Tragedy in Early San Joaquin County

When Charles Weber's partner received a Mexican land grant for Rancho del Campo de los Franceses in what is now central San Joaquin County, he agreed to settle eleven families on the 48,000-acre property. In 1844, herders James Williams and Thomas Lindsay built tule huts and began living near what would later be called Stockton Slough.

Later that year, David Kelsey, his wife, Susan, and their twelve-year-old daughter, America, agreed to settle on French Camp Slough, where Hudson's Bay Company trappers had wintered for many years in the prior decade.

America Kelsey Wyman. (width=

America Kelsey Wyman. Photo courtesy Holt-Atherton Special Collect., Univ. of the Pacific. (go.pacific.edu/specialcollections).

David Kelsey was a frontiersman and a veteran of the famed Kentucky Rifles of the War of 1812. Four of his sons had left Missouri in 1841 in the same wagon train as the famed Bartleson-Bidwell party. Two of those sons continued on the Oregon Trail, whereas sons Benjamin—with his wife, Nancy, and baby daughter, Martha Ann—and Andrew were among the first American settlers to enter California as part of the Bartleson group. In 1843, father David and the remainder of the Kelsey family emigrated from Missouri to Oregon. They spent the winter in Oregon and in the spring went south to Central California. At Sutter's Fort in 1844, David Kelsey accepted the offer to settle at French Camp in exchange for one square mile of prime land.

A few months after moving to French Camp, David Kelsey had to go to San Jose for supplies. While there, he was exposed to smallpox. Soon after returning to the French Camp cabin that fall, he became sick.

David's wife, Susan, loaded him and their daughter America into a wagon and headed for Sutter's Fort to get medical help. They had only gone as far as Thomas Lindsay's hut on McLeod's Lake (now downtown Stockton) when the nature of David's illness became apparent. Lindsay and James Williams fled from the dreaded smallpox. They suggesting to Mrs. Kelsey that should David die, she should not risk contact with the body, but should drag it out to be disposed of by the coyotes.

In the coming days, Mrs. Kelsey also fell ill and was blinded by the smallpox. Young America was left alone to nurse her critically ill parents. Her father, David, died in Lindsay's hut.

Fortunately, some cowboys came along. One of them, George Wyman, had the courage to enter the hut, bury David Kelsey, and care for blinded and weakened Mrs. Kelsey. He took her and her daughter, America, to Monterey on his cow pony.

James Williams and Thomas Lindsay returned to their huts after the risk of smallpox had passed. Lindsay was soon killed by Indians and buried near David Kelsey. Williams left the frontier to participate in the Bear Flag Revolt.

Susan Kelsey, permanently blind, moved to Oregon to live with her son, Isaiah.

What became of young America Kelsey? On September 2, 1846, America and her rescuer, cowboy George Wyman, were married by Captain John Sutter at his fort on the American River (now Sacramento). They lived a long life together near Half Moon Bay. They were blessed with nine children: seven boys and two girls.

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