Biography of James Kirk

James Kirk, a native of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, embarked on a remarkable journey that shaped his life. From his early ventures in the dry goods business in England to engaging in sheep raising in Colorado, Kirk’s experiences were diverse. He devoted several years to missionary work in Sierra Leone, Africa, spreading Christianity and teaching the natives. Returning to Scotland and later settling in South Dakota, Kirk transformed his land into a thriving farm, excelling in livestock breeding and cultivation. A devoted Congregational church member, he actively participated in religious and community endeavors, embodying the qualities of a selfless philanthropist and progressive citizen.

JAMES KIRK.— The honored subject of this review has traveled extensively and mingled much with men, and his long and varied experience in different fields of endeavor has greatly strengthened and enriched his mind, giving him a fund of useful and practical knowledge of far greater value than a collegiate or university training could have imparted. James Kirk, farmer, stock raiser, and representative citizen, is a native of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, and the son of John and Margaret (McKean) Kirk, both parents born and reared in Dumfriesshire, the father a farmer by occupation. John Kirk was a man of substantial worth, industrious, upright in his dealings, and he lived a God-fearing life, honored and respected by all who knew him. He never left the land of his birth and now sleeps beneath the soil of his native heath, having died in the year 1896. His widow is still living in Dumfriesshire, and of the family of six children, three are citizens of the United States. Thomas, the oldest of the family, is a worker in iron, and at this time holds the position of foreman in a large blacksmith shop in Scotland. John, the second son, was graduated from the University of Glasgow, came to America in 1888, and settled in Bon Homme county, South Dakota; later, he moved to Sioux Falls, near which place he purchased farm property, and for a number of years, he has been actively identified with the civic and public interests of that part of the state. He has held various official positions, served in the legislature, and is now in the assessor’s office at Washington, D.C. William, the third in order of birth, came to the United States a number of years ago and is now a prosperous farmer in Oregon. Robert, also a farmer and stock raiser, lives in Bon Homme county, South Dakota, and Margaret, the youngest of the number, now the wife of David Calvert, has never left the land of her nativity.

James Kirk, the fifth of the above family, was born November 9, 1846, and spent his early life in Dumfriesshire, receiving a good education in the schools of his native place. When eighteen years of age, he went to England, where for a period of six years he was engaged in the dry goods business, but in 1869, he closed up affairs in that country and came to the United States. After spending some time in Chicago and other cities, he went to Colorado and engaged in sheep raising, to which he devoted his attention for about six years, and at the expiration of that time, returned to Scotland and spent one year at his old home in Dumfriesshire. Yielding to the solicitation of certain friends as well as to his own inclinations, Mr. Kirk in 1874 went as a missionary to Sierra Leone, Sherboro, Africa, and spent the ensuing three and a half years in that colony, instructing the natives in the principles and truths of Christianity and teaching them in various other ways. At the expiration of the time noted, he resigned his position and went back to England, but after spending one year there, he was induced to resume missionary work in western Africa, being sent a second time by the Church of England. His second experience in the mission field covered a period of three and a half years, at the end of which time, he returned to England, but after a six months’ sojourn, he again went to Africa and engaged in merchandising at Lagos, as a member of the firm of Kirk, Fairley & Company. Disposing of his interest in the business at the end of three years, Mr. Kirk returned to Scotland and spent a short time at his old home in Dumfriesshire, after which he came to the United States, arriving in South Dakota in the year 1887. Being pleased with the appearance of Bon Homme county, he purchased a half section of land in the same and a few months later returned to Scotland, where he remained until 1889, when he again came to America for the purpose of improving his land and preparing a habitation for his wife and children. Mr. Kirk brought his family west in 1889, and from that time to the present has lived on his original purchase, devoting his attention in the meanwhile to agriculture and stock raising. He has developed his land from a wild state into one of the finest farms in the county, besides adding to his possessions at intervals, being at this time the owner of eight hundred acres of valuable real estate, four hundred of which are in cultivation and otherwise highly improved. By industry and good management, he has not only brought his place to a successful state of tillage but has accumulated a sufficiency of this world’s goods to enable him to rent the greater portion of his land and live a life of comparative ease. Despite his independent circumstances, however, he still gives personal attention to his various business interests, making a specialty of livestock, in the breeding and raising of which he has achieved an enviable reputation. His cattle, of which he keeps a large number, are of the noted Galloway breed, and for several years past, he has given considerable attention to the Poland-China breed of hogs and fine-wooled sheep, also blooded horses of a high grade, meeting with encouraging success in the raising and selling of his different kinds of domestic animals.

Mr. Kirk was married in his native county, in 1879, to Miss Mary Blair, of Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland, the union being blessed with five children, whose names are as follows: John Robert, a student of the Tyndall high school; Margaret, who is attending school in Yankton; Mary, James, and Louise, the last three at home.

Mr. Kirk is a Republican in politics and a staunch supporter of his party. He has been an earnest and devout member of the Congregational church for many years, and his zeal and activity in all lines of religious work were the means of his having been sent on the important missions alluded to in preceding paragraphs. He keeps in close touch with religious thought and action throughout the world, stands firm for Christian enlightenment and moral reform in his community, and is a leader in all movements for the intellectual and spiritual good of the people among whom he lives. As a citizen, he is public-spirited and progressive, giving his influence and support to enterprises for the material advancement of his county and state, and in the ordinary relations of life, his conduct has ever been that of a whole-hearted, self-sacrificing philanthropist and true benefactor of his kind.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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