Andy Kirkham’s Good Times in Early Poway


Andrew Stabenow “Andy” Kirkham came to Poway as a boy of 7 in 1891 with his parents and three brothers, including his twin brother Isaac Newton Kirkham. They homesteaded in the area then known as Stowe in Poway’s southeast corner (the area around Goodan Ranch and Beeler Creek), where he attended the short-lived Stowe School.

Andy was admittedly — actually proudly — not a scholar. As he told it, “…the school went under after they got me out of the 6th grade. I was in the 6th grade for three years and the school trustees was planning to burn the school house out from under me to get me out.”

His schooling was actually much interrupted by having to put in long hours at the family homestead, even during the school year. The last three years of his schooling, he noted, he had attended an average of one day a week.

Despite his lack of affinity for formal learning, he would become one of the leading chroniclers of Poway’s early days.

Andy loved to write. He kept journals about his family heritage, Poway’s history and some of the many interesting characters he encountered, as well as a vast collection of tall tales, jokes and pearls of wisdom. The spelling and grammar were often eccentric, but the contents more than made up for that. He wrote fondly of his Poway youth.

The family had a heavy workload with field crops, fruit and grapes, cattle and beehives. Like most farmers, his parents would take their crops to San Diego every week or so to sell their produce — including raisins and dried fruit, honey, pork and veal — leaving the four boys home alone.

“The things my two brothers and I would do would be unbelievable,” he wrote. “Every time the folks went to San Diego, we kids would think up something to do. As soon as they were out of sight, we had something cooking, and it would be only a few hours before we had to start getting things back in shape again. This time we would carry wagon (a) wheel to the top of the hill on the north side of the place. It took more than an hour to lug the wheel to the top of the hill. From there the wheel would return back by itself, it was downhill all the way.

“By the time it came to the end of its journey, the pasture fence and the yard fence got hit only once, but the corral fence was hit twice where the wheel entered going in and where it came out on the other side. By now the wheel was out of breath and it lay down to relax. By the time we had the damage repaired, we were ready to relax, too.

“We would corral some of the steers and rope one of the largest ones and put the harness on it, to see it buck and kick, and by now most of the corral would be gone and the steer is nowhere in sight. It would take most of the rest of the day to retrieve what was left of the harness. This kept us busy to get everything back in order by the time the folks came home.”

Another escapade involved making bombs with gunpowder “borrowed” from their father’s muzzle-loaded shotgun.

And “…on a New Year’s Day on the top of Iron Mountain, we were rolling big boulders down from the top. One of the biggest ones that we ever rolled down slid about three feet and stopped on a [dirt] bench about thee feet high. I went to the underside of it to see what was holding it and was down on my knees when it started to roll. I didn’t have time to get out from under it so I flipped flat on my tummy. The ones who were helping to get it roll hollered. The boulder rolled over Andy. Yes, they were right.”

It was amazing all four brothers survived their youthful escapades.

In the early 1960s, Andy looked back at what early settlers had done for more formal recreation.

“We would have card parties,” he wrote. “We had our baseball games in the summer time by playing with other teams in the county. Everyone enjoyed it, win or lose.

“Everyone old and young would go to the dances. Everybody would know everyone.

“Now nobody can keep up with the doings that take place in Poway. There are all kind of entertainments and you might as well go to a party as far away as Los Angeles as far as knowing anyone.”

Shepardson is vice-president of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society.