Chapter 5 - Busy in Boise Country
In the early winter of 1863 William Kirkman returned to San Francisco to make a decision about the next year in his life. He came to the bay area often in the following years, but always left the city with future plans in mind. He now turned his career aspirations toward the cattle industry and in the year of 1864 this brought him to the Boise Country.
Kirkman left the Golden State and ventured over six hundred miles to Idaho. Kirkman described the trip, “I would think it impossible for a man, it was a very rough trip. The stage runs night and day. This is a fast country. Everybody here is in a hurry. We traveled six hundred miles in eight days in the depth of winter over mountains and plains over snow twenty feet deep that is on mountains.”
Through all the struggles, Kirkman arrived to the Boise Country safely and commenced bringing the cattle. He and a partner brought three hundred and seventy-five cattle at a cost of six thousand five hundred dollars in driving them that distance from California. They had crossed rivers by putting the cattle onto steamboats to secure their safety.
Kirkman settled in the Boise Country.which was eight hundred miles northeast of San Francisco. The area was discovered in 1862 for its gold deposits. Kirkman stated, “The diggings have been very good and yet are a little over average not more than sixty or seventy-five thousand men have visited then this year.” The town that Kirkman was describing was Pioneer City or later called Pioneerville.
Gold was discovered here on October 7, 1862. This town was the first to be established in the Boise area. Donald C. Miller, an Idaho Territory historian, asserted, “The first post office in Boise Basin was established at Pioneerville in 1864. The population during the boom years peaked at 2,000.” This was the same year that Kirkman moved to the area and it seemed he had worries about the new post office. Kirkman asked his family, “I think you had better write to San Francisco in care of Haslam (his friend) as he can always forward to me.” He believed that the letters would have an easier time coming from England to San Francisco than directly to the newly discovered town of Pioneerville.
Once Kirkman settled in the town, he bought a butcher shop with a partner. The partner was in charge of the cattle driving while Kirkman attended the books and received the money. “The money comes rather slow yet we think we are doing well at least as well as our neighbors. We have some two hundred and fifty head of cattle on hand and if the winter is mild, I think my luck is better than it ever was,” Kirkman believed.
Kirkman’s luck was about to change and he was worried about his growing old alone. He reflected, “There is one thing I can tell you that if I don’t hurry up I shall be an old man. The ( ) tells an awful tale since I left home when you said I should not go as I was but a lad yet. Yet it seems but yesterday. I can almost hear the sound of your voice as you spoke though it was ten years ago that I could sit by your fireside and tell you of my ups and downs, of my hopes and disappointments and expectations.” He was feeling lonely and definitely afraid of growing old without a companion. He wanted a companion to tell of all his dreams and ambitions.
The next two years are a mystery for the researchers of William Kirkman’s past. In the family history records, it is stated that in 1866 he took an eighty-mule pack train from Walla Walla to Montana. In Montana he supposedly entered in the dairy business for a short while. When he came to Walla Walla, this was the first time that he had seen this valley. This time frame is uncertain for Kirkman’s history, but it is known that he returned to San Francisco in 1867.
On February 4th of that year he was united in marriage to an Irish woman, Isabella Potts. Isabella was born in 1845 near Belfast, Ireland. She came to California in 1863. Kirkman was in the bay area in January of 1864 before he ventured off to Idaho Territory, so there may have been a chance that they met then. He had finally found the person to share his life with.
The newly married couple moved to Placerville of the Idaho Territory in 1868. It is difficult to believe why Kirkman brought Isabella to this town that was dirty, moderate criminal law, and few other women. Placerville was about fifteen miles west of his former dwelling of Pioneerville. In the summer of 1863 the population increased to about five thousand due to the rich placer mines. Placerville and Idaho City were the two of the fastest growing camps in the Basin.
Donald Miller noted in his book, Ghost Towns of Idaho, “Five meat markets in Placerville had a daily output of beef estimated at two tons.” No wonder Kirkman enjoyed the cattle business so much in the area! Kirkman wrote, “I shall have nothing but cattle now. I sold my farm last spring (1868) and bought my partner’s part of the cattle, so I am going in alone.” Kirkman was taking control of his life because his family was growing.
William Henry Kirkman was born on May 7, 1868 in Placerville. He was a healthy young boy and brought happiness to the Kirkman household. He proudly wrote home, “We are well. Our little boy is doing well. We have very little to do but play with him as the cattle market is very dull.” The new family couldn’t ask for anything more at the present. “I wish you (his parents) could see me and my wife with our little son start off from the house as we frequently do. We horseback going five or six miles in the hills to see some of the flock. She gets tired staying at home all the time, so I have to take her along. She is a very good horseback rider,” acknowledged Kirkman.
In the early part of 1869, the Kirkman’s moved to Idaho City. Idaho City’s population grew like wild fire after gold was discovered there in 1862. Muriel S. Wolle, author of The Bonanza Trail, indicated, “For a time Idaho City was the largest community in the Pacific Northwest.” By time the Kirkman’s moved here many of the miners had left and sold their claims to the Chinese. By 1868 half of the population in Idaho City were Chinese.
As times got even better for the family, they got much worse. Their second son George Duckworth Kirkman was born on May 8, 1869 in Idaho City almost exactly to the day that William Henry came into the world. Unfortunately he passed away a few months later which caused much unhappiness to the family. In a solemn letter home to England, Kirkman wrote, “By the grace of God I am again permitted to write you a few lines. Since I last wrote you, it has pleased the Almighty to take our youngest Son to himself. He was a fine baby child of five months and ten days. He died of affection of the brain. His suffering was extremely painful. We have all been sick pretty much all summer of fever and apnea-a very prevalent disease in these parts. Our little boy and I suffered several and though quite well for the last two months."
Kirkman’s business continued to prosper and he had wishes of a mild winter. He kept his cattle in the mountains during the summer and herded them to the valley in the winters on account of the snow. He counted on his cattle to feed off a special herb in the valley. Kirkman described, “There is a kind of herb called White-Sage that cattle eat. It is very nutritious and grows some twenty inches high. Giving stock a good chance in case of snow. Our stock looks well and I think we shall have a mild winter-a very important matter with us.” He recollected the time when he and two partners lost over five thousand dollars worth of stock on account of the terrible winter. “At that time White Sage was unknown to us or we would not have lost even a thousand (dollars),” Kirkman noted.
With George’s death, the Kirkman’s needed to stay strong and move on. Kirkman wanted his parents to know that they lived a close to perfect life and everything would be all right. Kirkman openly boasted about his family, “I have a buggy and a span of horses. I put my family in and drive thirty-five miles to my new residence, which consists of a log cabin. Here I stay for two months or a month just as it may happen and yet we are comfortable and live of the best in the land. In fact without boast, there is not a family in Ramsbottom (England) that eats better things than we do, nor sleeps on a better bed. We ought to and do enjoy our selves. Though we roam like the gypsy.” That was a perfect description of himself. He roamed like his cattle in the valleys and as a miner searching for the mother lode.