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Tribune nearing its 128th birthday

Madera County Historical Society

George A. Clark, founder of the Madera Tribune, is shown here in his office on North D Street. The paper’s first office was on North E Street, next to the San Joaquin Power and Light Company.


Last Saturday’s “Tale” dealt with the creation of the Madera Irrigation District, and carried a photograph of the front page of the Madera Tribune that was published one century ago today (Jan. 2, 1920).

That issue pushed me into thinking about our hometown newspaper. In researching material for this column, this writer depends to a large extent on the old newspapers, and The Madera Tribune is the most often consulted. As I thought about that, my mind went back to a trio of men who have been pivotal in the life of the Madera Tribune: Dean Lesher, Les Hayes, and Chuck Doud.

There can be little doubt about it. Without the vision of Lesher, Hayes, and Doud, there would be no Madera Tribune today. However, there is another person who is central to the Madera Tribune story; his name is George A. Clark.

Some time ago, I was snooping in the library of the Madera County Historical Society and found an issue of The Tribune dated Sept. 8, 1944. Ominous black borders separated its eight columns. At first glance one would have thought the President had died. A closer look, however, revealed the reason for the somber layout. Both Madera and its daily paper were in mourning. George A. Clark, the founder and publisher of the Madera Tribune, had passed away.

After I left the museum, I went to Arbor Vitae Cemetery and found George Clark’s tombstone. It routinely recorded his name, date of birth, and date of death. It also had an epitaph, which shouted an unusual tribute. “He founded the Madera Tribune on March 31, 1892, and lived by the ethics of the Fourth Estate.” This epitaph provoked an inquiry. 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 immigrated 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 North 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 paper is like reading real West 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 128 years — much longer than any other local publication — The Madera Tribune has chronicled the happenings of Madera both for the present and the future.

This writer extends congratulations to the Madera Tribune and to the people who have kept the vision of a daily newspaper for our town alive.

Hats off to George Clark, Dean Lesher, Les Hayes, and Chuck Doud. Local newspapers are precious things, especially when the publisher lives by the ethics of the Fourth Estate.

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