CLARKDALE - William Andrews Clark helped develop Jerome, but he created Clarkdale. Throughout Northern Arizona, Clark is famous for his innovation and resourcefulness in developing his mining and smelter operations in both towns.
Outside of Arizona, the man who built a fortune equal to that of the Standard Oil Rockefellers is known less for his mining success than he is for buying a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Born in a Pennsylvania log cabin in 1839, Clark came into this world with an insatiable hunger for wealth and power. He was also born, it seems, with the Midas touch. He would eventually build one of the greatest fortunes in American history by investing in mines, banks, timber companies, newspapers and railroads.
Clark began to rise above his modest start in life at the age of 17 when his parents moved to Iowa to homestead. He was a good student who went on to teach school in Missouri and study law at Iowa Wesleyan College.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1862, Clark enlisted with the Confederacy. How he managed to be out of the war in 1862 is a point of disagreement with some historians. One account says he was discharged. Another questions how he managed to leave the Confederate military, which was known for shooting deserters. A PBS American Experience segment on Las Vegas, states that Clark deserted his post.
Regardless of how he got out of the war, Clark headed to Colorado and began hard rock mining at Bob Tail Hill, Colo. Later, he and his partners moved to Montana where they met with modest success by finding gold.
While his partners blew their money on high living, Clark began to invest his $1,500. He hauled a wagonload of groceries from Salt Lake City to Virginia City, Mont. His highest return came from selling 20-cents-a-dozen eggs for $3 a dozen to miners earning $4 a day.
He found other opportunities to make money in services to the mining industry, including a mercantile partnership and a mail contract.
For a few years, Clark mined during the warm months and sold merchandise during the cold months. He opened stores at several mining camps. He entered into a wholesale business partnership in 1867. He then opened a bank in 1870. He purchased several mines and set up headquarters in Butte, Mont. in 1872. He opened a second bank in 1877.
He founded a newspaper in Butte and diversified into lumbering, farming and ranching. During his time in Butte, Clark took a year off to study mining at the Columbia University School of Mines.
Throughout this time, Clark was adding to his holdings with a mill and smelting company. He branched out from Montana by creating the Los Alamitos Sugar Corporation in Los Angeles. He built the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, which was eventually bought by the Union Pacific.
In his 1935 book, "The War of the Copper Kings," C.B. Glasscock gives many examples of how Clark, and other powerful men of his time, forced successful companies out of business, manipulated stock values, manipulated copper prices to increase profits, and used their immense power to have laws written that favored their personal interests.
Clark has been quoted as saying that one of the biggest disappointments in his life was finding out after a business deal was done that he hadn't gotten every dollar that was available.
In several biographical articles about Clark, Mark Twain is quoted as saying that Clark was "...as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag ....
"To my mind," Twain added, "he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time."
In a recent story on msnbc.com, investigative reporter Bill Dedman writes that Clark was not a charitable man, leaving a legacy of corruption.
Dedman quotes historian Michael Malone, "Life was good to William A. Clark, but due to his own excesses, history has been unkind."
Part Two of this feature will cover the period of William Clark in Jerome and Clarkdale. It will also cover much Clark's personal life, including his marriages and children, and how he managed to buy a seat in the United States Senate.
Posted: Saturday, June 5, 2010
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Architect of Clarkdale was of special interest having visited Clarkdale. Coincidences: (1) maiden name Clarke (2) have visited Clarkdale, Iowa, (3) board member of local Iowa historical museum. Look forward to Part Two.