This article was originally published in our July/August 2021 issue.

Lee M. Cullimore, 312 pages, nonfiction, Friends of Arrow Rock, hardcover, $24.99

Imagine someone is writing your biography more than one hundred years after you’ve died. What resources would they consult to construct a narrative of your life? Did you leave behind a diary? Is there someone significant in your life who would have a large collection of letters from you? This was the challenge Lee M. Cullimore took on in To Make a Fortune in Missouri, his new biography of Meredith Miles Marmaduke, which Missouri Life had a small hand in creating (more on that in a moment).

Of course biographers of contemporary subjects would more than likely have access to a treasure trove of social media posts to help fill in the blanks in our life stories. In the case of Meredith Miles Marmaduke, who was born in 1791 and died in 1864 after having served as Missouri’s twenty-fifth governor, among other achievements, there was no such digital archive, nor was there a journal collection left behind, at least not one that spanned the entirety of the subject’s life. In order to tell the story of Marmaduke’s life, Cullimore had to assemble what he could based on a scant collection of letters, news items, and legal documents.

Readers will find early on that Cullimore was more than up to the task. In fact, the biography in some ways ends up serving double duty as a portrait of life in early US history, because Cullimore frequently adds in anecdotes and writings from contemporaries of Marmaduke’s to help add color and context to particular chapters of his life. The result is something a touch broader in scope than a traditional biography.

As the title suggests, the bulk of the book focuses on Marmaduke’s time in and around Missouri, where he spent the majority of his life and where he did, in fact, make his fortune. Because Marmaduke’s history is so intertwined with the community, it seems only fitting that Friends of Arrow Rock published the biography, and we here at Missouri Life are proud to have been involved with the book’s design and creative direction.

The Missouri history buff will recognize characters who loom large in our past, such as Clairborne Fox Jackson, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and Dr. John Sappington (who would one day become Marmaduke’s father-in-law). If you usually shy away from historical texts, give To Make a Fortune in Missouri a second look; it’s a lively, digestible read that could lend you a newfound appreciation of our state.

The biography begins by exploring how the Marmaduke family arrived in the country, then follows its subject from his early days in Virginia to his emigration to Missouri, and from there, out as far west as Santa Fe as he sought his fortune as a trader. Cullimore takes care to couch Marmaduke’s story in the context of broader historical trends and events, enhancing the reading experience. Cullimore is also careful to include the tertiary characters in this story, including the slaves Marmaduke owned and brought with him to Missouri. This willingness to zoom away from the primary subject again enhances the understanding gained by reading.

During Marmaduke’s adventure on the Santa Fe Trail, he actually did keep a journal, which is one of the only points during his life’s journey when the reader is offered a more in-depth glimpse of the subject’s thoughts and feelings. It gives this section of the book a more intimate feel, but not so much as to be jarring when it goes back to constructing the narrative through more circumstantial source material.

To Make a Fortune in Missouri is a biography of a seemingly esoteric character whose life was characterized by so many of the key events of our nation’s formative years that it could almost serve as an early American History textbook. Any reader with an appetite for engaging and informative writing will find something to admire here.

To buy the book, visit the Friends of Arrow Rock in that town or

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