WILLIAM O. CLARK
Through his long connection with the interests of Amador County William O. Clark has so lived as to win universal respect and consideration from his fellow men. He now resides on his farm of two hundred and thirty acres pleasantly located two miles west of Plymouth. He is a native of Indiana, his birth having occurred in Madison County, that state, on the 25th of June, 1817, a year after its admission into the Union. He is of English descent; both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, John Clark and David Keeler, having immigrated to the colonies in 1749. They became residents of New England; and Timothy B. Clark, the father of our subject, was born in Fairfield County, in 1765. He married Polly Keeler, and in the early history of Methodism they united with the great reform movement and became prominent in church work, the father serving as a class leader for many years. During the pioneer epoch in the history of Indiana they made their home in that state, and in 1829 removed to Illinois, the father securing one hundred and sixty acres of land in what is now the heart of Chicago, Clark Street, in that city, being named in his honor. He had the credit of building the first frame house in what is now the great metropolis, and was an active factor in the upbuilding and improvement of the city, whose commercial interests now largely rule the continent and have had an important influence upon the trade of the world. He served as a soldier in the War of 1812, and again performed military service in the Black Hawk War. He died in 1840, at the age of seventy-five years, and his wife lived to the age of sixty-eight years. They were the parents of twelve children, of whom only three are now living, namely: H. B. Clark, of Drytown; E. J. Clark, a prominent resident and the president of the Davis County Bank at Farmington, Utah; and William O., of this review.
Mr. Clark, whose name introduces this sketch, pursued his education in an old log schoolhouse of Chicago, where he was a schoolmate of Chief Justice Blodgett and Royal Barber, the latter an eminent lawyer of Joliet. In 1832 when Black Hawk’s warriors were burning the houses and driving the whites in Illinois west of Chicago on Indian Creek, where they had massacred and burned the houses on the head waters of the Illinois River, W. O. Clark drove the wagon filled with fleeing women and children from the burning houses to Fort Beggs; and when it became too dangerous there he assisted his father with the rest of them to Fort Dearborn, Chicago, when General Scott arrived and relieved them from further danger.
After setting aside his textbooks Mr. Clark became deeply interested in the question of temperance, which was then largely agitating the country, the reform movement being then in its incipiency. He became an enthusiastic advocate of the cause, traveling and lecturing for ten years and doing a great work in liberating men from the power of intoxicants. Throughout the long years of his life he never wavered in his allegiance to temperance principles, but at times, both by precept and example, has advocated the abolishment of the liquor traffic. He has made a close study of the subject and is familiar with the effects of liquor upon the human system, as well as upon the moral and mental welfare of the race. So active and earnest has he been as a champion of temperance movements that he has six times been elected grand worthy patriarch of the Sons of Temperance in the state of California. He was chosen a delegate to represent the temperance cause of California in the national convention which assembled in Chicago June 27, 1900, and which nominated John G. Woolley for the presidency of the United States. On his way home he lectured in Illinois, Missouri, Idaho, Utah and California. He has lectured in all of the important cities of the country, has spoken in Madison Square Garden in New York and has made a journey around the entire world visiting Europe, Asia, Africa, China and Japan, also spending some time in the Holy Land. He made the journey at his own expense in order to obtain a more complete and accurate idea of the history and conditions of the people who dwell on the earth. He is now eighty-four years of age, and for sixty-five years he has labored untiringly and assiduously in upholding the cause of temperance, meeting his own expenses during the greater part of the time. He was reared in the Methodist church, and is possessed of the earnest Christian faith and belief. Realizing that his temperance labors could be more effective if he was not connected with any particular denomination, he has not joined any single organization. He is possessed of the highest spirit of tolerance, which is dominated by the kindliness, forbearance and self-sacrifice that became the guide to the world when exemplified in the life of the lowly Nazarene almost twenty centuries ago.
In 1850 Mr. Clark came to California and assisted in establishing temperance work in San Francisco and Stockton. It was a movement greatly needed in this mining locality, where the men released from the restraints of home and civilization, were too apt to wander into the ways of wickedness. He had the honor of serving as the chairman of the meeting called under the trees at Sutter Creek which voted to form the county of Amador, and since that time has had made the county his home, never changing his address through the past fifty years. In 1850 he brought to the county the first seed wheat and barley ever introduced here, making an experiment at grain growing. This formed the nucleus of the great grain growing industry in this section of the state. At all times he has been the advocate of progress and improvement as well as reform, and no history of northern California would be complete without the record of his life, so intimately has he been associated with the work of advancement. He built the first brick building in Amador County, and during twenty-five years of the most prosperous epoch in the history of Drytown he was the owner of a mercantile establishment there, receiving gold dust most of the time in exchange for the commodities which he handled. The gold dust he shipped to the mint in San Francisco, where it was converted into currency. His efforts as a merchant were continued with excellent success and the money which he made he expended largely in his temperance work, meeting all the expenses of his travels and lectures.
Monday, August 6, 1855, marks the date of the atrocious Rancheria murder, the story of which is briefly told in the life of George Fisher, who was a conspicuous figure in trying to prevent the wholesale slaughter of citizens in Drytown and Rancheria. It must be remembered, however, that Mr. Clark was one of the most active citizens in trying to subdue this outlaw band. His hospitable nature caused his home to be the rendezvous for many women and children where they had fled for safety. The following day, when terror reigned supreme, when reason and judgment were supplanted by vengeance and retaliation by the strong hearts of men that were bleeding with sympathy for their friends who had been so cruelly murdered, it was the voice of the excited and enraged citizens to drive out entirely the Mexican population of that locality, claiming that they had shielded the secret of the murder. At this Clark jumped upon a stump and in a moment secured the attention of his audience and in a few well directed words pleaded that they not act hastily, that they select a judge and jury and collect evidence against these men and be thus convinced that they were not hanging innocent men. He was successful in bringing about a more equitable feeling, and as a result only three were hanged. A few who were bent on the total annihilation of the Mexicans were active in causing a bitter feeling against Mr. Clark, charging him with being friendly to the Mexicans, which nearly caused Mr. Clark to lose his life.
In 1844 Mr. Clark was united in marriage to Miss Julia R. Applebee, of Ottawa, Illinois, a niece of Senator Sanger, and to them was born a son, H. O. Clark, who is now a piano dealer in San Francisco. For forty-two years Mrs. Clark was to her husband a faithful companion and helpmeet on life’s journey, but in 1886 she was called to her reward. She was a true wife and loving mother, a devoted Christian woman, and her loss was mourned by all who knew her. In 1888 Mr. Clark was again married, his second union being with Mrs. M. C. Dennis, a widow, and by her first marriage she had four children, three of whom are living. Her maiden name was Miss Fenwick, and she is a representative of a family of great respectability. Her youngest son, Edward S. Dennis, is now living at home with his mother and assists Mr. Clark in the care of the farm, thus relieving him of much labor in his advanced years. Although he has passed the eighty-third milestone on life’s journey, our subject is yet hale and healthy, and his excellent health he attributes to his abstinence from the use of intoxicants and to his careful husbanding of his mental and physical powers. His vigorous old age is certainly a strong argument in behalf of temperance principles. Of course he gives his political support to the Prohibition Party. He has gained that broad knowledge and true wisdom which only travels and experience can bring, is a man of high intellectuality, broad human sympathies and tolerance, and imbued with fine sensibilities and clearly defined principles.
On October 20, 1875, his personal friend and brother, General A. M. Winn, the author and founder of the “Native Sons of the Golden West,” at a meeting of the Sons of Temperance held in San Francisco, presented Mr. Clark with a beautifully engraved gold-headed cane, an offering from the members of the grand division, and was requested to wear it as a memento of their high appreciation of his moral worth.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.