Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - April - 2005 Issue

Wild Times in the Wild West from Arthur H. Clark


A new collection from the American West from Arthur H. Clark.

By Michael Stillman

The Arthur H. Clark Company
has just issued its 918th catalogue, with their focus on Americana and the American West. Arthur Clark has not only been selling books for over a century, but publishing them as well. Many of the best works of the past century about the American West have been published by Clark, and while you will find these books offered by any bookseller with a Western orientation, there is no better source for them than a Clark catalogue. Of course, the Clark catalogues are also great sources for older western books, and most of their listings are well within the price range of the typical collector.

Thomas Hart Benton was one of the great orators of the senate during the period from 1820-1850, along with such other renown names such as Webster, Clay and Calhoun. As a Missouri senator from its induction into the Union in 1820 until 1850, he was instrumental in encouraging the nation's expansion into the West. Ultimately, his political career would come to an end as the nation began to crumble under the divisions caused by slavery. A slave owner himself in pro-slavery Missouri, he became increasingly uncomfortable with the institution and called for a ban on its spread to any new states. This position was unpopular in Missouri and led to his defeat.

But, this is not what item 8 in the Clark catalogue is about. Now that we recall what made Benton a major figure in his time, we can read about the dirt. The book is Holographic letter to Senator Benton regarding national scandal, by General Henry Dodge and published in 1845. It seems that Benton's niece, Sally McDowell, lived with the Bentons while attending school. In 1841, at the age of 20, she married 42-year-old Maryland Representative (and soon to be governor) Francis Thomas. It was not a good marriage. Thomas was a jealous husband. Among the accusations he made was that McDowell had carried on numerous affairs, including one with Senator Lewis Linn, the deceased half-brother of author Henry Dodge. Thomas charged that Senator Benton had encouraged his niece in an affair before her marriage, and then persuaded a naive Thomas to marry her. Benton then asked General Dodge to investigate the claims. Eventually, Thomas would file a libel suit against Benton, but was unsuccessful establishing any of his claims. As for Ms. McDowell, the Virginia legislature would pass a resolution permitting her to divorce the Maryland Governor (divorce not being legal in those days). A decade later, she would remarry, this time to a minister, John Miller. In a case of all's well that ends well, despite initial difficulties caused by her being a divorcee, her second marriage would last for 40 years until both died a few weeks apart in 1895. There is a recent book called "If You Love That Lady Don't Marry Her" about this wonderful love story, but Clark is offering General Dodge's book on the scandalous earlier time in her life. Priced at $550.

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