There were two factors that troubled the Kirkman family in the last few years in the 1860’s. The harsh winter of 1868-1869 possibly caused financial damage to his livestock business and made him reconsider living through the brutal winters of the Idaho Territory. This coupled with the death of their son forced the family to make an important decision. In 1870 the family’s value of their personal estate was four thousand dollars. This means that the Kirkman family was one of the wealthiest households in the Idaho Territory. But the Kirkmans decided to head to California, despite their fortunes.
Isabella became pregnant just three months after the death of George. During her first trimester, she and the family were on the move to San Francisco. After a few months of being settled, Isabella had her first baby girl. Agnes Adelaide Kirkman was born on November 22, 1870, but shortly after this the family was on the move once again. The family did not stay in the city long, because William Kirkman had visions of living in a new town where he could build a permanent home for his family and use his newfound experience raising and herding cattle. He recollected the perfect town that he visited in 1867 where he began a pack train to the mines of Montana. This perfect place to settle was the town of Walla Walla.
In his book Historic Sketches, F.F. Gilbert wrote that William Kirkman took up permanent residence in Walla Walla in 1871. The family built a small home on Colville Street between Sumach and Cherry Street. In the short time after he arrived, Kirkman became business partners with John Dooley. Dooley’s famous nickname given to him by the citizens of Walla Walla was “King Cattle”. Dooley had been raising cattle in the area for some time. He resided in the Frenchtown Precinct or what is today called Lowden.
Their business interests were in livestock and dressed meat. The “figure three” brand was registered in the town of Walla Walla on May 1, 1872 and The Dooley-Kirkman ranch also had a registered brand of “DK”. The two men ran stock from as far north as the Palouse Country and south to Malheur Country in present-day southern Oregon. In the early 1880’s these two enterprising men purchased 640 acres of land from the Northern Pacific Railroad. The majority of this land was in Adams County.
In An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country it was noted that Dooley and Kirkman paid a considerable amount of taxes in the Adams County. The “Big Bend” region included Lincoln, Douglas, Adams, and Franklin counties. On the tax assessment roll of Adams County in 1884, the Dooley and Kirkman names appear as two of the men who paid a healthy sum of taxes for that year. The two men paid over one hundred and ninety-one dollars which only three other men paid more money to the government. There were over one hundred who paid taxes that year in the county.
The Figure Three Ranch was not the sole business of the two men. They operated the Pioneer Meat Market in downtown Walla Walla. The store was located on the corner of 2nd and Main Streets near the Baker-Boyer Bank. This was primarily the center of trade in early Walla Walla. In 1882 the Pioneer Meat Market was eventually sold to Christopher Ennis.
The area of Washington Territory was a wide-open range at this time and their partnership prospered for a good time to come. From 1875-1880 over 259,500 cattle were driven out of the Inland Empire. The prices varied from place to place, but most likely between nine and twenty-five dollars per head of cattle. Some stockholders sold their herds to Dooley and Kirkman. ( ) engaged in the stock business and sold his share of the cattle to the DK ranch. Some of this herd was raised Asotin County which is today the most southeastern in the state of Washington. The territory’s stock businesses were growing tremendously by the year and especially when word of the railroad was mentioned as coming through the Walla Walla valley.
In the August 12, 1876 issue of the Semi-Weekly Watchman, the paper’s editor rationalized, “The drawback to this country is the lack of facilities for transporting surplus grain and other products to market. But the people believe that the Northern Pacific Railroad will be built, so they are making farms and getting ready to reap the benefits to be derived from the road.” This is exactly what happened in the eastern portion of the Washington Territory until the railroad was completed in Walla Walla in September of 1883.
Along with the successful business ventures came wealth and a growing family. On January 15, 1873 Fanny Ann Kirkman was born. She was their first child born in Walla Walla. Incredibly the family could never be happy for any length of time. Just eight months after Fanny’s birth, their first daughter, Agnes died just before her third birthday. It was common for children to die at an early age. In these years of Walla Walla and many territorial other towns, scarlet fever was one of the prevalent diseases that killed many children.
Shortly after the death of Agnes the Kirkmans planned on building their dream home. The exact date is unknown of when the family began building the house, but through family interviews and records it was determined that around 1874-75 the construction began. The home was built directly next door to their first house. The family lived in this home while their brick home was being worked on.
In Walla Walla at the time, there was no foundry, or a place that manufactured brick, so many citizens of the town had to import their brick from local areas. There were two places, which the brick may have come from. There were brick masonries in Weston, Oregon and Starbuck, Washington. The Kirkman family records indicate that the brick was brought in from Weston, which is about thirty miles from town.
The home was completed in 1880. There are some questions of why it took some time to build the home. First of all it was already mentioned that the family lived next door, so they may have taken their time to build the perfect home. Secondly, Kirkman was on cattle drives for good portions of the year during the last years of the building process. In the winter of 1874-1875, Kirkman and Dooley herded eighteen hundred heads of cattle along the eastern parts of the territory.
Another possible reason could be that Isabella gave birth to four children in the next seven years after this winter and three of them died. A hypothetical reason why these children died may have been that once one of her children died, it is shown that Isabella became pregnant on most occasions two or three months later. She did not give her body enough time to rest and recover from the traumatic occurrence of losing the child.
Shortly after the completion of the house, Kirkman took a more active role in his community. In 1880 he was appointed to the city council of Walla Walla. He filled the unexpired term of William Harkness in the third ward of the city. On September 16, 1882 Dooley and Kirkman disposed of the Pioneer Meat market and sold it to Christopher Ennis and Company. Ennis had worked for a time in the Pioneer Meat Market. Kirkman may have decided to devote more time to his community and sell his business because a year before this disaster struck. In 1881 the Figure Three Ranch lost five thousand head of cattle on the Whitman County range in the heavy snows of that year. This was a terrible loss for the men, yet they continued in the ranching aspects of the business, but not in the meat market.
In 1879-1880 Kirkman invited one of his brothers from England to settle in the valley. His younger brother of seventeen years, John, moved to Walla Walla and followed in the steps of his brother and became a butcher within the Pioneer Meat Market. John brought his wife, Anne and four children, who resided on the three hundred block of East Oak Street. In the same few years, Kirkman’s other younger brother James, fourteen years younger, found himself living in Walla Walla. James brought his wife and five children and he worked as a butcher also.
It’s not surprising that Kirkman’s brothers came to America, especially Walla Walla. When he was a gold miner and adventurer of the west, he always wrote home about his trips and successes. He always sent home money to help with his brothers’ educational efforts. He cared deeply about his family and once he settled here, it opened a door for his family to come to this country.
Kirkman continued with his civic involvement when he devoted his time and effort to help the struggling Whitman Seminary. The Seminary was constructed in 1866. Dr. Dorsey S. Baker, early Walla Walla pioneer and financial genius, donated a parcel of land to the school. In 1883 the school became Whitman College and a new building was erected on the campus. In 1935, Louis Francis Anderson wrote a short biography on his pioneer relative and past president of Whitman College, Alexander Jay Anderson. L. F. Anderson stated, “His (A. J. Anderson) first year was so pronounced a success that in that summer of 1883, through the work and untiring zeal of three of Walla Walla’s best citizens, Wm. Kirkman, R.R. Rees, and B.F. Stone, that little community of three and a half thousand souls, made up a cash gift of sixteen thousand dollars to erect and equip the "old College Building”, later to be known as Whitman Academy. Such were those first thousands which Walla Walla has poured in so generously from its very life-blood and consecrated to the lofty purpose of establishing a fitting memorial to Marcus Whitman and Cushing Eells…”
Kirkman at this point in life was concerned with education. After helping support Whitman College through its first initial growing stages, he became involved in public education. In 1885 he became school board director of Walla Walla schools. From the earlier excerpts of his letter about his brother, James’s education, it is no surprise that he would be involved with the education of young people in his own community.
In 1887 the state penitentiary of Washington moved to Walla Walla from Thurston County. William Kirkman was on the penitentiary parole board when the jail opened up with the first ninety-seven convicts. Hard labor was a central issue that was brought to attention by Kirkman and other men of area. F.F. Gilbert asserted, “This system of constructive labor by the inmates of the penitentiary is to be attributed largely to the intelligent business conceptions as well as philanthropic interest in the men by Mr. F. W. Paine and Mr. W. K. Kirkman. They had formed the impression that for the sake of health of mind and body in the prisoners systematic labor was a necessity, and also that the products of that labor might go far to lighten the burdens of tax payers. Their theory has been triumphantly vindicated by the history of the penitentiary.”
Kirkman’s financial stability was evident even after he and his partner sold the meat market. An article in The Walla Walla Statesman on August 13, 1887 listed the wealthiest people of Walla Walla County. The people listed in the article paid taxes on property worth ten thousand dollars or more. Kirkman’s estimated property value was slightly over thirty thousand dollars that placed him as the ninth richest man in town based on property value. His business partner John Dooley placed fifth in the same category at almost sixty-three thousand dollars worth of property.
In 1890 John Dooley purchased the interest of Kirkman’s part in the firm. This completed their partnership of any kind, which had lasted eighteen years. Kirkman soon after founded the Dressed Meat Company of which he was president. At the same time he and the family had two farms located along the Dry Creek area. In the Mercantile Directory of the Pacific Coast Dooley and the two Kirkman brothers still were active in their own business interests. Dooley and John Kirkman were live stock dealers and James Kirkman owned a hotel. James was the proprietor of the Washington Hotel on the corner of Third and Alder.
Kirkman was now fifty-nine years old and was still in active in the community. In 1890 he was President of the Walla Walla Club, but two years later he was honored with a once of a lifetime opportunity. He was chosen as a delegate to the National Republican Convention in Chicago. Since this was a rare chance to see the country, he decided to take his wife and daughter, Isabella with him. At this time there were four remaining children in the family. Myrtle Belle, fifteen at the time, and Leslie Gilmore, twelve, stayed in Walla Walla with family while the family went to Chicago. William Henry met up with family when he took a break from law school at Boston University. The four of them had even bigger plans after the convention.