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David Kelsey
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Birth: 1793
Barren County
Kentucky, USA
Death: 1844
San Joaquin County
California, USA

From "The Ordeal and Tragedy of David Kelsey," by Robert Shellenberger, in The San Joaquin Historian (Spring 1996):

David Kelsey

David Kelsey was born in Barren County Kentucky in 1793 where his Pennsylvania born father was an early pioneer. The father changed the Scots-Irish spelling of the family name from Kelsay to the English style Kelsey. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 (the famous Kentucky Rifles), and family legend has it that he was responsible for the capture of a British General during the Battle of New Orleans. David and his wife, Susan Cazzort, later moved to st. Clair County, Missouri and soon had a family of ten children (see article The Kelsey Clan following).

The Oregon-California fever that swept the Missouri-Illinois frontier in the winter of 1840-41 badly infected the Kelsey clan and David's four eldest boys joined the famous convoy that left Sapling Grove for California on May 12, 1841. This group split along the way with some going on to Oregon, and the others-the famous Bidwell-Bartleson Party-proceeding to California. Two sons, Isaac and Samuel, went to Oregon, and Benjamin, his wife and child, and Andrew elected to try for California.

In 1843, the remainder of the family followed to Oregon with the Applegate Train of that year. After wintering in Oregon, David and his younger children took the Siskiyou Trail to Sutter's Fort and his fateful meeting with Gulnac.

French Camp 1844

It is not recorded whether the French Camp site was Kelsey's choice or if it was assigned. It should have been a good location. The Hudson's Bay trappers had wintered there for a number of years, so there would have at least been corrals, some kind of boat landing, and minor bits of clearing and infrastructure already in place. It was an established trading site at the junction of several important Indian trails, including the main trail from Sutter's to Livermore's rancho and San Jose. Importantly, it was on sandy soil that drained well during the winter.

When Kelsey first arrived in August of 1844 there was a flurry of activity on the grant. Later testimony at Weber's land title hearings indicated there were at least four houses near McLeods Lake (named for Alexander McLeod, leader of the first Hudson's Bay trappers to visit the delta), with two families in temporary residence. Corrals were constructed, fruit trees planted as well as a small patch of wheat. There were horses and cattle and some vaqueros on site. In addition, Kelsey had a man named Kelly who worked with him in building his cabin at French Camp.

By autumn, however, it was quiet. Only James Williams and Thomas Lindsay remained at McLeod's Lake, occupying two cabins and tending the stock. The Kelsey family was now also on it's own and apparently consisted of only Kelsey and his wife, daughter America, and perhaps son David Crocket. America was twelve years old, David Crocket was fourteen.

The little family would expect to face hostile Indians (the treaty with Jose Jesus covered only the local tribe that occupied the territory between French Camp and the Stanislaus River), thieves, disease, mosquitoes in enormous swarms. Their only neighbors would be the two cattle herders at McLeods Lake. Sutter had given Gulnac a swivel cannon and he passed it on to Kelsey. Each night Kelsey would charge the piece and fire an evening salute to warn any marauding Indians that he was armed.

Late in the fall supplies ran short. The family was existing on wheat gruel (his seed for his first planned crop?), game, and tea made from herbs gathered along French Camp Slough. Kelsey therefore buried his cannon, loaded his valuables and his family into a wagon, and traveled to San Jose for supplies. In San Jose he would meet Charles Weber for the first and only time. If older members of the family were with him, they stayed behind when he returned to French Camp. It is not known how long the Kelseys stayed in San Jose, but they would have to return before winter rains raised the San Joaquin River and made it impossible to ford.
While in San Jose, Kelsey visited a sick Indian. The reason for this visit is a puzzle. Kelsey was too new to the area to have a close acquaintance in far-off San Jose. Further, the Kelseys were noted for their prejudices against Indians. One sensible speculation is that he was referred to the Indian as a possible employee to take back to the grant.

This short meeting had dire consequences, for soon after return to French Camp, Kelsey took ill, presumably with the malady that infected the Indian. Susan Kelsey had spent her life on the frontier and was used to dealing with ordinary illness without outside aid, but something made her quickly realize this was something her home remedies could not handle. She loaded David, and America into the wagon and started for Sutter's Fort to find a doctor. When they reached Lindsay's cabin at McLeod's Lake, he urged them to spend the night. He said Williams would soon return and was good at doctoring. Williams had some medicine he thought would probably be the cure.

Williams arrived and dosed his patient. According to later testimony, by morning the nature of Kelsey's illness became obvious-small pox! This was the dreaded killer disease of the Valley, having already decimated the Indian population. Sutter had warned he would kill anyone who brought the disease to his settlement.

Lindsay and Williams immediately took off, separating themselves from the highly contagious disease. Lindsay's parting advice is said to have been that they shouldn't try to bury Kelsey should he die, but rather drag him out to where the coyotes could dispose of the body.

As Kelsey grew weaker, wife Susan fell ill and was quickly blinded by the disease, leaving twelve year old America to nurse them both. Kelsey died three weeks after his first symptoms. The plight and despair of that little girl can't really be imagined, for now she was also becoming ilL
Dead father unburied, blind mother, and a stricken child alone in the wilderness. This was the fate of the first white family to settle in San Joaquin County.


Fortunately, cattle herders came by and after long consideration, one of them, George F. Wyman, found the courage to cross the quarantine line and go to America's aid. He buried David Kelsay near the corner of Fremont and Lindsay Streets in today's Stockton, nursed Susan to reasonable health and cared for America, too. Then he took them to Monterey, America riding on his horse with him.

Susan moved to Oregon, permanently blind from the sickness, and died at her son Isaiah's home in 1856. David Crocket Kelsey died in 1882. America married her helper, George Wyman, Sept. 2, 1846 at Sutter's Fort.

* * * * *

s/o John Kelsay & Jeanne Kinkaide

m. c. 1812 to Susan Jane Cozzort


Benjamin Kelsey (1813-1889)
Elizabeth Kelsey (1815-1888)
Samuel Kelsey (1816- )
Isaiah Kelsey (1817-1888)
Andrew Kelsey (1821-1849)
Loretta Kelsey (1824-1874)
Margaret Francis Kelsey (1830-1858)
Rebecca Josephine Kelsey (1830-1871)
America Kelsey (1832-1916)
David Crocket Kelsey (1835-1882)
Family links: 
  Susan Jane Cozzort Kelsey (____ - 1856)
  David Crocket Kelsey (____ - 1882)*
  Elizabeth Kelsey East (1814 - 1888)*
  Isaiah Kelsey (1817 - 1888)*
  Rachel Loretta Kelsey Williams (1824 - 1874)*
*Calculated relationship
David Kelsey Gravesite
San Joaquin County
California, USA
Created by: Daryl & Barbara (Biggs)...
Record added: Dec 31, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 102866633

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