Merle Clark is a bit of a western enigma. At 78 years old this Marmarth, ND rancher has no desire to retire from ranching.
Merle Clark is a bit of a western enigma. At 78 years old this Marmarth, ND rancher has no desire to retire from ranching. And his thirst for history has been a foundation for creating the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman, ND, which is home to not only southwestern North Dakota’s pioneer/ranching history but the region’s prehistoric past.
In addition, Clark has lived the life of a rodeo cowboy, rodeo announcer and auctioneer. Plus, you need not get very far into any conversation with him before you discover that he is a noted historian, with in-depth knowledge on everything from dinosaurs to Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
Thus his appearance on NBC’s weekly Special Cowboy Moments television show on Saturday, July 23 at 5 p.m. CDT, is a treat and feast of interesting facts.
“You can ask one question and he’s off and running with a smorgasbord of statistics,” said Kevin Holten, North Dakota Cowboy Association president and producer of Special Cowboy Moments. “I think we could do 10 episodes on Merle Clark.”
Clark is the grandson of a man they called “Stuttering Clark” for obvious reasons, and he is the son of North Dakota rodeo legend Elmer Clark.
As Clark tells it, his grandfather used to literally tie his father, Elmer, who was under 10 years old at the time, to wild broncs and make him break them by letting the bronc loose in the countryside and allowing his son to wear the bronc out.
On at least one occasion a neighbor spotted a bronc speeding across the horizons with something flopping in the saddle. As it turned out it was little Elmer Clark, knocked out.
“It was nothing short of legal child abuse,” Merle Clark said, “but it certainly taught by dad how to ride broncs. And it caused many neighbors to hold Stuttering Clark in low regard.”
Elmer Clark would go on to become a rodeo legend, being one of only two or three men to ever ride the infamous Buffalo, SD bronc named Tipperary.
Merle also went on to be a rodeo participant and, in 1960, lent Ted Kennedy his chaps and spurs at the Eastern Montana Fair in Miles City, MT so that Kennedy could ride a bronc. The younger Kennedy was there to campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy, who was running for president at the time. It turned out to be a great publicity stunt but it was a definite risk for someone who’d never been on a bronc.
“He did okay,” Clark said.
Special Cowboy Moments is a weekly half-hour show that appears each Saturday at 5 p.m. CDT on NBC North Dakota. Its purpose is to gather rich history for generations to share. SCM is sponsored by Shetler’s Construction and Dickinson Truck Equipment.
To see past episodes, go to northdakotacowboyassociation.com and click on “Videos” and then “Special Cowboy Moments.”