Chapter 7 - Heaven's Trip
In the summer of 1892, Kirkman planned to take his family on a complete adventure. The
family had planned to take an excursion to Europe. The primary goal of the trip was to see their
family in Ireland and England. William Kirkman and Isabella had never seen each other’s
parents and it would be the first time that the children had seen their grandparents and other
family members. The family traveled over parts of the continent of Europe. There may have
been an underlying factor of why Kirkman decided to make the trip at this time.
The family spent several months in Europe (almost a year) to visit their families. Kirkman knew
that he was getting older and this trip was planned for him to get away from everything in Walla
Walla. Once he returned to America in March of 1893, it was evident that his health was not
good. On the 23rd day of this month, he wrote a letter home to Walla Walla to Myrtle and
Leslie. The letter was written on The Huntington Hotel stationary from Boston, Massachusetts.
He and Isabella wrote letters home on a regular basis to tell them of their whereabouts.
In this letter Kirkman said, “So I think your chances are good for a European trip unless
something gives way…I still maintain that I can get on very well with one trip, but there are
those who might influence me under favorable conditions to take one more chance. We are enjoying our visit here fairly well except….” These next few words were very disturbing. Kirkman just concluded that he was having a great time, but then he was about to give his fifteen and twelve year old child some bad news.
Kirkman wrote that his health has been bad. He admitted, “I have had a good many bad spells. I have put myself under a course of treatment. So I think we will not leave here for a week or two. It will depend on how I feel.” He signed the letter, “Your affectionate Father.” This is the same way that he signed off in his letters that he wrote home to his family forty years ago. Family meant everything to Kirkman. He just finished visiting his family and homeland, which he hadn’t seen in over forty years. He was being honest with his two children in the letter, but unfortunately his health was worse than expected.
William Kirkman never made it home to Walla Walla. He waited as long as he could in Boston to recover, but passed away on the train ride home in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. It is amazing of all the coincidences in this man’s life great life. His adventure to America in 1854 began in Boston and this would be the city where he wrote his last letter home-to his fabulous home in Walla Walla. His trip to England, his former home, had been completed, and it seemed that his life had then been complete. His new family had seen the place where his life had started. His oldest son, William, also visited the town of Bury and was at the present time on his own adventure. It just so happened that he was in law school in Boston, where his father’s life in America had begun.
When the news reached the Walla Walla Valley of Kirkman’s death, the community was in shock due to the sudden death of one of their most cherished citizens. On the day of his death, April 25, 1893, the flag was hung at half-mast over the city hall. A relative of the family, Fanny Kirkman Reynolds wrote a brief description of the man in 1937, “History says, although Mr. William Kirkman was born on English soil, his instincts and impulses were essentially American. Of those institutions he is (was) an enthusiastic admirer. As a business man he had the confidence of all who knew him; as a citizen, the respect which his character and actions in life have entitled him, and his wealth is the result of judicious labor prompted by his early surroundings, and is not the reward of chance or birth.” Kirkman was not given much of anything in life; he worked for everything he had. He came from England and made himself into a person that he wanted to be. He didn’t let anyone live his life for him.
His son William Henry held some of the same views and beliefs as his father. He persevered and finished law school later that year. He returned to Walla Walla to look over the family and handle most of the business affairs. One of his fellow friends from Walla Walla, Allen H. Reynolds, also went to the same law school in Boston. They both returned to Walla Walla and practiced law together under the firm name of Reynolds and Kirkman. In the same year on November 7th, 1894, Reynolds married William Henry’s sister, Fanny. They were married in the front parlor room of the brick residence of the Kirkmans.
Two years after his death, William Kirkman was still giving back to the community of Walla Walla, especially Whitman College. His will was read on May 15, 1893, but in September of 1895 a gift was finally given to the college. A sum of five thousand dollars was given to the Whitman College Board of Trustees to be used by the college for educational purposes. In 1894, the year of his death, Whitman College was struggling terribly. George Fuller, historian, wrote in The Inland Empire of the Pacific, “…the college seemed to be on the verge of dissolution. It had only six faculty members and eleven students in the collegiate department. There was no endowment, and there was a large debt.” Kirkman once again helped the college out when it was struggling to stay alive.
A separate agreement was also written between the Kirkman’s and Whitman College. Kirkman gave another gift in his will to the college, but this time it was a generous donation of land. On October 23rd, 1895, the County Auditor recorded that in the will of William Kirkman, he gave all lots numbered one through five in the twenty-fifth block in Cain’s Addition to Whitman College. This property was located two blocks behind their Colville property.
In the next several years the Kirkman family stayed in the spotlight, mainly due to the political arena. William Kirkman’s brother, John, continued to work in the meat market business. In 1898 he was a butcher in the Pioneer Market (not sure if it was the same Pioneer Meat Market from earlier) and he lived relatively close to the Kirkman residence on Cherry Street. He served on Walla Walla’s city council in 1901 and 1902. In 1905 William Henry followed him in the city council.
A few years before William Henry was married to Maude Ashley. This marriage in 1900 ended horribly. Maude died in 1905 of heart disease. This five-year marriage produced one son, William Leslie Kirkman. With the death of his wife, William Henry took his son and moved into the Kirkman residence on Colville Street. This most likely occurred so Isabella could take care of her grandson.
William Henry also served on the Commercial Club of Walla Walla. This club began in 1885, but it began as a serious organization in 1908. There were nine trustees in the corporation and he was one of them. He became really popular and well liked in the community of Walla Walla. Shortly after one more noted event, he expanded his political aspirations to a grander level.
In 1919 Whitman College was in the beginning processes of a fundraising effort to build a new dormitory on the college campus. In this year Isabella was seventy-four years old and she may have had a difficult time taking care of the family’s large brick two-story home. Isabella and the family decided to donate the home to the college at this time. It was the first significant contribution to the college in this fundraising effort. The home’s estimated property value was over $20,000.
Whitman College didn’t sell it right away since it was one of the first donations. Instead the college decided to use it as a boys’ dormitory. The home was used for this purpose for the next four years. There were up to thirty young men living in the home at one time. The home was affectionately called the Kirkman Hall Club. The college thanked the Kirkman family by naming the History Department Chair after William Kirkman.
After the home was given to Whitman College, William Henry decided to concentrate on politics. In 1919, he ran for the House of Representatives in District number twelve. Like his father, William Henry was a staunch Republican. The southeastern part of the state had a considerable Republican following since the territory became a state in 1889. He was successful in the role of political leader and it was evident when the people of the district chose him as their representative for the next two terms of office. After serving these three consecutive terms for a total of six years in the House, Kirkman decided that he wanted to be a State Senator of Washington.
In 1925, Kirkman was successful once again in his bid for public office. He became state senator for the eleventh district. He was in the middle of his second term of serving the state when the unthinkable happened. He was on top of the world and nothing was stopping him. Much like his father’s sudden death, William Henry was taken from the world.
He was instantly killed when he was driving the Kirkman family to Spokane. The car veered off to the side of the road and fell into a ditch just two miles from Colfax. The community of Walla Walla was in shock of the news when it reached home. None of the other family members were seriously hurt. Isabella, Fanny, Allen Reynolds, and Leslie were all in the accident, but only suffered from shock and minor bruises.
On Tuesday, October 16th, 1928 The Walla Walla Daily Bulletin reported, “He was a candidate on the Republican ticket in the primaries for lieutenant governor, and polled a heavy vote in his home county.” William Henry was sixty years old at the time of his death. He was very active in his life as a citizen of Walla Walla.
In the same article, The Walla Walla Daily Bulletin described the Senator’s accomplishments,
“The deceased served for a time as clerk of the U.S. district court, was a member of the city council and school board, served in both branches of the legislature and two years ago was a warehouse inspector under appointment by the governor. Mr. Kirkman formerly was one of the administration leaders in the senate but about two years ago parted company with Governor Hartley and since had opposed him politically.”
There were many senators who acknowledged what William Henry had accomplished for the community of Walla Walla and for the state of Washington. Senator Charles F. Stinson of Washington wrote one of the most moving memorial addresses. Stinson praised, “He was a man of humble aspirations. He puts down his name as a farmer, upon our roster, although he was a college graduate, having graduated from Whitman Seminary. Senator Kirkman also served on the Walla Walla city council with great credit. At one time he was exalted ruler of the Walla Walla Elks.”
Stinson also claimed, “When the family and parents of Senator Kirkman came into this country, they encountered hardships and obstacles which we, who came later, perhaps do not know or realize…we realize that the history of Walla Walla county and Walla Walla valley could not be written without mentioning the name of the Kirkman family, and those people upon whom we have relied and depended to develop and bring forth this state as we have it today.”
William Henry was proud of the Walla Walla valley and his family. In Historic Sketches, he proclaimed, “This valley was a barren waste of land then; now it is the finest valley the sun shines on; all honor to the pioneers. I remember when the Village of Seattle boasted of being as large as Walla Walla; now, Seattle is the third city of the coast. Again all honor to the pioneers who have wrought such changes.”
William Henry also acknowledged, “For when I was two years old, without a quaver or misgiving, I took my father by one hand and my mother by the other, and faced boldly to the west, leading them to Walla Walla.” He sounded like an adventurer much like his father when he came to America. One can see the values that William Kirkman had instilled in William Henry from the beginning of his life. He wanted him to try his hardest at everything he could possibly achieve and do it well.
Isabella saw everything first hand with her family. There is not much known about this fine mother, but she raised her children to be fine citizens and encouraged them that they needed an education. All of her children and grandchildren received a college education. Isabella out-lived her six children that died at an early age and two of her children that passed away in adulthood. She did what a parent would do and make her family stay together and persevere through anything. This is exactly what her husband achieved in living the fullest life possible.