Friday, October 23, 2015

Who Was Mr. Kelsey?

Driving past the corner of El Dorado and Fremont Streets in Stockton, you may not notice much. You might notice the Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza with a statue or monument in MLK’s image. A little further north and you will be at the Cesar Chavez Library, as well.  But one thing you won’t find is a plaque or monument mentioning Mr. Kelsey.

Who was this Mr. Kelsey you ask? Well, only one of the very first settlers of this area back in the mid 1800s, that’s who. Why would we remember him there, at that spot in town? Well, that is simple. Because he was buried right there at the southern part of the corner of Fremont and El Dorado, yet no one seems to remember that.

I am here today to tell you just who Mr. Kelsey was, what I have found out about his life (and death), and the importance of remembering the men and women who were among Stockton’s very first settlers. These people are important people in the history of Stockton, being that they were among the very first settlers to step foot in this city. Their lives are significant and should be remembered as such. Captain Weber’s history is important, but so are the stories of the other settlers. 

Who Was Mr. Kelsey?

So to start off, I need to go back further in time to get Mr. Kelsey’s back story, long before he came to California. When I was digging for information, I came across a genealogical site that clued me in on his family in their earlier years.  One thing I want to point out is the fact that many sites, including published papers from the historical society state different things. It is interesting to note that most of the information posted as fact do not have an accompanying link or notation as to where they discovered these records.

Some sites claim David Kelsey is the son of David Kelsay and Jeanne Kincaide, while others state he is the son of Samuel, Sr. or even Moses Kelsay. From what I have found these men were the sons of John Kelsay and Margaret Campbell, an Irish-Scottish family from Pennsylvania.  I cannot seem to find any evidence pointing directly to who David's father is, but I found a site that mentions records in Missouri that mention Samuel Sr., and his sons, David, Andrew, Benjamin and Samuel, Jr.

Say what you will, the genealogical story alone is confusing enough, and some people in the Kelsey family tree have posted in forums to the effect that although some state David as being the father of Andrew, Benjamin and Samuel (among others) that he was in fact their older brother, perhaps older half-brother.

Either way, the information I am going with is this:

Born to Samuel Kelsey, Sr. and his wife, David Kelsey was one of four sons, which included Samuel, Jr., Andrew and also Benjamin. If David was the oldest, which I am guessing he was, he was born sometime around 1800. (Some sites say 1793, but I didn't find any record of his birth to verify this.)

According to this site, it states: “As isolated as the frontier of west central Missouri was in the late 1830's, it must have been too crowded for the Kelsey brothers David, Benjamin, Samuel and Andrew who settled in the Hoffman Bend area.  Samuel, (not known if Sr. or Jr.) was elected J.P. in Rives County in 1835.  Samuel Sr., Andrew, Benjamin, David and Samuel Jr. all entered their federal land in the same section in what became St. Clair County. Rough and contentious, the brothers had trouble with authorities in Missouri and in California where they later became early pioneers.”-
It also goes on to state that at one point Samuel, Jr. was indicted on intent to commit murder and that he didn't show up to court, and that his "securities" (Samuel, Sr.) also defaulted. Although they had some troubles with the law, the Kelsey's were considered to be very shrewd and opportunistic businessmen.
After Missouri proved to be enough for the Kelsey’s, they headed west to California after 1840. Another census (1840) shows that a David, Samuel and Benjamin Kelsey were living in the Deer field, Van Buren, Missouri area, more than likely before they headed west. 

It seems that Samuel Jr. and Benjamin headed to California around 1841, and David stayed behind with his father in Missouri. Perhaps after their father’s death he decided to meet his brothers out west, so he and his brother Andrew headed to Oregon in the Applegate Cow Column in 1843. It was then in 1844 they traveled south to California and David Kelsey, along with his wife and children (Josephine, Frances, and America, and possibly a brother), came to French Camp in the Kelsey Party. This was when Charles Weber had started the very first white settlement in French Camp and Stockton.

David Kelsey was propositioned by Mr. Gulnac to live in French Camp, build a home there, stay for one year, and that if he did, Gulnac would deed over to Kelsey a piece of land (one square mile) along the Mokelumne River.  Agreeing to do so, he settled in French Camp. Let it be known that Mr. Kelsey’s tule-home was the 2nd one erected in the area, Mr. Lindsay’s being the first tule-house in all of Stockton’s history.  

In 1845, while retrieving supplies in San Jose, Mr. Kelsey came in contact with an Indian who had contracted smallpox after visiting him *, and soon after he developed symptoms of the disease. As he grew worse, his wife decided to seek better medical attention in Sacramento. While they traveled towards Sacramento to seek a skilled physician, Mr. Kelsey was prompted to stay at Mr. Lindsay’s home on Lindsay's Point, which was near present day Weber's Park and McLeod Lake in Stockton.  James William, (another one of the first settlers), attempted to give Mr. Kelsey some "remedies" which actually made the symptoms worse, and once the disease had shown itself the men fled for several weeks, only telling the Kelsey's wife and daughter before he left, that if David died, to drag his body out to the field and let the animals get him. Although it sounded horrible, Lindsay might have said this because  it was too dangerous for the women to be near or handle the body or bury it, and risk contracting the illness as well.

 (* Another note, I would like to make is the fact that a certain newsletter which has been copied and pasted onto David Kelsey's FindaGrave memorial mentions a horrendous accusation, to which the author has NOT mentioned where he received his information. It plainly states that the Kelsey's had a reputation as being prejudiced against natives. This is highly offensive to me, being that in all my research I have not found one shred of evidence to prove this. There is no mention of David or his wife being prejudice in any of the historical books or records I have found. One cannot just state something as fact if one cannot back that up with facts. Also, if Kelsey was so prejudice against natives, why on earth would he visit one, to which he in turn contracted smallpox? He wouldn't. And if he was so prejudice, why would he possibly hire a native to work for him, which was another theory of why he visited him? That plainly doesn't make any sense at all. Thus we shouldn't throw accusations about people without proof, that is just wrong. And if there is proof, I would gladly like to see it.)

The Outcome of Mr. Kelsey

Sadly, Mr. Kelsey succumbed to the illness and died. According to several historical books of the period, he was buried on the southwest corner of El Dorado and Fremont Streets (not on Lindsay street). His wife later contracted the disease as well, becoming blind from the effects of it. In some documented information I have found, it states that David Kelsey's wife later died after other complications of her illness, however other information claims she moved to Oregon with her son, Isaiah and died many years later. I have yet to find any information that David had a son named Isaiah, as the only son I could find of record was David, Jr. It has been noted that Mrs. Kelsey was the first white woman in Stockton.

After Kelsey's death, natives in the general area (The Loc-Lumna Indians from Ione Valley, Amador County) approached the settlement, and decided to take advantage of an opportunity. You see, they noticed that many of the settlers had fled to San Jose to escape the epidemic, so they attacked Mr. Lindsay’s home and property where he was alone. After murdering Lindsay, they burnt his home to the ground as well as all other homes and stole all the livestock. (History records also state Mr. Lindsay was burned inside his home, which discredits the theory that people found his body floating in the lake, full of arrows.)

As some of the history books state, the area (which would be today’s McLeod Lake, just east of Mormon Slough) was later named after him, for it is the very land his property was on and the land he was murdered on, although that also seems to have been forgotten. What a sad and tragic event in Stockton's early history.

What Happened to Kelsey's Family?

 Mr. & Mrs. Kelsey were survived by their children:

Josephine, America, and Frances (there is also a mention of a son, perhaps David, Jr. but no mention of his death or what happened to him.) 

Josephine married twice before finally finding Dr. Gattan of Stockton, who proved to be her third and last until she died in 1871.  America married George Wyman and lived a long and happy life together. In later years, their life became the inspiration for David S. Matthews’ novel, “America Kelsey, A Romance of the Great San Joaquin Valley**” which was published by the Stockton Record Press in 1915. It was a work of historical fiction, stating some specific events that took place, but also having significantly embellished fictional elements to it.

 (**I think that much of the romanticized theories about the Kelsey's has come from this work of fiction, which to me is sort of sad. We cannot mix fictional aspects with history or it can become blurred between knowing what really happened and what one may think happened. That is why in my quest to know the true story of the Kelsey's, I have stuck to ONLY historical records and the period piece historical books of the time, instead of sourcing "historical fiction" novels.)

Frances, married W.J. Buzzell, a friend of Charles Weber, and former seaman from France, who upon arriving at Half Moon Bay decided to depart and head into the mountains as a trapper. He later met Frances Kelsey and they married at Sutter’s Fort in 1844. Their daughter Elizabeth "Lizzie" Buzzell is said to  be the very first white child born in Stockton, on September 9, 1847.  Frances and W.J. Buzzell had six children in all. One of their sons, Joseph,  grew up to become a Sheriff’s Deputy under Sheriff Cunningham. On November 28, 1895, he was shot and killed near McLaughlin Ranch. (This will be my next story…) Frances died at the age of 34 in Half Moon Bay.

In the end, as I said to you before, when you are driving north on El Dorado Street, and you approach Fremont, what will you see? Maybe a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Cesar Chavez Library? But you will not see any mention of the Kelsey family, or that Mr. Kelsey died there. You won’t see a plaque mentioning him being buried there or the epidemic of smallpox that literally affected every single settler in the area, forcing many to flee to San Jose to escape, while leaving another Pioneer settler, Thomas Lindsay to fend for himself there, alone.

In front of the City Attorneys building on Center and Fremont, you will find a small plaque that briefly mentions where Mr. Lindsay was murdered and that it was the site of the first tule-house in Stockton (first building). Sadly, there isn't much left to remember either Kelsey or Lindsay by.

There are no libraries named after them, no parks or monuments erected in their names have been established. You will find that Lindsay street does run near the park to where the water is. It has kept the name McLeod's Lake, after the Hudson Bay Trappers who came originally to trap beavers in the area, but the history books do state that the waters near there were renamed in honor of Lindsay. I don't see that today either.
I hope you enjoyed learning something new about Stockton's vast history and the next time you drive on either El Dorado, please remember the Kelsey's and Mr. Lindsay, and that they paid the ultimate sacrifice, living here in the first settlements of Stockton and French Camp.

(Copyright 2014- J’aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)


History of Stockton, George Henry Tinkham
California Pioneer Register, 154-1848, Bancroft.
History of San Joaquin County, George Henry Tinkham

National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1897
Various genealogical sites of Kelsey/Kelsay family
Obituary for Josephine Kelsey Gattan

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