769. William Wilberforce Kirkpatrick was born on 20 July 1849 in Burnside, Hancock Co., Illinois. He died on 20 May 1943 at the age of 93 in Keokuk, Lee Co., Iowa. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Hamilton, Hancock Co., Illinois.
On 12 February 1878, William married in Burnside, Illinois, Christina Decker, daughter of Elisha and Sarah Decker, who was born in 1859 in Illinois. The couple had one daughter, Lena Lora, but by 1880 they had separated, and we find Will living with his daughter near Keokuk, Iowa, on a truck farm. Family tradition tells that when Christina left, Will refused to let he take the child, and that she had to resort to the courts to get custody of Lena. A granddaughter of Will and Christina once wrote that he never knew why she divorced him. According to this correspondent, Will was deeply in debt and Christina's mother urged her to leave or risk being tied to someone who would never amount to anything. The two were divorced in late 1880 or early 1881. Christina later married in 1891 to Lee Weir and had two other children, Bernard and Forrest Lee Weir.
Will married second to Laura Zeella Dodge, daughter of Dr. Thomas J. and Caroline (Atwater) Dodge, at Hamilton, Illinois on 23 November 1881. Laura was born 13 Jun 1863 at Bushnell, McDonough County, Illinois. Dr. Dodge was at this time the proprietor of the Riverside Sanitarium in Hamilton, Illinois, which was at one time a renowned health spa.
In 1886, with his second wife Laura and two children, Will emigrated to Western Nebraska, traveling the distance of some 700 mines by covered wagon. They traveled together with a cousin and his wife, Sam and Dora Powell and family. While it is not certain when they went, Will's parents also soon joined them, as did Will's sister Mary and her husband John Moyer, some of Laura's brothers, and some of her Atwater cousins. There they homesteaded on 640 acres of dry, sandy land in Hitchcock County near the Southwestern corner of the state. The nearest town was Stratton, about thirteen miles away. Although they lost their first homestead through inability to make mortgage payments, they homesteaded another 640 acres on which they managed to eke out a living until 1898, when they moved to Holdredge, Nebraska. On these farms, they lived in sod houses, timber being far too scarce for building, and imported lumber being prohibitively costly.
Because of the danger of prairie fires, one of the first things that Will did was to plow a strip of land entirely around his section of land as a fire break. Sunflowers soon sprang up in this plowed strip and Will often remarked that he wondered where the seeds had come from, as there had been no sign of sunflowers until the ground was broken. In Winter, the blizzards were so bad that they had to tie a rope between the house and the barn to keep from getting lost when they went out to feed the stock. Will and Laura's youngest son, Myron, who was not born until after they left Hitchcock County, tells of hearing his older brothers describe how they used to play with rattlesnakes, chasing them to their holes and then grabbing onto the rattles until they saw the heads doubling back before they would let go. Myron also tells of a narrow escape that Will had while driving home from Stratton one day. he was overtaken by a prairie fire which he could not outrun. Will did not smoke, but he did find one match in his pocket, and with that he lit a fire and then drove his team out onto the burned patch, thereby escaping certain death.
Letters which were written to Will and Laura by Laura's father during this period reveal the harsh conditions under which they tried to fare. Many years they go no rain, and hence no crop at all, and were dependent on the family back in Illinois for the bare necessities of life, even food. And in the good years, when they did get a crop, the bottom would drop out of the prices.
Although they lived in Hitchcock County from 1886 to 1898, Will and Laura's four children who were born between 1887 and 1893 were born in Hamilton, Illinois. Since Laura's father was a doctor, she always returned to Hamilton to have her children. Only after Thomas Dodge died in 1895 did she stay in Nebraska for the birth of her children. In 1898, with Laura expecting another baby, they gave up and moved back to Holdredge in South-central Nebraska, where Will's sister Mary and her husband John Moyer were already living. There Will found work and built a house. This house, described by Will's niece, Frances Moyer, as a huge ranch house, with a porch on three sides, was destroyed by fire in 1900. A Holdrege doctor recalled driving his horse and buggy past the house on a midnight call. When he returned about 3:30 AM, it was a pile of ashes. A family story has it that in the Holdrege fire, Laura, who was only five feet tall, moved her brand new cast iron stove clear across the kitchen in a desparate effort to save it. Afterward she was unable to explain how she could even have budged it.
Following the fire the family moved to Tecumseh in Southeastern Nebraska, and in 1906 they moved to a farm a few miles outside of Tecumseh. In 1910, they moved a short distance to the little town of Smartville (now St. Mary), where Will ran a grain elevator. During the winter of 1914 all of the family who were still at home contracted smallpox, but fortunately, all survived. Shortly after this, the family moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where Will worked for Laura's brother Charles Dodge in his theatre. Will also bought about 25 acres of land at the edge of Keokuk and on it ran a small dairy with about twelve cows.
In 1919, Will, together with his son Albert, bought for $3500, a 187-acre farm along the Mississippi River about three miles South of Montrose, Iowa, opposite Nauvoo, Illinois. Along with more conventional crops, they also grew several acres of strawberries, as well as a vineyard of grapes. Will continued to live on this farm until the 1930's when, during the depression, the bank foreclosed on his mortgage.
Laura died on 18 February 1923 at Hamilton, Illinois. Will lived to be 94 years of age and was in fine physical shape. It is told that when struck by a truck at the age of 84, he refused a trip to the hospital offered by the truck driver. "No," he said, "I've probably got some broken ribs, but I'll go home and tape them up. If I go to the hospital, I'll die." he died 20 May 1943 at Keokuk, while on one of the long walks which he took daily. Both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Hamilton, Illinois.
One child born of the first marriage with Christina.
On the 1880 U. S. census of Keokuk, Lee Co., Iowa, William W. Kirkpatrick appears with his wife Christina and daughter Lena L. William is a farmer.
William Wilberforce Kirkpatrick and Laura Zeella Dodge were married on 23 November 1881 in Hamilton, Hancock Co., Illinois.338 Laura Zeella Dodge, daughter of Thomas J. Dodge and Caroline Atwater, was born on 13 June 1863 in Bushnell, McDonough Co., Illinois. She died on 18 February 1923 at the age of 59 in Hamilton, Hancock Co., Illinois. She was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Hamilton, Hancock Co., Illinois.
William Wilberforce Kirkpatrick and Laura Zeella Dodge had the following children:
William Wilberforce Kirkpatrick and Christina Decker were married on 12 February 1878 in Burnside, Hancock Co., Illinois.20 Christina Decker, daughter of Elisha Decker and Sarah ???, was born in 1859 in Illinois.
William Wilberforce Kirkpatrick and Christina Decker had the following children: