keeney -- born in Independence, Oregon, December 12, 1924.

Houston, Texas
May 22, 1983

I felt sad as a child that id did not have a grandfather. Both my mother and father's father had passed away long before I was born. However I did know and love may father's mother -- Mary Handsaker Keeney Edwards and her mother my great-grandmother Handsaker. I'm sure Claire sent you family records and stories of his parents and grandparents as he had a great interest in this. I'm so glad you were able to hear from him before he died this past year. Our grandmother Mary Keeney had been widowed and remarried before I came onto the scene, so I always knew her as grandmother Edwards.

Her two older children were Harry, who served as a Captain in World War I, was married to Dalia Tibbets Keeney, and later bought my father's funeral home and business in Independence when our family moved to Corvallis, Oregon, 21 miles away, to open a large funeral home in a college town; Bell Keeney Williams (and I'm sure you have a complete record from her children, Frances, Mary, or Oscar (the youngest); Helen Dee died several years ago); then my father and Claire were born some years later.

The first memory I have of Ant Bell and her children -- my cousins -- was after their father had died in Missouri, and my father, Harry and Claire urged her to move back to Oregon where they provided a home for them and their mother who would live with them (Mary Edwards). It was great to have cousins and at Thanksgiving time we were often at their home where you could smell the delicious home-made bread Aunt Bell had in the oven and Aunt Dee's home-made cranberry sherbet served with the turkey dinner was such a treat. I remember after each feast we cousins weren't good for anything but a nap while the aunts did the dishes.

We moved to Corvallis the year I entered the first grade, and I married just before I graduated (during World War II), had two weeks of housekeeping and left for Fort Lewis, Washington where my husband had been transferred, the night I graduated from Oregon State University.

My father operated the KEENEY FUNERAL HOME in Corvallis from 1926 until the late 40's or early 50's when they moved to Amarillo, Texas to be near us and our four children. During much of that time he was county coroner. He was an elder in the Prespyterian church we attended and active in many Lodges and service groups. For awhile he was Master-of-Ceremonies for programs the Chamber of Commerce would put on for rural communities. One of the numbers on the program was a toe dance, "The Peacock Strut" by my little sister, Jane, about 7 or 8 years old, accompanied by me.

Corvallis was a delightful college town to live in. Mother and dad enjoyed playing golf on the beautiful nine hole course and Jane and I putted around on the putting green. We were only 50miles (across mountains) from the Pacific beaches where we spent at least a week every year. Shopping trips to Portland twice a year were a treat. We stayed at the old Heathman Hotel where we loved to sit in the lobby before dinner to watch the organist play the great pipe organ and to be submerged in the glorious tones of the melodies that came from it.

When it became known that the United States would enter World War II, a huge farming area near Corvallis was taken over by the government and Camp Adair was rapidly built and stocked with American soldiers--young men called from the farms and cities for intensive training. Among the arrivals from Ft. Benning Officer's Training School was a tall Texan, Mac Burleson who became a frequent visitor to the Keeney residence. April 4, 1943, Mac and Nell were married.

Mac was in two campaigns in the Pacific, with the 96th Infantry Division - at Leyte, when McArthur stated, "I have returned" and on Okinawa where on the eleventh day he was ingured and eventually sent to the hospital in Hawaii. After the war ended, we returned to Texas where we spent the first two and half years on his family's ranch out of Dalhart. Then onto Amarillo where Mac started a construction firm -- we placed our war bond savings into vacant lots and started building homes. Our four children, McCory M. Burleson Jr. (Don), born 1946, Margaret Jane, born 1948, Lon Keeney, bon 1950, and Gay Nell, born 1952 were born there.

In 1953 we move to San Antonio where Mac established Burleson Construction Company and ran it for 30 years. Hemisphaire 1968 provided employment that summer for Lon who was chief usher at the arena where the big shows were held, and Margye who was a young lady who acted with a Jenie on a big screen for the General Electric Show, and delightful entertainment for our guests who came to vist us that year. We also celebrated our 25th anniversary with a party the day hemisphaire opened.

Two years ago as inflation brought construction to a stop, we moved to Houston where all of our children had settled. Mac became an adjuster for Insurance companie's claims. With our family near each otehr, including two adorable grandchildren and an exciting and and active church with a couples class were we have made many friends we are continuing to enjoy life to the fullest.

It is always good to hear from family and about family. I am very greatful for the family -- both sides -- that I came from. They were all Oregon pioneers who came with courage, faith and with hard work, and gave us a wonderful heritage and example.

Nell (Keeney) Burleson






Mac and Nell Burleson in middle with a daughter on each side. Two sons are on the back row with their wives. Our son-inlaw with the beard is with his wife. The other son-inlaw took the photo. The chieldren are our grandchildren -- 1982

Claire and Arthur Keeney

Gays Lion Farm - Calif. 1930's

Arthur and Josephine Keeney

25th Wedding anniversary

Arthur Lewis Keeney

World War I, 1918

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A Keeney Family Genealogy was established in 1986 & has been online ever since under one name or another.
 This site is maintained as a hobby site, some information may not be accurate.