James M. Tanner, for many years identified with the mill and lumber
business of Louisville, is adjudged to be one of the wealthiest men in Clay
county, if not, indeed, the wealthiest. Certain it is that he has prospered
beyond his fairest dreams of early days, when his possessions were trifling
but his ambitions of that high order which make success the natural outcome
of one's efforts. First as a farmer in a small way on a rented farm, then as
the proprietor of a farm of which he was the actual owner, later branching
out into the saw-mill business on a somewhat limited scale which has
resulted in the extensive mill and lumber business of later years, he has
advanced steadily from one phase of prosperity to another until he has
reached his present high place in the financial affairs of his city and
county. He is variously connected with a number of the leading enterprises
of his community, and his influence has been felt in practically every
avenue of industry peculiar to his district. He has been identified also
with public affairs of the state, and at one time was warden of the
penitentiary at Chester, Illinois. His life has been one of wide and varied
interests and he is still occupying a foremost place in the affairs of his
Born in Indiana, June 8, 1839, James M. Tanner is a son of John and Eliza (Downs) Tanner, both natives of Kentucky and born in that state in 1814 and 1813, respectively. In 1833 John Tanner moved to Indiana and settled in Warrick county, where he engaged in farming pursuits. In 1858 he removed to Missouri, where he became interested in the lumber and mercantile business, locating in that line at Popular Bluff, and there erecting the first steam saw mill that town ever possessed. Early in the Civil war Mr. Tanner enlisted in the Union army, but after a few months he was furloughed home on account of illness. While at home he was made prisoner and taken to Columbus, Mississippi, and died there in the southern prison. The years of later life had prospered John Tanner, and he left a comfortable estate for the maintenance of his family. He left nine children and his widow at his death. The family were members of the Missionary Baptist church from childhood, the father having been reared in that faith. He was a son of John Tanner, a native of Virginia, who removed to Kentucky, where he remained until the War of 1812, in which he served, passing away a short time after his return from the war. The maternal grandfather of James M. Tanner, of this review, was Thomas Downs, a native of Kentucky. He was a farmer and a Missionary Baptist preacher for sixty-five years, dying in the pulpit.
Educated in the common schools of Indiana, James M. Tanner passed his boyhood years in like manner with the youth of his time and class. In 1862 he enlisted in the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry, having served as a scout previous to his enlistment in that regiment. He was captured while on a scouting expedition and sent to Columbia, Mississippi, where his father expired as a prisoner. The young man made his escape, however, and after enlisting in the Thirteenth Illinois served through to the close of the war, when he came to Carbondale, Illinois. In 1865 he moved to Clay county, with the intention of entering on the life of a farmer. He was practically penniless, and it was necessary for him to rent a farm to begin operations. After a few seasons of strenuous work and planning Mr. Tanner found himself in a position where he was able to buy a farm for himself, which he did. He prospered, and in a short while saw an opportunity to engage in the saw mill business, and he has since that time been occupied in that industry, with ever increasing operations, and has amassed a considerable wealth as the result of his efforts along that line. He was for some time associated in the business with his brother, ex-Governor John R. Tanner, as a partner, but for the most part has been alone in his operations. He has never entirely given over his early farming interests, and is the owner of a magnificent farm of three hundred and forty-seven acres of valuable farm land, and devotes much of his attention to stock-breeding, mules being the principal produce of his farm.
Mr. Tanner is interested in a number of financial organizations of the county, and is president of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank. He was at one time warden of the State Penitentiary at Chester, Illinois, and while there devoted his spare moments to writing a book entitled "Genealogy of the Tanner Family." The work is a most interesting collection of material and facts relating to the Tanners, and throws much light upon the lives and characters of representatives of this fine old name. Mr. Tanner has always been a Republican and has-been active in his efforts for the party welfare. He is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and is past commander of Louisville Chapter, No. 556. He is also a member of the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs. Mr. Tanner bears the distinction of being the oldest resident of Louisville, all who were there when he came having died or moved away to other parts.
Mr. Tanner has been thrice married. His first marriage occurred on Christmas day of 1860, when Mary J. Tanner became his bride. One child was born to them, Viola, who married George Vandever, and she died in September, 1871. Mr. Tanner subsequently married Matilda Missenheimer. They became the parents of two children, Myrtle, who married John Blacklage, and Lillian, who became the wife of Seymour Hoyt. On February 15, 1890, Mrs. Tanner died and in 1892 Mr. Tanner married Mittis J. Clifton, a school-teacher. They have two children: Ruby, who is still in the parental home, was graduated from a college in Lexington, Kentucky; and James C., now in high school at Louisville. The family are members of the Christian church.
Extracted 09 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, published in 1912, volume 3, pages 1647-1648.