Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Kelsey's, "Bad Guys"


Many of you have noticed, and asked, why so many of the early settlers were from Missouri. The following explanation describes the reasons as well as I have heard. The rest of the story is excerpts from the Kelsey trip to California.

Story by Celia Hayes.
The westward movement of Americans rolled west of the Appalachians and hung up for a decade or two on the barrier of the Mississippi-Missouri. It was almost an interior sea-coast, the barrier between the settled lands, and the un-peopled and tree-less desert beyond, populated by wild Indians. To be sure, there were scattered enclaves, as far-distant as the stars in the age of “shanks’ mare” and team animals hitched to wagons, or led in a pack-train: far California, equally distant Oregon, the pueblos of Santa Fe, and Texas. And men in exploring parties, or on trade had ventured out to the ends of the known continent… and by the winter of 1840 there were reports of what had been found. Letters, rumor, common talk among the newspapers, and meeting-places had put the temptation and the possibility in peoples’ minds, to the point where an emigrating society had been formed over that winter. The members had pledged to meet, all suitably outfitted and supplied on the 9th of May, 1841 at a rendezvous twenty miles west of Independence, on the first leg of the Santa Fe Trail, intent for California, although none of them had at the time any clear idea of where to go, in order to get there...
...supplies were already running short. They hunted for buffalo along the valley of the Sweetwater, and met up with a party of 60 trappers on the Green River, who told them flat-out that it was impossible to take wagons over the mountains and desert and mountains again to California. At that point a small group of seven men packed it in and headed back to Missouri, and all but thirty one men and Mrs. Nancy Kelsey decided to carry on with the trail towards Ft. Hall and Oregon...
...The men of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, who had, against all advice and counsel, decided to continue on for California had much in common. They were all young, most under the age of thirty. None of them had been into the Far West until this journey, although one of them was a relative by marriage to the Sublette fur-trading family. The Kelsey brothers, Andrew and Benjamin were rough Kentucky backwoodsmen. Two of them had been schoolteachers, but all had grown up on farms, were accustomed to firearms and hunting…and hard work, of which the unknown trail would offer plenty...
...After a week or so, they camped north of the Lake and sent two men to Fort Hall seeking additional supplies and guidance. In both they were disappointed; there were no supplies to be spared from the fort stores, and there was no guide to be hired. The only advice they could get from Fort Hall was not to go too far north, into a bandlands of steep canyons, or too far south into the sandy desert. But away to the west there was a river flowing towards the south-west. That was called then Mary’s or Ogden’s River (now the Humboldt). If they could find and follow it, it would guide them on long way....
...They all headed southwards across the desert, southwards again after camping at a place called Rabbit Creek. By mischance, they had missed the headwaters of a creek that emptied into the river they were searching for, and in another couple of days, the team animals began to fail. The Kelsey brothers abandoned their wagons, packing their remaining supplies onto the backs of their mules and saddle horses, and the party continued with increasing desperation, south and west, and to the north-west again, until it became clear that the wagons were a useless, dragging burden. In the middle of September the wagons were abandoned, about where present-day US Highway 40 crosses the Pequop Summit. They made packs for the mules… they tried to make packs for the oxen, who promptly bucked them off again. They set off again, giving much of what they couldn’t take to friendly Indians, and operating mostly by chance at this point, found and followed the Humboldt River. They supplied themselves by hunting, and gradually and one by one, butchering their draft oxen. Nancy Kelsey, the indomitable wife of Benjamin was reduced to carrying her year-old daughter, herself barefoot… and yet, as one of their comrades recollected later, “she bore the fatigues of the journey with so much heroism, patience and kindness…” She had embarked on the journey, declaring that she would rather endure hardships with her husband, than anxieties over his absence.
Gradually, as historian George Stewart put it, “their journey became one of those starvation marches so common in the history of the West”. They soldiered on through the desert, eventually finding their way over the Sierra at the Sonora Pass, only to be caught in the wilderness canyons at the headwaters of the Stanislaus River. They did not eat well until they reached the lower stretches of the gentle San Joaquin valley where the men--- still well supplied with powder and shot--- bagged enough deer for a feast. They arrived at a ranch nearby early in November of 1841.They were the first party of emigrants to arrive overland, although with scarcely more than they wore on their backs, or carried.
Thus, Nancy Kelsey became the first female to come to California overland.

It sounds like the Kelsey family may not have been run out of Missouri, but it sounds like the Old Man was a scoundrel, Ben and his brothers came from pretty ruthless stock. Too many people had them pegged as scoundrels. The following is from mhrising.com:
Some early history of The Kelsey Family

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.

The family was considered shrewd and inclined to make the most of their opportunities. This caused some feeling among the neighbors. They were charged with trying to secure the pre-emption claims of some of their neighbors and they were invited to leave. Soon after this the Kelsos emigrated up the river.
{This family lived just north of Roscoe on the Osage River.}

This charge of attempting to secure the rights of preemption from their neighbors resulting in an 1841 lawsuit in Henry County against Andrew Kelsey and Charles Beale. Two years later both men headed for Oregon in Jesse Applegate's Cow Column.

In 1838 Samuel Kelsey was indicted by the state of Missouri with assault with intent to kill. He was called but defaulted as did his securities Samuel Kelsey, Sr. and Andrew Kelsey. His attorney appeared at the next term and in November of 1838, the court again indicted Samuel Jr. with assault with intent to commit manslaughter. He appeared at that time and moved to quash the indictment. The court agreed.

Only David appears on the 1840 census in Missouri as head of household. He was enumerated in Rives County, p. 368 as David “Kelso” with 1 male 5-10, 1 male 15-20, 1 male 20-30, 1 male 80-90; 1 female 5-10, 2 females 10-15, 1 female 30-40.

David may have stayed behind when Andrew and Benjamin headed to California in 1841 as he had was maintaining their father, likely Samuel Kelsey, Sr., the male 80-90 in David's household. Perhaps Samuel Sr. then died leaving David free to take his family west. Except for the following marriage records, the Kelsey's then drop out of Missouri records:

Samuel Kesley m. in Cole Co. 5 March 1835 Lucretia Applegate.
Andrew m. 18 June 1839 in Henry Co., Mary Kelsey
Benjamin Kelsey m. in Henry County, Missouri 25 October 1838, Nancy Roberts.


I've been skimming through literature written about the Kelsy family, and especially their trip to California. I been trying to understand why they were so outstandingly cruel to the Indian People. Their trip to California over land had not been successfully traveled before. They would be the first to make it to California over land. The Kelseys and Bidwell were betrayed many times by the Indians that they tried to hire to guide them. Most of their "guides" led them into ambushes. The only thing that saved the Kelseys is that they were well armed. They came across the remains of several parties of white people that had tried to make it through Indian county and had been attacked. It appeared that the Indians had killed them, took their provisions, and killed their Oxen. The group were attacked along the way many times. At one point Ben had to leave His wife Nancy and their small daughter alone while he tried to find a trail. While she hid, Indians took her provisions. The immigrant group came very close to starvation. The only thing that saved them is the fact that they were wise enough to arm them selves well. The were excellent marksmen, but there was not much game in the high country they had to get well down into the Sacramento Valley before they found enough game to feed themselves well again. They fended of many sneak attacks by the Indians, and they shot some to keep them away. All in all, their trip to California was a gut wrenching story of survival.



I believe what was wrong with the Kelseys is that they had a strong desire to succeed, and a strong will to live. Their trip was a classic cause to have, what we would call nowadays, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their inability to deal Indians on a civilized level was not justified, but there may have been some provocation for them to be "The Genocidal Scum" that they were. My curiosity has always led to find out what might have provoked, and driven, people like the Kelseys to have done the things that they did. It's too bad that we, as human beings, don't try to find why things happen the way that they do. Without understanding the provocation that drive people to do insane things, we can never prevent the insanity.


I've ordered a few books on the Kelseys, maybe I'll know more later.



Link to The Kelsey Family
Link to The Genocidal Scum who built Arcata, by Jerry Rohde, from The North Coast Journal.
Link to The Kelsey's trip to California.
Link to: Nancy Kelsey


Link to: Nancy Kelsey, the California Betsy Ross


Link to: An Ordinary Woman Dramatized biography of Nancy Kelsey.

11 comments:

Ben said...

Well, this should get interesting.

Ernie Branscomb said...

History is history Ben, It can't get any more interesting than it already is. I just want to find out how it all worked. We seem to get hung up on the massacres and fail to search for what might have brought them about.

Again I want to make it clear that I think that the Horror of it all was avoidable, so why didn't they avoid it? Good Guys and Bad guys alike allowed it to happen. WHY.

lynette707 said...

I think we do need to recognize that there is a difference between people who " allowed it [atrocities] to happen" and those that perpetrated these horrors. A big difference.

I am guessing that at least some of the men raping congo women and children suffered trauma

http://lynette707.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/lessons-never-learned/

but who should we be focusing on here, the misunderstood rapists, or the victims?

I do agree with you, Ernie, that we do need to look at the cause of these actions, with the hope of eventually preventing them. We just need to be careful not to minimize or dismiss suffering that occurred, whatever the "why".

suzy blah blah said...

Suzy can tell you 'why' such insane things happen
But why should i waste my breath?
What you have is a compilation of interesting stories and rather meaningless statistics
To know 'why' you need to study psychology, in depth

Hans said...

I read a lot of history and I wish I had a nickle evertime I finish some article or book and think to myself that you just can't make this stuff up.

spyrock said...

i've been trying to find the thread for this but i will just have to put it out there. the kelseys of kelseyville were related to the clantons of gunfight at the ok corral. the father of ike and billy clanton was newman haynes clanton and his wife was mariah kelso which is one of the names the kelseys went by. the oldest son john clanton also married a nancy rose kelsey in sonoma california. he was the oldest brother of ike and billy. so what i'm saying is that the clantons and kelseys are closely related and intermarried or married their relatives. so someone did stand up to people like the kelseys and if you want to know what it was like go rent the dvd tombstone with kurt russel or the other one by kevin costner. wyatt earp didn't have any kids, so all of his relatives go back to north carolina to his uncle's descendants. my sister's husbands mother from north carolina was named daisy earp. born around the time the saying by doc holliday, you'll be pushing up daisy's if you do, was popular. the fact is that the people who lived in covelo and in the rest of the wild west had their lives at risk every day. but when faced with people like george white who had 30 buckaroos including californios working for him, the average family man did well to protect is own life and that of his family. and to all of you polyannas out there, the same thing is going on out there in your town, your city, your neighborhood every single day at the present time. people still choose to look the other way. all the time. sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. also, i did read that the kelsey woman who lived in kelseyville went back to texas to see her clanton relatives after the indian attack but i can't remember where i saw that article.
it was several years ago when i first started reading about these things.

Ben said...

O.k. Ernie... Here's the elephant in the room and Californios were probably as culpable as whites.
The crime we find most awful, as witness the current crime uncovered in Antioch or the Polly Klass murder, Is the kidnapping, rape and sometimes murder of girls. It really turns our stomachs and we fantasize terrible revenge on the perpetrators.
In Northern California in the 1850s and 60s, it was common practice. If a guy got horny and drunk, he and maybe a few friends went out and found some Indian girs to rape and possibly kill. Men who found themselves in this area without the prospect of wives simply went out and kidnapped on or maybe two. The census lists prove that these concubines were often as young as twelve or thirteen. If they tried to run away, they were often killed.
The point I am making is that the motive for an Indian to go out and whack a few whites is on we can all understand, We feel as strongly today about the rape of children as the Natives did back then. If you look at the cultural research, you will find that the Indians killed a rapist. It was not accepted even with blood money. This is the fact that is rarely discussed except by writers like Jack Norton. We are not ready to talk about it.

Robin Shelley said...

John Grisham addressed the issue in his first book, "A Time to Kill" which, although a novel, was based on an actual case in far more modern times than we're talking about here.
Grisham's story was about a black man killing the two white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. The question should have been whether or not a father is justified in killing the men who raped his daughter but, of course, it became whether or not a black man is ever justified in killing a white man. Same difference.
Compelling story.

Anonymous said...

I'm related to the Kelseys! Elisabeth Ann Kelsey of Kelseyville,Ca They weren't all trash. Granny had money and land. Ben was her cousin. I agree the cousins were ruthless to the Pomo Indians. Nothing nice. However my Great Uncle Henry Mauldin was the County Historian of LakePort,Ca donated numerous Pomo artifacts. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

Huh, pretty slanted view of my family there and not so good on some of the basics of Ben & Nancy Kelsey's history. It's completely out of context not to say that they were Reb sympathizers from KY who joined (or supported) the notorious Mason Henry gang to attack pro-Union CA towns, during the time when the Civil War was actually ongoing. That really was the basis for the Kelsey family violence, not your made up views. Sure, still not nice, but neither is a nation divided against itself. It does not in anyway excuse the massacre of the Pomos at Clear Lake, but these Kelseys saw their clan in the West as the fleeing Reb sympathizers and everyone else as the enemy.

Just because you can think something, does not make it true. Do better research.

Tom Goldrup said...

The Kelseys are my kin. Ben, Andy and Sam were second cousins to the lter Kelsay-Kelseys in Lake county arriving there in 1861. Ben sometimes gets a bad rap for actions of his brother Sam...It was Sam who led the attacks in Napa after his brother Andy was killed. Ben was with him and in the newspaper accounts of the time was one of the men who tried to stop the actual killings. There is no proof at all that he or his sons were involved with the Mason-Henry gang...they were only suspected as possible members because brother Sam led a band of seccessionists in southern California. I will not try to downsize their bad dealings with the Indians, but it was the US Cavalry that purpotrated Bloody Island Massacre...the Kelseys were not with them. As to the connection with the Clantons of Tombstone, Arizona...Ike and Billy's mother Mariah Kelso was of no relation to the California Kelseys unless somewhere back in Scotland; It was a daughter of Ben Kelsey though that married Ike and Billy Clanton's older brother John Wesley Clanton, but he was living peacefully in California when his father and brothers were in Tombstone, Arizona.