During his long life, W. Mark Perrault wore many hats. He was a cattleman, builder, miner, engineer, historian, newspaper publisher and author. The former owner of The Madisonian died peacefully Saturday. He was 96.
Mark was born in the Ruby Valley in 1915 at a time when people were still settling southwest Montana.
Mark’s grandfather Magloire came to the Ruby Valley in 1866. He married Pamela Legris, who worked for local businessman and freighter, J.B. Laurin. Magloire built the first home in Sheridan. The French-Canadian had come from Montreal to become a rancher. Mark’s father Frank continued the ranching trend in the Ruby Valley. He became one of the first ranchers to graze cattle on the lush summer range in the Gravelly Mountains.
Young Mark grew up on the ranch and bought his first cow when he was 10 years old. His family survived in the Ruby Valley through tough times with the intrepid pioneering spirit. In later years, he would write about his childhood with unmasked nostalgia.
“We enjoy a small plot of rocky gopher mounds and some meadowland and a wonderful creek for us kids to swim in summertime and skate in winter. The Big Hole River is a mile or so west and is the greatest fishing hole in the world.”
Mark went to college in Missoula, putting himself through school in part by catching and selling wild horses that roamed around Madison County in those days.
But he was a rancher at heart and owned a share of the family’s herd trailing them into the northern Gravelly’s each summer in the area around Axolotl Lakes, a treasured spot for the Perrault family even today.
But ranching was tough toward the end of the Great Depression and Perrault set off to try his hand at other careers including working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a civil engineer and as a contractor working on light commercial projects and building homes around the west and in Hawaii.
In 1940 he married Julianne Preston, who had been a college classmate. They moved to Portland, Ore. not long after their marriage. The couple had six children, two boys and four girls.
The family moved to Trinidad, Colo. in 1972 where Mark worked as a contractor and Julianne taught home economics at Trinidad State Junior College.
Though he had travelled the West, southwest Montana was always home to Mark and in 1985 he bought the Axolotl Lakes Ranch and moved back to Madison County.
He built two cabins on the ranch before selling all but a small portion of it to the Bureau of Land Management in 2000. Today recreationists can still enjoy Mark’s handiwork by renting out the BLM cabin at Axolotl Lakes.
After selling his ranch, Mark purchased The Madisonian newspaper and helped gather and consolidate all the archives of the newspaper.
In his later years Mark turned his attention to history and writing. He published three books since 1997: A memoir titled “Cowboy Memories of Montana,” a historical novel titled “Yellow Gold: The Montana Frontier,” and a short historical work titled “Ruby Valley, Stinkingwater Country: The Cradle of Montana History.”
Beyond the books, he spent hours researching history of the area and wearing out typewriters in an effort to collect his stories and research.
“I was just interested in the history and I thought if nobody wrote it down it was going to be lost,” Mark told The Madisonian during an interview two years ago.
In 2007, his beloved Julianne passed away after 67 years of marriage.
In 2008, Mark turned over The Madisonian to his daughter Jill Nakasone and son Stephen.
In last few years, he was a fixture at the Ennis Café, where he could be found most mornings discussing politics and weather over breakfast and coffee. He recently moved in to Generations Assisted Living Center in Ennis, where Barb and Kenton Irvine and their staff took splendid care of him through his final days.
Mark was preceded in death by an infant son Preston Frank, sister Jeanne Richardson, granddaughters Heidi Lynn Hunt and Melanie Jean Pfalmer and his wife Julianne. He is survived by daughters Penny Lynn Buttke (Carl), Mary Jill Nakasone (David), Jeanne Michele Hogan (Michael), Stephen Mark Perrault (Lynn), and Denise Annette Perrault.
His is also survived by numerous grandchildren: Jennifer Lynn Helgeson, Julianne Aiko Kusuda, Hanna Marie and Marta Leigh Lentsch, Jacques Magloire and Anne Marie Perrault. His great grandchildren are Nicholas Carl and Claire Rosamond Helgeson, Allison Aiko and Joshua David Kusuda. He is also survived by his sister Camille Christensen in Roseburg, Ore.
A celebration of Mark’s life will be announced at a later date. Donations in his memory can be made to the Madison Valley Aquatic Center at PO Box 1188, Ennis, MT 59729.