Friday, March 7, 2014

Isbell Searcy McQuitty (1876-1948)

From the "Yesteryears and Pioneers", 1972.

  The state of Montana is severely underrepresented here on the site, so underrepresented in fact that over the past two and a half years only two oddly named political figures (Decius Spear Wade and Vardaman Allen Cockerill) have received a biography here. I'm proud to announce that two has turned into three with the addition of one Isbell Searcy McQuitty, a native born Missourian who went on to find success in both business and politics in both Meagher and Wheatland County, Montana. 
   Born in a log cabin in Columbia, Missouri on November 17, 1876, Isbell Searcy McQuitty was the eldest of two sons born to James and Annie Dysart McQuitty. His middle name is incorrectly given by some sources as "Searey", and the correct spelling of "Searcy" is listed on both his World War I draft registration card as well as in his biography in the 1972 history of Wheatland entitled "Yesteryears and Pioneers." While his first name "Isbell" is certainly peculiar, McQuitty himself looks to have preferred going by the initials "I.S. McQuitty" as far as his public life is concerned.
   "Mac" McQuitty and his brother Ewell Fielding "Dick" McQuitty both attended school in Columbia and after graduating from the local high school enrolled at the University of Missouri in the late 1890s. The brothers partnered together around 1900 to engage in railroad construction work, and this period of employment eventually took them to Montana in 1906, where they worked on a continuation of the Milwaukee Railroad. Two years after reaching Montana under the employ of the railroad, work was finished, and the McQuitty brothers began to plot their business future in the town of Harlowton. 
   In 1908 they began construction on a two story concrete building that would eventually become known the "McQuitty Block". In April 1909 construction was completed, and soon after the building became home to the Harlowton Grocery Company, a business that both brothers ran successfully for many years afterward. Early in his Montana residency Isbell McQuitty married in July of 1905 to another native of Missouri, Ida Emma Kyger (1879-1954), and the couple are recorded as being childless through the duration of their marriage.
   While successful in their business pursuits, both brothers became involved in local politics, with Ewell McQuitty being elected as the Mayor of Harlowton. Isbell McQuitty took an active role in Democratic politics in Meagher County, being a delegate to the county Democratic Convention in September 1910. At this gathering he received the nomination for representative to the Montana State House of Representatives, and in the November election proved successful, gaining "a handsome majority and running ahead of his ticket." The Harlowton News of November 11, 1910 reported on McQuitty's victory, and also ran an announcement from him, in which he remarked of the "splendid support accorded me in the recent campaign." That announcement is shown below.


   Taking his seat at the state capitol in Helena, McQuitty served on the house committees on Federal Relations and Military Affairs during his term. After leaving the legislature in 1913 he returned to his business activities in Harlowton and also was a longstanding member of both the local Odd Fellows Lodge and the Masons. During WWI he became active in the Liberty Bond drive in Harlowton and took part in similar fundraising efforts during WWII.
   Several years after his term in the state house "Mac" McQuitty became a leading figure in the establishment of Wheatland County, Montana, formed in 1917 from portions of both Meagher County and Sweet Grass County. McQuitty was the chairman of the new county's first board of commissioners in 1917 and 1918 and five years later was elected to the Montana State Senate from Wheatland. He served four terms of two years each and left the senate in 1931. Two years later he was named as the postmaster of Harlowton, and after four years in this post resigned to take the position of State Purchasing Agent for Montana in the administration of Governor Roy E. Ayers. The Helena Daily Independent lauded McQuitty's appointment to the post in July 1937, noting that:
"Through 31 years of experience in Montana in business related to that handled by the state purchasing agent, Mr. McQuitty has gained a valuable background for this important position."
From the Helena Daily Independent, July 1, 1937 edition.

   McQuitty resigned as state purchasing agent in January 1941 and for the remainder of his life remained a prominent figure in Harlowton, even seeing his younger brother Ewell win election to the Montana state senate in 1939, where he would serve for sixteen years. Isbell Searcy McQuitty died shortly before his 72nd birthday on October 31, 1948. His brother "Dick" followed him in death in November of 1960 and both were subsequently buried at the Harlowton Cemetery in Harlowton, with "Mac" being interred under a headstone which states "A Missourian By Birth--a Montanan By Adoption--And A Democrat".

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