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Hon. James Austin Marsh was born on Sunday, the nineteenth day of August, in the year 1855, in a log cabin. The house presented a neat appearance and was comfortably warm in winter when the huge fireplace four feet in width was filled with burning logs. The base of the chimney was built of huge flat sandstones laid in mud; the arch above consisted of dressed stones of smaller size fitted with a wedge shaped or keystone. The hearth, so redolent with memories of corn pone, pop corn, the frying pan, the iron pot swinging above the fire, the andirons, the encircling familiar family faces, the social circle, the stories, laughter, singing and the childish frolic; the hearthstone, the center of the home, emblematic of sacred security, was made of the choicest smoothest stones to be found; the chimney top or Hue was built of sticks and the cracks plastered with mud; the chairs were home made, straight backed, hickory bark or split bottomed; the beds had one post, and only one side rail and one end rail which were stuck in cracks or bored holes of the wall which formed one side and one end; either slats or cords were used to support the bedding. Table ware was scarce and hard to procure so when company came, it was often necessary for more than one to use the same plate, bowl, knife, fork or spoon.
Mr. Marsh thinks those were great days, fully equal to these days, and the children of those days were as smart in their way as the children are now. He insists that progress so called, is only relative; that people had to acquire as much useful knowledge then as now; that while we have learned some things and enjoy the benefits and advantages apparent, of much that was undreamed of in those days, yet we have lost in proportion to our gain; we have forgotten as much that was useful then as we have learned that is of benefit for life as it is lived today; there was happiness then the same as now, there was wisdom, ability, love and life as intense, and then as now all was swallowed up in death.
Born on a farm in the deep forests of the Ozark foothills Mr. Marsh became one of a large family of pioneers who literally hewed homes out of the forest wilderness. He remembers when wheat bread was a rarity usually reserved for Sundays when the minister was the honored guest, or for weddings, or other special occasions. Oxen were then the motive power and the saddle horse or the ox cart the means of travel, scarcely comparable in speed and comfort to the rail or the auto cars of today but equally as reliable and fully as useful to the people who used them. In youth he was accustomed to teeming wild life in forest and stream; deer, wild turkeys, foxes, ’coons, and timber wolves were plentiful, and crops had to be guarded with watchful care both day and night or the prospect of biscuit and even cornbread would disappear like a landscape in a fog. Cattle and hogs roamed at will and secured practically their own living, except in severe winter weather, when the provident farmer would feed flock of sheep or herd of cattle corn fodder, wheat or oat straw, or timothy hay, and give his hogs corn. The average owner let the porker “root hog or die” but felled a few forest trees for the cattle and sheep to browse on. The bark and buds of the twigs sufficed to keep life in the gaunt bodies of horses as well. As between the eating of meat or a vegetable diet, there was often no choice, because a store of bacon and dried beef or wild game was at times the only available food.
Started to school by his parents at the tender age of four, Mr. Marsh formed a life long habit of study, which with the aid of the country school teacher who often resorted to physical operations as well as mental exercises in his earnest if misdirected zeal in the name of education. Later he entered the academy of the country town, finishing its course with honor in spots. Then a smattering of science was imbibed at that world famous institution, The Rolla School of Mines, chemistry, geology and assaying being the leading subjects of inquiry.
Mr. Marsh procured a substitute to take his place on his father’s farm during the last year of his minority, while he spent the time in school, as teacher in winter and student in summer. It was by money earned as country school teacher that he was enabled to attend a term of school at Salem, Mo., under the tutelage of that famous educator, Professor Lynch, and also to take a course in the above named branches at The Rolla School of Mines. Quitting the schoolroom at the age of twenty-five, Mr. Marsh fell a victim to “wanderlust.” Arriving in the spring of ’81 in the mining camp called Rosita in Colorado, he labored in various capacities, chopping cord wood, drying concentrated gold and silver ores on a floor made of two inch gas pipes through which live steam was forced, until as the argonaut would put it he had sufficient money for a “grubstake.” The lust for wealth, possibly sudden and boundless riches, by the fascinating process of discovering some of the hidden treasures in the kindly bosom of mother earth, drew him to heights of the snow capped peaks of the Rockies where the very elements seem to conspire together with the dangers of underground searchings to compass destruction. Two years of camp life, part of which was spent in solitude were filled with labors at times almost frantic, in the effort to uncover a Leadville or a Comstock lode. Failure marked him for her own along with the great majority of all who seek wealth by any other than the slow and tedious process of daily earnings carefully hoarded. Railroading in California during 1883, carpentering in Oregon during the following year, then back to his old home in Missouri where the drug business was followed for another year, then a country store and post office for seven years, when the “wanderlust” again sent him to become a pioneer in the “new country” Oklahoma, where he participated in the most exciting and successful race for the promised land since the time of Moses.
Born and reared on a farm, Mr. Marsh shared the common handicap of the average boy, of being educated away from the only business with which he was from childhood familiar, farming. After gaining a homestead in Oklahoma nothing was more natural than that he should “settle down” as every homeloving weary traveler should do, and begin life over again amid the familiar objects and duties of farm life after eleven years spent in learning the ups and downs of other pursuits.
As a result of his success Mr. Marsh will embody in a book his experience with alfalfa, which is now in preparation, advanced sheets of which have been submitted to authorities of national repute, and pronounced the best extant on the subject.
During his quarter of a century of residence in Oklahoma Mr. Marsh has served five years as postmaster, throe years as special agent working under the U. S. Department of Agriculture and is now the representative of Kingfisher County in the lower house of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Mr. Marsh is a professed Christian but does not belong to any church. He is a member of the Oklahoma Authors’ Club, holds membership in the Masonic lodge of Kingfisher and also the Kingfisher Commercial Club, the Farmer’s Institute of Kingfisher County and the Oklahoma Dairymen’s Association, also by the will of his uncle, Colonel A. J. Seay, he is a member of the military order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.