The Letters of Sam Kirkpatrick

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Emma and Jim Kirkpatrick
Emma Bowe and James D. Kirkpatrick
on their wedding day, June 1895.

Sam Kirkpatrick was my dad's great uncle. He grew up in the British Columbian interior and his family was instrumental in settling the Thompson-Nicola area. Those familiar with the area will recognize such names as Spences Bridge and the Gang Ranch.

Following is one of four of Uncle Sam's letters describing his and his family's activities of the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Thanks to my sister Janine for scanning and sharing them.

Note: in transcribing these letters, I gave a lot of thought as to whether I should do them verbatim or not. Uncle Sam was pretty good with his spelling and grammar. In the end, I decided to clean up the punctuation and some of the spelling so that the reader could follow the story without having to work too hard at deciphering.

Box 104, Stewart, BC
December 1956

From Sam Kirkpatrick, Stewart BC
To Sam Kirkpatrick, Calgary, Alberta

My dear Nephew,

I received your letter over a month ago, but as usual am slow in replying. But a letter is always welcome, even if it is late.

I was somewhat surprised but highly pleased to hear from you and to know that all the rest of my relations in Alberta are well and getting along as good as usual.

Yes, I heard of Johnny getting married, and also of John Bowe's latest hook up. I got a photo of John and Ruby. They are well-matched and a handsome pair. I hear from John quite regular, and he keeps me posted on news of the folks at the coast. Brother Tom has a family of five girls and one boy, ranging in age from 19 1/2 down to two years. They are all fine. The two oldest girls have been at Port Alberni, [Vancouver Island], where they are employed, about two years now. The second one, Erma, is to be married on December 15th. At Stewart, things are not so good. The Western Woods Products, whom Tom worked for, went into a slump and laid of 75 percent of their crew for the winter, and Tom was among them. He intended to go to the Premier Mine, but they had a disastrous fire there that shut it down for the winter, so there are a lot of unemployed there now.

Vi went to Vancouver on the last boat to consult a specialist regarding her health on advice of a local doctor, who recommended a doctor for her to go to. So I guess my old pocket book will get a severe wallop in the pants, but it is something that can not be avoided. Lucky we had the money laid aside for an emergency. She will also attend Erma's wedding while down there . . . [illegible] . . . to be home for Christmas.

[Illegible] . . . to hear that at least one of your children is interested in playing the fiddle. I wish I were near so I could help her along. If I had of been with you, yourself, I could have made a fiddler out of you. I know you can play all the old pieces you know, in your own way, but you need help. A young person can only go so far alone, and when they find they are not improving they lose interest. Well, there is where your old uncle would take over, by advice, by showing the method of short-bowing, and encouragement. The best way to keep up interest is to learn fiddle tunes that are new to you. Then you have something to work on, in learning new pieces. I play along with them and have them follow me and try to do as I do. They will improve and be pleased with themselves. I know, because I have helped so many young folks, and I know more good fiddle tunes than any man I ever met. And when they go, they will be gone forever, as they were never written or recorded.

Well Sam, I know just how you feel about growing up with so little knowledge of your ancestors. You were too young. You could not grow up as a pal and spend years working and talking with your dad, as the older boys did.

My brother Tom and I were the same, and when our family grew up and left home there was just Tom and I with Dad. He never told us anything until one day he read an article in a paper saying that the oldest member of the Masonic Lodge had died in Wisconsin. He jumped to his feet, quite excited, and said out loud, "By God, that man was the father of my wife!"

Then he realized we were in the room with him and said, "You didn't know I was married in the States," and I said no. So he said, "I have never told a living soul about it. Now that you know, I will tell you what happened." Then he gave us an outline of his history as follows:


Thomas G. Kirkpatrick, 1903 My full name is Thomas Gilham Kirkpatrick. I was born in the state of Iowa in 1823, November 3rd. The Kirkpatricks came from Scotland in pioneer days, before the revolutionary war, and settled in the southern United States, but could never become accustomed to slavery. So, several generations before the Civil War, they migrated to the north and settled in Iowa, where I was born.

Then, before I was of school age, my folks, along with a whole community of Kirkpatricks, crossed the Mississippi and settled in Wisconsin, where I was educated and became a carpenter and millwright. Eventually I was married, and during our second year of married life the startling news of the great gold rush to California.

Of course, I was set on going. My wife objected, but I promised to come back in two years with a fortune, or send money for her to join me in California. She finally gave in, but it nearly broke her heart when we parted. And so I left this beautiful young woman and a handsome baby boy behind, never to see them again. Oh dear God, why did I do it?

Well, we eventually got rolling, about a hundred strong, with sixty wagons, mostly four-horse teams. Some had oxen. There were twelve women and about the same number of children. There was nothing but hardships, from start to finish. There was sickness and death, there were rivers to cross -- some could be forded, others where the stock had to swim and we had to build rafts to take our wagons and supplies across. There were prairies where there was no wood to cook with. There were desert-like plains where there was no water. There were mountains to climb, mountain passes where the snow laid nearly all summer, and there were no roads. Indians were numerous. Though they did not attack our train, they did worry us on many occasions. They watched from nearby hills as our train went by.

Many trains had gone ahead of us, so their track was easy enough to follow, but there were several routes. The northern trail led to Oregon. Well, all went well till we reached the fork where one route led south. Then there was a split in opinions. The southern trail was said to be better traveling, but much longer. So a vote was taken and a small party, including one of the assistant wagon bosses, voted to go south. The others said we better keep plugging on over the shortest route, as we were far behind our schedule now. so our party was split. But the party I was with all reached California. We did meet many people who became discouraged and turned back. All the way from Missouri to the mountains we met them, every day or so. I sent letters by some of them to my wife.

Well, when we finally reached California, we were too late for the gold, as all the good ground was taken and hundreds of claims were staked that were no good. Those that got good ground were taking out millions of dollars worth of gold. Hundreds of men were working for wages, while thousands were in the hills hunting for gold. New towns were springing up in a dozen places, and the big demand was for lumber. That was my chance. There was lots of good timber and plenty of water for power, so I got busy on a saw mill and by early fall I was operating at full capacity and really coining money.

The climate was ideal, I was elated, the world seemed bright, my future was assured, and I was happy. So I began to make plans to get my wife and son to California. I kept on trying to get a letter through to her, but there was no organized mail service. Many letters started on their way east. Some went by boat to Panama, where freight was being toted across the isthmus from the Atlantic, where hundreds of boats were bringing freight from all parts of the States. And during all this time, I never got one word from home. I decided I would have to make the trip east, so I made all arrangements for a man to run my business, and the bank that had opened up to handle the finances, and made enquiries as to the best and quickest way to make the trip.

Then suddenly a letter arrived -- a letter that was to change my whole life -- from a respected businessman to an outcast, a ruined man. I opened the letter. It was not from my wife, but from the old Mason. It started off, "Dear Tom, your wife is dead."

That was all I could read. I got up and walked. My eyes were flooded with tears. It was night time. I walked toward the mountains. I never knew where I went or how far. It was nearly morning when I got home. I had tried all night to think, to hope there was some mistake, yet I knew it must be true.

It brought my bright, happy world crashing down on me. I was ruined. My plans, my hopes, were all blasted forever. What was I to do? Where could I go? I had to leave California with all my happy dreams behind. I had to go somewhere, anywhere, to try and forget the past. So I sold out everything I had for the best offer for cash...

(Pardon me, Dad had told of reading the remainder of the letter, he said):

I read the rest of the letter and it only made things worse . . .

My wife had worried and waited. She had written dozens of letters and sent away, but there was never a reply. She tried to bear her disappointment by working, but there came a time when her health began to fail her. The old man said, "We done what we could, all the Kirkpatricks tried. They got the best doctors in Wisconsin, but nothing done her any good. She used to say, 'If Tom would hurry home, I know I would get well. If only he would write, it would help keep my hopes.' Then, later on, she said, 'The time will soon be up. Tom promised he would be back in two years, and I know he will. Just a couple of months more.'

"A few days later she sent for me. It was evening. She had a long sleep and seemed more cheerful than she had been for many months. She said, 'Father, there is a change coming. I have felt it ever since I woke up. Something seems to tell me the long wait is nearly over.' After a long talk, I left her. While we talked, she said she expected Tom would arrive at an early date, perhaps tomorrow. But tomorrow never came, for only God knew what change was in store for her. At daybreak she was gone, with tears in her lovely eyes, yet a smile on her lips. The angels had claimed her on that cold, dreary February morn, in the year 1851."

(Now to continue, after leaving California):

Yes, I had to go, so I headed north for Oregon on foot. I had my rifle and small pack sack. I took my time. I spent months in the mountains. I found an empty trapper's cabin and made it my headquarters till spring, then I wandered on.

In early summer I arrived in what is now Portland, Oregon. It was a thriving community. Businessmen, men of all trades and professions, farmers, laborers, they were all settling here, and the crying need was lumber. Small boats plying up and down the coast brought what lumber there was to be had, but they must have more. When they found out I was a mill man, they called a meeting and made me offers. They would furnish all the help I needed. The farmers would haul the logs and they would pay in lumber later on. Well, it seemed to me that it was my duty to go ahead with this mill, not for myself, but those honest, hard-working people that needed the lumber. I knew the timber was good, and very plentiful, so I agreed and we went to work.

Some forty-odd men turned out the next day, many first-class carpenters, and that mill was erected in short order. I also got a planer from San Francisco, and so the huge water wheel began to roll. We turned out the finest dressed fir lumber any man ever saw. It was taken right from the planer and hauled away. In due course, all my bills were paid off, then the money started rolling in. But it didn't last long.

A tall and distinguished-looking man called on me and we had a long talk. He was a lumber baron from the east. He made a fortune in lumber and was now looking for a new field of operation. He asked if I would be interested in selling my business. I told him I hadn't given it much thought, but every man will sell at a price, perhaps you could make me an offer and see how our opinions compare in regards to value. He said, "I have been here several days and looked the situation over and am prepared to make you an offer that I think is fair to both of us." Then he made me his offer, which seemed to me to be outrageously high, so I said, "Give me the rest of the day to think it over."

So, I went back to work and tried to think. Money was no object, as I had more California gold in my pack than I wished to lug around. In regards to the future, there was no future for me. I knew 99 men out of 100 would have refused the offer, as it [lumber] was a chance of a lifetime. Thousands of acres of the finest fir in the world lined the Oregon coast.

Yet, my feet were beginning to itch. I had that old urge to move on, so I went over after supper and accepted his offer, providing it was not in gold. So he paid me in paper currency on the First National Bank. Then I walked out a free man, with my eyes turned toward the mountains in the east. I did not wait for morning. With my rifle and pack sack, I headed east in the moonlight. It was tough going, but I made it through in time where I could look down on the beautiful country that is the Yakima-Winatchi fruit belt.

The country was new, but there was a few farms producing wonderful crops. One man had all his land in hay and grain, as he had a contract with the US Army, who were all mounted and had over a thousand horses at their post in Oregon. [He] was looking for a man to haul the hay and barley from Yakima, Wash, to the Dalles, Oregon. He made me a good offer, so I looked around and found that mules could be bought and there were many heavy wagons came overland from the east.

So, with six mules and two wagons, I was in business again. This was a very interesting life. I soon had more than I could handle, and had to hire a man. Well, I followed this life for a couple of years, then I thought perhaps it was about time to file on a piece of ground. So I went into the foothills for several days and found a dandy spot with a stream of water for irrigation. I picked a spot for a house, a barn, a chicken house, and other buildings. I would get cattle, horses and chickens, a garden and fields of hay and grain.

So I went back to Yakima, and when I got there I found several hundred people congregated around the shopping centre of the one street. They all seemed excited. I thought it meant disaster of some kind. I thought an Indian war, or perhaps international trouble. But when I reached the centre of the crowd where a man in buckskin garb was doing the talking, I became excited, too. He was a Canadian trapper who was well acquainted with the country from Oregon to the interior of British Columbia. He was telling of the fabulously rich gold strike in the Cariboo country of BC, on tributaries of the Fraser River, some four to five hundred miles from the coast.

Well, it didn't take me long to sell out to the man that worked for me. I bought a dozen horses and equipment and loaded them with supplies and was ready to go. A great many men from the Yakima valley made the same move, and within a week we were moving. We hired the trapper as guide. The Army commander at the Dalles sent a detachment to escort us through to the Canadian border, as this was Nez Perce Indian country and they were known to be very hostile to the whites. This man's name was General Parmer. And so I left the United States of America, along with my citizenship to that nation, never to return.


Well, Samual, that concludes the outline of Dad's first talk, and it also concludes the first installment of my reminiscing and jottings. There will be other installments in the near future, perhaps after the holidays.

By the way, I am not bothering with Christmas cards this year, as I am alone . . . [illegible] . . . it. My regular work is heavy at this time of year, with all the . . . [illegible] . . . then there is the cooking, housekeeping, and worst of all the . . . [illegible] . . . there is no barber shop in Stewart, and I am the only man with a certificate, so I get all the good business, and the school boys.

Vi expects to be home a week before Christmas, but she is flying back and if the weather is bad she will be delayed and could miss Christmas all together, as the boat only comes every two weeks. Lucky we have an invitation for dinner. If I had to cook a dinner for myself, it would be a total flop.

I am sorry I didn't get alone with you and Lenna for a quiet talk. I could [have] answered all your questions and gave you a lot of information about your folks.

Tell Lenore to keep sawing away on the old fiddle, and perhaps some day I will have the pleasure of playing along with her.

Now I will have to bring this letter to a close, so will wish you and all your family a Merry Christmas, and a good and prosperous year throughout 1957.

As ever,


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