We don’t know exactly when Mattie Oates had her first heart attack, but it might have been the night of the fire. Two weeks later, the Press Democrat’s weekly society column noted, “The many friends of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will hear with regret that she is ill with a trained nurse in attendance. The attack which was very serious at first has yielded to good care and attention.”
While there was no damage to her home from the August, 1911 chimney blaze, it was undoubtedly a terrifying experience for the 53 year-old woman. Her death certificate would later date the beginning of her illness to that year and name the cause as “dilitation of heart” – an old-fashioned name for enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) – which is often related to a big spike in blood pressure. As in: What happens to you when someone is banging on your door in the middle of the night and screaming about your house being on fire.
From that point onward, Mattie was an invalid. Over the following months the society columns in both Santa Rosa newspapers chronicled her better days (“she is making rapid progress towards recovery”) and her setbacks (“a specialist from San Francisco…held little hope for her recovery”). Yes, the columnists sometimes mentioned the health of other society matrons, but never with such obsessive interest.
Until the fire and heart attack, 1911 had been a good year for the Oates. They hosted at least three dinner parties at their home (which would later become known as Comstock House) and had house guests, including the beloved woman who was something of a godchild to them, the former Anna May Bell, who brought along her baby daughter. Wyatt stepped down as president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association after two years and was lauded for his service. And being the car-crazy fool that he was, he bought them a new car – a Hupmobile two-seater, with a peppy 20 horsepower engine.
But after her heart attack, every Oates sighting in the papers concerns her health and convalescence. The couple spent several weeks in Southern California during the 1911-1912 winter to escape the Northern California rains and visit friends. The gossip columns reported that Mattie was feeling better but Wyatt was bored; of Santa Barbara, he wrote to the Press Democrat, “The tourist crop is not yet quite ripe, and as they have no other here, it is very dull.” Once back in Santa Rosa she had another relapse.
The Oates were slowly fading from public view; this item combines their doings in 1911 and 1912 because even the obsessive society column health updates ended after about a year. In 1912 Anna May visited again and in midsummer there was a small dinner in Mattie’s honor at a downtown restaurant. That was the last mention of either of them for the rest of the year.
Not all was despair and deathwatch for James Wyatt Oates, however; at this same time the career of his protégé was launching, as covered in the following item. The path ahead for Wyatt and Mattie led into twilight – but for Hilliard Comstock, on the horizon was a bright dawn.
The many friends of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will learn with regret of her late indisposition. A relapse following a sever attack of lagrippe has confined Mrs. Oates to her room the greater part of the past week.– “In Society” column, Press Democrat, January 15, 1911
Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates are delightfully entertaining Mrs. R. G. Harrell of Fresno. Mrs. Harrell has visited Santa Rosa previously and made many friends who welcome her return as she is a most charming woman of the Southern type. Miss Bess Woodward is also a guest at the Oates home during her mother’s Eastern trip.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, March 5, 1911
An informal evening was enjoyed at the beautiful home of Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates Saturday when a few young friends dropped in to enjoy a game of cards. The reception and living rooms were gracefully decorated with roses, intermingled with greenery. “Spoff,” a new card game, was played during the evening, after which a chafing dish supper was served. Miss Bess Woodward, who has been the guest of Mrs. Oates for the past few weeks, was the motif for the delightful evening.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, April 30, 1911
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Keeler Dunlap of Los Angeles, accompanied by their small daughter, Sue Elizabeth, are the guests of Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates. Mr. Dunlap will remain over Sunday, but Mrs. Dunlap, who will be remembered as the popular Miss Anne May Bell and Sue Elizabeth will stay for several weeks. Much interest is being manifest over the small girl as in the whole twenty months’ span of her short life, she has not visited Santa Rosa. Sue Elizabeth bids fair to rival her mother in popularity and it is whispered baby parties will be quite au fait for this little miss.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 11, 1911
Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates are entertaining a week-end house party in honor of Mrs. Samuel Kerry Dunlap of Los Angeles. The guests are congenial friends who have been entertained in the past at the Charles Rule ranch. Today a motor trip will be made to Bithers’ Grove, near Healdsburg, where a quiet afternoon will be spent. The guests will be Miss Morrell, Mrs. Dorothy Farmer, Miss Hazel Farmer, Mrs. E. F. Woodward, Miss Bess Woodward, the guest of honor, Mrs. Dunlap, little Sue Elizabeth Dunlap and Charles Rule.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 18, 1911
Larkspurs of the soft pastel shades, beautified the dining table upon the occasion of a dinner given by Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates Wednesday evening in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Blair Hull, of Jackson, Mississippi, and Mrs. F. S. Sanberg of Los Angeles. Covers were laid for twelve guests, who enjoyed the charming hospitality that is always extended from the Oates home. An elaborate menu was served. The guests were: Mr. and Mrs. Francis Blair Hull, Dr. and Mrs. S. S. Bogle, Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Wright, Mrs. E. F. Woodward, Mrs. F. S. Sanberg, Miss Woodward and Judge Thomas Denny.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, August 26, 1911
The many friends of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will hear with regret that she is ill with a trained nurse in attendance. The attack which was very serious at first has yielded to good care and attention.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, September 10, 1911
Mrs. James Wyatt Oates is still confined to the house, but is convalescent. Saturday she showed a material change for the better, a fact that will be welcome news to her many friends.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, October 1, 1911MRS. OATES BETTER
Upon inquiry on Thursday it was learned that Mrs. J. W. Oates is improving slowly. The doctor says that if she continues to improve the way she is now and no complications set in, she will recover. This is good news to her many friends, who have anxiously awaited good tidings from her bedside.– Santa Rosa Republican, October 12, 1911
The serious condition of Mrs. Oates caused the postponement of the Cup and Saucer Club and the Afternoon Bridge Club which were to have been entertained by Mrs. Ross Campbell and Mrs. T. T. Overton last Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. The parties will take place this week.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
It will be with regret that the friends of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will learn that her condition is considered very critical. Saturday a specialist from San Francisco was called in consultation, and he held little hope for her recovery. Mrs. Oates has been a central figure in church, philanthropic and social circles for many years, and it will be the sincere prayer from may hearts today that she will be spared.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, November 8, 1911
It is with pleasure that the friends of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates hear of her daily improvement. She is now able to walk around her room and each day sees marked change in her returning strength. She is, however, still unable to see callers as it is deemed advisable for her to be as quiet as possible. It will be with great cordiality that Mrs. Oates will be welcomed back into social affairs, where she has always been a pleasant figure.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, November 12, 1911MRS. JAMES W. OATES DEPARTS FOR RULE RANCH
Mrs. James Wyatt Oates departed on the Guerneville branch train Monday for the Rule ranch at Jenner, where she will spend an indefinite time in recuperation. It will be good news to the many friends of the lady to know that she has so far recovered that she could undertake the journey to the country. Miss Bertha Levy accompanied Mrs. Oates and will be her companion at the Rule ranch. Mrs. Oates has recently had a critical illness and at times it was believed she was in the shadows. She is now doing nicely and it is believed that with a change of climate she will rapidly regain her health and strength.– Santa Rosa Republican, October 19, 1911MRS. OATES ON ROAD TO RECOVERY
The many friends of Mrs. J. W. Oates will be pleased to hear that she is making rapid progress towards recovery at the Rule ranch where she has been for the past week. Dr. S. S. Bogle returned from a visit to the ranch Monday, accompanied by Mr. Oates and both expressed their satisfaction at the progress Mrs. Oates is making. Miss Levy is with the patient and with the fine weather they are able to be out of doors considerable as Mrs. Oates walks about freely.– Press Democrat, November 28, 1911MRS. JAMES W. OATS MAKING FINE IMPROVEMENT
Colonel James W. Oates and Dr. S. S. Bogle returned to Santa Rosa on Monday in the latter’s touring car from Jenner, near Duncan’s Mills, where they had been to visit Mrs. Oates. Colonel Oates had spent all of last week with his wife at the Rule ranch, and Dr. Bogle went over Sunday to ascertain how his patient was getting along. The improvement that has come to Mrs. Oates in her brief stay at the hospitable Rule home is little less than miraculous. The lady is bright and cheerful, able to take short walks with her nurse, Miss Bertha Levy and recently enjoyed a trip to the beach in a surry to which Charles Rule had hitched a spanking team. Colonel Oates is decidedly happy at the improvement and his face beams with smiles as he tells his friends of the splendid change. Mrs. Oates spends much of her time in reading in the sun on the big porch. There has been an entire absence of fogs during her sojourn at the Rule ranch, and only the sunniest and balmiest of fall weather has prevailed. Dr. Bogle is likewise gratified at the improvement Mrs. Oates has shown. The report will certainly be good news to the many friends of the popular Santa Rosan. Mrs. Oates’ stay at the Rule ranch is indefinite.– Santa Rosa Republican, November 28, 1911
Mrs. James Wyatt Oates has so far recovered her strength and health that since her return from Duncan’s Mills last Sunday, she has been able to see intimate friends. Mrs. Oates has had a long and hard struggle with a serious illness, so the fact that she will soon be able to participate in social affairs will be pleasant news to her hosts of friends.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, December 10, 1911
Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will leave Tuesday morning for Santa Barbara and other southern cities. This trip is being taken with a view of giving Mrs. Oates, who is convalescent from a long and serious illness, a complete change of climate. They will be absent two months but during that interval Col. Oates will make several flying trips home to attend to business matters. They take with them the good wishes of many friends who hope they will enjoy their holiday and that Mrs. Oates will return entirely restored to health.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, December 31, 1911CARD RECEIVED FROM COLONEL OATES
A card was received here Monday from Colonel James W. Oates from Santa Barbara. Her many friends will be glad to know that Mrs. Oates stood the trip nicely and is improving rapidly. They will leave Santa Barbara on Wednesday for Los Angeles, where they will visit Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Dunlap. Miss Dunlap was formerly Miss Anna May Bell. Colonel Oates says he does not see much difference in the Santa Barbara climate than ours. “The tourist crop is not yet quite ripe, and as they have no other here, it is very dull,” he adds.– Press Democrat, January 9, 1912
COLONEL OATES IS HOME FROM THE SOUTHLAND
Colonel James W. Oates returned to town from Los Angeles on Saturday, and after spending a few days here, he will rejoin Mrs. Oates there. In various places in the southland Colonel and Mrs. Oates will spend the next couple of months. They will remain in Los Angeles for some time and then go to San Diego. They will visit Del Mar near Santa Barbara, and will again return to Los Angeles for another visit prior to coming to their home here. Colonel Oates states that his wife is gradually regaining her strength and is undoubtedly being benefited by the change of air and scene. He is feeling fine and has already gained eight pounds in weight.– Press Democrat, January 21, 1912COLONEL AND MRS. OATES SOJOURNING AT LONG BEACH
Colonel and Mrs. James W. Oates have gone to Long beach, where they will sojourn for an indefinite time. They have taken apartments at the Southern Home and expect to have a good rest and much recreation there. Mrs. Oates continues to improve in the southern climate, and will be completely restored to health upon their return to the City of Roses.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 7, 1912COLONEL AND MRS. OATES FROM SOUTHLAND
Colonel and Mrs. James W. Oates reached their home in the beautiful City of Roses on Wednesday and are glad to be back in this delightful climate. As Colonel Oates expressed it on his return, this climate has some snap to it, and is far the best he has found after all. The last ten days the Santa Rosans spent in the southland it was hot, sultry and dry, and decidedly enervating, and had a somewhat weakening effect on Mrs. Oates. On the whole Mrs. Oates is much improved from her extended outing, with the exception of a slight cold, which she recently contracted, and which bothers her somewhat.
Colonel Oates had the misfortune to have an affection [sic] in his eyes while at Long Beach and was in the hands of a specialist and nurse for several days. Heated compresses and medicines were kept on his eyes in a darkened room for several days, and for a time the condition of his eyes was serious. He is compelled to wear smoked glasses still from the effects of the poison which attacked his eyes. Fortunately the effects of the poison were overcome and there will be no permanent injury to his sight. Colonel and Mrs. Oates find it decidedly pleasing to be back again among their friends and occupy their own cozy home. Many Santa Rosans will be glad to know they have returned.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 21, 1912
Mrs. James W. Oates has made rapid progress toward recovery this week, and has regained much of her strength lost by the relapse occasioned by the trip home from the southern part of the State. Flowers and frequent inquiries concerning Mrs. Oates’ progress toward health continue to pour into the Oates home. Very few visitors are permitted to see the patient and those for a very brief space of time.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, March 10, 1912
Mrs. James W. Oates had the pleasure of motoring into the country several times this week. After having been confined to the house since her return from the south which was several weeks ago, Mrs. Oates has greatly enjoyed getting out into the sunshine.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, April 7, 1912
Mrs. Anna May Bell Dunlap of Los Angeles was the motif for an informal afternoon tea on Thursday given by Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton. A few intimate friends dropped in and enjoyed renewing friendships with Mrs. Dunlap, who is very popular socially in Santa Rosa.
Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates are entertaining Mrs. Dunlap, who arrived the first of the week to make a visit with them. Owing to the condition of Mrs. Oates’ health the social functions in Mrs. Dunlap’s honor will be of a quiet nature.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, May 12, 1912In the Country
Mrs. J. W. Oates is spending some time with Mrs. E. F. Woodward and Miss Bess Woodward, at their country home near Woolsey. Colonel Oates motors out in the evenings and returns to town in the mornings. The country air is benefiting Mrs. Oates.– “Local Social Doings” column, Santa Rosa Republican, February 21, 1912
Mrs. James Wyatt Oates was the complimented guest on Tuesday, when Dr. S. S. Bogle gave a dinner in her honor at the Overton Grill. Shasta daisies and sweet peas gracefully intertwined with maiden hair ferns, artistically decorated the large round table, where covers were laid for eight. An elaborate menu was served. As this is the first social affair Mrs. Oates has been able to attend for a long period of time, owing to a trying illness, it was an event of much pleasure to the friends invited to meet her. The dinner guests were: Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates, Mrs. E. F. Woodward and Miss Bess Woodward, Mrs. Dorothy Farmer, Miss Edith Runyon of Los Angeles and Ralph Farmer.– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, July 21, 1912