1875 Atlas Pic Carstarphen

James E. Carstarphen

James E. Carstarphen was born in Ralls County, MO on January 22, 1828. He was born to a relatively poor family of farmers. His father was elected the Ralls County Sheriff when James was six years old. The family moved to the county seat of New London, MO in 1834. For the years that they lived in town, James was educated by Samuel K. Caldwell, who, along with Joel K. Shaw, laid out the town of Louisiana in 1818.

When his father’s term ended, the family moved back to their farm outside of New London. While on the farm, he only received three months of schooling during the winter . In 1848, James left home for the city of Galena, IL. He spent the summer prospecting for lead. In the fall, he headed back to Ralls County. In 1849, he left his parents’ home for good when news of gold in California spread to the state of Missouri.

The Gold Rush prompted James, along with his brother, Robert, and his cousin, John M. Kelley, to move to California. The three men, along with a party of 12 others left for California on April 11, 1849. They reached Sacramento City, CA on September 5th. Carstarphen successfully mined gold for about 1 year before deciding to return to Missouri. Each of the men exchanged their gold for approximately $5,000.

For the return trip in October of 1851, Carstarphen and 4 other men, Robert Carstarphen, Richard Davis, John M. Kelly and John H. Davis, planned to take a sea route instead of a land route. The plan was to take a ship from San Francisco to Panama. They planned to cross the Isthmus of Panama on foot (along a trail that is now the site of the Panama Canal) to reach Colón. A ship would then take them from Colón to New Orleans. They would then catch a steam ship up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Another steam ship would take them from St. Louis to Hannibal. And for the final leg of the trip, they would take a stagecoach from Hannibal to New London.

The trip did not go as planned. When they reached San Francisco in November of 1850 tickets were purchased for a steamer sailing three days later. The first night Richard, Robert and James caught cholera. Robert succumbed to it before the next morning. Richard lasted two days James “lingered for 5 days between life and death” 1, but ultimately recovered. Carstarphen, Kelly and Davis made the long trip back home arriving in New London just before Christmas 1851.

Carstarphen remained in New London for 3 years before he moved to Louisiana, MO in 1853. He originally worked with John S. Melon in the dry goods business, but after one year he began selling stoves, tin , and iron with Rufus B. Saffarans.  They built two, three-story brick store houses that they rented out. He worked with Saffarans for several years, but eventually sold his share of the stove and iron store to become a clerk at the recently opened branch of the State Bank of Missouri in Louisiana. Carstarphen worked as a clerk for three years and was elected to the position of cashier. He served as cashier of the bank until 1882.

On February 1, 1854, he married Belina Jackson, the youngest daughter of Julius and Harriet Jackson. Together they had six children: Hallie, George B., Margaret, Fannie, Daisy, and James E. All children except for James lived to marry and have their own families. They built their family home in 1869. Belina’s health began to fail in 1880 and in May of that year, the family left for Colorado, hoping that the fresh air and climate would restore her health. It was only about 1 month before Belina died in Colorado in 1880. Carstarphen married the sister of Judge D.P. Dyer of St. Louis in 1882 and lived there for most of the rest of his life.

James E. Carstarphen was very active in the affairs of the town of Louisiana during his tenure at the State Bank of Missouri. He was well respected by the people of the town. Hundreds of people referred to him as “Mr. Cass”. He was one of the incorporators and first directors of the Louisiana and Missouri Railroad Bridge Company in Louisiana. The construction of the county court house in Bowling Green in 1867 was also part of Carstarphen’s legacy. He was very supportive of the education of young people and served as director of the Louisiana Board of Education for several years. He had fond memories of his time spent in Louisiana.

” I have some notes of my early life that I shall send to you that you may write up a brief sketch for the Press- Journal, Newt Bryson’s paper, in Louisiana, where I was best known and where the happiest portion of my life has been spent. I feel that I would love to settle down there, to finish it up. I have more love for Louisiana than any place on earth. My old home, where I first located permanently in life, and where my first wife and four of my children are buried, out there under that great old oak, a beautiful monarch of the forest, where I too, when time with me shall be no more, hope to be laid. Adieu, my dear sir and friend.”  -James Carstarphen in a letter to Clayton Keith

This quote was taken from a book that he wrote with the help of Clayton Keith titled My Trip to California in ’49. This book details his trip to California and much of the rest of his life. It contains several excerpts of Carstarphen’s writing and helps the reader understand more about his character. The dedication of the book demonstrates the depth of his love for his daughters.2

J.E. Carstarphen Book Dedication
1.  Carstarphen, J E, and Clayton Keith. 1914. My Trip to California in ’49. Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/mytriptocaliforn00carsrich.
2. Ibid.
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