The Dent letters at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri in Columbia contain an interesting letter to Lester Dent. The letter, dated July 13, 1924, is a two-page letter from Kenneth B. Marquiss. Dent’s address is listed as 1209 Walnut, Chillicothe, U. S. A. This was during the time Dent was enrolled in the Chillicothe Business School and studying telegraphy. Dent was living at the home of E. M. Robert who was the Telegraphy School Principal.
Kenneth writes from his home in “Akrona,” Kodaikanal, S. India. The letter was a reply to Dent’s earlier letter of May 23, 1924. Unfortunately, there is no copy of Dent’s letter in the archive. Marquiss goes into some details about life in southern India. Kenneth mentioned that his family will be staying in India until the spring of 1926. Kenneth went into some details about the heat and the weather. He told an interesting story about his father hunting a wounded leopard in the nighttime jungle.
The letter also mentioned traveling to Madura to see the temples which spanned across some 24 acres. Kenneth described the inspiring sight of the gilt-covered temple domes and columns reflecting the glory of the early morning sunlight. The letter also portrayed the temple elephants and a multitude of monkeys in a colorful light.
His father was Rev. F. C. Marquiss. The family address was listed as Palmwood, Kilpauk, Madras, India and the envelope had “American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society” printed on it.
On the surface this appears to be something like a pen pal letter. It is not. During his years in Wyoming, Lester Dent appeared to have made at least one friend, Kenneth Marquiss. To understand how Kenneth Marquiss came to be writing to Lester Dent from India we need to examine his father, Frank Marquiss.
Frank Clifford Marquiss was born in 1887 in Broken Bow, Nebraska. His parents were Mary Cokayne Marquiss (1843-1914) and Earl Douglas Marquiss (1841-1912). The family was farming 160 acres of land that Earl Marquiss had claimed in 1893 under the Timber Culture Act of 1873. The Marquiss farm was located approximately four miles due south of Broken Bow. The 1900 US Census reported the family still living in Broken Bow and engaged in farming.
The Custer County Chief, Broken Bow, Nebraska, Friday, July 27, 1906, reported Frank Marquiss living in Gillette, Wyoming. On April 19, 1908, Frank Marquiss married Anna Gikison (1886-1982). Both were residents of Broken Bow, Nebraska. The local paper reported that the newly married couple would spend the summer in Wyoming at the groom’s ranch with both returning to college in York, Nebraska in the fall.
Anna Marquiss gave birth to Kenneth Byron Marquiss on September 2, 1909. The 1910 United States Census listed Frank as a resident of Gillette, Wyoming and showed he was the manager of a grocery and hardware company.
An article in the Custer County Republican dated Thursday, September 28, 1911, reported that Frank Marquiss was leaving for Richmond, Virginia to enter medical school. On the surface, it appears the Marquiss family was financially well off. Frank’s father, Earl Marquiss, died on July 15, 1912, while staying at his daughter’s home in Gillette, Wyoming. It does not seem that Frank finished medical school. The death of his father may have played some factor, but we cannot know for sure. The next bit of information we have on Frank is his draft card, dated June 5, 1917. The card listed his occupation as Stockman-Farmer and gave a home address in Gillette, Wyoming.
The next documentation located for Frank Marquiss was his passport application dated August 16, 1919. A few weeks later Frank and his family sailed from Seattle, Washing on September 18 aboard the M. S. Suwa Maru. They arrived at Madras, India on November 17, 1919.
United States Consular documents documented the Marquiss family living in Bishopville, Vepery, Madras, India through August 27, 1925. Frank was engaged in missionary work for the American Foreign Baptist Mission Society which was operating out of the Ford Building in Boston, Massachusetts. The consular documents noted possible travel to China and Japan but there are no records showing such travels.
Frank Marquiss and his family returned to the United States aboard the S.S. Leviathan on June 7, 1926, departing from Cherbourg, France.
The 1929 city directory for Redlands, California listed Reverend Frank Marquiss and his wife Ann living at 207 North Church Street. The 1930 United States Census, dated April 10, 1930, showed his family living at the same address. His occupation was listed as carpenter in the housing industry. The 1932 California Voter Registrations listed Mrs. Marquiss as a Democrat. Frank and Kenneth Marquiss were both listed as Socialists. Frank’s occupation was listed as a carpenter and Kenneth was a student.
Kenneth Marquiss and Bessie Arlene Schertz applied for a marriage license in Mohave County, Arizona on November 30, 1935
Kenneth’s draft card dated December 27, 1940, showed him living at 422 Beacon Street, Redlands, California. His wife was Bessie Arlene Marquiss. Kenneth worked for Crusader Gold Mines, Inc. at Diamond Spring, California. It is interesting to note that it was over 450 miles from his home to his workplace in Diamond Springs. Kenneth died on September 17, 1999, in Monterey, California. There is no other correspondence between Lester Dent and Kenneth Marquiss in the collection.
We cannot know exactly when these two boys met but we can nail down at least one date for certain. The obituary notice for Bernard Dent’s mother, Susan Dent, listed Bernard coming from Gillette, Wyoming. This was dated February 11, 1916. Lester Dent would have been 11.3 years old while Kenneth Marquiss would have been a much younger 6.4 years old. The two boys were nearly five years apart in age. We don’t know the exact relationship between the two boys, but it was strong enough to foster some correspondence nearly a decade later at a time when Lester Dent was nearly 20 years old, and Kenneth Marquiss was approaching age 15.
Frank Marquiss, like his father, claimed land from the Federal government. His claim was filed on April 7, 1916, under the Homestead Act of 1862. The claim consisted of 320 acres and was east of Pumpkin Buttes, situated on the Belle Fourche River. One of the accounts Lester Dent talked about relating to his stay at Pumpkin Buttes was the necessity of hauling water from the Belle Fourche River in “The Lonely Boy Who Dreamed” by Will Murray.