The Sad Story of Ira Van Campen
Tom Phillips

Ira was born in Allegheny County, New York in 1829. He was one of five brothers and two sisters. His family was of Dutch descent, coming to the Americas in the 1600's. His family history was full of war heroes from both the 1776 and 1812 wars.

Ira loaded up his oxen pulled wagon and headed west. He arrived in California in 1852. He took up residence southeast of the town of Hornitos in an area called the Elk Horn Ranch. Ira began farming the land raising wheat and barley along with hogs and whatever else was necessary to sustain life in that day.

Ira was not content with the farm life and ventured into operating a steam-powered sawmill in the Saxton Creek area of Mariposa in 1856.

Life on the farm was a lonely one for Ira, but things would change in more ways than he could contemplated. On September 4th of 1859, Ira married a women name Josephine in Stanislaus County. They returned to the Elk Horn ranch and began to settle into married life. In January of 1860, Ira's brother, William and his family joined them. They moved onto the Elk Horn Ranch and began farming along side him. William brought with him his wife, Harriet, two sons, Aziel and Howard and daughter, Azelia. But the reuniting of the Van Campen family did not bring peace for the Van Campen brothers. Josephine up and left the farm in April of 1860 leaving Ira alone again. William and Harriet's bickering soon end with William removing him self and Harriet moving the kids to Hornitos. Ira and William eventually filed for divorce from their spouses in a less than timely fashion both wait seven years to begin the procedures.

Farming was a hard life and the summer months almost unendurable. Drought and locusts took their toll on the family farm. But Ira, undeterred by any set backs, decided to marry again. In 1872, Ira sent for a wife from his native New York. A young woman named Nancy soon arrived from back east. She was quite younger than Ira, being 27 years his junior. In a short time she produced a son for Ira. Henry Van Campen was born in 1873. But fate dealt the family a devastating blow as the young Henry, the only son of Ira, died at the age of 3. Nancy then packed up her things and returned to Owego, New York never returning to California.

The hardship of the farm and his family problems begin to take its toll on Ira. The farm was not producing, so Ira took out a mortgage on the farm. He became so despondent that his brother William remained with him continuously. All this vigilance was in vain, as on the night of September 9, 1881, Ira Davenport Van Campen stole away in the middle of the night into the family outhouse where he shot himself in the head with a rifle. A coroners inquest was called and his death was determined a suicide. He was buried on the Elk Horn Ranch next to his son.

His belongings went to auction, as he left no will. John Clark took over Ira's Ranch, but soon it ended up in the hands of the Stockton and Buffum Co., as did William's part of the Elk Horn ranch in 1868.

The Elk Horn Ranch was located near the junction of Hornitos road and Slate Gulch road. A school was built in the area and served the children of the Buffum & Stockton employees as well as children of the local area mines.

The information in this article is comprised from family stories, newspaper accounts and legal records all combined with a bit of conjecture.

posted June 20, 2000