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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

William Clark Gave County His Name

He left his name to Clark County, and built one of the West's more important railroads. He won fights with copper bosses and railroad robber barons. It took him perhaps 10 years to build Montana's largest fortune and not much longer to build one of America's largest business empires.       

William Andrews Clark was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania in 1839, the son of Scotch-Irish parents. A bright student, Clark taught school and went to law school, but never practiced.

After the Civil War, he made a small stake in a claim near Bannack, Montana. But by 1872, the area was in decline. There was plenty of gold left, but it was locked up in quartz ore, and there was no mill to process it. Clark bought quartz claims cheap, then got a mill on a foreclosure and made a fortune milling the ore of others.

In 1899, after previously failing to win elective office, Clark simply tried to buy the Montana Legislature in order to be appointed to the United State Senate. It worked, but the U.S. Senate declined to recognize his election.

Clark won a Senate seat, more or less legitimately, in 1901, with the help of a miners' union.

In July 1902, the Clarks and the Union Pacific Railroads E.H. Harriman reached an agreement in which each owned half the stock in the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, which would turn Las Vegas from a ranch into a prosperous little roundhouse town. The Clarks were to retain control.

The Clark railroad purchased land for a townsite from the Las Vegas Ranch, and soon lots were sold to the highest bidders.

William Clark would not concern himself closely with Las Vegas or the railroad. In 1907, he set up headquarters in a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York. The home would remain his castle until he died there on March 2, 1925, at the age of 86.

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This text is condensed from a longer story written by A.D. Hopkins, which appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and in The First 100, a book published by Huntington Press of Las Vegas.