The McCracken Research Library at the Center of the West collects manuscripts, photographs and much more that pertains to Buffalo Bill Cody, the West and the local area of Cody.
Unfortunately, because of the large amount of material, it takes a while for some received collections to be sifted through and processed. This happened with a recent collection on loan from the family of Charles G. Clarke.
Clarke was a cinematographer in Hollywood in the 1920s but it turned out that his true love was the American West, the history of California and the journeys of Lewis and Clark. As a result, Clarke amassed a library on these subjects. The collection was loaned to the library in the early 2000s.
But once the library did start investigating the collection, the staff realized there were rare treasures related to Western exploration, the crossing of the plains through Wyoming to California during the Gold Rush Era, as well as California history books and important things related to Lewis and Clark.
Mary Robinson, the director of the McCracken Research Library, said they started getting excited and sifted through the books.
“People treat their books like containers because they don’t just collect books, they collect manuscripts, letters, postcards and they tuck things into their books,” said Robinson. “So, working with a collection like this is like a treasure hunt.”
One of the fun discoveries was that Clarke had acquired some books that belonged to the artist Charles M. Russell. One in particular was a published set of Lewis and Clark journals which had Russell’s plate on them. So, Robinson wanted to share these discoveries with her library board. She said she got the first volume of those journals.
“Something fell out onto the floor that had been tucked inside and it turned out to be a handwritten legal document that was signed by William Clark himself, of Lewis and Clark fame in 1813 when he was territorial governor of Missouri,” said Robinson.
In the letter, Clark was certifying a notary public on a legal dispute between a trader in St. Louis and someone in New Orleans.
Robinson was ecstatic, “to find something original to a famous western figure like Lewis and Clark…I mean you just don’t see that.”