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MATTIE’S DEATH

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 that 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?

 

 

MRS. JAMES W. OATES PASSES TO THE UNKNOWN
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
OATES-SOLOMON.
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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THE OATES IN TWILIGHT

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, 1911
MRS. 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, 1911
MRS. 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, 1911
MRS. 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, 1911
MRS. 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, 1911
CARD 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, 1912
COLONEL 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, 1912
COLONEL 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, 1912
In 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

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A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

Looking back on it, James Wyatt Oates probably recognized the end of his world began that Christmas night in 1909, when his mother-in-law missed a step and fell. She would soon die as a result, and a few months later his beloved brother was gone. Next his wife’s heart began to falter, leaving her a semi-invalid. By the time five Christmases had passed since the accident, Wyatt found himself with no family at all, except for a nephew in Alabama he didn’t much like.

Until the accident, 1909 had been an uneventful year for Wyatt and Mattie Oates, marked only by his boyish enthusiasm for all things related to automobiles. There were no grand parties at the home that would become known as Comstock House, no anticipated trips away to visit friends in San Francisco or Southern California. When they were mentioned in the papers it was for a small dinner party or family outing, and it was almost always noted they were accompanied by her 75 year-old mother, Mrs. M. S. Solomon.

Maria S. Solomon had been a widow for 46 years and apparently had resided always with Mattie, her only living child. No photos survive and nothing personal is known about her except that she was very well liked. Both Santa Rosa newspapers gave her accident, fading condition and death the sort of coverage one would expect for a civic leader. In her honor the Saturday Afternoon Club canceled a meeting even though she was not a member. The Fork Club likewise postponed a get-together and when the card sharks of the Fork Club pass up a chance to win mismatched cutlery, you must be someone really special.

We know more about her husband, who died in 1863 when daughter Mattie was six. Perrin L. Solomon was a soldier at the very end of the Mexican-American War, serving as a Major in the Third Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers. They were in Mexico for six months and saw no combat. After that he joined the multitudes headed for the California Gold Rush, where he found a new career in law enforcement, taking in 1851 the role of marshal in a “people’s court” vigilante murder trial. A couple of years later, he was the sheriff of Tuolumne County.

Perrin was described as “quiet, low-voiced man of easy and even elegant manners, whose coolness, tact, and desperate courage had proved equal to every emergency, and who had made several hairbreadth escapes” in a 1853 account of his capture of a desperado. Solomon and his posse of twenty men brought the man into the town of Sonora, where they were confronted by “…More than a thousand men, many of them drunk or half drunk…yelling like demons, [who] pressed close upon them.” Through his “coolness and courage” Solomon saved the man from being hanged by the mob. In a similar incident, Solomon stopped a lynching by having a young lawyer distract the crowd with a grandiloquent speech as he and his deputies hustled the suspect away. From 1857 he served as the US Marshall or Vice-Marshall for the Northern District of California until he was removed from office in 1861, presumably because he was a Rebel sympathizer; Solomon was active in Tuolumne’s Democratic party and even on the cusp of the Civil War, there was a contingent calling for compromise with the Confederacy and peaceful separation. He died in 1863 in San Francisco, where he was buried.

James Wyatt Oates never met Perrin Solomon, who passed away while he was still a 13 year-old boy in Alabama. But when his long-widowed mother-in-law died in 1910, the old lawman was probably much on his mind. The family owned a burial plot in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco, which presumably was by Perrin’s side. Should she join her husband there, or stay in Santa Rosa, where he and Mattie would eventually be laid to rest?

Oates had Maria Solomon’s coffin placed in the temporary receiving vault at the Rural Cemetery, where it would stay for the next six years. Her daughter’s body would be likewise stored in the crypt in 1914 because no grave was supposedly ready, although Oates owned a large and prominent plot at the cemetery.

What he originally planned to do with them is unknown, but after Wyatt himself died the following year, he left instructions that the entire family – including the long-buried remains of Perrin and Mattie’s siblings who had died in childhood – be cremated together and their ashes scattered. It seems to have been an impetuous decision made just a few months before his death, around the time he amended his will to disinherit that unpleasant nephew in Alabama. The man who had been left with no family must have decided to take as many as he could with him into the winds.

MRS. SOLOMON IS INJURED
Fell From Porch and Tore Ligaments Loose

Mrs. M. S. Solomon, mother of Mrs. James W. Oates, met with a bad accident on Christmas night, which will cause her to be confined to her apartments for some time to come. The lady suffered a fall, and struck on her right hip in such a manner as to tear loose many of the ligaments of that member, besides severely bruising and contusing the limb. Mrs. Solomon and Judge and Mrs. James W. Oates were guests at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton at Christmas dinner. During the evening Mrs. Solomon stepped from a slight eminence on the porch of the Paxton home and was precipitated heavily to the ground.

Dr. S. S. Bogle was called and attended to the injuries, and Mrs. Solomon was placed under the care of a trained nurse.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1909
MRS. SOLOMON MEETS WITH ACCIDENT

The many friends of Mrs. M. S. Solomon, who sustained a bad fall while leaving the home of Mr. and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton on Christmas night, will be very glad to know that she is not as seriously hurt as was at first supposed. She was resting nicely on Monday and hopes in a few days to be able to be out again. At the time of the accident it was feared that there might have been a fracture of the hip bone. Dr. S. S. Bogle was summoned and ascertained that there was no fracture. Mrs. Solomon, who has lived for many years with her son-in-law and daughter, Colonel and Mrs. James W. Oates, is one of Santa Rosa’s most highly esteemed women, and at the Oates residence since the accident the home has been besieged with anxious friends and many messages of inquiry have been received. Naturally Mrs. Solomon suffered very much from the shock caused by the fall.

– Press Democrat, December 28, 1909
Mrs. Solomon Better

Mrs. M. S. Solomon continues to improve from the effects of the fall she sustained on Christmas night, and her many friends are delighted to hear of the improvement.

– Press Democrat, December 30, 1909

Mrs. M. S. Solomon has almost entirely recovered from the effects of her bad fall on Christmas night.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, January 10, 1910

The many friends of Mrs. M. S. Solomon continue solicitous for her welfare. She is still quite ill from her recent fall and a specialist from San Francisco has been required. Hope for speedy recovery is held out for her.

– “Many Social Events in City of Roses,” Santa Rosa Republican, December 30, 1909

MRS. M.S. SOLOMON CONDITION CRITICAL

The many friends of Mrs. M. S. Solomon will learn with much regret that her condition is very critical. A change for the worse occurred yesterday.

– Press Democrat, January 20, 1910
MRS. M.S. SOLOMON ENTERS INTO REST
Greatly Beloved Woman Passes Away at an Early Hour This Morning–Death Universally Regretted

Shortly after two o’clock this morning death came very peacefully to Mrs. M. S. Solomon at the home of her son-in-law and daughter, Colonel and Mrs. James W. Oates on Mendocino avenue.

The news of the passing of this estimable woman will be received with deepest sorrow by a legion of friends in Santa Rosa. To know Mrs. Solomon was to love her.

The esteem in which she was universally held was shown incessantly during his illness in the inquiries of friends and the great solicitation and hope that her life might be spared.

It will be remembered that on Christmas night Mrs. Solomon sustained a bad fall and injured her hip. At first it was hoped that the injuries were of a slight nature but later it developed that they were very severe. Intense pain manifested itself and it was soon realized that Mrs. Solomon’s condition was serious.

Everything that human skill and loving attention could devise was done for her. Several days ago it was apparent that Mrs. Solomon long life was shortly to close. She relapsed into unconsciousness and the slumber that lengthened on into the final sleep which has its awakening in the brighter and better world and the perfect life for which she was so well prepared.

The death of her mother is a terrible blow to Mrs. Oates and Colonel Oates. The ties that bound them together were most affectionate. For twenty nine years Mrs. Solomon’s home had been with her son-in-law and daughter, her husband having preceded her to the grave many years ago…In the hour of bereavement the family is remembered in tenderest sympathy.

– Press Democrat, January 21, 1910
MRS. M.S. SOLOMON’S FUNERAL ON SUNDAY

The funeral of the late Mrs. M. S. Solomon will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock from the residence of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates, on Mendocino Avenue, and it will undoubtedly be very largely attended by her friends.

Temporarily the casket will repose in the vault at the cemetery and there will be no interment on Sunday afternoon.

Seldom has there been a more general expression of regret than that felt at the passing of Mrs. Solomon, and yesterday the Oates residence was besieged by friends desirous of extending their condolence with those bereaved.

– Press Democrat, January 22, 1910

The death of Mrs. M. S. Solomon has cast a gloom over everything of a social nature in this city. She was dearly beloved by all who knew her and there exists a general feeling among her hosts of friends that no pleasure can be experienced close upon her death. Owing to the love the officers and members of the Saturday Afternoon Club hold for her, although not a member herself, that club postponed the meeting it had scheduled for today. Mrs. C. C. Belden, for like reason, postponed entertaining the Fork Club from next week to the week following, and other affairs that were expected for next week, the week but one before the beginning of lent, will not occur. Many friends of the deceased and of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Oates have called at the Oates residence and offered their services in any way they may be used in this hour of bereavement, and they are thoroughly appreciated by Mr. and Mrs. Oates.

– “Many Social Events in City of Roses,” Santa Rosa Republican, January 22, 1910
LOVING TOKENS OF DEEP SYMPATHY
Large Gathering of Friends at the Funeral of the Late Mrs. M. S. Solomon

Scores of magnificent floral tributes, each bearing its message of devotion and loving sympathy, surrounded the casket containing the mortal remains of the late Mrs. M. S. Solomon, as it reposed in the spacious drawing room at the residence of Colonel and Mrs. J. W. Oates on Sunday afternoon, at the time of the impressive funeral services.

There was a very large gathering of old friends of the deceased despite the heavy storm. In the company were those who had known and loved Mrs. Solomon for many years. Then there were those of younger years to whom she had been friend and counselor and always deeply interested in their welfare. It was a very sad afternoon for all.

The funeral service was conducted by the Rev. William Martin, and at its conclusion the beautiful casket was conveyed to the cemetery and there placed in the receiving vault. The active pallbearers were…

– Press Democrat, January 25, 1910

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