Museum Notes 02-15-2019

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In honor of Black History Month, the River Valley Pioneer Museum reflects on its most prominent African American citizen, Frank “Toppy” Clark. Mr. Clark was born a slave in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana in the 1840s (although mentioned as 1847, 1842, or 1840, his actual birth year is unknown). During the Civil War, Mr. Clark enlisted in the Union Army and served with the 80th US Colored Infantry from 1864 to 1866. The 80th US Colored Infantry operated throughout Louisiana until 1866, when the troops were sent to Texas, and then transferred to other units in 1867. Mr. Clark was part of that transition. He was transferred to the 9th US Cavalry, one of four Buffalo Soldier Regiments. The 9th US Cavalry served in combat during the Indian and Spanish American Wars. Mr. Clark was assigned to Company G, 9th US Cavalry, located at Fort Clark, Texas. The US Census of 1870 shows that there were 405 people residing at Fort Clark. Of those 405, there were 32 white males (22 Soldiers, 4 sons of Soldiers, and 6 other workers) and 12 white women (6 wives and 6 daughters). The remainder of the Fort Clark population was 361 Blacks or Mulattos (mixed race). Of the 361 Blacks or Mulattos, there were 321 Soldiers, 12 male servants, 10 female servants, 15 female laundresses, and 3 children. Mr. Clark was one of these Soldiers listed in this census.

In 1871, Mr. Clark leaves the Army and works for the Paul Hoefle, Sr. Family in Jacksboro, Texas, and then moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, for other work. By 1882, Mr. Clark settled in Mobeetie, working for Captain G.W. Arrington, a Confederate Civil War veteran. In 1887, Mr. Clark moved to Canadian and became a well-respected resident.

Mr. Clark did odd jobs for various people as a living. In the 1910 Census, Mr. Clark’s employment was listed as “porter” at a “pool hall,” which was probably at the Moody Hotel. The Moody Hotel had a pool hall in the basement at that time and Mr. Clark lived in a shack across from the Moody Hotel, about where Interbank is currently located.

Mr. Clark received a pension from the US government for his service as a Union Soldier. Beginning in 1907, he received $12 a month. In 1918, Canadian attorney Frank Willis acted on Mr. Clark’s behalf to rectify the proper amount of his pension; Mr. Clark was only receiving $30 a month and he was entitled to $38 a month. At the time of his death, Mr. Clark was receiving $50 a month. In addition to his pension and odd jobs, the Naham Abraham Family also helped provide for Mr. Clark in his older age until he passed away on May 18, 1922.

Mr. Clark never learned to read or write. His Declaration of Recruit to join the Union Army in 1866, and later, his Union US Veterans Pension paperwork in 1907 was marked with an X by his hand. He never married and had no children. He had one sister, but had not known of her whereabouts since the 1870s. He lived alone amongst the white residents of Canadian from 1887 to 1922. The last visitor to see Mr. Clark before he died was his onetime employer and longtime friend, Captain G.W. Arrington.

On May 18, 1922, the same day Mr. Clark died, The Canadian Record remarked that, “the prominent citizens who worked in the cow camps in the early days of the county, will attend the funeral and pay a last respect to the life of a negro who was clean, honest, and industrious.” Forty cars lined the cemetery on the day of his funeral and was considered one of the largest attended funerals at that time. Pall bearers were N.P. Willis, J.M. Shaw, J.L. Jennings, H.E. Hoover, W.R. Hext, and Sam Isaacs. On May 25, 1922, The Canadian Record stated, “This funeral, composed entirely of white folks, might seem to some to be unusual, but it was a simple tribute to the life of a negro who lived for forty years entirely among white folks and segregated from his own race. It was also a tribute to a pioneer who came here with the first prospectors and remained to see the county develop into the best section under the sun. ‘Toppy’ had at some time worked for almost every old timer at his funeral and had rendered good service. He had braved every danger, endured every hardship, answered every demand for his service and acquitted himself with honor.” Mr. Clark is buried in the Edith Ford Cemetery, marked with a simple marble headstone, Frank Clark, 1847-1922.



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