An Old Face Rejoins His Siblings

This past weekend I spent an afternoon with a 4th cousin I’d never met. We’re both repositories of sorts of famtracking lore, and regaled each other with tales of yesteryear.

Among his many fascinating things, tales, and objects he had the above picture.

It is a photograph of one Mr. John A. Campbell, my great-great-grand-uncle. And until I saw this picture Saturday I’d never seen his face.

He was the second child (and son) of my 3rd great-grandparents George Campbell & Rachel Bilderback, and one of two older brothers to my 2nd great-grandfather, George P.B. Campbell. I’ve recently been tracking down with pretty much amazing success, I must say, the descendants of Geo & Rachel. They had seven kids, and so far we’ve had pictures of four of them: Thomas, the oldest, George P.B., and the younger siblings Amanda and Henry.JOHN A brite1

But now, lo, and behold we can add brother John for a reunion that never occurred (they’re not pictured in order of birth, btw).


The seven kids had been born as their parents moved from southwestern PA to southwestern WI between 1830 and 1846. Their mom died only a couple of weeks after delivering their last baby, William, and their dad died three years after that. At that point, the eldest was 19, and already lived and worked at a store he’d later own. John was 16, and along with another brother, Columbus, who was 11, lived with the family of one of their mom’s cousins. George P.B., 13, and Henry, 6, lived near each other on other nearby farms, and Amanda, 9 years old, lived near Thomas, the eldest, which to me seems like the exact right thing for him to have done to take care of his baby sister.

JOHN A brite2

As soon as John hit is 18th birthday, though, pyeeooow! that guy was outa there. See, what’s particularly fascinating about John, here, is that at 18 he took the overland route to California. What’s more amazing is that a good portion of the journal he kept of his walking journey across America is still extant!

So, at last, here he is.

That  super-steady little grin  and  what   seems to me to pour out of the photo:   true self satisfaction could have something to do with the fact that this guy walked–WALKED!–across this continent. Dude flippin’ walked from the  northern reaches of the Mississippi River across the Great Plains, right through the  chiseled windscapes of high Wyoming, into, through and over the Rocky Mountains,  amongst the scraggy  cliffs of the Utah and Nevada rock wonderlands, across the surreal, scorching dry alkaline lake beds   on the desert tenderloin before transecting the final mountains of the great rolling American immensity,  the Sierra Nevadas, and walked himself right down that slope of excitement (why excitment? because it’s the final concave curve of fault and bend of rock, of the continent) to the land’s very destiny under the lapping and endless waves of the Pacific Ocean.

You’re  looking at a guy who walked 2,100 miles with just a few, maybe up to a couple dozen people, from Old Man River to the splashing edge of the world’s most massive ocean, a guy who when he finished landed in the newly minted town of San Francisco just at the moment when it had found itself, its ebullient staggering legs. This guy presumably  experienced the raw decadence that is part of the DNA of San Francisco and California.

There are plenty of tales of those who also made the trek he made and who rode the boom wave right into the snares that await in those places built to cater to all of our desires. But I like to look at this awesome portrait and  based on the facts that we know about him, bask right along with him in the suchness of his weathering that storm, too, on top of the million affronts that trekking across a partially hostile continent is heir to.

Six years after his arrival in San Francisco this guy you see in this picture got himself married to a slightly younger girl from Germany, and by the time of that swirl of events when the 16th President of the United States took office and Southern states seceded from the United States of America and started a war, John and his wife Sevilla had a baby boy and another one on the way. He also owned and managed a hotel/saloon and was what we’d call a veterinarian. Did he order more than one print of this picture of himself…to send back to Wisconsin to his older brother and brood of younger brothers and baby sister? to his mom’s cousin who’d taken him in for a year before he high-tailed it west? I hope they saw this picture. It’s triumphant, but not at all showie about it.

Anyway, the newly found cousin who owns this picture also had some pix of John’s kids, of course.

He also had this one of the other brother’s — Henry’s — three daughters, which I’d also never seen.

I mean, take a look at these ladies. Smart, together and confident. One imagines they were quite bonded. And it looks it!

Good stuff!


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