By John H. Richards
Above, at the turn of the twentieth century, teams of horses pulling wagons of ore from the Republic mine gather at Marcus, Washington. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives, Crossroads on the Columbia Collection.
Ireland suffered greatly from the potato blight and the following time period called the “Great Hunger.” Patrick Francis “Patsy” Clark was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1851, in the aftermath of that terrible era when over 2,000,000 people would die. Seeking a better life at the age of twenty, he journeyed from Ireland to Liverpool, England, and secured passage on the ship, SS City of London. After arriving in New York, he traveled to Pennsylvania and stayed with his sister, Bessie Casey, and her family who had preceded him to the New World. Perhaps he learned the rudiments of coal mining, which was prevalent in that area of the country, and observed the abject poverty, child labor, company stores, frequent accidents, and health hazards. If he had any idolized perception of his newly adopted country, the following said of the Irish was more appropriate: “We came to America expecting to find the streets paved with gold. But they were not paved with gold; they were not paved at all; and we were expected pave them.”
Hearing of the gold rush prompted by the discovery at Sutter’s Mill in California, Patsy embarked on the treacherous trip across the country. After prospecting, he made his way to the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, and was hired. There he would gain his first experiences working underground in hard rock mining. Being a quick learner and driven to succeed, he became a superintendent of one of the many Comstock mines.
Moving on to Utah, Patsy would hear of Ophir City and rich silver deposits. His next employers were George Hearst, a future Senator and the father of William Randolph Hearst, and Marcus Daly, a fellow Irishman who were owners of the Ophir mine. Daly was impressed by this young man who would travel with him on the buckboard to the nearby town each pay period so he could send his wages to his mother in Ireland. Eventually, Patsy was promoted to the superintendent and foreman of the Ophir mine. Marcus Daly recognized his strong work ethic and ability to manage a complex mine operation. A friendship developed between the two men that would last their lifetimes.
Marcus Daly was asked by the four Walker brothers, who were merchandising, banking, and mining entrepreneurs, to investigate the rumors of silver in Butte, Montana. On the advice of Daly, the Walkers purchased the Alice mine, and Daly retained an interest. He had promised Patsy a job if he could get to Montana. He and his brother, James, “walked” from Utah to Montana.
It was said, “Gold drew them, silver encouraged them, but copper made them rich.” Marcus Daly sold his Alice mine investment, and purchased the Anaconda mine, at that time a modest producing silver property. He forged on into the depths of the mine until he reached copper, which was a metal little understood by most mine owners. Patsy was learning from one of the greatest mine managers in the world, and became the superintendent of the Anaconda mine. The mine became the most successful copper producer in the U.S. The electrical era was beginning, and the Anacoda mine and its related processing entities would become a huge success eventually owned by Standard Oil.
In addition to managing several mines, Patsy Clark developed his first mine, called the Butte-Bullwhacker mine, a modest producer over the years. His venture included as owners, Marcus Daly, William A. Clark, and two other men. Patsy would work for four years managing the Moulton mine for William A. Clark, who at one time was making $17,000,000 per month before income tax became law.
Patsy would find the love of his life in Butte – Mary A. Stack – and they married on St. Patrick’s Day in 1881. Backed by Marcus Daly and other Montana investors, the entire family, now including three children, headed to Idaho.
The early days of mining in what became the Coeur d’Alene Mining District were explosive in terms of many claims and growth in the small hamlets of Eagle City, Murray, Wallace, Kellogg, and Burke, Idaho. Patsy purchased and consolidated two claims and formed the Hecla Mining Company in 1891, with John Finch and Amasa Campbell. Patsy was president of the company. He would assist Simeon Reed, a river and rail entrepreneur from Portland, verify the potential of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mines in Kellogg, for which Reed paid over $700,000 for both the mine and the equipment. Patsy would purchase the Poorman mine destined to be the largest shipping mine in the District, and eventually merge the Tiger mine directly across the narrow Burke valley. Patsy was the first mine owner to introduce electricity in his mine, and powered drills.
Mining didn’t hold his only attention, as he served as the vice president of the Wallace Republican Club. Clark, Finch, and Campbell formed the Coeur d’Alene Bank in Wallace, and Patsy served as president. The White and Bender Company, a merchandising business in three locations, served the residents and miners and he was vice president. During good times and bad, Patsy was always regarded well by most mine owners, residents, and employees. Resolving a railroad issue that had closed the mines, Patsy’s Tiger-Poorman re-opened and led to a wild party into the wee hours. He was characterized as warm-hearted, a generous character, full of blarney at times, and courtly in manner. Patsy was one of the few mine owners who had started his career as a mucker and miner, and felt that the miners deserved a living wage for their dangerous work.
Silver was discovered in British Columbia, and it appeared that there was great potential on Red Mountain, Rossland, B.C. A claim called the War Eagle was worked by two different groups who concluded that it was worthless. Patsy determined that the early developers had lost sight of the vein. Redirecting the tunnel, he struck substantial ore and went on to develop a great mine. He and other men formed the Rossland Water and Light Company providing electricity for the downtown street lamps. In 1897, Patsy closed negotiations for the sale of the War Eagle and its associated properties to Toronto liquor distillers for $850,000.
In the Washington Territory, the Eureka Mining District was opened on Indian Reservation land. Encouraged by his brother, James, who was still running the War Eagle mine, he traveled and purchased the Republic mine. Soon many other men followed Patsy’s reputation, and the area became a boom town. After overcoming difficult transportation and processing challenges, the Republic mine became hugely successful. The town of Eureka was renamed Republic to reflect the mine’s contribution to the city. The main street is named Clark Avenue after his popularity. Patsy would donate property for a new school. He would negotiate with a Montreal syndicate and sold the Republic, the Surprise, the Lone Pine, and the Black Tail mines for $3,500,000.
Of lasting memory in the community, but with only a brief life, there was Patsy Clark’s Board House. Dances were held where he would play the accordion, and many a down and out miner would receive a hot meal and a bed. Local historians regard Patsy as the “Father of Republic.”
Patsy would have many more adventures, having agents look for promising mining investments around the world. A ransom was paid to have some of his employees released who were held captive in South Africa.
Patsy Clark was mentored by one of the greatest mine managers in the history of mining, and worked for one of the most financially successful men in America. His ambition and hard work allowed him to overcome his early poverty, and his immigrant status. Always called “Patsy” by his employees and friends, he continued to help his old buddies when fate turned against them. He and his wife, Mary, were philanthropic in many ways in their adopted community of Spokane, particularly supporting Sacred Heart Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral.
The Butte Miner would comment on Patsy’s death in 1915: “His kindliness and good nature were proverbial, and he inspired a brighter view of life in all those with whom he came in contact…. Like so many true westerners, he was a good friend and always stood ready to help out an old acquaintance. He will be very much missed in the mining world, and everyone who knew him will feel his death as a personal bereavement.”