Richard Clarke (15 December 1845 - 5 May 1930), born in Yorkshire, England, was a United States frontiersman, Pony Express rider, actor, and armed forces member who was widely considered by the American public to be the original inspiration for Deadwood Dick. During his career, Clarke fought alongside George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn against the combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. In his work with the Pony Express, Clarke often had to defend himself, others, and his cargo from Sioux raiders. Clarke lived long enough to see his country make peace with the Sioux, and met President Calvin Coolidge on the day the latter became an honorary member of the Sioux people. He died in the town in which he spent much of his life: Deadwood, South Dakota.
He never sat with his back to a door, that grim old-timer who claimed to be the hero of the Deadwood Dick dime novels. He assumed the stance of an alert shotgun guard at all times, in spite of the fact that no stagecoach robber had been observed in our little town for many a decade. His weather-beaten face was flecked with powder burns and his piercing, squinched eyes were ever on the lookout for trouble. He seemed to stand tall, due to his lean build, and the peaked crown of his black Stetson added to the deception. His name was Richard Clarke, but he preferred to be called Deadwood Dick, and most of the townspeople humored him.
Dick lived in obscurity for a number of years and his oft-told tales of vanquished Indians and outwitted holdup men were discounted by local listeners. His prosaic job as a railroad section hand did much to diminish belief in his stories of previous adventures. Some of his neighbors regarded him as a pathetic and deluded old man. It was in 1927, when he was in his early seventies, that Deadwood Dick was born again. Bert Bell, an energetic and imaginative press agent for Deadwood's Days of 76, acted as midwife in the rebirth of the fictional hero, and Dick Clarke became the character that he had impersonated for many years.Dick was given a buckskin suit, the use of a cabin in Pine Crest Park for his lifetime, a place of honor in every parade, and he was lionized with proper respect by the cult buffs of the Pioneer. Robert Casey, in his book, The Black Hills, said that some of Dick's disbelievers claimed he didn't know which end of the gun to hold away from him when he pulled the trigger. Our family could prove this was not the case. It was our privilege, when we moved to Whitewood in 1920, to live in the house next door to Deadwood Dick. Before his sudden rise to fame removed him from our town, we considered him a satisfactory neighbor, except for one alarming trait. He was much too quick on the trigger of his trusty rifle. The fact that the index finger on his right hand was missing did not slow his fast draw.
I was a senior in high school when I experienced the humbling result of Deadwood Dick's fast draw. Mother had mentioned on one of Dick's visits that a skunk had taken up residence under our screened porch.Dick assured her that he knew just how to take care of the problem. Why he chose 8:30 the following morning to exterminate the animal, I shall never know, but just as I was leaving for school, a shot shattered the early morning stillness and my life was changed for many weeks thereafter.
By the time I reached the Lemaster home, I knew that I would not be welcome in class, and I decided upon what I foolishly considered a quick fix. I had tied a 25-cent piece in my handkerchief for some notebook paper, so I dashed down to Gustin's Drug Store for a quarter's worth of perfume. Earl, in his haste to get rid of me, handed me a half pint of the cheapest, smelliest kind in stock, and held the door open for my departure. I drenched myself with the malodorous liquid, and in my rush to reach class on time, I failed to realize the full horror of combining the essence of skunk with the overpowering scent of magnolia and musk. I tried to slip into the room without being noticed, but my odor preceded me and as I came through the door, all eyes in class were upon me.
I raced to my seat amidst a concert of gagging and retching sounds, and Lorene Jay, who sat in front of me, promptly fainted. Professor Munson quickly appraised the situation and suggested that I leave the room immediately. Tearfully, I stumbled home with anger eventually replacing my humiliation. I deplored the fact that no early-day combatants had sent a well-placed bullet or arrow to the heart of our hero, Deadwood Dick, and I plotted ways that I might accomplish the job they had left undone. At home, I found my exasperated mother trying to air out the house that smelled worse even than I, before I added the putrid perfume.The unfortunate skunk left his imprint on our household for several weeks, but Deadwood Dick has lingered in my memory as he appeared that ill-fated morning so many years ago. Only my futile anger has faded, dissolved by laughter and nostalgia for those good old days. Kit Carson, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody were real-life people who were made larger-than-life to dozens of dime novelists who were grinding out a never-ending stream of improbable western thrillers during the last half of the 19th century. These so called dime novels were eagerly devoured mostly by people who lived in the East and lived vicariously, the adventures of their pulp fiction heroes. Edward Zane Carroll Judson, aka Ned Buntline was considered by many, the King of the Dime Novels. His own life, if we can believe him, was as action-packed as the tales he wrote. He was something of a womanizer too. On March 14th, 1846, he shot and killed a man named Bob Porterfield, husband of one of his teenage admirers at Nashville.
At his trial he stated that No proof has ever been advanced that I ever touched her hand. He conveniently omitted any other part of her anatomy he might have touched. The victim's brother and some cronies pulled their pistols and fired several shots at Ned, who bolted from the courtroom, and dove through an open window. During his escape he was shot in the chest, and hit in the head with a rock. A New York novelist named Ed Wheeler decided to seek his fortune in the same business and capitalize on the success of Buntline and the others but was in desperate need of a chief character.
He searched long and hard, in vain then finally decided to let his imagination run amok by simply inventing his own hero, the man who never was-Deadwood Dick. Wheeler cranked out a flood of dime novels featuring his mythical hero, using real Wild West characters, such as Calamity Jane, in supporting roles. His readers became convinced that Deadwood Dick was a real person and soon "the man who never was, " took his place alongside such folk heroes as General Custer, Davy Crockett, and Hickok.
In 1926, when America celebrated its 150th birthday, Deadwood, South Dakota, celebrated "Black Hills Days of'76, " glorifying Old Yellow Hair, Sitting Bull, Wild Bill and the others. The trouble was, all of them were dead but nobody knew what happened to the legendary Deadwood Dick. Could he possibly still be alive?A frantic search uncovered an old geezer named Dick Clark. Not the one on American Bandstand.
This Dick Clark was found shoveling manure inside a Deadwood stable. Smelling free drinks and the chance to make a few quick bucks, the manure man "confessed" that he was indeed, the long-lost, one-and-only, Deadwood Dick. Well, his name was Dick and he was a native son, and he was willing to let his hair grow long, wear a buckskin jacket, and a pack a six-shooter in his belt. The news spread like wildfire.
The old manure shoveler was about to receive his fifteen minutes of fame, the willing centerpiece of the big celebration. He was even brought to Washington to shake hands with President Calvin Coolidge.In no time at all he was thoroughly convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. He regaled patrons with tales which invariably began: "Waal, one time when I an' Calamity an' Buffalo Bill was scouting for General Custer. And the rest, as they say, is history. Deadwood Dick and the dime novel. Clarke was born in Hansborough, Yorkshire, England, on 15 December 1845.
He lived here for the first sixteen years of his life, before immigrating to the United States in 1861. Motivated by the stories of recent gold discoveries, Clarke made his way to Illinois where he fell in with a band of prospectors. At the height of excitement about gold discoveries in the Black Hills, Clarke traveled the Overland Trail into the Dakota territories; completing the trip took over two months. Clarke joined the illegal settlement at Deadwood and was instrumental in building the town. The town flourished, despite the fact that the land of the Black Hills had been granted to the local Lakota people by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.Clarke was widely considered to be a hero of the Old West - a man who endured the hardships of frontier life, engaged in mining, battled Amerindians, worked for the Pony Express, acted as a local guide, and was employed as an assistant to United States Marshals. He fought alongside George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, in eastern Montana Territory on 25/26 June 1876. The 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by Custer, faced the combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples, but the United States effort was a failure, and the battle resulted in the deaths of Custer and a casualty rate of 52%, with 300 military personnel either dead or wounded.
Clarke managed to both escape the carnage and to establish his reputation as a respected Indian fighter. Following the battle, Clarke devoted time to refuting the rumor that Custer's death had been a suicide and supporting the notion that the military leader met his end at the hands of the Indians they were fighting. Settling in Deadwood, Clarke claimed the acquaintance of such notable figures as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Poker Alice Tubbs, and Captain Jack Crawford.  He adopted the moniker of "Deadwood Dick", long before Deadwood Dick became a famous fictional character. Many believe Clarke to have been the inspiration behind a number of dime novels published between 1877 and 1897, written by Edward Lytton Wheeler, and starring a protagonist named Deadwood Dick.
 These novels were so popular that Clarke was able to use their fame to boost his own public profile; many other Deadwood residents also adopted the name. The fictional Deadwood Dick was a fearless frontiersman, and his history shared many biographical details with Clarke.However, it was never established with any certainty that Wheeler had based his character on Clarke. Although there were eventually a number of writers on the fictional exploits of Deadwood Dick, Wheeler's first serial ran from 1877 to 1885: Deadwood Dick starred in 31 stories before the death of his creator. At this point, Beadle and Adams - publishers of the original books - introduced Deadwood Dick Jr. Who was almost indistinguishable from his fictional father, and was the protagonist of a further 70 stories.
The fictional Dick was a plainsman, who spent most of his time dealing with trouble in mining camps, but highwaymen who preyed on stage coach travelers, kidnappers, and Calamity Jane helped occupy Dick's quieter hours. Deadwood Dick was invincible in combat, but did sometimes operate outside of the law. There has been speculation the Clarke himself was the author of Wheeler's Deadwood Dick series, but this has never been sufficiently proven. Described as short, "long-haired and long-winded, " Clarke provided visitors to Deadwood with a physical representation of the popular literary character.Clarke spent some time traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The show played to the American fascination with the West and frontier life, and was a circus-like attraction featuring recreations of life in the West, shooting contests, displays of horsemanship, and usually closing with a staged Amerindian attack on a settler cabin. He proved popular with audiences, and achieved some success with his own spinoff show. In his later years, he was employed by the Deadwood town administration to act as a guide for visiting tourists. Provided with a residence adjacent to the town's tourist park, Clarke dressed in buckskins and would regale visitors with stories of his past as an adventurer and warrior. In 1927, Clarke met then President, Calvin Coolidge when the summer White House was established near Rapid City, South Dakota. At the age of 82, in 1929, Clarke made the journey from the Black Hills to Washington, D. For the express purpose of extending a personal invitation to President Coolidge to visit Deadwood. He opted to travel by plane, and was pleased that the flight from Rapid City to Chicago took four and a half hours as opposed to the two months it took to cross the Overland Trail.
His appearance back East attracted a great deal of press interest, and the many scars that attested to Deadwood Dick's violent past fascinated journalists. Clarke proved very interested in seeing the sites of the East, but reportedly decided the region was "effete" and publicly declared that he could never live away from the Black Hills. Clarke died on 5 May 1930, at the age of 84, after an extended illness. With his passing, America was said to have lost one of the last picturesque characters of the old west. Clarke was buried in the Black Hills, just outside Deadwood.
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