This is another tale straight out of Arbor Vitae Cemetery, but it begins in the old Madera County Courthouse Museum.
For a long time it had an aging front page of a newspaper eloquently informing its readers that it was almost 125 years old.
The frame that embraced this piece of Madera’s history and the stand on which it was displayed affirmed its importance. It was the centerpiece of the museum library because it is the oldest extant copy of The Madera Tribune.
It was published Aug. 1, 1892, just four months after the local paper was founded.
Not far from this treasure of journalistic history, in the museum’s newspaper archive, is another important issue
of The Tribune dated Sept. 8, 1944. Ominous black borders separate its eight columns. At first glance one would think the President had died. A closer look, however, reveals the reason. Both Madera and its daily paper were in mourning. George A. Clark, the founder and publisher of The Madera Tribune had passed away.
Now let’s go to Arbor Vitae. In its old pioneer section stands a noteworthy tombstone. It routinely records the name, date of birth, and date of death of George A. Clark. His epitaph, however, shouts out an unusual tribute. “He founded the Madera Tribune on March 31, 1892, and lived by the ethics of the Fourth Estate.”
This writer rediscovered the tombstone on one of his Sunday strolls among the resting places of Madera’s pioneers. Standing there contemplating the grave, it didn’t take a genius to realize that The Madera Tribune was about to reach a milestone. In March 2017, the paper will be 125 years old! That in itself should be cause for celebration.
It is also cause to reflect on the epitaph. Who was George A. Clark, and what was all that business about “living by the ethics of the Fourth Estate?” That question took me to the newspaper morgue.
Although George A. Clark was born in Woodman, Wisconsin, on Oct. 18, 1865, just a few months after the end of the American Civil War, he spent most of his youth in North Dakota and Iowa. For awhile he worked with his father as a carpenter, and later he became a schoolteacher. While he was engaged in his classroom duties, Clark secured part-time employment in a small country newspaper, and it was this latter endeavor that grabbed his heart.
Over the next few years, Clark was employed by the Chicago Tribune, Omaha Republican, and in Des Moines, Iowa, as a master printer. He was one of the last, if not the last of a group of master printers known to the Missouri River Valley as “Missouri River Pirates,” a compliment in the trade meaning he had no superior.
George Clark emigrated to California in 1890 to work on the Fresno Expositor, and on March 31, 1892, moved to Madera to found The Tribune. He first opened up business on North E Street, facing the Southern Pacific depot between Mace’s Hotel and the San Joaquin Light and Power Company warehouse. Later he moved to D Street. It was in this latter location that, although the Tribune offices were burned to the ground, the paper never missed an issue.
Over the years, George Clark earned his epitaph. He was known as a man of unbending principles and was particularly immune to pressure from special interests in the community. Not even the inimitable Henry Miller could intimidate George Clark.
The powerful land baron once demanded of Clark that he take an editorial position on a certain matter, and Miller was willing to pay for the desired journalistic support. Clark was adamant in his refusal. He could not be bought. Later, much to Miller’s surprise, Clark did support the cattleman’s position, but he flatly rejected Miller’s offer of monetary consideration.
In 1919, George A. Clark brought his son, Howard A. Clark into partnership with him, and the two were co-publishers of The Tribune until the time of the father’s death.
Reading the past issues of the Tribune is like reading real Western drama, for Madera was passing through its frontier stage in the beginning years of the Tribune. The newspaper reads like a community diary, recording both the momentous and the trivial, for it was all-important to its readers. In the process, for 125 years — much longer than a certain rival publication — The Madera Tribune has chronicled the happenings of Madera both for the present and the future.
Now, as the Tribune begins another year of recording Madera’s present, its pages will also become chronicles of the past, and that is important.
The electronic media certainly has won its place in reporting the news, but the spoken word will never replace the written word. Newspapers are not scribbled on the wind. They are permanent, and that is one reason I believe Madera would not be the same without the Tribune.
I salute all of those who labor to put the paper in the hands of Maderans — the publisher, the editors, the reporters, the photographers, the proofreaders, the advertisers. the deliverers, the office workers, and the subscribers.
I hope that in 25 years, readers will pick up their paper and celebrate the sesquicentennial of The Madera Tribune.