To the Third and Fourth Generation

By Rollin O. Russell

ISBN 987-1-934936-32-0

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Introduction

 

Writing a family history is a dicey undertaking, especially if it is your own family.  All of the relatives have a stake in what is written and in how it is portrayed.  Hence, I offer this account with some trepidation.  This is the story of four generations of the Amasa Wilder Oakley family, with brief notes on his family origins.  I have not attempted to follow all the branches of his offspring and their families, but rather to trace a single story line through his four children and especially his oldest son, Amasa George Oakley and the latter’s three natural children, the youngest of whom was my mother.

 

The story is not in chronological order, but begins with a crucial event that took place in 1932, an incident that changed life dramatically for the immediate family.  That event was a lens through which previous and subsequent events have been viewed for decades.  The following chapters fill in the historical and family background information that gives depth and texture to the impact of the tragic event.  The final two chapters focus on some of the resulting realities in the lives of the family members, and on the moment when many of the facts of the story finally came together.

 

Major portions of this account are based on my own memory of family stories and on interviews with my mother, Eleanor Oakley Russell, her older sister, Gladys Oakley Bever, their older brother, Amasa George Oakley, Jr., and my cousin, George Bever, Gladys’s oldest son.  I have attempted to be faithful to the stories as they shared them, and to elaborate only to the extent of my own memory and insight about the context.  My aunt, Gladys Bever, has been most helpful and truly patient in recounting the stories from her amazing memory bank.  At ninety-nine years of age she is in remarkably good health and mentally alert.  Her son, my cousin George Bever, has always been present in these interviews, and he has been most helpful in hosting my visits to Wichita and in reviewing the various chapters as I was editing them.

 

The other major source was the extensive research done on my behalf by Maida Counts, a skilled archivist whose knowledge and assistance has been central to the piecing together of the story.  Maida knew exactly where to go in the California state archives, in legal records depositories and in various historical collections in order to find materials that it would have taken me years to discover.  I am also indebted to my cousin, Don Beilby, who has collected as much family memorabilia as he could get his hands on, has shared it generously and has been a wise advisor.  My wife, Betsy, did a careful and very helpful job of editing and I am particularly grateful to her for her support and encouragement.

 

I am sure there are other inquiries I could and probably should have made, as well as other persons I might have contacted to gain a fuller and perhaps more accurate picture.  The Epilogue will suggest some other potentially fruitful paths of inquiry.  I offer here what I have learned, fully acknowledging its incompleteness and nervously hoping that I have been a fair and accurate recorder of the stories shared with me.  I have undertaken the task of researching and telling this family history because it has been formative for me and for all of A. W. Oakley’s descendants in each successive generation.  Plus, it is a story that deserves to be told and preserved and one which, particularly in its relational dynamics, may be of benefit to others.

 

The two different paths that were taken in doing the research have produced material of two sorts.  Some of the accounts, those which come from the first person memories of my mother and her brother and sister, are much more detailed and carry the emotional content which they conveyed in the telling.  On the other hand, those accounts which are the result of documentary research and historical sources other than from members of the family are presented as chronological accounts and are tied together by what I hope is reasonable conjecture.  That accounts for the many questions that are never fully answered, and for some of the tentative conclusions and explanations. 

 

Early in this project I considered writing the story as a novel and fleshing out a fictitious character for Amasa Wilder Oakley, for William O. Armstead and for Elizabeth Whiting Oakley.  It became very clear as more and more of the facts were uncovered that, not only is truth stranger than fiction, but the truth is a whole lot more complicated.  I would have to leave out some of the interesting and peculiar details that I wanted to include, but which would seem strange and out of place in the flow of a novel.  So, this family history is an account that attempts to be accurate, based on the information I was able to gather.  I have not documented or footnoted all the factual information.  Suffice it to say that what is not documented in the text of the story came from my interviews with my mother, aunt and uncle, from the archives of the State of California and of Yuba County, or from histories of Wheatland, of Yuba County, and various archived newspaper articles available on line.

 

I have added an abbreviated genealogy as one of the appendices so the reader can keep track of the characters and their relationships, and a chronology of the events which are the focus of the story.  There is also a transcription of the remarkable letters from W. O. Armstead that were written in 1849 and 1850 which I quote liberally in chapter two.  It was difficult to choose photographs from the many that are available, and I have selected the best ones of some of the key personalities as well as a 19th Century etching of the Oakley Ranch. 

 

I offer this family history in loving respect for Amasa Wilder Oakley and the generations of his descendants that preceded mine, as well as for the current and coming generations of this rather remarkable family.

 

Rollin O. Russell

Hillsborough, North Carolina

2009

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