October 12, 2017

The Green Paradise of William A. Clark III

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

cover page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

title card for Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56













It is always rewarding to piece together a historical narrative that spans various formats and collections within the archives, and such is the case with a 1931 camping trip taken by William A. Clark III into the wilderness of western Montana. As the namesake and entrepreneurial grandson of the famous copper magnate, the 28-year-old Clark not only had the means with which to generously outfit his month-long excursion, but also the materials needed to document the outing in detail. A 60-page manuscript chronicling the trip arrived at the Montana Historical Society in 1949 under the title Our Last Frontier, with eleven still photographs serving to illustrate the outdoor activities of Clark and his camping party. Six unidentified home movie reels were brought to the Historical Society by a separate donor in 1976, and title cards from one of these films have recently allowed us to match them with the Clark writings and photographs from 1931. Named Green Paradise: The Story of a Camping Trip by their creator, the film reels serve as a wonderful complement to the Our Last Frontier materials and provide us with a unique viewpoint concerning the Clark family story.

The Rovero brothers flanking Gene Kelly
"Repacking Supplies at Danaher Camp", PAc 77-17
Gene Kelly, "A Native Trout from the Sun River", PAc 77-17
In the first paragraph of the manuscript, Clark states three reasons for his lengthy trip to the wilderness: “One was the fact that I had become greatly interested in colored motion picture photography, another than I had just planned to pass two years in Arizona, and the third was that I felt the need of a trip into the woods. The last reason, a manifestation of relish for the wilderness, can better be understood by those who have been intimately associated with the mountain trail and the camp fire.” (3) In addition to the companionship of his attorney, friend, and previous camping partner E.J. (Gene) Kelly, Clark also procured the assistance of brothers’ Pete and Dennis Rovero, who would in turn “buy twelve head of pack horses and four saddle horses, as well as the necessaries to establish a base of supplies at White River.” (4) As the cards from the titled motion picture boast, these four men ultimately “covered 300 miles in 31 days, established 15 camps, forded many streams and rivers, and crossed the Continental Divide four times.” The motion picture films, still photographs, and written words all serve to document the following locations within western Montana and what is now known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area: Chinese Wall, Kootenai Mountains, Morrell Falls, Cottonwood Lake, South Fork Flathead River, Sun River, Twin Peaks, Big Salmon Lake, McDonald Peak, and Holland Lake.

"Bull Elk with Horns in Velvet", PAc 77-17

fording the Sun River, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
Of the six film reels donated to the Historical Society, we find one edited product with title cards accompanied by five reels of additional footage. Though the manuscript does not always differentiate between the taking of still photographs and moving images, Clark does make direct references to the shooting of motion picture film on a few occasions: “The purpose of the trip would be to photograph in natural colors the scenic beauty of the country we had in the past covered by trail, and the attempt to again photograph the wild game of this section of Montana. Since the film was not to be for commercial exhibition but rather for our own use we decided to use the Eastman sixteen millimeter Kodacolor camera.” (3) The film on all six reels is in fact 1931 Kodacolor stock, so it’s unclear as to why the images appear in black and white rather than in color.
at the Chinese Wall, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
At another point in his writings, Clark describes a failed attempt at capturing moving images of an elk: “The first morning we were honored by a not unwelcome visitor – a bull elk that strolled boldly into camp just at daybreak. He awoke us all with his seemingly annoyed stomping, probably occasioned by the total lack of ceremonial greeting to which so eminent a member of forest nobility is entitled, and remained inquiringly within fifty yards of camp until the sun came over the hill when he reluctantly and with many backward glances at us returned to the brush. We took some excellent still pictures of him but unfortunately were unable, due to the dim light, to ‘feature’ him in any motion pictures.” (37) Rectification of this missed opportunity can be found near the end of the narrative, and Clark states that “to this time we had recorded only about fifty feet of the animals, but Dame Fortune favored me most generously at this last attempt.” (53-54) While this elk footage did not make Clark’s edited version of the home movie, these images can be found on the outtake reels.


the final page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

The two sentences that comprise the final page of Clark’s memoir speak of the group’s reluctance to leave the Montana wilderness at the end of the trip: “The next morning it was all too apparent that the end of our trail was in sight. We dawdled about camp as long as we dared, changing packs here, splicing ropes there, taking pictures of scenes that we had taken the afternoon before just to procrastinate the longer, but we finally made a most reluctant start and by three o’clock that afternoon we arrived at the Holland Lake Lodge and – well – the trip was over.” (60) The melancholy of this sentiment is punctuated by the fact that William A. Clark III died less than a year after these documents were created, making this perhaps his final trip to the Montana wilderness. An aviator, Clark died in an airplane crash on May 15, 1932 outside of Clarkdale, Arizona – the company smelter town founded in 1912 by his industrious grandfather.




William A. Clark III, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56


EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Original Governor's Mansion

The first two governors of the State of Montana, Joseph Toole and Edwin Norris, lived in their own homes while serving. When Samuel Stewart, who was from Virginia City, was elected, the state legislature appropriated funds to purchase and maintain a furnished home in Helena, where the governor and his family would live and host receptions for dignitaries.


Key dates

1888—William A. Chessman builds a residence at 304 N. Ewing for his own use.
1913—The state buys the Chessman home to serve as the executive mansion.
1913-1959—Nine governors and their families reside in the mansion.
1959—Governor Hugo Aaronson moves to the new governor’s mansion at 2 Carson Street.


From the newspapers


To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: governor’s mansion, executive mansion, chessman, helena.

Written by Catherine W. Ockey