[ This article was excerpted from the book "Progressive Men of the State of Montana"]
J. R. Marks
JR. MARKS, of Townsend, while one of the early pioneer settlers of the state, is also the leading merchant of his home city. He was born in Elgin, 111., on September 18, 1846, the son of James and Harriet (Hill) Marks, and a grandson of James Marks and Samuel Hill, both natives of New York. In 1830 the father of J. R. Marks removed to Chicago, and later engaged in farming near Elgin, 111., until his death.
Fresh from the public schools of Elgin, young Marks, at the age of eighteen years, in 1864, enlisted in Company K, Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry, as quartermaster's clerk. He joined the regiment at Springfield, from there it went to Memphis, and to Nashville, and then to New Orleans, and thence to Chicago, where Mr. Marks was honorably discharged in October, 1865.
Returning to Elgin he passed the winter attending college, and in April, 1866, he outfitted for a commercial venture in Montana, carrying merchandise that would have a ready sale among the miners. Mr. Marks came by the Bozeman route, and at Fort Laramie the United States troops stopped them until a train could be formed sufficiently large to battle hostile Indians in case of trouble, a precaution that proved to be eminently wise.
While at the fort Mr. Marks went back five miles after some papers, mounted on an exceedingly fine white horse which the Indians were anxious to trade for, and a band of 100 followed him on his return to the fort. Mr. Marks refused all propositions and retained his horse. At this period the Indians were negotiating a peace treaty with the government, but the terms were not exactly to their liking, and about a week later they went on the warpath in paint and feathers. But Mr. Marks' train of 100 teams and 500 men had a fair start and had no trouble. They, however, killed many trainmen and settlers, stealing their horses and cattle. The streams were greatly swollen, at Clark's forks the river was three-quarters of a mile wide, and they made rafts on which to cross. During this hazardous crossing three of the party were drowned, and a large number of mules and several horses were lost. As a climax to these misfortunes Mr. Marks' entire stock of merchandise, worth at least $1,500, with $400 in money in a trunk, slipped from the raft, and everything was dashed to pieces at a bend in the river.
This loss was a well nigh crushing one, but the generous members of the party told him to come along with them, and they arrived in Bozeman on July I, 1866. After visiting Diamond City and Confederate gulch, Mr. Marks went to New York gulch, where, on the advice of a California expert miner, he traded his horses and gave his note of $1,000 for a placer claim. One week later he discovered that this claim had been salted and he severely tricked. He then removed to Cave gulch, and was there during the sanguinary fight between "jumpers" and "owners" in which seven men werekilled. In the fall he went to Current gulch, where a big strike was reported. After having spent two months in getting to bed-rock, with no returns, he went back to Diamond City and opened a bakery.
But as soon as he stepped aside from the rut of a miner luck seemed to favor him. At Diamond City he secured an interest in claim No. 75 in Confederate gulch, and from this realized several thousand dollars. He then purchased a claim on Montana bar from which he realized $5,000. But he subsequently bought a claim up the main gulch and built a dam and "went broke." Later he took a contract to hoist dirt, in which he employed ten horses and ten men, and profitably continued this business for two years, at the same time keeping up the bakery.
In 1870 he purchased the Luihardy ranch in the Missouri valley and also engaged to a considerable extent in freighting. In 1871 he had six ten-mule teams plying from Batten and Corinne to Helena. In 1874 he bought a stage line and took a mail contract, running each way daily between Helena and White Sulphur Springs (seventy-four miles), and requiring seventy horses. Mr. Marks also continued freighting until railway competition made it unprofitable. In these enterprises he was successful, and, although not destined to dig a fortune out of the ground, by industry, pluck and ability he won financial prosperity. He also secured a profitable mail contract between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs, which he filled until 1899.
When Townsend was first started, in 1883, Mr. Marks became a member of the mercantile firm of Tierney & Co. This firm also ran two saw-mills and erected the Townsend Hotel, in which Mr. Marks is still interested. Later the firm was succeeded by the Townsend Mercantile Company. Mr. Marks is largely interested in the State Bank of Townsend, and owns four ranches in Missouri valley, aggregating 5,000 acres. He usually feeds 500 head of cattle, 200 horses and 3,000 sheep and sells annually about 500 tons of hay.
In October, 1872, Mr. Marks was married to Miss Mary Maples, of New York. Her family had moved from New York to Wisconsin and later to Montana. They have had four children, Vera, who died at the age of four years; James, Vera and Harold, deceased.
Fraternally Mr. Marks is an Odd Fellow, and has passed the chairs of his local lodge. In his share of the "winning of the west," the pathway has not been strewn with roses. But he has never laid down, never given up the ship, but with each new misfortune has risen stronger, more determined than ever and has won deserved success.