Rensselaer Lee Kirk, Sr., was born on February 14, 1859, in Cincinnati, OH. Kirk was a rebel, ignoring his family’s plan for him to receive classical high-society training in Italy and instead seeking adventure in the American West.
Kirk moved westward to become a cowboy, initially working as a stagecoach driver for the Denver to Durango stage line before arriving in Moab and Indian Creek. Here, he established himself as a well-known and highly reputable cattle stockman with the Indian Creek Cattle Company, formed in partnership with Henry Goodman. Their partnership would last for nearly two decades, from the early 1880s up to the turn of the century.
Goodman and Kirk lived in a cabin in the southernmost area of the present-day Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The Kirk cabin is available to visit with a National Park Service backcountry permit and many longtime Moab and Monticello family names are carved into the decaying logs of the walls.
In 1890, Kirk relocated to the city of Moab and sold off his cattle interests on Indian Creek. He reinvested in the sheep industry and ran sheep for 15 years in the Book Cliffs area. The livestock man spent 55 years as an active resident of Moab. With fellow stockmen, he would later invest in the Moab State Bank which transformed the financial landscape of the town. He and his wife were also charter members of the First Baptist Church.
His wife’s story is just as integral to the formation of the Moab community as it was to the Moab Museum itself.
Helen Berkley was born on July 27, 1873, in Marietta, Ohio, just 200 miles fromthe birthplace of her husband. Helen arrived in Moab in 1892 to serve as a schoolteacher and two years after Helen’s cross-country move to the Moab Valley, she and Kirk married on June 17, 1894.
Following her marriage, she would serve on the Grand County School District Board of Education for many years after winning one of the most tightly contested elections up to that point in history. Helen was also a charter member of the Busy Women’s Club, later known as the Literary Club. She would serve as their president for 12 years.
Helen passed away on November 15, 1962, in Reno, Nevada, where she had been living with her daughter, Analee Kirk Hammond. Rensselaer and Helen’s other child, R.L. “Buck” Kirk, Jr., remained in the valley following his father’s death in a car accident on January 15, 1945.
To learn more of the incredible stories of characters such as Rensselaer and Helen Kirk, join museum staff every Thursday at 10 a.m. for the Livestock Built This City walking tour. The stories of these two unlikely ranchers and community members are also featured in depth at the Moab Museum’s temporary exhibition Spirit and Grit: Ranching in Canyonlands hosted at Dead Horse Point State Park.
The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. This is part of a series highlighting individuals represented on the Museum’s walking tour: Livestock Built This City. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.
This article was originally published in the Moab Sun News on May 5, 2023.