the Annals of a Humble Race

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The Clark Family Story

Clark children Eugene Clark and Teressa Morrow were married on August 11, 1892, in Storm Lake, Iowa. In 1903, the family, which included six young children, was living in Backus, Minnesota, where Eugene worked as a carpenter. Eugene became ill and was admitted to the hospital in Brainerd, Minnesota, where he died October 18, 1903. The obituary appeared in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch the following day.

Eugene Clark of Backus, who was brought to St. Josephs hospital about two months ago, died yesterday morning at two o'clock and surrounding this demise are some sad and distressing details. He was first hurt about a year ago while carrying ties and he has been confined to his home almost every day since that time. When he took to his bed his wife and children were not in too good circumstances and the mother has labored assiduously since to keep the wolf away from the door. A few days ago friends at Backus arranged to have the children taken away and placed in school. This seemed to be the last ray of hope almost. Mrs. Clark came down to see her husband the last of the week, returning home Friday thinking that he was some better, but he grew worse instead and died yesterday morning. The deceased was a carpenter by trade and he and his family had lived at Backus for some time. The funeral will probably be held tomorrow afternoon in this city.

This account of the Clark children starts with a handwritten note from the Backus village chairman to the Superintendent of the Minnesota State Public School dated October 4, 1903.

5 neglected and starving children. 11 years to 3 months of age. Come at once.

Consequently, a court order was issued October 6, 1903, admitting the children to the State Public School at Owatonna.

A letter from the wife of the Backus village chairman to an agent of the State Public School dated October 24, 1903, included the following observations.

When the train left Mrs. Clark started for the lake and those standing thought best to let her go but a man at the hotel caught her at the railroad crossing and called for help to take her home but they left him alone to take her home. Some of the ladies took her home and another kept her all night. She rested well; perhaps better than those who helped take care of those children here in town. Mr. Clark died last Monday and was buried Tuesday. Mrs. Clark is now at Hotel Fairview at work, have not seen her myself.

Teressa received a note from Owatonna dated October 15, 1903.

In reply to your request to be informed about the children, I will say that they are well and getting along nicely. The baby is still in our hospital but as soon as he recovers sufficiently we will have the children's pictures taken. The children attend school every day and seem happy and contented. Louis is in our kindergarten; he seems bright and happy and is thought much of by his matron.

A letter from Owatonna dated December 28, 1903, provides more information.

Replying to your letter of recent date which was duly received, I will say that the package which you sent for the children came alright and the presents were given to them Christmas Eve at the time the presents were distributed to all the children. We had a very pleasant time in our Hall where the children were all assembled and every one of them received remembrances as well as candies, nuts, oranges, etc.

We have been waiting until the baby had so far recovered so he could be taken down to the gallery with the other children to have their pictures taken. This was done a short time ago. The pictures have been received and we will send them to you immediately. I think they are very fine. They certainly indicate that the children are well and growing.

I have recently visited your people at Spirit Lake and am sorry to say I was disappointed in securing from them a promise to take the children. They are not in a position to assume the responsibility and burden of caring for them. I expect to see your sister, however, and after talking the matter over with her, will be able to decide what is best to be done and let you know then.

A report of the state agent's visit to Teressa's sister, Margaret (Morrow) Stoddart is dated January 6, 1904.

I came over here to see Mr. and Mrs. Stoddard about the Clark children. Mrs. Stoddard is a sister of Mrs. Clark and I don’t know when I have seen anyone feel so keenly their inability to care for their relatives or sympathize so strongly with a mother. She could not talk about it without breaking down and she cried all the time I was with them.

I have now seen the relatives Mrs. Clark spoke of and instead of being well to do and abundantly able to help her, they all are in moderate or poor circumstances themselves. Mr. Stoddard is in rather the best shape, owns his own home, a neat tidy comfortable home, employed now by the city as clerk and accounting officer at a salary of $725.00 a year. But that is all he has, and has his wife and child to care for. They do not feel that they can take the children nor could they assure the responsibility of guaranteeing the support of the children should they be returned to the mother. Mrs. Stoddard feels so sad for Mrs. Clark, to think she has to be separated from her children, but there is no prospect that anything can be done for them by the relatives. So we will have to provide for them and must try to find good homes.

This notice appeared in the Backus Weekly News dated January 14, 1904.

Mrs. Eugene Clark, who is cooking for Hotel Fairview, went to Owatonna Thursday to visit her children for a week or two.

The guiding principles of the State Public School included an education based on religious and moral training, with an emphasis on discipline and useful labour, and being placed out.

If possible, the dependent children "after their basic training," will be "placed out," (adopted, or indentured) preferably in rural homes. State Agents will be responsible for selecting "suitable homes" for children, and for annual inspection thereafter of such placements.

To be continued . . .

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