You can speculate until the crows fly home as to how a flat-broke, uneducated Irish bloke like Patsy Clark came to America and wound up owning gold mines and living in Spokane’s best-looking mansion.
That said, John Richards believes one telling glimpse into the historic figure’s superhuman drive to succeed can be seen in something he did long before striking it rich.
The year was 1876. Clark was laboring at a mine in Utah.
Mining tycoon Marcus Daly, who had taken a liking to Clark, told him a job was waiting for him in Butte.
All the young man had to do is get there.
And so Clark, likely joined by his brother, started walking.
That’s right. For a better opportunity they walked all the way from Utah to Montana.
I know people today who won’t drive downtown because getting there is such an ordeal.
Richards, a longtime friend, has become an authority on Patsy Clark – and not just because the mining magnate was his great-grandpa.
Wanting to learn more about his famous family member, the retired banker spent a year researching the man.
Richards and his wife, Mary, also traveled to some Patsy Clark points of interest like Butte, Republic, North Idaho’s Silver Valley and Rossland, B.C.
The result is found in “Patsy Clark, Mining Pioneer” – a fascinating, fact-filled booklet that was published last week through The Westerners, a Spokane history club.
The 50-page work is a prelude to “The Life and Times of Patsy Clark.” That’s the working title the 69-year-old author has given a full-length book that he plans to finish next year.
Which, by the way, will be the centennial of Patsy’s death.
Perhaps due to the strong surname, I’ve always had a keen interest in Patsy Clark. But I see this stocky figure with the handlebar mustache as one of my hometown’s most intriguing characters.
Plus, I got to portray Ol’ Patsy one weekend during a Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture-sponsored Christmas tour of the Campbell House.
I really got into the part, donning a vintage suit, gold watch and chain and fake mustache.
My quest for realism ended when I was threatened with expulsion for firing up a fat cigar. I tried to tell the museum people how much Patsy liked stogies, but the fools wouldn’t listen.
Critics. Who needs them?
Then there was the all-nighter I spent with a group of ghost hunters inside Patsy Clark’s opulent, yet supposedly haunted, Browne’s Addition manor. (For the record, I never saw any sign of spirits, although the psychics, like always, sure did.)
This happened before the restored mansion, 2208 W. Second Ave., was haunted by lawyers.
It was a popular upscale restaurant for 20 years. The (Doug) Clark tribe and countless other families enjoyed Sunday brunches and occasional dinners there.
Richards believes the fine food and freedom to roam the mansion’s luxurious interior created “a fond memory for many customers.”
Built by legendary architect Kirtland K. Cutter, the orange-brick mansion, with its turrets and wide porches, is a stunning combination of various architectural styles.
It also mirrors how fabulously wealthy Patsy became.
Richards said his late-father, John Sr., lived there for a time, although “he never met Patsy, who died in 1915, the same year he was born.”
John Sr. sounds like a character, too.
While living in the landmark, Richards said his dad had a pet rooster named Pete that pretty much had the run of the place.
At least it did until Wong, the family chef, cooked Pete for dinner.
Richards said his father abstained from the meal.
Separating myth from reality is part of any researcher’s job.
Take, for example, a popular explanation about the door handles at the mansion. They were installed extra low, Richards was told, to accommodate Patsy’s diminutive 5-foot-2 stature.
It made a good tale. At least it did until Richards learned through passport records that great-grandpa was 5-foot-7.
Another popular story about Patsy is that he fought against Indians in the Battle of Big Hole River.
Nothing, however, supports this other than Clark joining volunteers to help protect Butte, said Richards.
The toughest question to answer is what kind of guy Clark was.
Did he fit the cold and self-centered stereotype that is often popularized in movies about rich mining czars?
Or was Patsy Clark something else?
“I think he was a good guy,” said Richards. “He was always described as a very loving man and family oriented.”
“And he played the accordion, too.”
Well, you can’t argue with that.
Death comes to everyone, and Patsy’s luck ran out at 1:30 a.m. on June 7, 1915. He was 64 and the headline read:
“Pioneer Mine Operator Succumbs to Heart Disease Complicated by Attack of Grippe.”
The grippe is an archaic term for influenza.Even sadder is that most of Patsy Clark’s vast riches didn’t last long.
“Everybody always asks, ‘What happened to the money?’ ” said Richards. “But after he died, nobody had the expertise. He had the name and he had the knowledge.”
“He came off the boat with nothing in his pockets and wound up amassing a vast fortune. It’s an unbelievable story.”