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‘The man who beat Farmer Hatch’

Charles Nelson Clark, 1827-1902, defeated William Henry Hatch for U.S. Representative from Missouri’s First District in November 1894. Photo: Wikipedia


Nobody ever considered that Democrat Col. William Henry Hatch would be unseated by the electorate of Missouri’s First Congressional District in early November 1894.

Hatch served 16 successive years in office, most years winning by a large majority against his various, lesser known Republican opponents.

A staunch fighter throughout his tenure for advancements in agriculture, his popularity never waned, except on the Nov. 6, 1894 ballot.

A “take no prisoner” style of correspondent for the St. Louis Republic newspaper took an interest in Col. Hatch’s defeat, and described the election as a “political catastrophe” putting the blame squarely where it belonged: upon the Democrats themselves, who assuming an automatic victory, failed to turn out to cast their ballots. The election was viewed as a loss for Hatch, rather than a victory for his opponent.

“Nobody ever dreamed that Farmer Hatch would be defeated this year,” the unnamed reporter wrote. The Republican candidate was, “a man without a record and without a history in politics. The Republicans simply looked around the district to find a victim who would consent to run for congress on their ticket.”

New Congressman

Major Charles Nelson Clark, a long-time advocate of the Sny Levee District in Illinois, had agreed to lend his name to the Missouri Republican ballot and challenge the incumbent in the fall of 1894.

The Republicans came out in force on election day, and the Democrats didn’t. And there went the election that ended Col. Hatch’s legendary political career.

The vote tally told the story: An analysis of the vote, compared with that of two years prior, shows that the Democratic loss was 3,906, while the Republican loss was only 1,433. The Populists made a gain of 954.

Who is this man Clark?

Following the election, the energetic newspaper reporter met up with the newly elected Congressional representative in downtown Hannibal.

“Walking along the sidewalk was a little, short, slim old man, wearing a black suit and a brown overcoat and a black derby hat. “He was taking little, short steps, and was walking in a quick, nervous way, but was as spry as a school boy with a red ribbon prize.

“After an introduction I walked down the street with this spry, little old man; and as he bounded up a stairway before me and entered his office, he began to whistle: ‘In the Sweet By and By.’”

Major Clark, as he was known since his service with the Union Army during the Civil War, was a mechanical engineer by trade, schooled at Hamilton, N.Y.

His office, that autumn as the trees were dropping their leaves, was on the second story of the building (still standing) at 225 Broadway.

On the first floor of this building was John W. Siebert’s dry goods store, and upstairs were offices occupied by Clark and others, including: Merchants’ and Mechanics’ Loan and Building Association; and Lewellyn Boswell, attorney and real estate.

While Major Clark’s two-year stint in Washington, D.C., was unremarkable, his previous work, with the Sny Levee organization, helped to change the course of agriculture in West Central Illinois.

He was renominated to Congress in 1896, but was defeated by Hon. R.P. Giles, who did not live to take his seat.

Sny Island

Sny Island consists of more than 100,000 acres of reclaimed Mississippi River bottomland, located in three Illinois counties: Adams, Pike and Calhoun.

Clark personally owned land within the district, which was located across from Clarksville, Mo.

Historically, a slough branched off from the Mississippi River in Adams County, Ill., and meandered through the lowlands of Pike County and nine miles into Calhoun County, before returning to the river opposite of Clarksville, Mo. This slough allowed the Mississippi to swell at times to a width of five to six miles.

Col. Edward Prince, a civil engineer of Quincy, Ill., and Civil War veteran, wrote the following, which was printed in the Quincy Daily Whig on July 9, 1880:

“This large body of land has a soil of alluvium from four to twelve feet thick, and is one of the richest bodies of land in the world. For ages the high waters have deposited in the lap of the magnesium limestone bluffs all along the river an untold wealth of vegetable matter, so that the whole trace from river to bluff is like an immense compost bed.”

Following the Civil War, a group of men became interested in reclaiming this mineral-rich bottom land, which was current-filled during high water, and given over to frogs and snakes during low river levels.

Levee is built

Major Clark, who arrived in Illinois from New York state in about 1859, became interested in the reclamation project circa 1870. He was credited with lobbying the Illinois legislature to gain permission to build what was known as the Sny Island levee. Work began in earnest in 1872, and was completed in 1874. High waters of 1876 partially destroyed the levee. The levee was ultimately repaired, and a descendant of the levee continues to protect the bottom lands to this day.

Maj. Clark was credited by some as being the father of the Sny Island levee district.

In Hannibal

By the mid 1880s, Maj. Clark and his wife, Lucia, had moved from the Illinois bottomlands across the river to Hannibal, Mo. There they resided in a two-story frame house at 752 Hill Street. Their half-block lawn was terraced and shaded by elm and box elder trees. The front of the house featured a veranda, and on one side of the house a porch was covered with the windings of a trumpet vine.

They were childless; their only son died in 1860 at the age of 5-6.

Maj. Clark died in 1902, following a protracted illness. He was 75 years of age. His wife continued to live in their Hill Street home until circa 1905. She died in 1906 in Florida.

The last known family to occupy this house at 752 Hill Street was that of Thomas L. Lewis, who along with his brother, Robert, operated Lewis Bros. Laundry, located at 106-108 North Fourth Street in 1911. The house was renumbered 906 Hill Street.

Partial plat map of Levee Township, Pike County, Ill., in 1895. Circled is the location of the Chenal Ecarte Club House, later renamed Sni Ecarte Club. Southeast Section 10, Range 8 West, Township 4 South. The Library of Congress.

The Sni E Carte Club, from the Hull History Lives Collection

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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