John and Cliff Pierce

Venus John and Clifford William Pierce
about 1926


Clifford W. Pierce was born in April, the 24, 1921 at home in Liberty. NE , the second son to Venus and Marie Pierce.  He grew up during the depression when things were scarce, and times were hard and work was the way of living.  As a young 12 year old boy Cliff entered a pony race in the little rural farm community of  Reynolds, Nebraska, and won.  There was a couple, the  Presnells, there from California that had seen the race, and felt that young boy showed promise as a jockey.  His parents agreed to let him go with them, the depression was hard on everyone,  and they took care of him as if he were their own and a race horse trainer was born .  So this young farmer boy left the country life and headed to the unknown for California. Was he excited? Was he nervous? Was he scared?  If he was, he didn’t let it show and he went right to work. The following is a poem written for him by the woman that cared for him and she sent it to his mother.

On your Own Clifford Pierce

by Marie Presnell

You are on your own dear little man
and you know right from wrong:
Quite some time back your tones began
To change from high to strong.
Be guided well while on your own,
Increase the wisdom you have shown.

An honest man receives “the breaks”
That cheaters cry about:
And in temptations Neer forsakes
His mother’s faith devout.
Be guided well while on your own,
Increase discretion you have known.

Dear little lad, in deed and word,
Remember well and long–
“Tis easy to go with the herd”
It urges you to “come along”.
Be guided well while on your own,
If you would profit when you’re grown.

“Protect your honor and your name,”
You mother’s mother said.
She wished for you no blot of shame,
And for good morals plead;
Be guided well while on your own,
That heritage do not disown.

Grandmother Louise Blum’s exact words:
“Whatever you do, preserve and protect your name and honor.”

Marie Presnell

This woman started a scrap book for Clifford to keep track of all of his achievements for his mother, Marie Blum. At the time of Clifford’s death the books were handed down to his brother Cecil

and then to me, and one can see from looking at this scrap books that Clifford had many accomplishments to be proud of from the time he was just a boy. They are caulked full of newspaper clippings and photos of horses that Cliff owned and trained for others and his winnings as a jockey, and then a trainer. His life as a profession horseman has been well documented through pictures and newspaper clippings, and he was known by horsemen all over the US.

Some might think from a public viewpoint that horse racing consist of the excitement of betting, and warm beer in wax paper cups, and are unaware of the long hours,and hard work  They train these big animals, work them and care for them, and hope to achieve a measure of success in the final run for the wire. , are the hopes and dreams of a horseman. This is exactly what Cliff learned right from the start, and it wasn’t long before his face was in the papers and his popularity among the horseman begin to grow. By the time he was 20 years old he had won many races and big purses in races in California and Mexico and had mad attainments way beyond his years.

A POEM by Marie Presnall

written of Cliff

A clean sweet lad in simple faith

decided he would ride

Would taste a jockeys gay renown

From play he turned aside

He left his parents and the farm

He travel oer five states

Observing all with watchful eyes

Avoiding argument and hates

In California he resides

In patience he prevails

He rides those silky mounts each day

In joy each task he hails

His doubtful weakness is his trust

May he not place it wrong

May wisdom take him ‘neath her wing

and make his morals strong.

Cliff Pierce in the Service
Cliff Pierce in the Service





Clifford was called to the second World War as was his brother John. Clifford W Pierce, Technician Third Grade Medical Detachment, 409 Infantry and served as a medical technician, and was honorably discharged from the military service in February 1946. It has been said that he witnessed   the worst part of the war and that the demons followed him throughout his life. His wife would tell that the only way to wake him up was to stand at the door and throw a shoe at him, as if you would touch him he would come up swinging.

After the war, Cliff returned to the home of his parents, in Belvedere, Nebraska.  His father owned a big building there and Clifford turned it into a restaurant and bar, and he also ran the feed store.  This property was left to him by his father after he died.  Clifford sold the store but before it was paid for, a year later, a tornado went through the town and flattened it.

Cliff took up horse training and was well known and thought of by many horse breeders.  I remember as a child going to Omaha, and Uncle Cliff taking us to the barns and letting us ride around the barns on the horses, and showing us how they were cared for and prepped for the races.  He took a lot of pride in his nieces and nephews, and took every opportunity to show them off.

Clifford married a beautiful young lady by the name of Barbra Dowe when she became pregnant.  She lost the baby and they never had any other, and after many years, I believe it was 26,  of struggling to keep their marriage together, they were divorced.

My brother, Jeff, had to good fortune of spending a summer with Clifford and Barb. Uncle Cliff bought his a shoe shine box and encouraged him to make some extra money shining shoes at the race track. I remember crying as they took off together. I wanted to go so badly but because I was a girl couldn’t go. Jeff brought back many good memories of the time he spent with his Uncle, that lasted his whole lifetime.


Clifford Pierce and Barbara Dow
Clifford Pierce and Barbara Dow


After Grandma Pierce’s funeral, my sister and I rode with Uncle Cliff from the church in Omaha to the cemetery in Fairbury, NE.  He occupied us on this trip by telling us stories about my father when he was young.  He had a special way of keeping your attention when he told a story.  He would often pause between sentences and you would have to wait patiently for him to begin again.  We were never sure if he was finished or not.

Marie and Barbara Cliff’s mother and wife



In 1968 a young man by the name of Dennis Gottchall spent the day with Cliff to gain an understanding as to just what was involved in the training and caring for the horses.  Cliff was his subject and he wrote: Cliff Pierce, a Reynolds, Nebraska farmer. He is a Veteran horseman having spent three years as a jockey and 27 years as a trainer. All horsemen dream of having a “big” horse, one that is capable of running against the best and winning. These horses are few and far between. In 1962 Cliff had one outstanding horse named Jerry Get up. He was destined to be a great horse, starting eight times that year, winning six and placing second twice. In 1963 he won $64,000. We was below par after that and Cliff was to know the heartbreak of having the horse die in his stall in Chicago. The cause of the death was an incurable liver ailment.  ”

one of Cliffs favorite horses
One outstanding horse


Anyone who knew Cliff, knew about Jerry Get Up. I believe he was among the most favorite of all the horses Cliff owned and trained. He was his most successful horse and was owned by AW Dow, Cliff’s father in law. In 1964 Jerrry Get up started seven races, winning five and placing second twice. The horse also ran in Ak-Sar-Ben’s Princess Stakes and Ambassadors winning $27,329 for the year.

Jerry’s mother’s name was Janey Jump UP!

When the new foal was born they contemplated over a name for him.  At the time, Cliff had a jockey named Jerry that seemed to have trouble getting up in the morning. Every morning Cliff would come to the barn and go to Jerry’s room and yell “Jerry! Get UP!”

Hence the name for the new foal.


Credit for the pictures below goes to Dennis Gottchall as well as most of the information shared here.

Cliff took care of about 20 thoroughbreds of various ages most of the time. He had two exercise boys and five stable hands to help get the job done.

Foriegn Comet and Cliff 1968
Foriegn Comet and Cliff 1968

There was much work that needed to be done by 10 o’clock when the track is closed in preparation for the races which would be held in the afternoon. This work required a lot of organization. Cliff instilled pride and confidence in his help with is soft outspokenness and quiet manner.  Everyone began at daybreak.

The day begins at sun up
One of the workers with the horse


The horses are fed at about 5:30 in the morning. Each horse must be galloped or walked each morning. I remember walking in the barns with the  help as a child when I would get to go with Cliff. At 6 o’clock the horses were taken to the track to be galloped or to an open area to be walked.

Feeding time
Ready for Breakfast

When a horse was taken to the track someone cleans his stall and puts in fresh bedding and hay. When the horse returned he would get a bath. That is a picture that still stands in my memory.was that of the horses getting washed off. They were absolutely breath taking beauties.  After their baths they were cooled down by walking.

Getting a bath
Exercising the horses and then time for a bath

Different trainers use different procedures for exercising their horses. Some walked them two horses at once using a saddle pony.

In 1968 Cliff had a horse by the name of Foreign Comet. He had been injured before in a race and Cliff gave the horse his personal attention. He  took him to the track and worked him there. From the pictures below you will see his concern as he watches for any sign of a recurring injury. The responsibility was great when you have a horse that was valued at over 75,000 dollars.

Exercising Foreign Comet
Exercising Foreign Comet
Watching closely for signs
Watching Foreign Comet exercise.



FOREIGN COMET was entered in the $15,000 Nebraska Bred Three year old race at a mile and 70 yards. The day was bright and sunny and no trouble was anticipated. Things happen quickly and there is no time for mistakes.  The horses paced nervously in their stalls. You could tell that he sensed he was going to run.

The call comes over the loudspeaker to bring the horses to the paddock within five minutes.. The tension and anxiety begins to build  as the moment of the race draws near.

Heading to the paddock with Foreign Comet
The anticipation is mounting
Taking the horse to the track
Taking the horse to the track

When the horses reach the paddock they are taken to stalls for saddling according to the numbers assigned them on the racing program. Number one had been assigned to Foreign Comet.  A paddock judge checks identification on each horse. Horses are identified by numbers tattooed inside the upper lip.

A man from the  State Racing Commission supervises the saddling so that each horse carries the weight assigned to him. Lead weight in the saddle is used if the jockey”s weight varies from the assigned weight.

Getting Ready
Saddling up the race is about to begin.

LJ Dureusseau  was contracted to ride Foreign Comet in this race. Before leaving the paddock, the trainer gives the jockey instruction on how he would like to have the horse ridden. Once they leave the starting gate, racing strategy sometimes changes abruptly so it pays to have a good, smart jockey aboard. This was something that Cliff knew first hand.

Cliff giving Jockey instruction
A good strategy is KEY

The horses are lead onto the track about fifteen minutes before the start of the race. This gives the public a chance to view the horses in the post parade, the jockeys then have a chance to warm up the horses and get the feel of their mounts.

For this race the starting gate was in position in front of the grandstand. Foreign Comet had the number one post position which meant he would start on the inside.

One by one the horses are put into the starting gate. When they are all quiet the official starter releases them with an electric switch.

Foreign Comet tried to break out on top, but the jockey settled him into second place. He maintained that position unchallenged until they reached the home stretch. Then Dureusseau called on the big horse to go all out. Foreign Comet answered with a burst of speed and won “going away”, leaving his closest competitor four lengths behind.

Foreign Comet "going away"
Foreign Comet “going away”

The horse is then led into the winners circle where pictures are taken of the horse along with the owner, trainer, and jockey by the track photographer. This picture is a symbol of the hard work and the ultimate achievement of all those involved in the effort. A silver plate was awarded to Foreign Comet’s owner, Bart Ford. His horse had just proven himself to be the best three year old Nebraska Bred. It is the big payoff for many long hours of hard work.

The prize money is divided with a percentage going to each of the first four places. In this case, Foreign Comet’s share of the purse was $12, 457. 60 .

Foreign Comet In the Winners Circle
Foreign Comet In the Winners Circle

The tension worry and stress are all gone now as Cliff leaves the winners circle chatting with his jockey.

Leaving the winners circle
Leaving the winners circle

The end of the race does not mark the end of the day for a horseman. There is still much to be done. The track is cleared immediately so it can be conditioned for the next race. All horses are returned to their respective barns for “cooling out”.

The winner of every race at Ak-Sar-Ben must be taken to the test barn which is managed by the Nebraska State Racing commission. Each winning horse is given a saliva test and a urine test to verify that drugs have not been give to the horse.

Being checked for drugs
It’s not easy being a winner.

Now the horse has to be washed, and given an alcohol bath, and cooled out in the test barn area. His appearance after his big run shows the training and effort put forth by this particular horse with his big heart that is so clearly visible. He stands proud of his accomplishment with a winner’s blood pulsing through his veins. He is given only a small drink of water as he would make himself sick if he drank too much.

a drink after the race
a drink after the race

He is then blanketed and taken to his stall to rest. You can see the weariness of finishing the race where he put forth all he had. 

This is just one day in the life of Clifford Pierce, horse trainer. He did it day after day almost every day of his life, and traveled all over the United States participating in races. I have a file cabinet full of pictures from the winning circle to prove that he was a man who knew his trade.


I have many wonderful stories of Uncle Cliff but one of my favorites speaks of his love for his family though I don’t think he really got to spend much time with them throughout the years. After a big winning race in which my mother and father witnessed, they got together and celebrated. Cliff gave my mom $900 dollars. One hundred dollars per child and said “It’s amazing that you have all those kids and not an idiot in the bunch!”

While at war he thought of his little sister at home and sent her the then popular Shirley Temple doll for Christmas. This is just a few of the ways that he showed his generosity and love for his family. He saw to it that his mother in her old age was well cared for and did without nothing.

He was visiting our house once when my sister was about three or four and she brought him every stuffed animal and doll she had. He held onto them with care while she would go to retrieve another one until his lap was full


Like most of the Pierce’s, Cliff liked his drink, and as he got older and developed aches and pains he took to self medicating himself with horse drugs. I was told that he was hooked on them, and that at one time he even had his mother taking them. All that hard living took it’s toll on Uncle Cliff and his health started to suffer. He had heart problems and had a couple of small strokes.

While training a horse at the age of 64 he died of a stroke coupled with a  heart attack at Osceola, Nebraska in August of 1985. Though he made a lot of money throughout his life, he died broke, and left his nephew as executor of the estate. Denny Pierce said that it was a night mare.

Though he left a family that loved him dearly, and many friends among the community in which he lived, I think that Uncle Cliff was a lonely man.

He is buried in Fairbury, Nebraska, with his father and mother, and brother Venus John.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. I enjoyed writing it. If so, do leave me a comment in the box below and let me know. If you knew Cliff Pierce or heard of him and have a story to tell. I would LOVE to hear it!

As Always

Happy Hunting

The Pierce Family Historian


  1. Hello Susan. I am a 2nd great grandson of Jefferson Pierce and Sarah Bourne Pierce.
    Moses Pierce
    Jefferson Pierce Born November 11 1815. Died march 16 1902
    Alexander. L Pierce Born June 13 1849. Died March 11 1925
    Earl Sanders Pierce Born 1898 died 1969
    Earl Dean Pierce. Born 1943
    Julian Duane Pierce Born 1964
    I have picture of tombstones for Jefferson and Sarah Pierce.
    Going to get a GPS location soon. Would you like for me to send you this information? Dad wants to make sure that everyone knows they have markers and where to find them. Dad and I are Virginia beef farmers. Thanks for all your hard work on finding our family roots. Thank you. Julian Duane Pierce.

    1. Oh Julian I am so happy to meet you. I enjoyed our phone conversation this morning and I can’t wait to get out there for a visit and learn more from your dad. Thank you for sharing the pictures. I know quite a few who are interested in learning what your dad can tell us! We are going to have to have a family BBQ when I get there!! A cousins reunion of sorts!

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