Authors: Jay Price, Carolyn Schmidt, Paul Leeker
Christopher Columbus Clark
The Dunham family’s oldest Kansas relative, Christopher Columbus Clark, was born in 1846 in Canton, Missouri, a town located on the Mississippi River. As a young man, he found himself caught up in the Civil War, joining the 69th Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM), one of several militia units that served the Union in the war, but which were not officially recognized as part of the Union Army. Clark had 51 days of verified service with the 69th EMM, and one handwritten notation on the 1930 Federal Census indicates that he identified himself as a Civil War veteran.
After the war, he relocated to Kentucky for a time, marrying Susan Overall in 1870. The Clarks did not stay in Kentucky long, however. They moved to Missouri with their children, Joseph, Lois, Gabriella. Ida was later born in Missouri. In 1880, they lived on a farm in Audrain County, Missouri, just north of the Missouri River in the heart of what some call the “Little Dixie” region of that state.
The time in Missouri did not last long. By the time of the 1885 Kansas state census, Clark was listed as a farmer in Eagle Township of Kingman County. By 1915, he was living with his daughter, Gabriella and son-in-law, Harry Armour, and their daughter Doris in El Dorado. By that time, both Stanley and his older brother Ralph were living in the Armour home as well, so four generations were sharing the space in El Dorado. Clark died on January 11, 1937 in El Dorado and was buried in Missouri.
Harry Ellington Armour and Gabriella Armour née Clark
Harry and Gabriella (ne’e Clark) Armour played an important role in the life of Barack Obama’s grandfather, Stanley Dunham. They took in Stanley and his older brother Ralph after their mother’s death in 1926 and raised them in their home in El Dorado at 321 N. Emporia. Stanley lived there until his high school graduation in 1936, and according to an interview with Mary Frances Kennedy Lawrence (see interview), he continued to live in El Dorado until Madelyn Payne graduated from Augusta High School.
Originally from Illinois, Harry finished the second year of high school in Wichita, but never graduated. He married Gabriella Clark in Missouri in 1899, but did not stay long in that that area as their two daughters, Ruth and Doris, were both born in Illinois. By 1910, the family relocated to Wichita, where Harry worked as a traveling salesman for a coal company. Harry when filled out a draft card for World War I on September 8, 1918, he was listed as a roustabout for the Magnolia Petroleum Company in El Dorado, although and Gabriella were living in Wichita at the time. There is no evidence of his having served, and the war ended two months after he was drafted.
In 1920, the Armours were living at 226 Walnut in the Delano area of Wichita. The house was a crowded one with Gabriella’s father Christopher Clark, daughter Doris and the household of Ruth, now Ruth Dunham, with husband Ralph and sons Ralph, Jr. and Stanley. Harry Armour was listed as a oiler in the oil fields while Ralph Dunham was an automobile mechanic.
Energy seems to have been central to Harry Armour’s life: The 1925 Kansas State Census has his employer listed as the “power plant,” and in the 1930 Census, he is listed as a pumper on an oil lease. By now, the family lived in El Dorado, where they raised Ruth’s younger sister Doris. Doris was named Miss El Dorado in the Kaffir Corn Celebration in 1926. During this time, El Dorado was an oil boomtown (see KS Oil Museum images here), and because Harry Armour worked in the oil fields, the industry was part of Stanley’s day-to-day life.
Even during the 1930s, when the Depression was well underway, oil-field workers could expect a good wage… and long workdays. It was not until the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1939 limited the workday to eight hours and the workweek to 40 hours that oil-filed workers saw their workdays cut short. Initially, this move was met with threats of strikes in El Dorado, but within a few days of the policy changes, oil field workers went back to work. By this time, both Stanley and his older brother Ralph had graduated from high school. By 1940, Harry and Gabriella lived at 1006 Maple Street in Wichita, his residence until Harry’s death on December 5, 1953. After Harry died, Gabriella lived on another twelve and a half years, dying on July 14, 1966, five years after Barack Obama was born. Harry and Gabriella are buried together in Wichita Park Cemetery in Lakeview Section #289.
Jacob William Dunham
Jacob William Dunham was born in Kempton, Indiana in 1863, the son of farmers Jacob Mackey Dunham and Eliza Stroup. Jacob William married Mary Ann Kearney, the daughter of Irish immigrant Falmouth Kearney and Ohio-born Charlotte Holloway. Soon after their marriage, Jacob William and Mary Ann migrated to Kansas along with the rest of the Dunham family, and they settled in the Mount Pleasant Township in Labette County.
The Oklahoma Land Rush of April 1889 marked a major change for the Dunham family. Within weeks of the run, Jacob Mackey and two sons were in the newly-created town of Oklahoma City, with Jacob William following a few months later. By 1890, the family was busy operating a restaurant and confectionary in Oklahoma City. In 1895, Jacob Mackey relocated the family once again, first to Wellston, Oklahoma, and then, Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
Jacob William and Mary Ann Dunham initially operated a lunch counter in Oklahoma City near that of their father, but soon relocated to Wichita, Kansas. All seven of their children, Hattie, Mable, Frank, Ralph, Christabel, Pearl, and Earl, were born in Kansas. Jacob W. Dunham’s obituary mentions being “physician … [who had] practiced medicine in southern Kansas for the last 40 years.” More accurately, however, Jacob W. Dunham might be called a pharmacist, and during his life, he had two pharmacies in Wichita: the first on north Market, and the second, called Gem Pharmacy, in Delano. Jacob Dunham died at his home in Wichita on August 13, 1930 as a result of an illness, and he was buried in Wichita Park cemetery in C section 188, without a marker (see table, Family Homes and Gravesites)
At the time of his death, Jacob Dunham was a member of the First Spiritualist church in Wichita. The Spiritualist church is no longer in existence in Wichita, Kansas, so no additional information has been available about Jacob’s religious beliefs or church activity. According to historian Paul Conkin, “spiritualism … was usually non-Christian and by claim scientific … [and was focused on] communion with the spirits of the dead, usually through a medium.”
Mary Ann Dunham née Kearney
Very little is known about Obama’s great, great grandmother, Mary Ann Dunham née Kearney. She had seven children and was survived by all of them. She died in Wichita of unspecified causes on August 9, 1936. She died in the hospital and her services were held the day after her death, perhaps indicating that her death was not unexpected. In addition, it has previously been reported that Mary Ann died on the same day as her husband in 1930, but that is now known to be false.
She attended the First Spiritualist Church while her husband Jacob lived, but was listed in her obituary as a member of the First Nazarene Church. At least one living member of the church, Dwight Flowers, remembers her.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham and Ruth Dunham née Armour
A Family Facing Tragedy
Ralph Dunham was born on Christmas day, 1894 in Wichita, and Ruth Armour was born six years later on September 1, 1900 in Illinois. They were married on October 3, 1915 in Wichita, Ralph a 21 year old restaurant employee and Ruth being only 15 years old. They soon had two children, Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham Jr. (born August 29, 1916) and Stanley Armour (born March 23, 1918). The 1920 census listed Ralph, then an auto mechanic, and Ruth along with Ralph Jr, and Stanley all together in the same house on Locust Street in the Wichita neighborhood of Delano with Ruth’s parents Harry and Gabriella, a household that also included Christopher Columbus Clark, Gabriella’s father.
Only a few years later, the family would be separated through the loss of Ruth, who committed suicide on Thanksgiving, 1926. Although a suicide note did not seem to survive, the Topeka Daily Capital obituary on November 27, 1926 reported that she and Ralph had argued at the home of his sister in Melvern, Kansas, about 40 miles south of Topeka where Ralph and Ruth had been living for approximately two years. Ruth then left Melvern by car, travelled to Topeka, and took strychnine in her husband’s auto mechanic shop at 1117 W. 6th avenue. In Dreams from My Father, Obama reports that his grandfather, Stanley said that he found his mother’s body even though Stanley was only eight years old at the time of his mother’s suicide and the body was not found in the family home, 703 Buchanan Street. The shop and the home were close, but it seems unlikely that a young boy would be there alone on a Saturday. Second, the Daily Capital obituary reported that Ralph found the body. The same obituary reported that a suicide note was found with the body and that Ruth had felt that Ralph did not love her anymore. Obituaries are difficult sources, however, particularly when dealing with an issue like suicide. For example, the El Dorado Times’ obituary reported that Ruth died of ptomaine poisoning.
After Ruth’s death, Ralph appears to have preferred his two sons live with his wife’s parents, Harry and Gabriella at their home in El Dorado at 321 N. Emporia, while he went to live with his own parents in Wichita. Why he chose to send the children to Harry and Gabriella is unclear because, as Obama points out in Dreams from My Father, the Armour family was not particularly well off compared to the Dunhams who owned their own business. Ralph Jr. and Stanley were raised in El Dorado from the time of their mother’s death until they graduated from high school.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham married a second time, this time to Martha Mae Stonehouse. By 1940, he was an automobile mechanic living in Wichita on Hillside Avenue. He remained in Wichita for the rest of his life, eventually working for the tooling department of Boeing. He died in Wichita in 1974.
Stanley Armour Dunham
In many ways the Dunham story culminates in Stanley Armour Dunham, the grandfather who helped to raise Obama during his childhood. Nevertheless, as the Dunham story gets closer to the present, in many ways it becomes more difficult. Obama has several recollections of Stanley, whom he calls “Gramps” in Dreams from My Father. According to Obama’s own recollection, Stanley frequently spun stories to entertain himself and others. Second, Obama’s book is not an unimpeachable source. As David Maraniss points out in his book Barack Obama: The Story, there are many factual inaccuracies in Dreams, and by Obama’s own admission, some characters and events are composites used in the narrative to make a point. The Dunham story is an interesting one in large part because it is the story of a president’s family, but the fact that presidential politics are involved in the story makes the facts subject to manipulation.
It is clear from available records that Stanley Armour Dunham was born on March 23, 1918 to Ralph and Ruth. His mother did commit suicide, but whether Stanley found the body, saw the body, or simply lost his mother at a young age, it is now impossible to know. Nevertheless, it is clear that Stanley moved with his brother from Topeka to El Dorado, Kansas where the two boys were raised by an oil worker and his wife and attended school. In Dreams from My Father, Obama reports that Stanley was wild in high school and was expelled for punching his principal, but no other sources corroborate that tale. Nevertheless, he does not appear in his high school yearbook in 1935 in any form (including being listed in any clubs or sports teams). He did however sign at least one yearbook that year, and the small note and signature do hint at an ornery character. In addition, Stanley did attend the 50th class reunion for the 1935 El Dorado High School graduating class. He does appear as a member of the senior class in the 1936 yearbook.
Stanley married Madelyn Payne in 1940, and according to the reporting done by Susan Peters, they eloped to Wichita instead of attending Madelyn’s formal senior dance at the high school. A year and a half later, on January 18, 1942, Stanley enlisted in the Army, and he served in World War II, achieving the rank of Sergeant. Stanley Ann, Obama’s mother, was born to the couple on November 29, 1942 in Wichita, Kansas. The couple lived for a time in Wichita (at 917 Faulkner) and El Dorado (a 1955 El Dorado city directory lists their address as 434 W. Olive). Although Stanley Ann was born a Kansan, her father, Stanley Armour, was the last of the Dunhams to be raised to adulthood in the state.