Monmouth’s John Wayne Connection



If the Rev. David A. Wallace can be considered the architect of Monmouth College, then the Rev. Marion Morrison would have to be considered his general contractor. Born in Ohio in 1821, Morrison met Wallace at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where they were dormitory roommates and graduated in 1846.

Ten years later, Morrison left a pastorate in Ohio when he was called to be the first professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Monmouth College. He actually arrived at Monmouth prior to President Wallace, which allowed him to help supervise construction of the original college building on North A Street.

Throughout the next seven years, Morrison was not only the backbone of the college faculty, but one of its chief fundraisers. After the Civil War broke out, Morrison became the college’s financial agent, traveling widely to solicit funds for the struggling institution. He was a busy man, also serving as publisher of The United Presbyterian of the West, a weekly national newspaper printed in Monmouth from 1857 until 1862. In 1863, at the invitation of a former student, he visited the 9th Illinois Infantry camp in Pocahontas, Tennessee, where he so impressed the officers of the regiment that they asked him to become their chaplain.

Morrison accompanied the regiment through the brutal Atlanta campaign, ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of soldiers, who suffered the heaviest loss of life of any Union regiment in the Western theater. He also kept a journal of the regiment’s actions, which was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1997 and makes for an exciting read.

The physical strain of the war took a toll on Morrison, who spent a year recuperating in Monmouth before journeying to Lacon, Illinois, where he took charge of the United Presbyterian congregation. In 1870, he moved to Iowa, where he engaged in missionary work for eight years, and was finally called to Mission Creek, Kansas, where he remained until 1890, building a tiny congregation into a thriving church.

Morrison’s brother James, who also emigrated to Monmouth from Ohio, greatly admired Marion and named a son in his honor. Marion Mitchell Morrison grew up in Monmouth and enlisted in Co. B of the 83rd Illinois Infantry. In August 1864, he was part of an 11-man detail chasing six Confederate guerillas near Pine Bluff, Tenn. Suddenly, a company of 100 rebels appeared and brutally killed eight of his comrades. Morrison, who took saber wounds to his neck and chest and was hit by bullets in the nose and top of his head, played dead for several hours. He then lost consciousness for two days, after which he awoke and crawled to the Tennessee River, where he was rescued by a Union gunboat. He carried a bullet in his head the rest of his life.

After the war, Marion Mitchell Morrison returned to Monmouth, where his son Clyde was born in 1884. Clyde would grow up to become a pharmacist in Winterset, Iowa.  It was there in 1907 that his wife gave birth to their first child, naming him Marion Robert Morrison, in honor of Clyde’s father. The third in the line of namesakes, Marion Robert Morrison would become by far the most famous of the trio, starring in more than 150 films under the stage name John Wayne.

The first Marion Morrison died in 1900 in Mission Creek, Kan., and his remains are interred in Monmouth Cemetery. Marion Mitchell Morrison, John Wayne’s grandfather, died in Los Angeles in 1915. He is buried in Little York Cemetery.

In conducting further research about Professor Morrison, I learned that he and his great nephew John Wayne shared something in addition to their birth names—both wore hairpieces and both were sensitive about it. Once, when Monmouth College students stole Professor Morrison’s wig as a practical joke, he refused to appear in public until he had sent off to Chicago for a replacement. John Wayne, the story goes, was once asked by a Harvard student if he was wearing a cheap hairpiece. The Duke reportedly replied, “It’s true it’s not my hair, but it sure as hell wasn’t cheap.”

For Maple City Memories, I’m Jeff Rankin.

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