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John Clark and Son - John Clark

Birth place or City of origin: Newry
State of origin: IRELAND
Last known City: Portland
Last known State: OR
Start/Birth date: 1826
Death/End date:

John Clark was born 13 June 1826, Newry, County Down, Ireland. His mother was of English
origin. He learned the art of harness and saddlery in Liverpool, England at age 17. Afterward,
he traveled to London and Paris as a journeyman. He arrived in Portland, Oregon, in 1862, by
way of Paris, New York and San Francisco. His first job as a saddler was with pioneer maker,
Samuel Sherlock.
He opened his own business at 130 Front Street in 1872. He was to become one of Portland’s
most prolific saddlers for the next 47 years. His saddles, chaps, cuffs, rolls, bridles and harness,
as well as a line of bits and spurs were sold locally, regionally and shipped to at least as far as
eastern Montana. In 1879-1880, he employed 8 persons.
In 1871, he married Elizabeth C. Watson. His obituary states that the couple had five children:
William T., who worked at the saddlery, Charlotte (Apperson) of Portland, John A. of Seattle,
Edward of Los Angeles, and Roy of Portland, (US Army, WWI). Elizabeth died 18 June 1901.
John married his second wife, Rachel Shaw, 22 April 1906. She was born in Ontario, Canada, 16
Nov. 1867 and came to Portland with her parents when she was a child.
The now famous Clark Bucking Roll was claimed to have been invented by John Clark, and
patented on 21 May 1901. This attachment converted the straight fork, or “A” fork saddle into a
swell fork saddle that helped keep the rider in place on a rough ride or downhill gallop. Prior to
this, a blanket roll or slicker was tied to the forward strings across the inside of the fork, to
achieve the same results. Dave Hamley, a saddle maker from Pendleton [1969] credits John Clark
with the introduction of bucking rolls. Most saddlers agree that bucking rolls set the pattern for
the popular later-day swell fork saddle. Several famous saddlers from Montana claimed to be the
true inventor. In the 1901 catalog, the inside cover is entirely devoted to the defense of his
alleged patent, and a long testimonial is included.
In 1901, his letterhead read, JOHN CLARK & SON, 104-106 Front St. The header included all the
types of saddlery they produced, and the style of trees that were available. In 1914, his letterhead
was to read, JOHN CLARK SADDLERY CO. At that time the header also mentioned that in
addition to saddlery, they were “importers and jobbers of saddlery hardware and leather, robes,
trunks, suitcases, bags, gloves, etc.” By this time, an engraving of the bucking roll was still
prominent on the letterhead.
His obituary also noted that he donated his land at 4th and Stark in Portland, to be used during
WWI for worker housing. In 1918 John Clark was listed as President, William F. Clark as VP, and
William Mann as Secretary. John Clark died 18 June 1919.
In 1920, William was listed as President, Rachel Clark as VP, and S.E. Helliwell as Secretary. The
Company remained at 104 Front St. In 1923, Rachel was listed in the City Directory as residing at
the Multnomah Hotel, while William and his wife, Margaret, were residing at 1167 Multnomah
St. In 1926 the Saddlery was still in business under William T. Clark, but E.L. [Edward?] was
listed as VP. Not until 1928 does Rachel Clark disappear from the Company roster and daughter
Charlotte became Secretary.
The John Clark Saddlery Company was no longer listed in the Directories of 1929; however, W.T.
Clark was listed as a harness maker. Rachel Clark died 12 Feb. 1933. According to her obituary
in the Oregonian, she left an estate of $50,000, to be probated. The will was contested by Rachel’s
brother George F. Shaw as an estate of $100,000 due to the fact that at the time of her death, there
were two wills, differing in dispersion with his siblings. There is no mention of any of John Clark
and Elizabeth’s sons or daughters.
[John Clark in business in Portland from 1873 until 1929]
Obituary of John Clark- The Oregonian, 20 June 1919, p. 15 [Multnomah Co. Library microfilm roll 334]
Obituary of Rachel Clark- The Oregonian, 22 Feb. 1933, p.7 [Multnomah County Library microfilm roll 542]
Notice of probate, The Oregonian 5 April 1934, p.6 [Multnomah County Library microfilm roll 554]
Portland, Oregon City Directories by Polk, 1918, 1920, 1921,1923,1924,1925,1926,1927,1928,1929.
1901 Original copy of saddle catalog, JOHN CLARK, Portland, Oregon. [Author’s collection]
Letterheads of the JOHN CLARK SADDLERY, Portland, Oregon 1901 and 1914. [Author’s collection]
Western Horseman, September 1969. Excerpt from article by Jerry Armstrong on bucking rolls.
1880 Federal Mortality Census and Special Industrial Schedules- Portland, OR- microfilm

Research by Richard and Dorothy Egan


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