An article on the discovery channel on Willa Cather’s trip when she was just a child from the east coast to Nebraska in a wagon had me thinking of the trip that George Oakley and Edith Tyrell would have made. The trip from Olean, New York to Omaha, Nebraska on today’s roads is 991 miles, taking about 16 hours. In a horse and buggy with just wagon ruts to follow and multiple dangers to avoid it could take a couple of weeks at 10 miles an hour. The other thought is that they may have taken the train. I decided to do a bit of searching on Omaha, Nebraska for 1889.
What in the world is the chance? It is just one of those really odd things. If I had found it before I would have looked right past it, not knowing the importance of it. Knowing what I know now, that George and Edith had been in Omaha, Nebraska during 1889-1890, really strange. Of all of the Directories on ancestry.com, they have the 1889-1890 Omaha, Nebraska directory and George W. Oakley is in it. Not just George but his second son John is in it too. From the description posted on the directory the listing is just for the heads of households, so I couldn’t find if Edith was calling herself an Oakley or not.
The directory shows the location as 314 South 16th street, Omaha, Nebraska. George’s occupation was listed as boarding as was his son John’s. The street still exists according to Google, although it is near impossible to discern what the building now contains. I think this might be the location of what Edith referred to as the “Peabody House”. No mention is made of the second location she claimed they owned near the Board of Trade building.
One of the reasons that I never found George in this Directory is the way the ancestry.com search did the rationalization for me. I entered George W. Oakley, born in 1842, with New York as the state selected. It gave me every George in New York it could find, even with the “W” included. If I make the states section “all” leave in the “W” and the year, it then pulls up George as the 3rd selection.
From John Oakley’s statement in the special pension examination, I know that this is my George W. Oakley, although John’s statement makes their return to Olean later than what Edith had claimed. From John;
“She bore the name of Edith C. St. Clair when I first knew her. She came here and kept house for my father and then they went to Omaha, Nebraska and were gone for about two years, which I think were about the Spring of 1889 that they went away from here to Omaha and returned here along about 1891 or 1892. I was with them in Omaha, Nebraska for about 3 months which was in January, February and March of 1890. They kept a rooming house there in Omaha. Yes, they then lived together as husband and wife.”
The other thing that I know is that George met Edith, according to Edith, on July 4 of 1889 and didn’t start to work for him until March of the following year. She corrects her story after finding ledgers from Nebraska that showed that they had been living in Omaha for part of 1889 and had returned to Olean around April of 1890. When tallied it seems they weren’t gone for 2 years and possibly not even a full year. They would be married in July of 1891 after George’s second wife died some time between October of 1890 and February of 1891.
The directories for each year must have been released at the beginning of the year, this would mean that George and John wouldn’t have been in the 1889 directory but did show up in the 1890 directory even after leaving during the first part of the year. One other thing that I noticed about John from my research, he was married in 1888 and doesn’t mention bringing his wife with him to Nebraska for 3 months. Traveling to Nebraska during the winter in a wagon with a wife a possibly a small child or 2 would have been very difficult. I assume that she was there as he was noted as a head of household.