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Corrick Abbey

Robert Campbell of St Louis, Missouri


Robert, his youngest brother, probably encouraged by the example of Hugh, emigrated in 1822 on board the “Climax”. After about a year Robert was employed as an assistant clerk to the merchant John O’Fallon in St. Louis, Missouri, but for health reasons he was advised to go to the Rocky Mountains. He spent about ten years in the mountains and steadily rose through the ranks from clerk to brigade leader in fur companies owned by others, until finally he was a partner in his own firm. The fur trade he was involved in was mainly trapping beaver, whose fur was used in the making of top hats for men, and returning traders often brought back fortunes in furs to St. Louis. After the demise of the beaver trade buffalo hides were then the main trade. He became a friend and partner of William Sublette and they developed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. In 1833 they founded Fort William, which was used for trading purposes. Another Fort William was later built in Wyoming in 1834 and this was re-named Fort Laramie.


Among Robert’s companions were Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jedediah Smith. Robert had many adventures in the Rocky Mountains and escaped from an ambush of Blackfoot Indians, in 1832, and carried the injured Sublette to safety. Washington Irving made this story famous in the book “Adventures of Captain Bonneville”.


In 1836 Robert retired from active life in the mountains and settled in St. Louis. During his long career Robert was a trapper, store-keeper (he supplied expeditions of trappers and settlers as they set out on the Oregon Trail), President of the Bank of Missouri, President of the Merchant’s National Bank in St. Louis, owned the Southern Hotel (in St. Louis) and was one of the city’s leading real estate men. He invested in the railroad, owned steamships, where he employed Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as a riverboat pilot, was an honorary colonel in the U.S. Army and was an Indian Commissioner. At one time he was described as “one of the richest men in St. Louis.” Robert accumulated vast wealth, but was not corrupt. He was described as sober, honest, conscientious and hard working.


Robert visited his home in Plumbridge at least twice. The first time was in March 1830 and the second in 1867 when he, his wife and family had a “grand tour” of Europe, which lasted almost a year. He always kept up a close contact and had a great interest in the affairs of his family in Plumbridge and the County Tyrone area, and did much to help them. One of the occasions when it is known that he offered practical help was in 1847 when he, and his brother Hugh, sent a special shipment of flaxseed to help relieve the distress of the family’s tenants in the Glenelly Valley after the famine.


Sadly, although Robert and his wife had thirteen children, only three lived to adulthood. These three sons did not marry, and they, Robert, his wife, Virginia Kyle, and their ten brothers and sisters are buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, where there is a large obelisk where all their names are engraved.


In 1854 Robert Campbell and his family had moved to 20 Lucas Place, St. Louis, Missouri. This was where the Campbell family spent the rest of their lives. Robert died here on October 16th 1879 and his wife on January 30th 1882. This house is now preserved as the “Campbell House Museum,” although the address is now 1508 Locust Street. It is the only original house left in the street, and is now very much dwarfed by more modern buildings. So both the home where he was born and the home where he died are both preserved as museums. Robert’s last surviving son, Hazlett Kyle, died 27th March 1938 and left an estate of about two million dollars, which was then distributed amongst the Campbell heirs. It was Robert who had the upright headstone in the Campbell plot erected in memory of his sister Ann (“Miss Ann”) Campbell.

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