Clem S. Clarke

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Clement Steele "Clem" Clarke​

(Oilman and Louisiana
political activist)

Born October 9, 1897​
Marietta, Ohio, USA
Died March 28, 1967 (aged 69)​
Shreveport, Louisiana
Political Party Republican nominee for the United States Senate for Louisiana, 1948​
Spouse (1) Marjorie Terry Clarke (divorced)

(2) Ellen Meng Lanham Clarke
Children from second marriage:
Carole Steele Clarke
Two stepdaughters

Clement Steele Clarke, known as Clem S. Clarke (October 9, 1897 – March 28, 1967), was an oilman from Shreveport, Louisiana, who was the first member of the Louisiana Republican Party to run for the United States Senate since implementation in 1914 of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He lost the general election to Russell Long, the son of Huey Pierce Long, Jr.


Clarke was born in Marietta in Washington County in southeastern Ohio, but by the age of five, he was living in Beaumont, Texas, where his father, Charles Kelly "Cal" Clarke (1865-1927), a Marietta native who had begun employment as a petroleum pipeline worker for Standard Oil, was a wildcatter at Spindletop. Soon, the senior Clarke moved his wife, the former Maude Steele, and son, their only child, to Shreveport. There Cal Clarke became the president of the Standard Oil interests in Louisiana and subsequently relocated to the capital city of Baton Rouge. The senior Clarke died of a six-day illness at the age of sixty-one, his body found on the floor of his bathroom while his wife was away in New Orleans and his son in Shreveport.[1] Clem Clarke himself became a petroleum land man, geologist, and investor.​

Clarke studied mechanical engineering for two years at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He entered the United States Navy in 1919, after the signing of the World War I armistice.[2] He attained the rank of ensign.[3]

In 1920, Clarke at twenty-three obtained a patent for a metal casing used in the oil industry.[4]

Oil interests

Cal Clarke's leadership role in the petroleum industry allowed young Clem Clarke access to many figures in the business, particularly Michael Late Benedum, the West Virginia native who rose to prominence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but had early holdings in Shreveport and Caddo Parish. Benedum was self-educated in his petroleum career when little was known of geology, and geophysics had not materialized as a field of study.[2]

Benedum was originally a lease man for Standard Oil. He entered a long-term partnership with Joe Trees to pursue drilling and build a refinery in Caddo Parish. Benedum and Trees were called the greatest wildcatters ever. Benedum sold out his Caddo lease for $7 million in 1910 to Standard Oil. In eastern Rusk County, Benedum and Trees drilled too far east of what became the giant East Texas Oil Field, launched in 1930 west of Henderson[5] by Columbus Marion "Dad" Joiner, a native of Alabama and a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives who subsequently settled in Dallas. Joiner wound up with the first claims in western Rusk County to the lucrative East Texas field.[6] Working together, Benedum and Clarke found some oil in Blossom in Lamar County in northeast Texas, at 2,700 feet, but the strike was not commercially feasible. Clarke obtained other leases and retained Benedum to drill for oil. After hitting a dry hole, Clarke moved temporarily to California.[2]

Benedum subsequently asked Clarke to develop a geological report on the state of Florida. Clark, Benedum, and Trees leased a million acres, mostly in Collier County in the Everglades. They hired Gulf Oil Company to perform vital geophysical work. On September 26, 1943, the Humble Oil Company, which had bought out Gulf for $1 million in investment, drilled a well at a depth of 11,726 feet. This was the first oil discovery in Florida in the Collier County field developed by Benedum, Trees, and Clarke. Trees had died a few months before the Florida discovery.[7] Then Clarke with the permission of Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo took a concession with mineral rights in the Azua Basin of the Dominican Republic. Clarke leased alone another million acres in Florida through Sun Oil Company.[2]

Clarke recalled that unlike John D. Rockefeller, Benedum encouraged independent oil drillers. Clarke went to Pittsburgh for the occasion of Benedum's 80th birthday dinner held on July 16, 1949, at which:​​

There were governors, senators, men of industry, and I've never heard from any group of men in my whole life the amount of nice things that these people had to say about Mr. Benedum during that birthday dinner. ...​

Mr. Benedum has been known around Pittsburgh and around the industry as a maker of millionaires.[8] He hasn't tried to keep it all to himself -- he's taken other people in with him. All of his associates that have been with him have all turned out to be millionaires or almost millionaires and some of them have made several millions of dollars by sticking to him and working with him. I think that's extremely commendable, because I've known in my life a number of great men who have been moneymakers, but a great portion of them have always wanted to get all of the money for themselves. They didn't want anybody else to share it with them. So I think it's extremely commendable that Mr. Benedum has never been a man who wanted to make all the money. ...[2]

Clarke recalled that Benedum had a "sentimental attachment to Caddo Parish. He has spent a lot of money around this area ... just because he wanted very badly to get something more ... [from] where he made his first big strike."[2]

Political life

In addition to his oil holdings, Clarke was the federal postmaster in Shreveport from 1926 to 1930 during the administrations of U.S. Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.[9] He was an alternate delegate to the 1948 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia,[10] which nominated Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Governor Earl Warren of California to challenge, respectively, President Harry Truman and U.S. Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky for vice president. Benedum encouraged his fellow Republican Clarke to run in the special election for the two-year seat in the U.S. Senate created by the death of the Democrat John H. Overton.

Clarke was the first Republican Senate candidate since from Louisiana since Reconstruction, at which time senators were chosen by state legislatures. He could not overcome Louisiana's strong Democratic hegemony and the failure of the Dewey-Warren ticket to defeat Truman-Barkley or of the Republicans to retain their two-year majority in the U. S. Senate. Clarke was hence handily defeated by Russell Long, who just short of his thirtieth birthday was making the first of his seven successful Senate races, the first having been for the two-year term. Long had won the Democratic nomination over subsequent Governor Robert F. Kennon of Minden in Webster Parish. In the general election, Long polled 306,337 votes (75 percent) to Clarke's 102,339 (25 percent). Clarke outpolled Dewey in Louisiana by thirty thousand votes.[11] Clarke received some 97,000 more votes than did Harrison Bagwell, an attorney from Baton Rouge, who on April 22, 1952, polled just 4 percent of the gubernatorial vote in his general election race against Robert Kennon, who had won the Democratic nomination in a runoff election against Kennon's fellow judge, Carlos Gustave Spaht, Sr. (1906-2001) of Baton Rouge.[12]

In his Senate campaign, Clarke faced opposition from two Democratic tickets: (1) the Truman-Barkley national slate, placed on the ballot through a special session of the state legislature, and (2) the official state party line taken that year by Strom Thurmond, then a segregationist governor of South Carolina and later an eight-term member of the U.S. Senate. Thurmond switched allegiance in 1964 from the Democrats to the Republicans to support Barry Goldwater over President Lyndon B. Johnson. Clarke considered the two opposing Long slates "illegal". Though no such situation of this kind had been undertaken previously in Louisiana, candidates in New York could then and still may combine their general election votes from rival party slates. Clarke sued to prevent the Truman-Thurmond slates from both offering Russell Long as their senatorial nominees, but the appeals court declined to hear the case.[2][13]

For a brief time, Clarke appeared poised for a breakthrough. Leander Perez of Plaquemines Parish in suburban New Orleans was then the chairman of the powerful Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee. He opposed a generous tidelands oil lease settlement offered by the Truman administration and held out for a greater advantage to Louisiana, which never materialized. In a dispute with then Governor Earl Kemp Long, Perez threatened to deprive Russell Long, Earl Long's nephew, from securing the official state Democratic nomination. Such a move would have denied Long a place on the Democratic Thurmond column, the ticket with the traditional rooster emblem, which was automatically the choice of tens of thousands of Louisiana voters at the time. Perez toyed with passing the official Democratic mantle to Clem Clarke. Only a deal between Perez and Governor Long kept Russell Long on the Thurmond slate,[14] which carried the Louisiana electoral vote. Russell Long subsequently served for thirty-eight years in the Senate until he stepped down in 1987 and was succeeded by fellow Democrat John Breaux.​

Clarke tried to convince Thurmond voters to cast split tickets, then unheard of in Louisiana general elections, and to support him, not Long, for the Senate. Clarke claimed that there were a "lot of shenanigans at the polls, and the split vote that I got where they were voting for Thurmond and for me, I doubt very seriously if they were counted and given to me. ... Of course, a lot of these votes were given to me on account of the anti-Long feeling in Louisiana (yet Earl Long had won the governor's election earlier that same year). I am proud to say that I did carry my home city of Shreveport against Russsell Long."[2] Clark also won in East Baton Rouge, Iberia, and Lafayette parishes. By plurality, Iberia was the only parish to support Dewey.[15]

Clarke subsequently worked in the unsuccessful 1956 campaign to elect Littleberry Calhoun Allen, Jr., to Louisiana's 4th congressional district seat in the United States House of Representatives. Then a Republican, Allen, a veteran Navy officer, faced incumbent Democrat Thomas Overton Brooks (1897-1961), who said that he had "always been a Democrat and am too old to change now." Clarke signed an Allen advertisement which proclaimed: "We Need a Southern Republican."[16] Allen subsequently switched to the Democrats and served two terms as the Shreveport public utilities commissioner, two terms as mayor under the city commission government, and for a few weeks in 1991 prior to his death as a member of the Shreveport City Council under the current mayor-council format.[17]

Personal life

In 1963, Clarke filed suit in Shreveport against Gowen Sanatorium, Inc., regarding the illness and death of his 82-year-old mother, Maude Steele Clarke, while she was a patient at the nursing facility. Mrs. Clarke, who had both physical limitations and mental senility, fell from her bed and broke a hip while a nurse had temporarily stepped aside. She subsequently died of other causes. Clarke sought damages on grounds that Gowen had not provided proper watch over and assistance to his mother. He lost in both the district court and the Louisiana Circuit Court of Appeal for the Second District, with Judge James Edwin Bolin (1914-2002) presiding.[18]

Clarke's first marriage was to Marjorie Terry, daughter of Dr. Roy A. Terry of Long Beach, California. The couple wed on July 13, 1934.[19] The couple soon divorced, and Marjorie Clark married Donald Ballard on December 22, 1936.​

Clarke was subsequently married to Ellen Meng Lanham (1909-1988). The couple had a daughter, Carole Steele Clarke, who was just under one year of age at the time of the 1940 census. The Clarkes resided at 1039 Blanchard Place in Shreveport.[20] Ellen Clarke also had two daughters, Ellen Carolyn Herold Polk (1930-1992) and Betty Lanham Herold Meyer (1934-1992), from her previous marriage to William Alvin Herold (1903-1976), a native of Missouri.​

Clem Steele Clarke and Ellen Lanham Clarke, the names inscribed on their gravestones, are interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport, along with her daughter, Betty Lanham Herold, also known as Betty Meyer at the time of her death. Betty Herold's obituary indicates that she had lived in Shreveport from 1940 until her death and lists Carole Clarke as her only surviving sibling.[21]

Clarke's father is also interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport;[1] there is no indication of his mother's place of burial, presumably also in Greenwood Cemetery.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "LA Standard Oil President Dies: C. K. Clarke Found Dead at Capital", The Monroe News-Star, March 21, 1927. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Historian Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill. Reminiscences of Clem S. Clarke: Oral history, 1951. Columbia University. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  3. (1918) Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved on February 11, 2015. 
  4. Patents: Clem S. Clarke. Retrieved on February 11, 2015.
  5. Benedum, Michael L.. American National Biography. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  6. Columbus Marion "Dad" Joiner. The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  7. First Florida Oil Well. Retrieved on February 9, 2015.
  8. This statement was made at a time when millionaires were rare in the United States..
  9. Postmasters at Shreveport (1838-1972). The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  10. Clarke, Clem S.. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on February 9, 2015.
  11. Louisiana Secretary of State, U.S. Senate election returns, November 2, 1948.
  12. Michael J. Dubin (March 17, 2014). United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1932-1952: The Official Results by State and County. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 103–104. ISBN 978-0-7864-7034-1. Retrieved on January 6, 2015. 
  13. Billy Hathorn, The Republican Party in Louisiana, 1920-1980, (Natchitoches: Northwestern State University, 1980), p. 49
  14. Tom Aswell (August 11, 2010). Earl’s big blunder (no thanks to Leander Perez). Louisiana Voice. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  15. Louisiana Secretary of State, Presidential election returns by parish, November 2, 1948
  16. The Shreveport Times, November 4, 1956, p. 2B.
  17. L. Calhoun Allen obituary, The Shreveport Times, February 24, 1991.
  18. Clarke v. Gowen Sanatorium, Inc.. (January 9, 1964). Retrieved on February 9, 2015.
  19. California Marriage Certificate, FamilySearch website, accessed February 25, 2017
  20. Clem S. Clarke in the 1940 Census. Retrieved on February 10, 2015.
  21. "Betty Lanham Herold", The Shreveport Times, May 9, 1992, p. 12–A..