Another Clark Family
This week we take a break from our usual focus on the extended Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark family and begin a week of posts about two remarkable, original Mequon settlers and Clark House neighbors: Sarah Allise Strickland (1823-1891) and her husband, Cyrus Clark (1815-1905).
Sarah A. Strickland was born and raised in Nova Scotia, the eldest child of Daniel and Matilda Strickland. Her family was one of the original white settler families in the area; they were enumerated in Milwaukee County on Wisconsin’s first territorial census in 1836.1
Cyrus Clark was born in western Massachusetts and was in Mequon by about 1839. He married Sarah Strickland in Grafton, Washington (later Ozaukee) County, on March 1, 1841. They lived almost forty years in Wisconsin. First in Mequon and Cedarburg, Washington/Ozaukee) County, and then divided their time between their farm in Moscow, Iowa County, and homes of one or more adult children in Oshkosh, Winnebago County. So how—and why—did they end up in South Dakota at the end of their days?
It’s an interesting story, and one that illustrates a characteristic type of pioneer experience: the continued drive to push westward, on to new frontiers and new challenges. It may seem cliché to us, but it was a real, lived experience for many of Cyrus and Sarah’s generation. This week’s posts will look at a number of key moments in their long lives, especially the decades they spent in Wisconsin. And we have some unique and new sources to share, too.
Beginning at the end…
Gravestones of Cyrus Clark and Sarah A. (Strickland) Clark, Graceland Cemetery, Madison, South Dakota.
Photo by Steve Van Slyke, used by permission.
We begin the story of Cyrus and Sarah Clark at the end, in Lake County, South Dakota, their final resting place. And not one, but two maps today, all of which take us far from Mequon and the Jonathan M. Clark house.
The other Madison…
Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark originally went to the Dakota Territory to visit their son, Dr. Edwin L. Clark. Edwin had graduated from the Bennett Medical College in Chicago in 1883, and shortly afterwards set up practice in Madison, the county seat for Lake County, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota). This is what Madison looked liked when Dr. Edwin L. Clark arrived:
Stoner, J. J., 1883 Bird’s Eye View of Madison County Seat of Lake Co. Dakota, Madison, Wis. Copyright 1882.
Library of Congress Panoramic Map Collection.2
As you look at the map, imagine the Clarks as they traveled to the Dakota Territory of 1883. The United States had claim to this land since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, but the Dakota Territory was not officially established until March 2, 1861, less than a month before the outbreak of the Civil War. By the time this panoramic map was made in 1883, the Dakotas were still vast, arid, sparsely populated, and six years away from statehood.
In July of 1883, Dr. Edwin Lester Clark decided to make a move he had been contemplating for some time. After a reconnoitering trip to Madison, SD where he had a “tree claim” (perhaps a payment for prior services rendered?)3 he packed everything he and wife Mollie owned into a freight car plus lumber for a house and stable, and one of their three horses. The train departed Oshkosh [Winnebago Co., Wisconsin] on the 4th of July, leaving Mollie and children Elmer, Leroy and Ethel behind at the old [Cyrus Clark] farm in Blanchardville, [Iowa Co.] WI. Edwin arrived in Madison [Dakota Terr.] on July 9, 1883, taking longer than usual because of holiday layovers. Mollie and the children arrived two days later.
Although Madison, SD already had more doctors than it needed, Edwin nevertheless set up practice in a building occupied by a harness shop. He began fixing up their one-room, 16×24-foot shiplap house to make it livable through the South Dakota winter. He used the last of their money to purchase a soft coal stove. His first opportunity to receive hard cash came when the two other doctors were out of town and a young woman 8 miles out of town needed assistance in delivering her first child.“Clark Clan” timeline by Steven Van Slyke and Lynette Thompson, citing letter from Edwin L. Clark to daughter Minnie, Dec. 11, 1921.
Cyrus and Sarah leave Wisconsin
In about 1886, Cyrus Clark, aged 71, and Sarah (Strickland) Clark moved to Madison, most likely accompanied by their youngest living child, 24 year-old Ida Estella Clark (1862-1922). While the Cyrus Clark family may have now been based in Madison, local newspaper reports show that Cyrus frequently traveled back to family in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In fact, Cyrus is still listed in the Oshkosh city directory in 1876, 1879, 1884, 1889, 1891 and 1893.
Ida Estella marries
In 1888, daughter Ida Estella Clark married Lake County farmer and widower Frank R. Van Slyke4 (1852-1933). They had a son, Carroll Guy Van Slyke in 1892. Frank Van Slyke had been in Lake County since at least 1881, when he obtained the first of two federal land patents (June 23, 1881 and October 10, 1882), granting him the south half of Section 18, T105N-R51W, (Chester township). You can find Frank’s land in the bottom right corner of the map, below. Find Chester township and look just a bit south and west of Brant Lake to find the south half of Sec. 18. By the time this map was drawn, in 1899, Frank had left this land, either selling or renting it to one Geo. Baldwin.
Peterson, E. Frank, and S Wangersheim. Map of Lake County, South Dakota: compiled and drawn from a special survey and official records. Vermillion, S.D.: E. Frank Peterson, 1899. Map. (Link)
Mother Clark dies
On March 13, 1891, Sarah A. Strickland Clark, one of the last of Mequon’s very first settlers, died in Madison.
CLARK-Died, in Madison, Lake county, South Dakota, Friday, March 13, 1891, Sarah A., wife of Cyrus Clark, aged 68 years.5Madison [South Dakota] Daily Leader, March 14, 1891, p. 3, col. 2.
Deceased was the mother of Dr. E. L. Clark and Mrs Frank R. Van Slyke of this city. She was the mother of eleven children, the two above named being the only ones surviving. Deceased was taken ill about two weeks ago and gradually continued to decline until death claimed her. She had been a resident of Madison nearly five years, coming to this city from Oshkosh, Wis. She was a devout Christian lady, and a member of the M. E. church of this city. Her husband and children were at her bedside at the time of her death, which came peacefully, the deceased being conscious to the last. The funeral will be held from the M. E. Church to-morrow at 2:30 p.m. The friends of the family are invited to attend.
The March 16th paper reported that her funeral was “attended by a large number of sympathizing friends.”
Dr. Clark’s practice evolves
By 1894, Dr. Edwin L. Clark’s practice was located in Madison’s Union Block and comprised “all departments of Medicine and Surgery.” His advertisement indicated he was up-to-date with the latest techniques and equipment, especially Galvanism, the use of electric current to cure a wide variety of complaints, from serious gynecological problems to more mundane issues such as “moles, warts, superfluous hairs,” and such. Female patients were assured that there was a “Lady assistant in attendance.”
Sometime between October, 1895 and 1900, Dr. Edwin L. Clark, wife Mollie, and their two teenaged daughters left South Dakota for Illinois. Cyrus remained in Madison, living with Frank and Ida Estella (Clark) Van Slyke. It looks like Edwin and Mollie were settling business matters when this announcement appeared in late-1895:
Madison [South Dakota] Daily Leader, October 21, 1895.
End of an era
The 1905 South Dakota state census indicates that Cyrus was living at the intersection of Lee and N. 9th streets in Madison—home of daughter Ida Estella and son-in-law Frank Van Slyke—and had lived 5 “years in South Dakota.” In other words, it had been five years since Cyrus had made the last of his extended sojourns in Oshkosh.
Shortly after the state census, on August 10, 1905, Cyrus Clark died.6
Cyrus Clark, aged 90 years, died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. F. R. Van Slyke, in this city at 7 o’clock last evening. Deceased is survived by two children, Mrs. Van Slyke and Dr. E. L. Clark, formerly of this city, now of La Fontaine, Ind. Deceased was quite well known to Madison people, having visited his children at intervals in this city during the past twenty years, and having made his home permanently with his daughter for the past five years. Born in Springfield,7 Mass., deceased came west to Wisconsin in 1839 where he was married at Grafton in 1841. In the days of his activity he was engaged in farming loggin[g] on the Mississippi river and mining in the lead mines of Wisconsin. The funeral will be held from the family residence at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.Madison [South Dakota] Daily Leader, Friday, August 11, 1905.
Next post: Cyrus Clark and Sarah Strickland in Wisconsin. Farming in Mequon and Moscow, plus lead mines, floating logs on the Mississippi, and the Civil War. Plus…photos!
One of the real pleasures of doing genealogy and local history work is the people you sometimes meet along the way. This week’s Cyrus Clark and Sarah Strickland posts—and some of the unique information and illustrations in these posts—would not be possible without the help of Cyrus Clark and Sarah A. (Strickland) Clark descendants Lynette Thompson and Steve Van Slyke. They have been gracious and generous with their knowledge, sources, and photographs, and we’ve had a grand time working on Clark and Strickland mysteries and chronology in preparation for these posts. My thanks go to Lynette and Steve. I hope they enjoy this series of Clark House Historian posts.
- Daniel Strickland and family play an important role in early Mequon history, as do other Washington/Ozaukee County immigrants from Nova Scotia. I’ll have more to say about the Stricklands, and the other Nova Scotians, in future posts.
- Yes! It’s another map from the Library of Congress’s Panoramic Map Collection.8 Be sure to click the map to open a larger image in new window. (Give it a minute to load, it’s a big file.) Click the new image to zoom in, and take time to scroll around and enjoy the details.
- A ‘Tree Claim” was a particular type of land claim that awarded additional acres to the applicant if he agreed to plant trees on the treeless grasslands of the Great Plains under the Timber Culture Act of 1873. On the whole, it was a poorly designed scheme that was subject to much abuse.
- The Van Slyke surname has various spellings in the historical records. Most common are Van Slyke, VanSlyke and Vanslyke.
- Strictly speaking, Sarah A. (Strickland) Clark was 67 years old; her 68th birthday was a few weeks away at the time of her death.
- Cyrus Clark’s FindAGrave page gives August 10, 1906 as his death date. This is incorrect. Cyrus died in 1905, attested by reports of his death in the local newspapers.
- We really don’t know exactly where Cyrus Clark was born. Almost all sources that give the state agree on Massachusetts. His obituary says Springfield, Hampden county. Son Edwin’s 1937 death certificate states Cyrus was born in Southwick, also in Hampden county, just across the Connecticut River from Springfield. And some (not yet verified) sources suggest he was born farther west, in the hills of Berkshire County, perhaps at Sandisfield.
- Everyone likes the panoramic maps, especially reader Laura Rexroth. Cheers, Laura.