Where Hunting Happens, Conservation Happens™

B&C Member Spotlight – James Clark 

By PJ DelHomme 

Explorer, taxidermist, prisoner, big-game hunter, devoted husband—James Clark was all of them. 


In the Boone and Crockett library, there are rare first editions, and then there are truly special books that provide a small but significant window into the personal lives of past members. For the explorer, taxidermist, and hunter James Lippit Clark, the inscription inside the front cover of his autobiography speaks volumes. He writes, “To my sweetheart and wife, I give this, the first copy off the press of my “Good Hunting” as a memento of our many wonderful days together and in anticipation of the many more to come. With love unbounded from Jim, April 22, 1966.” Clark was as devoted to his bride as he was to his job—and oh, what a job he had. 

When he was 18, Clark started working as a sculptor at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in 1902. After only six years, he resigned to travel to Africa for the first of five expeditions. It was on that trip in 1908 that his real adventures began. His job, if one could call it that, was to travel the world collecting and preserving specimens for various exhibits at the AMNH, which was a far cry from his middle-class roots in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was born in 1883. 

“But whatever I did, I feel that I have had a wonderful and happy life doing the things that I most wanted to do while keeping body and soul together.” 

—James L. Clark

As a young boy, Clark wasn’t a fan of school. Instead, he liked exploring the outdoors and working as an apprentice at a local company where he was an errand boy for designers in a silverware factory. It was his first real taste of sculpting and design. He loved it. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was selected by one of his instructors to work at the AMNH as an entry-level taxidermist. 

The High Life of Taxidermy 

Once in New York City, Clark wasted no time making the rounds. He spent every weekend and holiday at the Bronx Zoo, studying animal anatomy and structure to refine his taxidermy technique. He became friends with fellow future explorer Roy Chapman Andrews—himself a real-life Indiana Jones. Clark took Andrews on his first expedition to salvage a 76-foot blue whale carcass for the museum. Shortly thereafter, Clark resigned from the museum to further spread his wings. 

Arthur Dugmore (left) and James Clark (right) are dressed in their finest as they travel across the Atlantic by steamship in 1908 to film and photograph African wildlife.

In 1908, Clark set sail for five weeks to reach Mombasa in southeastern Kenya, which was almost his first and last trip abroad. On Mount Kenya, he was stalking elephants down a trail when he stepped into a well-camouflaged elephant pit. He fell straight down and was inches away from having his manhood impaled on sharpened stakes at the bottom. “The odds were one-in-a-thousand or more that I missed them,” he later wrote. 

In Africa, he met the father of modern taxidermy, Carl Akeley. Together, the men met Boone and Crockett Club founder Theodore Roosevelt and his massive hunting entourage. On that safari, Roosevelt killed four elephants, which is part of a massive centerpiece display in the Hall of African Mammals at the AMNH. Clark and Akeley skinned, salted, and dried the skins to preserve them for transport and display. It took them three days. Then, Clark arranged to have the skins delivered by a team of oxen to the railroad, a two-week journey away. 

After 14 months in Africa, Clark returned home with many specimens, which he sold to the AMNH for $3,000 ($100,000 in 2023). Clark used that money to open James L. Clark Studio, and business was brisk. For 31 years, his studio mounted numerous trophies belonging to Roosevelt, and museums also sought Clark’s talent for taxidermy. 

He tried to enlist with the Navy when World War I began, but he was too old. Instead, he partnered with Akeley on his new motion picture camera. Fun fact: Akeley’s camera was used to film King Kong. The Air Force placed numerous orders for the camera for reconnaissance, and Clark served in various roles in Akeley’s company. In the meantime, he squeezed in a few hunts to New Brunswick and Alberta. 

He had met his “sweetheart wife” Sally Harfield, a young dress designer and artist, in 1906, but his travels and business ventures left little time for romance. A dozen years after meeting her, his life had slowed just long enough to fall in love. “I was fortunate in marrying a charming, delightful, and highly attractive girl, who has shared my life in the field and in sculpture,” Clark wrote. “Every outdoorsman hopes for this kind of association, but I was doubly blessed and Sally, whose gifts in animal and human portraiture and the ability to bring back mammal specimens were not second to my own. We have truly lived.”

Sally Clark poses with two lions she bagged on the Serengetti Plains in 1928. She shot both of these lions within two minutes (with two shots) at 80 yards. The Clarks were collecting specimens for the American Museum of Natural History.

Clark’s notoriety brought him more than taxidermy business. Word spread that he was a superb companion on trips overseas, and well-heeled patrons funded his and Sally’s trips abroad. On one trip to Africa, he stood on the edge of the massive Ngorongoro Crater in modern-day Tanzania. They camped there for six weeks, and he wrote how it should be a game sanctuary. Today, it is a protected area and a World Heritage Site. 

In 1923, Clark went back to work at the AMNH. Even though he climbed the corporate ladder to fancier titles until he retired as director of arts in 1935, he still traveled the world collecting specimens for the museum. In 1926, Clark set sail for Asia to collect sheep for the museum. His journey there is much too insane to give it justice in this short article. If you need a reason to read his autobiography, Good Hunting, know that he was captured and tortured by bandits in Mongolia, only to be turned over to the Russian consul and released. 

Of Clubs, Scoring, and Technique

When Clark was stateside, he was an active member of a number of clubs and groups. He was elected a member of the Boone and Crockett Club in 1930, which seemed a natural fit because he was a personal friend and colleague of many members. Like many B&C members, Clark was an officer in the Camp Fire Club of America, serving as president in 1929. He thoroughly enjoyed his time at the Camp Fire Club’s camp just 30 miles from mid-town Manhattan. There, he built a cabin on the property in 1928. “Mrs. Clark and I retreated on holidays and weekends to this little house to escape the big city of New York and to flex our muscles and breathe fresh air,” Clark wrote. 

Clark demonstrating the various stages of taxidermy for the lion group at the American Museum of Natural History.

It seems only natural that Clark’s study of animal anatomy would lend itself to an examination of horns and antlers. He wrote that he had long been interested in their growth, conceiving a point system to evaluate the “excellence” of such headgear for numerous reasons. In addition, he thought it was a good way to drum up business for his taxidermy studios because he designed special certificates to award to those specimens coming in first, second, and third place. In 1966, he wrote that this was the first “Big Game Competition,” which the Club now calls its Big Game Awards. In 1935, he copyrighted and published the scoring system that he used for these competitions. He wrote a revised version in 1945. It was a hit, from both a business and conservation standpoint. 


“Since Sportsman could already legally take most of our big game, they might as well try for trophies, thus making hunting selective and thereby far more interesting by taking the larger old males for possible prizes, while leaving the stronger, younger ones for breeding,” Clark wrote in Good Hunting

In 1949, Boone and Crockett Club members formed a committee to create the scoring system still used today. Chaired by Samuel Webb, the committee members included Clark and Grancel Fitz—who also created a scoring system outlined in his book How to Measure and Score Big-Game Trophies. In 1952, the Club published the third edition of its records book, Records of North American Big Game. It was the first edition that listed and ranked trophies according to the scoring system B&C created by the committee. Today, the scoring system recognizes trophies for both mass and symmetry and is currently the largest set of North American big game data in existence. In addition, Clark wrote chapters for the 1939 records book on the care of trophies in the field and on the care of mounted trophies. These chapters appeared in all the records books through 1964. 

Clark was the lead taxidermist on the L.S. Chadwick's Stone's sheep (shown at right putting the finishing touches on the mount). The Chadwick ram remains in the Boone and Crockett Club's National Collection of Heads and Horns, currently part of Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.

The life of James L. Clark fills more than a couple of books. In addition to Good Hunting, he wrote The Great Arc of the Wild Sheep and Trails of the Hunted. Each one is worth a read as those books give us just a glimpse into his 85 years of exploring. With adventures spanning 20 expeditions to Africa, Southeast Asia, Mongolia, and North America to collect specimens for the AMNH, Clark survived capture by bandits in the Gobi desert and faced down a charging rhino with a half-empty revolver while on his honeymoon. He was a most interesting man indeed. 

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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-Theodore Roosevelt