Wednesday, April 28, 2010


As mentioned before on this site, there are lots of family stories about the famous Peach Stones carved by George Kirkham.  Following is more information on the subject.


The Mystery of the Rose Carved Peach Stones and other insights into George Kirkham’s Peach Stones
Dale Maurice Johnson, son of Doris Kirkham Johnson, daughter of Lott and Sarah Kirkham

Background – Anyone with the blood of Lott Kirkham coursing through their veins has the legend of the peach stone seared into their heart like a brand on a steer. So it is with me. I grew up with the story woven into the fabric of my being. Anytime someone mentioned “the peach stone”, a motion picture would play in my mind, the details of this great story of love. The problem was, the story that I played in my mind was not the story that was playing in the minds of everyone else. In fact, the peach stone was different, the circumstances were different and the characters of the story were different. Upon returning from my mission, one day someone was reciting the story of young Lott Kirkham’s innocent betrayal of his father in the court room, the imprisonment of George Kirkham for polygamy and the loving gift of an anchor carved peach stone. In utter astonishment I said, “What on earth are you talking about? That’s not the story!” I was assured that it was, and when I started asking others, they all told the same story. Total confusion wrested my mind.
The story of the rose carved peach stone – The story that I had in my mind was equally vivid, equally enchanting and totally mysterious as to its origin. This is it. George Kirkham, as a child, immigrated from England with his parents to the Salt Lake Valley. He grew up a stalwart in the church and remained so to his dying day. Like many other good men of the church, he took upon himself the institution of polygamy, sealing himself to the Russon sisters - Mary and Sara (also an interesting story). Throughout his life, he honored these two good women and treated them as equitably as possible. In fact, is was impossible to detect from his association with them, whether he favored one or the other. When faced with imprisonment, he was determined to be true to his wives and his religion. While some other men divorced or abandoned their polygamist wives to escape prosecution, George was counted with the righteous few who accepted their fate in the Utah State Penitentiary. While in prison, George, was one day eating two peaches and after finishing, looked at the peach stones that remained. With thoughts of his wives ever present on his mind he decided to craft peculiar gifts for Mary and Sara. He carved an intricate rose on the face of each of the stones. He sent one of the stones along with a short note to each of his wives. The notes simply said. “To my favorite wife” It was doubtful that he would want to cause any rift between the three of them. In fact, Mary and Sara were fairly close most of the time and he knew that they would probably compare the notes and would understand that it was part of his good humor. The gift of those rose carved peach stones from their imprisoned husband, were as valuable as diamonds to Mary and Sara.

Origin of the story – Now isn’t that a great story?! It’s almost as good as the anchor carved peach stone story. But where did this story come from? I’m not sure, but I think I know. When I was a child, occasionally Grandma Sarah (Wrigley Kirkham) would tend me. Typically, we would sit in her front room of her house on Milton Street in Shelley, Idaho. She would sit in her rocking chair and I would sit opposite of a card table and we would play Rook. While playing Rook she would sometimes relate pioneer stories as any faithful “Daughter of the Utah Pioneers” would. I am sure that many of her posterity can visualize this scene very clearly. I believe that one of the stories that she total me was of the rose carved peach stones. She probably told me the story of the anchor carved peach stone too, but that is not the one that stuck in my mind.

No collaboration - Unfortunately, no one has ever been able to verify the rose carved peach stone story. I have discussed it with my mother Doris, sister Carolyn, aunt Adah, uncles Bob and Bill and cousin Kathy. None of them could substantiate the story. It seems quite impossible that the story could be true if none of these people ever heard it. I have been discouraged to think that I carried a fable that I concocted in my own mind all those years.

George’s reference to the peach stones – Because of the tremendous efforts of Bill and Kathy that resulted in the publishing of George Kirkham’s journals, I now believe that I have evidence that the rose carved peach stone story is true. George Kirkham makes reference to “peach stones” in three different entries in his journals while he was in prison. The first reference is on Friday, April 15, 1887:

“…After supper we played for an hour, and during the evening I spent time carving a peach stone.”

The next more revealing reference is 20 days later on Thursday, May 5, 1887:

“The morning was fine. We were expecting to see some folks from Lehi. I had 2 mats made by one of the brethren, and some carved peach stones with my children’s names on them to send home. At 11 o’clock, myself and brother was called out. I saw sister-in-law Martha, 2 sons Oscar and Francis, also Brother Smith of Lehi, his daughter, Sister Gibb and 2 children. We had a half hour visit. I heard some of my folks were coming on the morrow, my mother-in-law, her son and daughter, also some of my children. I was glad to hear that. We had a pleasant time.”

Though no other mention of peach stones is made in relation to this entry, I believe that the entry made the next day on Friday, May 6, 1887 is significant:

“This was also visiting day. I was looking for my folks. I went to school, and after dinner, I started to draw a picture for one of the guards Mr. Holland, of his boy. I had not been long when my brother and myself were called out. I met my brother-in-law Enoch Russon, My… and 5 of my children, George, Willie, Eliza, Thomas, and Lottie, and also Enoch’s intended wife and her mother. We had a splendid visit. I learned all about home and found my family was well. We received oranges, candy and apples. My children were pleased to see me. After an hour visit, we were told our time was up. Wished them goodbye and thanked the guard, and all soon found ourselves fastened inside again.”
My supposition is this. George was expecting to see “some folks from Lehi” on May 5th so he decided to send home the peach stones that he carved for his children. When they got there, they told George that his children were coming the next day, so he decided to keep the peach stones and personally give them to his children the next day. We don’t know which children he carved the peach stones for, perhaps all 8 of his living children born up to this time. But I think there is one thing that we can be fairly sure off. On Friday, May 6th, 1887, George gave a peach stone with an anchor carved on one side and the initials LK on the other side to “Lottie” who came to visit him in prison. This is the peach stone that is in the possession of Bob Kirkham.

Evidence of the rose carved peach stones - The journal entry that excites me is found 11 days later on Tuesday, May 17, 1887:

“During the hours of school, my brother James was called outside. He was not out long, before he came back inside. I sent out 2 peach stones nicely carved to my folks, tied up with a pink ribbon, to be sent home. He gave them to his son James, who had come so see him.”

What was “nicely carved” on the “2 peach stones” that were “tied up with a pink ribbon”? I believe it was roses.

Who were “my folks” he was referring to? I believe that is was specifically Mary and Sara.

Why was he sending the rose carved peach stones to them? Because individually, they were his two “favorite wives” and also because Mary was expecting baby Leah who she would deliver 5 days later on May 22.

And why doesn’t anyone else remember the story? Because we are so enamored with the anchor carved peach stone in the possession of Bob Kirkham, that everyone except Grandma Sarah forgot about the rose carved peach stones that long ago disappeared.

Where are the rose carved peach stones now? They were probably buried with Mary and Sara clutched in their hands along with the notes.

Shall we exhume their graves to see if I am correct? No. We will wait until the resurrection to find out.

Stories become legends – What legends will I pass on to my posterity? When I am old, sitting in my rocking chair in my cardigan sweater and slippers, playing Rook with my grandchildren, I will spin yarns of George Kirkham’s peach stones. I will relate the story of the rose carved peach stones that I believe Grandma Sarah told me and I will relate the story of the anchor carved peach stone as told by Lott Kirkham to his son Bob. Now let me make this clear. I have studied the Journals of George Kirkham as lovingly transcribed by Bill and Kathy. I understand the dates and circumstances. But I will thoughtfully and consciously pass on the legends that I grew up with and that are woven into the fabric of my being. I will also entreat all my children and grandchildren to read George’s journals because they are precious writings to me as I know they will be to any of his posterity.

Gratitude - I want to thank Bill and Kathy from the bottom of my heart for their monumental work. They performed not only tireless work, but also inspired work. I have seen the microfilm of the original journals and I know that Bill must have been inspired to be able to transcribe those smudgy and often illegible journal entries. I want to thank Bob for letting my children and I see the peach stone and for the stories of George Kirkham that he has shared with us.

I love the George Kirkham that I have come to know through his journals. I would have named one of my sons after him, had not my brother Carl beat me to it in naming his youngest son. I love Sara, George’s second wife and my great grandmother. She had the harder row to hoe in being the second wife and I am thankful for her sacrifice. I am thankful for Lott. Though not as strong in the gospel as his father George, Lott’s wonderful posterity is a tribute to him. I am particularly thankful for Grandma Sarah Wrigley Kirkham. I am glad that I came along in time to know her. My daughter Sarah carries the wonderful name of my Grandmothers.

The priceless peach stone - The anchor carved peach stone in the possession of Bob Kirkham is priceless. Nevertheless, for legend’s sake, let us put a price on it. In the summer of 1997, I offered Bob $10,000 for the peach stone. He turned it down. Did I really expect him to sell it? Of course not. Did I really have $10,000 to spend on a peach stone? No, but if he actually put it up for bid, I would go in debt to raise that kind of money to buy it. What’s the point of this? You can all add to the legend that someone once offered $10,000 for the peach stone, but that the offer was turned down. You simply can’t put a price on heritage. I believe the anchor carved peach stone should remain in the Kirkham line. My hope is that Michael, Mark or Steven will be worthy and raise worthy sons to pass on the peach stone for generations of Kirkhams to come.


George Kirkham's ancestors know he was an artist in several mediums, including wood.  This is a picture of a rolling pin he carved - in the possession of Maureen Johnson Gordon, grand-daughter of Lott and great grand-daughter of George.


PEACH STONE carved by George Kirkham
(in possession of Kirkham Smith, Great Grandson of George)

Like most ancestors of George Kirkham, I have been fascinated with the various Peach Stone stories concerning George Kirkham.  Family tradition has him carving several peach stones into various designs while in the prison once located in what is now Sugarhouse Park, Salt Lake City, UT.  He was part of the experimental polygamy trials and was imprisoned because of polygamy. 

I have long wanted to see one of these Peach Stones.  My Uncle Donald Robinson (Bob) Kirkham of Shelley, Idaho has a Peach Stone.  I have seen a picture of it, but never the stone.  It has an anchor carved on one side of the stone, and the initials, LK carved on the other side.  This stone was reportedly given to Lott Kirkham, the son of George, because of the part Lott played in George's polygamy trial.  (See Peach Pitt on this blog for further information)

Several weeks ago, I received an exciting call.  My first cousin, Kirkham Smith from California, called to tell me he was in town, and he had a Peach Stone I could see and touch.  I expected to see another stone such as belonged to my uncle.  Instead, the stone pictured here was what Kirkham possessed.  The stone is actually about 1-1/2 inches big.  It is a wonder how George carved this beautiful little monkey from something as hard and tiny as a peach pit.  It clearly proclaims his talents, and his industry, and leaves us with a beatuiful heirloom to remind us of our ancestors.

I hope that others see this post, and can report on other peach stones carved by George.  According to research of my brother, Dale Johnson, there are several such stones.  His research will follow in another post.