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Obituaries Can Be Fun

The late comedian, George Burns, has been quoted as saying, “I get up every morning and read the obituary column. If my name's not there, I eat breakfast.” Mr. Burns got to enjoy many breakfasts before he passed away at the age of 100.

Historians and other researchers love obituaries and other articles written about the deceased at their time of death.  They can be a treasure trove of information. Today, unless you are a celebrity, obituaries are usually written by a member of the family, so are somewhat biased, but even so they can give information about a person that was previously unknown.

Nate Stone on hunting trip, 1896.  Photo by Sam Edwards

When Nathan Stone died in 1932 at the age of 78, an anonymous writer penned a lengthy obituary.  We don’t know for sure who the author was but it may have been Charles Jarrett who at that time was writing profiles of pioneers of the area such as Hugh Warring and Buck Atmore. In the obituary appears all the expected information: when he died, how he died, when the funeral service would be.  Nate’s pall bearers was truly a who’s who of Fillmore: Willis Burson, Jasper Horton, O. S. White, Sam Akers, Frank Atmore and Earl Goodenough. Nate was survived by his mother, Mahala Azbell Stone, age 94 – the oldest resident of Fillmore, two sisters, and his brother, Alfred.

After a few paragraphs, the writer launched into the story of the Stone family in general.  This was excellent background information for the researcher.  Nate’s mother, Mahala Azbell, then age 10,  came with her family to California in 1848.  During the long trip west, Mahala’s sister, who was the mother of twins, two of her brothers and her father all succumbed to cholera.  Mahala ended up caring for the twins. The surviving members of the family settled in Yuba City,

Nate Stone’s father, Joseph Stone, had died three decades previously.  According to Nate’s obituary, Joseph had fought in the Seminole Wars in 1836 and then in the Mexican American War in 1848. Interestingly, he used the assumed name, George H. Taylor, and had fought on the Mexican side.

After coming to Fillmore in the 1870s, the family farmed “on the mountain north of Fillmore.” Nate and his younger brother, Alfred, hunted the game available in the area. The meat would be sold to the local residents. The family also kept bees.

Mahala Stone outside her home on Central Avenue, c 1910

Mahala had built a home on Central Avenue, approximately where Central Market now is.  By 1910, Central had become the commercial “hub” of Fillmore.  Mrs. Stone moved house and all to Mountain View and 2nd street.

All of the above was taken from Nate Stone’s obituary. Link to obituary

The next year the obituary of another early settler ran in the Fillmore Herald.  Fillmore’s first physician, John P. Hinckley passed away.  The usual “just the facts” obituary ran, but there also appeared an article on Dr. Hinckley written by his colleague, Dr. David W. Mott of Santa Paula.  Dr. Mott had been practicing in Santa Paula and also served the growing community of Fillmore.  In 1890 a new physician put out his shingle, Dr. John Powell Hinckley. At that time, he was only one of ten physicians in the county and became one of the charter members of the County medical society. Other doctors had come and gone and often of dubious training and experience. 

The ”dean” of Ventura County’s physicians was Dr. Cephas Bard, brother of Thomas Bard. Dr. Bard was pleased to get a report from Dr. Mott that Hinckley had trained at the University of Vermont and had done post-graduate work at Bellevue College in New York City.  Over the half century Dr. Hinckley practiced he was often the one other doctors consulted if they needed assistance.

Dr. Mott also told of the long hours Dr. Hinckley put in, even at the end of his career, having progressed from a horse and carriage to a “comfortable Cadillac” or his “speedy Ford.” Dr. Mott’s remembrance of his friend and colleague was high praise. Link to obituary of J. P. Hinckley

Dr. John P. Hinckley with friends in his Ford, 1909

Two things we have learned about Dr. Hinckley which weren’t mentioned in Mott’s piece.  From his arrival in Fillmore, some young boys had the middle name of “Hinckley” undoubtably in thanks for the treatment of mother and child.  On a sadder note, during the “Influenza” pandemic of 1918 and the next few years, Dr. Hinckley was called on to tend to many of victims.  One of those victims was his own daughter, Vinnie.

The last “obituary” to be profiled here is probably not an obituary in the usual meaning of the word, but one man’s opinion of the deceased, Alexander More brother to T. Wallace More who had owned Rancho Sespe and was murdered.

It appeared in the San Francisco “Call” on October 22, 1893, the day after Alexander More died in Illinois.

 

It was printed on page 2 with no byline.  The title was simply “Alex More Dead.”  It is only as you read the article do you realize this is not the usual obituary. What catches your attention are sentences like this:


“Possibly Alex More may have begun life with all the generous impulses common to youth. If he did they fell from him, for in his old age he was hard, stern, cold — a demoniac in his hate and seemingly animated by a detestation of his kind.”

Vinnie Hinckley c 1918

Alexander P. More

The writer talks about the vast amount of land the More Brothers acquired, especially in what would become Ventura County. The Ventura County holdings “came to be known as "From Sunrise to Sunset Rancho," He told the story of Alex’s drive to punish those he believed were responsible for his brother, Tom’s, death and how it completely drove the people of the area to despise him (if they hadn’t before).

The story of Alex’s killing his cook on Santa Rosa Island was related. The Chinese cook wished to go to the mainland to see his family, although it was at the height of the shearing season.  Alex took a rifle to the pier on the island and shot the cook. The county of Santa Barbara did press charges and bring him to trial, but his attorneys (and possibly Alex’s money) argued successfully that since the crime was committed on the pier, it was on the “high seas” where Maritime law had jurisdiction, not the county.

Link to the San Francisco "Call's" article on Alexander More, https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SFC18931022.2.27

Again all of the above and more, was in this one article – a researcher’s dream.  Not because it told the whole story, but because it provided more threads to follow.  Links to the actual articles will be on our website, but it is clear that if you want people to remember you as you see yourself – write your obituary in advance.

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