By Julia Szabo
Some with ties to Yukon see the town and envision its future, while others focus on exploring Yukon’s illustrious past. In the first camp is Texas-based developer David Jones, who grew up here and has bold plans to revamp Main Street. In the second is the Yukon Historical Society, which has resumed conducting tours after pausing its activities due to COVID-19.
But the Historical Society isn’t the only resource dedicated to preserving Yukon’s past: that’s also a mission of the Kirkpatrick Family Archive. Since 2002, the archive—based in Oklahoma City and established by philanthropist Christian Kirkpatrick Keesee—has enthusiastically celebrated Yukon, the town founded by Keesee’s ancestors in 1891. Mollie Spencer, pioneer of Yukon and namesake of the Mollie Spencer Farm, is Keesee’s great-great grandmother.
She’s also the subject of a book, “The Matriarch: The Story of Mollie Spencer,” first in a series of biographies produced by the archive, which draws on its holdings to commission and privately publish them. Thus far, the other two titles are “Scion: The Story of Lewis Spencer Kirkpatrick and His Ancestors’ Journey to America”; and “The Blakes: Commerce and Banking on the Western Frontier.”
While appreciating the simpler times of Yukon’s earliest beginnings—long before the advent of automobiles or telephones—the archive deploys today’s most sophisticated technology. Using the same archival equipment as the Smithsonian Institution, the archive securely houses noteworthy artifacts, images, and documents, including official papers bearing the Presidential seals and signatures of Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman, all kept in a strictly climate-controlled facility.
Rounding out the archive collection are items ranging from the gleaming Naval sword and snazzy three-piece tartan suit that belonged to Keesee’s grandfather, Rear Admiral John E. Kirkpatrick; to sepia-tone photographs and home-movie reels that bring long-deceased ancestors to life. Recently, Keesee, a cinephile and onetime film student, was inspired to resurrect some of those reels and splice them together with informative intertitles. The result is a short movie titled “Where In The World Are The Kirkpatricks?” that wouldn’t look out of place on Turner Classic Movies’ Silent Sunday Nights.
Keesee’s interest in history is understandable: so many of his forebears have made history, each in their own unique way. Consider the achievement of Keesee’s great uncle, Lt. Col. Lewis Spencer Kirkpatrick, Commander of Fort Drum in The Philippines during World War II: his unit valiantly defended the fort in an inspiring display of heroism that President Roosevelt commended with heartfelt praise, and military scholars would later liken to The Alamo. Another of Keesee’s great-uncles, Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick Jr., was an Army Corps of Engineers officer tapped to work on The Manhattan Project.
Respect for his family’s legacy of military service is what led Keesee to establish the archive for educational purposes. “History is educational, but it’s also entertaining,” Keesee says, “and the combination of the two, edu-tainment, is a core value of KFA.”
The day-to-day management of the Archive is the job of David Hull, who juggles tracing the complex genealogy of the Kirkpatrick family with organizing decades of correspondence and miscellaneous memorabilia. Collaborating with several other Oklahoma institutions, Hull recently oversaw the transfer of John E. Kirkpatrick’s military rifle collection to the OHS. “Mr. Keesee,” Hull says, “has been incredibly generous in allowing a history geek like myself to explore his family’s story, which basically covers all of Oklahoma’s history and includes significant contributions to major world events.”
Of all Keesee’s philanthropic endeavors, what makes the Kirkpatrick Family Archive special to him? “It’s not just personal, it is universal,” Keesee explains. “At the Archive, time and again we come across a theme of people putting aside their differences for a bigger goal. My grandfather John was the youngest son of parents from very different backgrounds: his mother’s family were proud Confederate supporters, while on his father’s side, they were such ardent Union loyalists that they named their son Elmer Ellsworth,” after the young friend of President Lincoln who became the first casualty of the Civil War.
“With political tensions so charged in our country right now,” Keesee concludes, “it is fascinating to see how past generations could agree to disagree, share common goals, build large and devoted families, and focus on unity rather than division. It’s a teaching lesson we all can learn from.