After working the mines in the region around Placerville without making his fortune, Marple became a sign and house painter. He also began teaching himself to paint landscapes. In these, he departed from the grandiose scenery painted by his colleagues in favor of tranquil subjects permeated with a palpable sense of atmosphere.
Marple came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, traveling from New York via the Isthmus of Panama and arriving in October 1849. He eventually established a painting studio in San Francisco. He left California for New York in 1877, when the San Francisco art market declined. He worked in Chicago and St. Louis before settling permanently in Colorado.