John Wilkes Booth escaped after assassinating Lincoln and spent his last 25 years living comfortably in Forestville. Believe it or …no, don’t believe it. Not a chance it’s true. But many locals were convinced he really was hiding there and were eager to shield him.

The tale of Thomas Jerome, the man supposed to be Booth, has more angles than a funhouse mirror. A superficial writer could look at the funny side of it all, as if today the denizens of a trailer park convinced themselves an elderly newcomer was actually Elvis. Or it could be viewed as an interesting 150 year-old conspiracy theory which won’t go away – the History Channel and other cable shows have produced sensationalized “Booth Escaped” programs in recent years. But peer deeper at the story and it reveals how strongly our ancestors clung to every awfulness the Confederacy represented, even decades after the Civil War. And that side of the story is a revealing insight which doesn’t appear in our Sonoma county history books.

In the decades after the assassination there was no shortage of men who were whispered to be Booth. The most famous one died in 1903; a friend not only wrote a book about his supposed confession, but afterwards had the presumed J.W.B. mummified – remains which were later dragged around Midwestern carnival sideshows for decades. Other Booth sightings had him in England, Brazil, Italy, Mexico and every other continent except Antartica. He supposedly turned up in China where he fought for the emperor; he became a famous Episcopalian minster preaching all over the South under a different name. A guy in Missouri contacted the predecessor to the FBI in 1922 because he was certain his 80-something neighbor either was Booth or knew where the hideout was.1

In 1937 Izola Forrester, a prolific newspaper and magazine journalist as well as a pioneer screenwriter, wrote “This One Mad Act: The Unknown Story of John Wilkes Booth and His Family” where she claimed Booth escaped, hiding in Southern California before heading to Asia and dying in India. What makes her book particularly interesting is that she claimed to be Booth’s granddaughter. Spoiler alert: That’s very unlikely.2

Historians point out that Forrester’s book is filled with errors and misconceptions regarding the assassination and the Booth family, but what interests us in Sonoma county is her section about a Booth look-alike who had lived in Forestville. This part of her book is mostly oral history, as she is not straining to prove Thomas Jerome fits into her elaborate conspiracy theory. The majority of mistakes there are probably due to the faulty memories of her interviewees who were recalling a man who had died some forty years earlier.

Here she mainly interviewed Elisha Shortridge who was close to 90 at the time, living in a log cabin somewhere deep in the redwoods outside Forestville. He was a fascinating character; he had a Zelig-like quality to pop up at some of the most interesting local events in the 1880s and 1890s. I’ll certainly be writing about him again, and soon; watch for the story of the Wirt Travis murder.

“Pioneer” Shortridge (as he seemed to be universally called) didn’t need much encouragement to talk about Thomas Jerome. “Yes, I knew him,” he told Forrester. “He came into the valley in 1870. You mean the feller they say shot Lincoln, don’t you?”

“…From the first time he showed up, we all noticed his resemblance to the man who had shot Lincoln, and it was whispered about he was actually Booth himself. I’ve seen him often. Talked to him over and over again, and I can remember just how he looked. He was very handsome, and sort of stately, and he wore good clothes. Always looked dressed up, and he had big black eyes, and wavy black hair off a high forehead. When he did drink, he drank hard. He’d seem to stand up just so long, then he’d have to get away from up here. He liked to ride horseback, and he’d go away down to San Francisco by himself, and stay by himself for a few days, but he always came back. He could talk to you on anything you wanted to know. Didn’t mind saying he’d been an actor once. He was a fine man, and everyone liked and respected him, but we all thought he was Booth just the same…

When she showed him a photograph of Booth, Shortridge replied, “if I was shown those pictures off-hand, and asked who that man was, I’d say I used to know him up here, and his name was Tom Jerome. Looks just like he did when he first came up. Wore his hair and moustache the same way, same eyes, same air about him. Same man, I’d say, only younger.”

Forrester also interviewed the son of William Clarke, the man who undoubtedly knew Jerome better than anyone else. He recalled hearing Jerome read or recite Shakespeare and poetry. Shown photographs of Booth, the younger Clarke said “Mr. Jerome might have sat for any of them.”

“…I’ve heard the talk about him, and he did look exactly like Booth, but he never claimed to be him. There was a mystery around him that no one, not even my father, could solve. He had plenty of money, and was always well dressed, and he looked distinguished… My father was the only person he talked much with, and he died in our home.”

Clarke (or someone) showed Forrester a picture of Thomas Jerome taken in the early 1880s. She agreed he was a dead ringer, if you account for a few extra pounds added over the 15+ years that had passed since Booth’s last portraits. “[It] might well have been his likeness, far more so in resemblance than any other persons who have claimed to have been Booth…when I left Forestville I almost believed they belonged to the same person.”

As mentioned earlier, the flaw in Izola Forrester’s book was that her historical research skills were weak. Had she done a little digging, there was more to learn about Tom Jerome.

He was supposedly about the same age as Booth, although we can’t be sure – I can find nothing about him before he appeared in California in 1868, working as a photographer in Eureka. He claimed variously to be from Alabama or Virginia.

He was still a photographer when he appeared in Sonoma county in 1870 living near the Russian River, but by the next year he stated he was an artist. This is how he identified himself in the voter rolls for the next 17 years, changing his occupation more specifically to painter in 1888. He was described as being 5′ 9″ tall, dark complexion with dark eyes and “arms both crooked”, whatever that meant.

In a nutshell then, here is the recipe for a John Wilkes Booth: Take one (1) Southerner with dark hair born in the mid-1830s, stir in enough education to be well-spoken and enough vanity to be well dressed, add a dollop of mystery (dark past preferred) and mix well. Serve in any community still hot over the Confederate cause and where people thought it was cool to harbor the man who might have killed Lincoln.

And in 1870 California, Santa Rosa and its surrounding region was just such a place. “There wasn’t anyone who’d ever have given him away up here,” Elisha Shortridge said.

When Thomas Jerome came to Sonoma county he stayed with the Myers, according to Shortridge, and a few years later Jerome married one of their seven girls. Dillon Preston Myers was likely happy to approve of his daughter’s wedding to an ersatz Booth and “unreconstructed rebel” – according to Shortridge, Myers was a well-known “Secesh.”3

Shortridge continued:

California was full of them in those days,” he stated reflectively. “They all stuck together, had their own meeting and drinking places and their own ways. Feelings ran mighty high up here in war time, and long afterwards. Folks were divided in sentiment even when Jerome came up and he belonged to the ‘Secesh’ sympathizers…in those days and in my time up here, there was something bigger and mightier in this land that the law or government; something that bound men together in a tie of secret brotherhood stronger than family or country, even to the death. It stretched everywhere. You couldn’t get away from it even if you wanted to. I ain’t saying anything, mind, against it. It was all around this part of the country, and it was ‘Secesh…'”

Forrester asked if he was referring to the Knights of the Golden Circle, the most prominent of the Confederate secret societies which were the direct ancestors of the Ku Klux Klan. In California during the Civil War the group encouraged sedition, including training militia groups that went to fight for the South in the Civil War. The KGC’s propaganda efforts undermined Union support in the West (Santa Rosa’s weekly Sonoma Democrat was long rumored to be financed by KGC backers) and was involved in an attempt to split off Southern California into a separate, slave-holding state. Immediately after Lincoln’s assassination it was presumed the KGC was behind it, and that John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators were part of it.

Shortridge confirmed the KGC was active in Sonoma county during the war and remained a presence afterwards:

“That’s what they called themselves, but there was more to it than the name. You never knew who belonged to it, and who didn’t, but it held the Southerners together. There were plenty of them up here. Even by the time Jerome came to live up here, the sentiment still burned low and deep like that fire there. Southerners and Northeners hated each other for years and years after Lincoln was shot. All you had to do was start an argument on slavery or States’ rights, and the war was on again.”

Even those who didn’t believe Tom Jerome was secretly Booth assumed he had some sort of high-status position during the war. Shortridge said, “It was generally believed that he had been in the Confederate Army, as a spy. But nobody asked him questions. You couldn’t take liberties with him. He was friendly enough, but stand-offish, very dignified and usually alone.”

Clarke’s son told Forrester almost the same thing: “No one ever took any liberties with him, or called him anything but ‘Mr. Jerome.’ He made no explanations about himself, but people believed he had been in the Secret Service of the South, and was an unreconstructed rebel who wouldn’t take the oath of allegiance to the North.”

The Jeromes had two children; the older daughter apparently didn’t want to talk about her father but her younger sister remembered him as austere and mysterious. She said he had been an actor, knew Booth when both were young and had “doubled” for him, but would not say exactly what that meant. She also mentioned the Confederate Secret Service, which suggests some (or all) of what she knew spilled out from the echo chamber.

However swashbuckling his past, his life in Sonoma county came to center upon relationships with the Myers family in Windsor and the Clarkes of Forestville.

He married Ida Myers in 1874, and a year later daughter Frances was born. The second girl, Edith, came along in 1880, the same year Ida died of TB. After that the Myers raised their grandchild Frances and Edith was sent to live with the Clarke family.

Art dealers tell me there are no records of Thomas Jerome paintings, so it’s doubtful he was good enough to make his living by the paintbrush. According to local newspapers he was a partner in a Windsor grocery store in the early 1870s and converted a Forestville saloon into a store in 1880. His friend William Clarke was Forestville’s Postmaster for most of the 1880s-90s and Jerome became his deputy PM in 1890. After that he no longer identified himself as an artist but a “clerk.”

Thomas Jerome’s death is as vague as his origin. Although he supposedly died at the Clarke home there is no Sonoma county death certificate for him, nor any newspaper obituary that can be found. The cemetery records list only that he died sometime in November 1894.

Izola Forrester believed she solved the puzzle after daughter Frances gave her the address of cousins in Philadelphia. Forrester contacted them and was told that yes, their uncle Thomas McGittigan was a Confederate sympathizer and believed to have gone to California, where he disappeared. But either the Philly cousins were out of touch with their own family or Forrester misunderstood what she was told. There was indeed a McGittigan generally matching the profile but he was an Irish immigrant who became a Union soldier, then spent the rest of his life around Philadelphia. A photo of McGittigan as a youth convinced Forrester he was neither Booth nor Jerome. As the Myers family came from Pennsylvania, perhaps Izola was confused by something Frances said concerning the other side of her family tree.

Frances Jerome’s family remained here and flourished; there are now great-great-great and 4-g grandchildren in West county, but the family only knows about the Booth story through Forrester’s retelling. That probably isn’t surprising, as Frances said “it would kill me” if it were proven she was the child of John Wilkes Booth, so it wasn’t a story she herself would have passed down. To some people, treason and murder are not points of pride. Imagine that.

Photo of Thomas Jerome grave marker:


1 The Booth-escaped conspiracy theories were collected in The Great American Myth by George S. Bryan, 1940. A Rolling Stone overview of the conspiracy stories commented, “author George S. Bryan made it clear that Booth was a favorite of the nut theorists.”

2 Following the assassination, women came forward claiming they were John Wilkes Booth’s wife and/or mother of his children. The Booth family dismissed these women as pretenders, and brother Edwin later said there were “twenty [widows] that wrote to me just after John’s death.” One of them, however, Izola Mills, had two children that she convinced a grown daughter of brother Junius were fathered by John Wilkes. Rose Booth generously supported Mills and her children whom she treated as if they were her own. It has since come out that Izola Mills was simultaneously drawing a U.S. Navy pension for the children claiming their father was her deceased husband. And as John Wilkes was performing hundreds of miles away when Izola Forrester’s mother was conceived, it is very unlikely he was the father. The only link between Forrester and the Booth family was Rose Booth’s willingness to accept her grandmother’s doubtful claims. Source: The Forgotten Daughter – Rosalie Ann Booth

3 Forrester refers to him as “Dr. Myers” which is clearly an error, as he was a farmer and contractor of some sort. My bet is she wrote “DP Myers” in her notes and when writing it up later, misread the “P” for an “R.” On the rare occasions when he was mentioned in the newspapers during his lifetime he was always called, “D. P. Myers.”

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They were an odd couple, yet clearly devoted to each other. She had poise and grace, the embodiment of Victorian America gentility. He presented Southern courtliness if you were on his good side, but woe to anyone who rubbed his thin skin the wrong way. She was around six feet tall, towering over other local women in her only verified photograph. Besides being short-tempered he was also just short, five feet, seven and five-eights inches, and that probably counted the lift gained from the elevator shoes drawn in a caricature. She was Mattie Solomon Oates; he was husband James Wyatt Oates. In 1914 she died and afterwards he fell apart like a building that lost its cornerstone.

Mattie and Wyatt had no children; her legacy is (the home that would become known as) Comstock House and the Saturday Afternoon Club building down the street, where she was chairman of the building committee. Both were examples of the nascent Arts & Crafts movement and were bookends to the magnificent Paxton House which lay between them. Never again would architect Brainerd Jones have such a free hand to create not one but three buildings close together, while making an artistic statement using a cutting-edge style.

Much has already been written here about Mattie; all that’s left to do is tie her story together, while daubing in missing details about her early life and death.

Mattie was born in San Francisco September 11, 1858. Her father was Perrin L. Solomon, a Mexican War veteran and U.S. Marshall for the Northern District of California until he was removed from office in 1861, presumably because of Confederate sympathies. He died when Mattie was six; the only sibling who lived past infancy was sister Mary (“Fannie”) who died when Mattie was ten, and she kept a watercolor of Fannie the rest of her life. Her widowed mother lived with Mattie for 46 years until she died in 1910. (More about the family.)

Her lengthy obituary in the Santa Rosa Republican (transcribed below) is to be trusted, except for a few obvious typos; Wyatt was the publisher of that paper until shortly before she died. In her debutante years she was a “member of the naval social set in San Francisco” as well as a “member of the old southern set,” despite having never lived outside of San Francisco. The obit states Mattie was introduced to Wyatt by John B. Milton, a young naval officer; Mattie in turn introduced Milton to the woman he would marry. The Miltons and Oates remained close as John rose to admiral and he was a pallbearer at Mattie’s funeral.

There must have been considerable romantic intrigue beneath those dry facts, however; it appears Mattie was engaged to another guy when she met Wyatt in 1880.

In 1880 Wyatt was moving back and forth between San Francisco and Tucson, Arizona where he had a legal practice. In August of that year an item appeared in the Bay Area papers announcing Mattie’s engagement to Navy Lt. Emeric. Shift forward three months to the huge society wedding of her close friend Anna McMullin. Several papers listed all the guests and both Mattie and Wyatt were there – but no Lieutenant Emeric. (Guests were listed alphabetically, so we don’t know if Mattie and Wyatt attended together.) A few weeks later, in mid-December, an announcement appeared in Arizona and local newspapers that she was now engaged to James Wyatt Oates. They married August 11, 1881 and moved to Santa Rosa, where Wyatt was a law partner with a man he knew from college.

In Santa Rosa, Mattie was defined by she did – and particularly what she did not. The Oates’ were never part of the McDonald avenue clique (although Mr. and Mrs. Mark McDonald Jr. were good friends), living among the professional class in the Cherry street neighborhood before Comstock House was built. The town had dozens of “ladies’ clubs” where women got together to gossip over cards; she belonged only to a single card group which included husbands. She was very involved with the Saturday Afternoon Club and its focus on the intellectual life. In 1907 she made a witty presentation on “The Laws of California as related to Women and Children” the Press Democrat printed in full. Wyatt probably had a hand in writing some of it, but her character shines through.

She had a mentoring relationship with several young women, some of whom lived with the Oates’ for months on end; among those were Addie Murphy, daughter of the president of the First National Bank in San Francisco, and particularly Anna May Bell, who was treated like their godchild and ended up inheriting much of Mattie and Wyatt’s estate. For these protégées Mattie threw lavish parties and her friends did likewise. While Santa Rosa was still recovering from the 1906 earthquake, she and her neighbor Jane Paxton hosted the first post-disaster galas in honor of Anna May’s clockwork-like summer visit.

The Oates seemingly had few friends their own age except those who were parents of Mattie’s youthful crowd. In 1903 some young men formed a dancing club called “The Bunch,” renting lodge halls around town for monthly dances. From the beginning Mattie was listed as a “patroness” for the events, which presumably can be translated as, “the chaperone who paid for almost everything.” Attending these dances were the same twenty-somethings who came to Mattie’s protégée parties plus young marrieds, such as Mr. Shirley Burris and his wife and Florence Edwards with husband James. Shirley was the owner of an auto dealership and the recreational driving buddy of Wyatt; the Edwards became among the Oates’ closest friends.

(RIGHT: Mattie Oates and Brainerd Jones, detail from photo of the 1908 ground-breaking for the Saturday Afternoon Club (full image)

She became a semi-invalid after her first heart attack in 1911 and 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). From that point on it was a prolonged deathwatch. What few mentions of her in the society columns over the next few years usually concerned her failing health. The last time she held a dinner party at her home was in August, 1913. Predictably, it was in honor of Anna May, now married with a small daughter.

Mattie Oates died at home July 25, 1914, age 55. Besides the lengthy obit in the Republican, the Press Democrat columnist wrote an unusual personal tribute: “Mrs. Oates was a very beautiful woman and I never will forget the first time I saw her. It was many, many years ago when I was a small, impressionable girl. I was sitting on our front steps and out of a carriage that drove up before the house stepped Mrs. Oates. Never will I forget the vision of loveliness she was that day. Despite the soft trailing satin gown she wore and the dainty gloves, she stopped to make friends with me and my remembrance is that a very dirty little specimen, I was that day, for I had been busily engaged in the mysteries of mud pie making…Through her last long and trying iilness she fought bravely and cheerfully. Even to the last her thought was those dear to her and to them continually tried to speak words of encouragement.”

Her coffin was placed in the holding vault at the Rural Cemetery, where it would remain until after Wyatt died seventeen months later, still lost in melancholy and likely more than a little mad. At his deathbed request both their bodies – along with the previously buried remains of all her relatives – were cremated together with their ashes thrown to the winds.

Mattie’s presence is still felt in Comstock House; the seven-foot clawfoot tub reminds us of her tallness, as does the unusually high bathroom mirror. And sometimes in the back hall at night, in autumn when the house is very quiet, the drafts swirling from upstairs carry the faintest scent of something floral and old, lilacs and rose petal. Certainly it’s a whiff of some lost crumb from the previous owner’s potpourri sachets, but I instead like to think it’s a fading hint of Mattie’s’ perfume. For that instant in the quiet and dim light, the year is 1905 and here again it is that passing moment between gaslight and tomorrow.

Front seat, left to right: Shirley D. Burris, Florence Edwards. Rear seat: Shirley’s wife Evelyn Blanche Burris or Bernice Riddle (both age 22), with Shirley’s 49 year-old mother Laura Burris in the middle. Mattie Oates at far right and enlarged inset. Only the identity of the pair in the front seat can be confirmed with certainty. (PHOTO: Sonoma County Library)

IS THAT MATTIE OATES? The proof might lie in the mums.

After reading about James Wyatt Oates’ death and strange directive for mass cremation, fellow local history bloodhound Neil Blazey began looking into some of the curious corners of Oates’ life, including the dearth of pictures of Mattie. Although several images of husband Wyatt are around (five so far, including an early drawing found last week), the only known picture of Mattie was part of the Saturday Afternoon Club group photo, shown above. Her will mentioned an oil portrait bequeathed (along with other family items) to her closest living relative, cousin William W. Pepper, but a hunt for his descendants went nowhere.

Then Neil happened to read this little item in a Press Democrat description of the 1908 Rose Carnival:

Mrs. Shirley D. Burris was at the wheel of the next car. With her rode Mrs. George R. Riddle, Mrs. James W. Oates and Mrs. K. W. Burris. The auto was adorned with pink chrysanthemums.

The vast majority of autos in the Rose Carnivals of that era were decorated, not surprisingly, with roses. Chrysanthemums are typically available only in November or December; to have them in the spring – and enough to decorate an auto no less – was unusual, and probably quite expensive. Neil also recalled having once spotted a car covered in chrysanthemums among the hundreds of Rose Carnival pictures online via the Sonoma County Library. (Myself, I would not recognize a mum if it came up and bit me.)

Neil is confident the woman in the corner is Mattie Oates; my wife Candice, who has a very sharp eye for faces, believes it is not. I am strongly inclined to agree she is the same woman as in the group photo (which was taken exactly three months later) although the differences in lighting and her expressions make it impossible for me to cast an unequivocal vote.

But complications abound, starting with the library identifying this photo as from 1912, not 1908. The Library, however, has no information otherwise about the image including where it came from. There was a car with yellow paper chrysanthemums in 1912, but the 1908 parade entry was the only possible match from that era with real mums. The 1912 car had butterfly ornamentation not seen in this picture.

Also undermining the 1912 dating is the clothing. Other women in the 1908 photos are similarly wearing white dresses with high lace collars. Looking at the 1912 clothing ads in both papers plus the photo of the parade queen shows all women with their necks exposed and open collar, even sometimes a bit of decolletage.

The 1908 newspaper described three women riding in the car whose age seems to match the women in the back seat: A woman in her twenties plus two older ladies. The 1912 paper mentions only young women in the car with paper mums and newspaper accounts of the carnivals in the intervening years do not allow the possibility that the photo was taken on any of those occasions.

Add all this up and it’s 1908: 3 and 1912: Zip.

The final complication is that the two people in the front seat are not mentioned in the paper, yet are the only two who can be positively identified. Mr. Shirley Burris was the husband of the woman driving the car in the parade and Florence Edwards was part of the Oates’ tight social circle that included Mr. and Mrs. Shirley Burris.

Still all in all, “the mosaic of information” (as Neil poetically wrote) lends a very high probability that it’s Mattie. What do you think?



Beloved Woman Enters Eternal Rest Saturday Morning

One of Santa Rosa’s most estimable and lovable women passed to eternal rest early on Saturday morning, when Mrs. James W. Oates eyes were closed in the sleep that knows no waking this side of eternity. Gently falling into peaceful rest, as a child drops off to slumber after hours of play, the deceased’s life passed out, and gave surcease from earth’s pain and suffering. Her death has left a void in the hearts of the people of Santa Rosa, which can never be filled, and her life will be a precious memory to all who knew her until the end of time shall come to them.

For many years Mrs. Oates had been a resident of Santa Rosa. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon, prominent residents of this state. She was a gentle woman, and possessed of admirable qualities of heart and mind, and endeared herself to all with whom she came in contact. She had a wide circle of friends, her activities having touched all classes of society, and she will be greatly missed by the entire community.

For several years past Mrs. Oates had not been well, the last sickness and death of her mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon, having proved a great blow to her. Her waning strength flitted slowly, and the efforts of physicians and the best of care and attention proved futile in staying the hand of disease, which had marked her for its bright victim. To her mother, Mrs. Oates was the personification of devotion, and throughout the long illness of the mother Mrs. Oates gave her every attention. Following the monther’s death the health of Mrs. Oates broke perceptibly but she was the center of an admiring throung of friends, and her presence was always desired by those who knew her.

As hostess of the hospitable Oates residence the deceased entertained lavishly, and her guests were always delighted with a visit to her home. She was of the stately Southern women type and was much admired by her many friends.

Mrs. Oates was one of the first presidents of the Saturday Afternoon Club of this city, and to her untiring energies is greatly due the magnificent club house erected by the organization in this city. She was always assisting in all of the events which the club arranged, even when her strength did not permit, and never lost her interest in that splendid organization of women of this city. In her zeal for its welfare she went to extreme lengths when they were to her detriment.

In his bereavement Colonel Oates has the sympathy of a wide circle of friends. The hand of affliction has been laid heavily upon him in the removal of the partner of his life’s joys and sorrows, and it is a severe blow.

Death came to Mrs. Oates just after the midnight hour, when another day was beginning with all its bright prospects. To her it was the closing of a life well spent, and in which her good deeds were daily done. It can be truly said of her that she never let her left hand know what the right did, and her charities were many and done without ostentation. Many have been the recipients of her bounty, and her words of good cheer have smoothed out seemingly impassable obstacles in the pathway of others. She was genuinely happy in assisting others less fortunate than herself in the possession of this world’s goods. She was reared a Christian and devoted herself to the work of the church, being a member of the Presbyterian church of this city and one of its regular and devoted attendants. She supported the church and its institution at all times, and her voice was lifted in praise of the Master.

Mrs. Oates will be missed from her accustomed walks of life among the people of Santa Rosa, and it can be truthfully said of her that the world is better for her having lived therein.

Mrs. Oates was the daughter of Major and Mrs. Perrin L. Solomon, her father having been a Mexican war veteran, and he was a United States marshal for California under President Buchanan. He held many positions with honor and credit. Major Solomon passed away in San Francisco in the year which closed the civil war, 1864 [sic]. Four children were born to Major and Mrs. Solomon, three of whom died in infancy.

Mrs. Oates  became the bride of Colonel James W. Oates on August 11, 1858, [sic] and their married life was of almost thirty-three years duration. It was one of loving helpfulness and closest communication of mind and soul. Mrs. Oates was a decidedly talented woman, and of a high intellectual order. She was born in San Francisco on September 11, 1858. As Miss Hattie Solomon [sic] she was a member of the naval social set in San Francisco, and had one of the most charging of young girlhoods and woman hoods. She was a member of the old southern set, noted for its courtliness and chivalry, and associated with the Maynards, McMullins and Gwynns and enjoyed a most beautiful girlhood. One of the pallbearers at the funeral will be Admiral John B. Milton of San Francisco. Admiral Milton was a young naval officer in San Francisco when Colonel Oates reached that city from his southern home, and shortly after the gentlemen had met, Admiral Milton told Colonel Oates he desired to introduce him to a charming young lady friend, and it was thus that Colonel Oates was presented to Miss Mattie S. Solomon, and subsequently wedded her. By a singular coincidence, not long after Admiral Milton had introduced Colonel Oates to the lady who was to become his wife, Miss Solomon in turn introduced Admiral Milton to a young lady friend, and they were inter married. The lady friend was Miss Hattie Steele. The friendship thus formed was maintained to the end and Admiral Milton has been solicitous for the welfare of Mrs. Oates in her recent illness, making daily inquiries by phone to ascertain her condition. The quartette were the closes kind of personal friends since early manhood and womanhood. Admiral Milton is now retired from active service.

The great friendship of Admiral Milton and his wife, extending over these many years, demonstrated the durability of the ties Mrs. Oates always wove about those with whom she came in contact. Everybody loved her for her sweet disposition and her beautiful character.

Funeral services will be held on Sunday afternoon from the Oates residence on Mendocino avenue at 2:30 o’clock, and Rev. Wills G. White will return here from Carmel to conduct the services. Her remains will be deposited temporarily in the receiving vault until the concrete vault on the Oates lot is prepared and they will be tenderly deposited in a flower lined tomb beside her mother. There will be services at the cemetery. The pallbearers will be Blitz W. Paxton, Elwyn D. Seaton and Charles A. Hoffer of this city; Charles H. S. Rule of Duncan’s Mills, William E. Woolsey of Berkeley and Admiral John B. Milton of San Francisco.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, July 25 1914


The death of Mrs. James Wyatt Oates occasioned general grief and deepest sympathy is being extended to Col. Oates. For years in Santa Rosa Mrs. Oates led in club and social circles. Her natural charm, her tactful disposition and her kindliness endeared her to all. Mrs. Oates was a very beautiful woman and I never will forget the first time I saw her. It was many, many years ago when I was a small, impressionable girl. I was sitting on our front steps and out of a carriage that drove up before the house stepped Mrs. Oates. Never will I forget the vision of loveliness she was that day. Despite the soft trailing satin gown she wore and the dainty gloves, she stopped to make friends with me and my remembrance is that a very dirty little specimen, I was that day, for I had been busily engaged in the mysteries of mud pie making. Until her ill health prevented Mrs. Oates was an acknowledged social leader. Her entertainments were always brilliant and well appointed. The beautiful home where she presided with so much grace and ease will, indeed, be desolate without her. In club affairs she gave freely of her ability, her money, and her strength. In civic, literary and musical affairs she was always the first to aid and assist, Her work for bettering those less fortunate than herself was continual Without ostentation she gave freely, particularly in helping children and unfortunate sick women. She not only gave but always added, “Any time I can help, please let me know.”

Through her last long and trying illness she fought bravely and cheerfully. ‘Even to the last her thought was those dear to her and to them continually tried to speak words of encouragement. Mrs. Oates was a devoted member of the Presbyterian church and worked in the past diligently in its upbuilding. She will be greatly missed and her kind words and works will never be forgotten.

– Society Gossip, Press Democrat, July 28 1914

Colonel and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates charmingly entertained Wednesday evening complimentary to Mrs. S. T. Dunlap of Los Angeles and Mrs. William Martin of San Anselmo. Covers were laid for twelve around a table that was beautified with an artistic decoration of Dresden bouquets set in cut glass vases. A tempting course menu was served. The guests were: Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns, Mrs. J. D. Galllvan, Salt Lake, Dr. and Mrs. Jackson Temple, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Wright, Mrs. S. T. Dunlap, Mrs. William Martin and Hilliard Comstock. Little Sue Dunlap accompanied her mother from Los Angeles and has been much admired by Santa Rosa friends.

– Society Gossip, Press Democrat August 24 1913

Mrs. James Wyatt Oates, who has been confined to her house for a fortnight, is much better, Mrs. Oates’ indisposition was caused by over-exertion, and a complete rest quickly restored her.

– Society Gossip, Press Democrat October 26 1913

Miss Mattie Solomon, who was the guest of the Misses McMullan, of San Francisco, last winter, is soon to be married to Lieutenant Emeric, formerly of the United States steamer Tuscarora, now on detached service.

– Oakland Tribune, August 5, 1880


Lucky Fellow.

The San Francisco Chronicle says: The marriage of James W. Oates, of Tucson, Arizona, to Miss Mattie Solomon, of this city, has been announced to take place either during the latter part of April or the first of May…Mr. Oates has been practicing law and at the same time engaged in mining interests for the past ten months.

– Arizona Daily Star, December 17, 1880
The Marriage in San Francisco of Miss Mattie A. Solomon to Mr. J. W. Oates.

The event of the week in society circles in San Francisco was the marriage on Thursday evening last of Miss Mattie A. Solomon of the Bay City to Mr. J. Wyatt Oates of Santa Rosa. The ceremonies took place at half past eight o’clock at St. John’s Presbyterian Church on Post street. The interior of the edifice was elegantly decorated and the dresses of the ladies magnificent. Misses Rebecca McMullen, Alicia Morgan, Adele Martel! and Lillie Gurke acted as bridesmaids and Messrs. Horace G. Platt, Arthur Shatluck, C. J. Swift and R. B. Haffold as groomsmen. Miss Solomon, the bride, is the daughter of Mrs. W. S. Solomon and is well known in San Francisco. She has been one of the leaders in society circles, where she made for herself numberless friends by her uniform courtesy and gentle manners. The groom, J. Wyatt Oates, of the firm of Whipple & Oates of this city, though not long a resident here, is well known to all our citizens. He is a gentleman of scholarly attainments and a lawyer of ability. He is a graduate of one of the first colleges of old Virginia. He practiced his profession with merited success for several years in Alabama, and he moved to this State about two years ago. Subsequently he was a resident of Arizona until he came to Santa Rosa and entered into partnership with Hon. E. L. Whipple who was a schoolmate of his in the Eastern States. At the conclusion of the ceremonies on Thursday evening an informal reception was held at the residence of the brides parents. On the morning following the happy couple left on a wedding tour of several weeks. Mr. and Mrs, Oates will return to reside in this city.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 13, 1881

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