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Some of My Old Bill Family Photos
The aftermath of a Bill family dinner!
This is one of my favorites of the old pictures from my family album. I laugh every time I see it. An uninformed bystander would never know that this was not a disaster scene. It is just the aftermath of a Bill family dinner. My maternal grandmother was a Bill. They were a ranching family from way back. Their grandfather was a founding member of a very large ranch outside of Stockton, CA. His name was Sedley Bill (1822-1907) and his wife was Miriam Fawcett (1828-?). Burtis Bill (1870-1938), their son and my great-grandfather, and my great-grandmother Odie Williams (1883-1956) moved around CA a bit and finally landed in Susanville, CA. Three of their four sons, Charles, Howard, and Stanley bought a ranch from their sister, my grandmother, a recently abandoned wife, teacher, and mother of two. These were hard-working guys who were up before dawn, taking care of the livestock. They worked hard, ate well, and went to sleep. My great-grandmother, a widow, lived there and helped take care of her sons and the ranch.
Edna Mae Bill Buffham
Edna Mae Bill Buffham (1906-1980), was the eldest child of Burtis and Odie Bill. She was a teacher when teachers were expected to be pure and well-behaved. She loved children and loved to teach. In the 50s, she was offered a fellowship at the University of AZ, to teach teachers. She turned it down, as she did not want to leave her family, and her mother was dying from cancer. Her final school was the Litchfield, CA Elementary. She was the Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade teacher and the Principal, all at the same time. Not quite a one-room school. She retired in 1964, and I barely remember going to the retirement ceremony for her.
The same lady who told me about my uncle Charlie and the horses, told me that her husband had my grandmother for a teacher. She was the granddaughter of my grandmothers best friend. She said her husband told her that discipline was strict but fair. The boy (usually) would be told to bend over in his chair with his head under the desk while my grandmother whacked them with the pointer. The misbehaving boy would jerk up and bang his head on the bottom of the desk also. They did not repeat bad behavior. I also went to school with a boy who had her for a first grade teacher. He did not like her because she was mean. The way he behaved, you know he got whacked often.
From the number of her old students that came by to visit when I was there during the summers, not many thought she was mean. Several had commented that she was the reason they had succeeded. One of her son's friends said that she was the reason he learned to read. He had transferred to the area when he was out of her grades, but she was a concerned teacher that was horrified when a 4th grade child could not read his school books. She would go to the big library in town and get books that she thought he would be interested in. She would then use them to tutor him in reading. She knew that the best way to get a child to read was to find something that interested them.
Her best friend married one of my grandmothers brothers, which was not good. My grandmother never forgave him for the mess he made of that. Her best friend and her brother had a bitter feud going for the rest of their lives.
One of the most cherished memories I have is my grandmother inviting her friends over for tea and coffee when I was there. She would allow me to get some good china out and be the hostess. This was great fun for a six year old. She gave me that set of china when I got my first apartment. I cherish it and we use it on the holidays.
The picture of her with the kids at the school bus has both of her children in it. She would take them with her on the bus so they would not be home alone. Her husband went for a pack of cigarettes when my mom was 3 and showed back up 20 years later, leaving her to raise the children alone. Her mother, brothers and sister helped. Only two brothers had any children so they were all like grandparents.
My mom used to tell about when she was bad and my grandmother was after her. She would run to her oldest uncle, Charlie, and jump in his lap. Charlie would look at my grandmother with a twinkle in his eye and ask her, "You're not going to spank this baby, are you?" It is amazing that she turned out well.
As she got older, she was badly affected with arthritis. She had to retire a little early, because she could not handle the physical demands, and pain, of standing in front of the classroom teaching. She also developed macular degeneration and went blind. Heartbreaking for someone that valued her independence and love of reading. She got to the point where she could not drive any more, and would get rides from her brothers and her sister to appointments. Her sister did her shopping for her and would bring it out to her every couple of days. Her brothers would come by and check on her when they were out running errands. They all would come by and visit with her at least once a week, gathering around the large kitchen table, drinking coffee and snacking on whatever goodies had been baked.
She suffered through two mastectomies, and a hysterectomy from cancer. She developed liver cancer in the last year of her life. The Dr. suggested to the family that they not even tell her. She was moved to a nursing home for the last few months, and they would keep her comfortable. She never felt pain during her last months. She had devoted nursing, as many of the nurses had known her for years, had her as a teacher, and had been friends with her sister. She died surrounded with love. She had not only her family, but many friends.
A Good Explanation of Ranching
Charles (Charlie) Bill and his horses!
Charles (Charlie) Bill, 1909-1984, was the oldest of the brothers. He was a gruff man, with a very mischievous sense of humor. His blue eyes would twinkle with mischief. We knew he was always going to be doing something to pick at us. He used to scare me when I was little but as I grew up, I came to cherish him. He was a very accomplished rider and could use a whip with the best of them. This was needed with the stallions and bulls that they had on their ranch. I would watch him use the whip to turn the cows when he was herding them. He would just flick it out there in their direction and never touch them with it.
He also drove teams of horses hooked to the wagons. His picture was on the cover of the California Farmer magazine back in the 1960's driving a hay wagon with 8 horses abreast. A step-cousin emailed me not too long ago, telling me about her memories of them. She lived in the area and I only got to visit. She said when they were working the horses, cars would line up on the side of the road, watching them. She also told me that at one time, they had buffalo on the ranch. It must have been before I was born, I do not remember that. People used to go to the ranch to look at them.
I remember when my mom and I were watching "The Man From Snowy River", a movie about ranching in Australia. People were oohing and gasping when he rode a horse down a mountain, and people were commenting that you had to be a heck of a rider to do that. My mom commented that she had seen Uncle Charlie and Uncle Howard do that when they were herding cattle on their ranch. Their ranch was in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and some of their grazing land was in the mountains.
Howard and Stanley Bill
Howard and Stanley Bill
The two babies of the family were George Howard (1921-2005), and Stanley (1925-). You have heard about Howard in my "Honoring Our Veterans" hub. He is pictured in both pictures above. He was quiet and good humored. He never married. The story was that while he was in Germany, his girlfriend married someone else. He always sat there with a smile on his face.
When my grandmother fell down in her later years and could not get up, she drug herself to the phone, knocked the receiver off with her cane and when the operator came on; asked her to dial the ranch. Howard answered and she told him she needed some help getting up. He was there in minutes and picked this 6 foot woman up and put her in her chair. Then he was off to the kitchen to get her a drink and check her over. He was a dear person.
Stanley is the only one still alive of the whole bunch. I don't get to see him as I live on the other side of the country now but I miss them all. Stanley had one daughter, Patty. You can see in this picture of him that he is just a teenager. Something that I have forgotten to mention is that they were all quite tall. The men were 6'5"-6'6". The women were 6'-6'3". Now you all know where I get my height.
Miriam Bill Boese and Odie May Williams
My great-aunt Miriam had a profound effect on our lives. She was a surgical nurse. They called her 'Bill', her family called her 'Sis'. She was a gentle, loving woman and loved children. She had female problems and had a hysterectomy. She could never have children. She adopted her brother's and sister's children. She also adopted their grandchildren. She sent us money for birthdays. At Christmas, she would buy us clothes and something for our beds. Blankets, sheets, bedspreads, and pillows. When I turned 19 and moved into my own apartment, I had enough to make a dozen beds with blizzard temps.
She went to visit her brothers at the ranch, helping them out by washing eggs, and putting them in cartons. She would sell eggs for them and deliver them to people. She would put milk in sterilized jars, and deliver that also. She used to bring eggs to my grandmother and if my grandmother was having young guests, she would bring her a gallon of milk, otherwise she got a quart. She would also run over to see brother Orrin and his family. She was the glue in the family, holding them all together. When they butchered an animal for meat, she would make sure that she took a little to my grandmother, who liked fresh meat, but did not have a large freezer.
When I was 17, my grandmother had a heart attack. She stayed with my great-aunt when she got out of the hospital. My grandmother really wanted to go home. When I graduated early from high school, I went out to my grandmother's house and stayed for several months to be with her until the Dr. said it was all right for her to be home alone. It was a fun time as I really enjoyed her company. She had macular degeneration and had lost her center vision. I read to her because she was blind by then. My great-aunt would come out every couple of days and check on her, bring any groceries we wanted, and visit. She brought a bottle of wine with her a few times. They hid it in the back of the pan cupboard. They would get it out, tittering like a couple of schoolgirls doing something wrong. They would pour a small glass and drink it. It was so cute and endearing. I will never forget it. These women in their 70's, feeling risque for having a small glass of wine.
She nursed her mother through cancer in the 50's, administering large doses of morphine to help the pain. She took care of my grandmother when she got cancer three different times. She nursed her husband through cancer and came home one day to find he had hemorrhaged all over the bathroom. She was in the hospital for some tests, the thermometer broke while they were taking her temp. They rushed her from little Susanville hospital to big Reno hospital. Tests there showed that she had cancer. She was dead within 24 hours. My whole family truly believe that she heard the word cancer and was so horrified that she willed herself to die.
I do not know much about my great-grandmother. Odie Mae Williams married Burtis Bill from the ranching family in Stockton, CA. They got married in San Joaquin, CA, in 1905. Burtis lived from 1870-1938.
Howard, Charlie, Orrin, and Stanley Bill
Orrin Bill and Eugene Bill
Orrin Bill (1911-1991) is the black sheep of the family. He did not buy into the ranch with the other brothers. He was not as close as the others. He lived further away and he was what they considered a wild one. He went to all the dances and loved to dance. He was the head hostler for the Mapes Ranch. He lived very simply in a shed with an outhouse. Nothing fancy for him. He used a washtub to clean up for the dances. He married a friend of Edna's, and that union provided him a son. That son seems to have had several children, as a couple of them have found this page and contacted me. One of them provided me with the photo of the four brothers, shown above. I would appreciate any more information.
There was another brother but he died in 1938, a few months before their father. I am still trying to track down the cause of death on him. His name was Eugene and was born in 1919, if anyone knows something that I don't, please tell me.
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