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Walter John Clarke was one of the men who helped to make pioneer history in the early days of Oklahoma in the region around El Reno. Still fresh in his mind are the recollections of the memorable day, April 22, 1889, when with thousands of other he participated in the rush into the coveted lands of the new territory. From his homestead claim, which he steadily worked and developed for a number of years, he was also called into the public life of his community, and his activities have brought him a wide recognition in that section of the state. In 1909 Mr. Clarke sold his original homestead and bought another tract of land six miles west of El Reno. In 1910 he engaged in the mercantile business at El Reno and has since been one of the prosperous merchants of the city in addition to the management of his farm enterprise.
He is a Canadian by birth, though nearly all his life has been spent in the United States. He was born January 29, 1861, at Lindsay, Canada, a son of Hugh Gilbert and Ellen (Burke) Clarke. His father, Hugh Gilbert Clarke was born in Ireland, in 1816, and was twenty-two years of age when he emigrated to Canada, and from that Dominion brought his family to the United States in 1868, buying land in Calhoun County, Iowa, where he followed farming until his death, in 1884. He was married in 1846, in Canada, to Miss Burke, who. was born in Ireland, in 1830. She died at Manson, Iowa, in 1906. To their union were born thirteen children, nine sons and four daughters, namely: Frederick G.; Margaret; Alfred, deceased; Walter J.; Hiram J.; Edward B., deceased; Hugh G.; Minnie; and Matilda, Nellie, George, and William, the last four also being deceased.
Walter John Clarke was seven years of age when his parents removed to Iowa and he grew up in Webster and Calhoun counties of that state. He is a man of more than average education, having attended the public schools and also the Iowa State Agricultural College at Ames. At the age of twenty he utilized this education to advantage as a teacher, and followed that profession actively for five years, both in Iowa and Nebraska. In 1887 he was appointed clerk in the United States railway mail service, with headquarters at Lincoln, Nebraska. He resigned this position in 1888 to prepare for participation in the first Oklahoma opening in 1889.
With the thousands of others who participated in that picturesque episode of American history, he made the race for land and succeeded in driving his stakes on John’s Creek, in Canadian County, fourteen miles north of El Reno.
For a number of years Mr. Clarke has been an active member of the Oklahoma Eighty-niners Association and has filled the office of secretary. As a democrat he was elected first county superintendent of Canadian County, an office he held for two years, and in that time did much to establish the early schools in that section. In 1892 he was elected county clerk of Canadian County, an office he also filled two years.
On August 27, 1893, at Fort Dodge, Iowa, Mr. Clarke married Miss Margaret Agnes Fitzpatrick, daughter of Daniel E. Fitzpatrick. Mr. Clarke has a fine family of children, the older ones having already taken up their independent positions in life. Into the household were born seven, three sons and four daughters: Austin William, born July 2, 1894; Walter Harold, born May 28, 1896; Mary Teresa, born November 4, 1898; Elizabeth, born April 1, 1901; Margaret, born June 16, 1903; George, born August 5, 1905; and Helen, born July 26, 1909.