Thursday, April 2, 2015

Charles Kirkpatrick, Jr. - Emigrant, Writer, Surgeon Major

Written by Paisley Kirkpatrick
My great-great grandfather, Dr. Charles Alexander Kirkpatrick, kept a journal during his adventurous travel by wagon train across the country in 1849. Written with such eloquence, it is on microfilm and sealed in a glass container and kept in an air tight room in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, California. Its size is about 9 x 12 inches and its cover is of leather, which is tattered and very delicate due to its age. There are a total of forty hand-written pages. It was willed to the Bancroft Library so others could read about the adventurous early California pioneer.
An excerpt from my great-great grandfather's journal:
"This morning we again started on our journey and at 2 p.m. we had the best view of the train that we have had since we started. The road, in order to keep on good ground, forms a complete letter 'S'. In the middle of the letter, as it were, is a very high front from which a person can see the road and the wagons as far as the eye could distinguish objects. Within the range of this letter could be distinguished and counted with the naked eye 100 teams, all bound on the fool's errand to California. In this company might be seen the old gray-headed man who had almost numbered his three score and ten - the mother with the babe on her breast - the blushing girl of 16, but who by the time she had reached California will have lost the maiden blush by the association with the course vulgarity with which she is surrounded. It is useless to speak of particular characters, for every description from the reverend priest to the low footpad may be found enroute for California. And pain, disease and death also accompany us and, first one and another of our company are silently laid by the roadside to wait the summons of the Judgment day. And yet this makes no impression upon the survivors. The next day appears as though nothing had happened."
At the point of his adventure from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the gold fields of California, Charles was well-educated and already had his degree as a doctor of medicine. His handwriting was a beautiful script and written by a man with high morals and consideration of his fellow man.
Becoming rich in the gold fields didn't materialize, so he returned to the practice of medicine. He married and moved to Rio Vista, California, where he practiced his profession, had a pharmacy, and was also the postmaster of the town.
This is the can Surgeon Major Kirkpatrick kept his belongs in during the Civil War.
He kept his epilates on top inside the can.
In the photo below are all the objects inside the can.
When the Civil War broke out he volunteered as a surgeon in the army from October 15, 1861 to October 15, 1865, and was stationed at Fort Mason, San Francisco, California and Fort Douglas, Utah as a Surgeon Major.
After the war he became one of the leading doctors in San Francisco and Redwood City, California. In order to raise his family in a more favorable atmosphere he had built a lovely ten room home in Redwood City. It was considered a fine modern home at the time.
One of the many interests Dr. Kirkpatrick had was acting. He and his friends performed plays which were presented in their spacious home in Redwood City. Elaborate costumes were made and worn by the cast members. One of his associates was Mrs. Brown, a survivor of the Donner Party. Another friend, sculptor Douglas Tildon, made the famous Mechanic Statue which is displayed on Market Street in San Francisco.
My grandfather, Arthur Rowell Kirkpatrick, Jr., was born in this elaborate house and was delivered by his own grandfather, Charles Kirkpatrick on May 24, 1891. Dr. Kirkpatrick died in St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco on April 27, 1892.


  1. Lovely post, Paisley. How wonderful to have seen his journal and have that family history. I'm sure, were he alive, he'd be very proud of you.

  2. Aw, thank you, Caroline. My mother always said I inherited some of his writing genes. His wife, my great great grandmother, is supposed to have been the first woman to have stories posted in a magazine. They sound like a power couple.

  3. I wish I could read the entire journal, Paisley. He really provided a wonderful visual. Sounds like a fascinating man. Clearly, you inherited his writing ability and love of the West.

  4. What a fantastic tale and how totally cool that you have this piece of history in your life. I wish my ancestors had kept such things.

    Good to "see" you Ms. Paisley. I sure miss you.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  5. How wonderful that you have these items. I don't know if people still keep bits of their history any more or add to the family history. I know that journal and the tin with his military items from the Civil War must be family treasures for you.
    My family has a trunk with these kind of items in it. It's like stepping back in time into their lives to read their letters and see their treasures. It's heartwarming. It's so intimate seeing hand written letters. It makes me feel connected t them.
    You are so lucky to have such things. I enjoyed learning about this piece of your family history. All the best, Paisley.

  6. Thank you, Ashley. The journal is about 40 pages long. The thing that makes it even more special is that his handwriting is beautiful, flowery. I do treasure these items and have a photo of him on my website. :)

  7. Hi Patricia. Thanks, it's nice to see you here, too. History has always intrigued me and having this part from a family member is super.

  8. I come from a long line of family members who have a tendency to save things. I have quite a bit of the knickknacks and glassware, too, but the journal is the best of the bunch.

    Thanks for visiting with me today.

  9. Amazing bit of history. Thanks for sharing. As always your blogs inform and entertain all at the same time. That's why your books just draw you in.

  10. Thank you J. Morgan. It's so nice to see you here today. Glad you enjoy my stories set in Paradise Pines. :)

  11. You know, Paisley, this is one of the most touching, emotional topics I've read in a while. To think this man chronicled every step of the way west is astounding, and to think you have this first hand account as an ancestor makes you, too, very special.
    His writing is wonderful, yes, and the story of the entire journey is awesome.
    Thank you so very much for giving us this glimpse into the life of an Emigrant, Writer, and Surgeon Major." Just wonderful.

  12. Thank you so much, Celia. I do feel so very lucky to have this journal and the Civil War pieces. My Mother worked ten years and gave us each five, 3 inch binders full of our ancestors and their contributions. I love history and what we can learn from times gone by.


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