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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published July 17 2011

Eriksmoen: Former Minot mayor once sentenced for distributing ‘obscene literature’

A former Minot, N.D., mayor and newspaper publisher was tried, convicted and sentenced to federal prison for distributing “obscene literature.”

The court ruling against Sam Clark was later overturned. Clark was a gifted writer whose Bismarck-based magazine, Jim Jam Jems, had a large national following. One of his articles served as the basis for a motion picture and helped lead to prison reforms in Florida.

Clark was born Jan. 18, 1879, to A. J. and Margaret (Arrighi) Clark in Stephen, Minn., 25 miles east of Grafton, N.D. He attended public school in Stephen and, after his father died, worked as a printer and publisher of the Stephen Leader, a weekly newspaper. Clark attended the University of Minnesota, receiving a bachelor of law degree in 1904.

Clark set up a law practice with Greely E. Carr in Thief River Falls, Minn. They purchased the Thief River Falls Press. During the Christmas holiday of 1905, they used the newspaper as collateral in a poker game and lost. Clark moved to Minot and purchased the Ward County Reporter in May 1906. In August, he changed the name to the Minot Daily Reporter.

Not only was Clark’s talent for writing evident in the Reporter, but on April 18, 1907, a musical he co-wrote about a shipwrecked crew on a Pacific island, “The Polynesian Pickle,” debuted at the Jacobson Opera House in Minot.

In April 1908, Clark was elected mayor of Minot. Under Clark’s leadership, “Minot began a flurry to annex the land around the city.” On June 23, 1909, Minot adopted a city commission form of government, doing away with the mayor. In 1912, Clark sold the Reporter to C.A. Johnson and moved to Bismarck.

Clark claimed he was angered at newspaper conditions, “which allowed the weak to be hounded in print while the strong escaped. He was determined to print a magazine which would reverse this.” He got together with Clarence H. Crockard, “the owner of a string of weekly newspapers in western North Dakota,” and together they created a monthly editorial news magazine, Jim Jam Jems. “Jim-jams” is a slang term for nervousness or jitteriness. With Clark as writer and editor and Crockard as publisher, the magazine used propaganda, sensationalism, humor and satire to expose corruption. Because of publicity over obscenity charges, it soon had a national following.

Clark was not afraid to take on major institutions. Jim Jam angered some physicians by disclosing illegal operations performed by doctors in Minnesota and North Dakota. The magazine focused on an alleged fatal abortion performed by a doctor connected with the University of Minnesota. On Nov. 8, Clark and Crockard were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fargo and charged with 28 counts of sending obscene matter in interstate commerce. A trial was set in U.S. District Court in Bismarck on March 14, 1913.

The Bismarck trial in March ended in a hung jury, and a retrial was scheduled for late June. On June 26, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” but recommended that a “jail sentence not be imposed.”

“A gasp of astonishment went out from those who gathered in the court room” when Judge Willard sentenced each man to two years in Leavenworth Federal Prison and a $2,000 fine. Not feeling the punishment was harsh enough, the judge called both defendants in the next day and tacked on two additional years. Two days later, Clark and Crockard filed a “writ of error.” On March 5, 1914, the Supreme Court reversed the federal court action and sent it back for retrial.

The retrial in Bismarck was scheduled for March 25, 1915. One week earlier, a jury found Dr. Charles Hunter, the principal chairman of the University of Minnesota Medical School, guilty of manslaughter in a botched abortion. He was the physician Clark wrote about in 1912 that outraged the medical community. At the March 25 trial, the jury found Clark and Crockard “not guilty.”

Clark hired Wallace Campbell, a skilled writer, to help him with Jim Jam. In 1922, the two men put out a book titled “The Federal Reserve Monster.”

In the February 1923 issue of Jim Jam, an article appeared about the brutal death of Martin Tabert, a young man from North Dakota who hopped a freight train, was arrested in Florida for vagrancy and sentenced to work in the swamps. After Tabert became ill, he was whipped to death for being lazy. The Jim Jam article caught the attention of Hollywood, which led to the movie “The Whipping Boss.” Public outrage over Tabert’s treatment caused Florida to make changes in their prison system.

Later that year, Clark turned over Jim Jam to Campbell, sold his Bismarck house at 114 Ave. A W. to his good friend William Langer and moved to Minneapolis.

Langer called Clark back to Bismarck in the early 1930s to begin publication of the State Record, which was intended to support the Langer political machine.

The two men had a falling out, and Clark began an editorial news magazine called Red Ink. It was critical of Langer and his allies. On July 17, 1934, Langer was removed from office and, nine months later, Clark released his last issue of Red Ink.

Samuel Hardwick Clark moved to Glendale, Calif., and died on Dec. 20, 1944.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.