To the Third and
By Rollin O. Russell
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Writing a family history is a dicey
undertaking, especially if it is your own family.
All of the
relatives have a stake in
is written and in
how it is
Hence, I offer this account with some
This is the story of four generations
of the Amasa Wilder Oakley family, with brief notes on his family
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Hillsborough, North Carolina
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