Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lee Wilson, Laytonville


I remember Lee Wilson as a child, but I left Laytonville in 1955 when I was ten years old, so I didn't know him well. One of the joys of being a long time resident, you can always introduce yourself as a descendant of somebody they knew well, you then become accepted as one of the locals. I would have introduced myself as; "Ernie Branscomb, son of Everett and Elsie, Grandson of Ruby". If he still didn't recognize me I would have said that; "I'm John Franklin's, Jim Newland, and Roy Branscomb's Cousin." By then he would be putting it all together and realize who I was. He might say " I haven't seen you since you were a kid, I remember you in diapers". "then there was the time that you got stuck in the piano at church, and then the time that you knocked over the punchbowl at the town picnic". By then it would have been just like old-times again.

Like I said, I didn't know Lee than well, but most of my cousins did. Some of them hunted on his ranch, (With permission)They all talked about Lee with some great story. Most of the stories that I've heard will be held for now to be told first hand at his memorial.

Most of the old time CalFire employees remember him, Calfire was called C.D.F back when Lee worked there. Myself being a firefighter, even if Lee didn't remember me at all we would have had many Fire stories to swap, so I'm sure that we would have got along quite well.

Lee was a life long resident of Laytonville and he was a repository of history, the kind of history that I love to listen to. His story (History) is best when it is told from his mouth into my ears, where you can ask all the questions that you want. The people that hold Lee's stories today are his legend. I would have been very proud to have known him as well as the rest of my family did.

Addendum #1
From Johnathan Wilson, Lee's grand-nephew:

Here are some pictures of Lee.

We also have a copy of a biography of the Wilson family in Mendocino that was printed in the Willits newspaper. In there was a picture of Lee and his dad after a successful deer hunt. I was hopping if you, or one of your blog followers could help me find that picture.

Click on any photo to enlarge:

Lee with a girlfriend Norma Fahy, 1947

(I don't know who this good-lookin' little boy is, but the car in the background is @1950's model. Somthing is out of sync. Ernie)

Alfred Weathern, Marcell Gentillaiom, and Lee Wilson.

Lee is holding me (Johnathan Wilson) on the left, and my twin sister (Ashley Wilson) on the right, 1994

Don Wilson is holding my brother (Matthew Wilson) with Lee to the left 1989.

the last picture is one of his report cards that i found.

last picture of Lee that we have before he died with Brenda Merz.


Johnathan Wilson said...

I never really knew Lee, but the memories of him have always been fond ones, from tracking a blood trail to fishing off the cliffs of fortbragg i will always remember him. When i first learned of my Great uncle's passing I asked my dad if he would go through the piles of old pictures with me, I asked multiple times and he always said no, and that he was to tired. So I finally got tired of that and went out and looked through them by myself. I am so glad I did so and I learned new stuff about my uncle, instead of a calm old man I saw a handsome, perhaps wild young kid/man. I also found a old report card from his 10th grade (1944 - 1945) and found something to hold over my mom, that even if my grades aren't the best i still did better than my uncle Lee.

Anyway, I'll stop my rant and just say that i had a great experience digging through the piles of old photographs, and really appreciate that you posted this Ernie.

Johnathan Wilson

Robin Shelley said...

Sorry to hear this, Ernie. I thought Lee moved away from L'ville 10 or so years ago. I thought he & Shirley left before I did. Am I mistaken?

Johnathan Wilson said...

You are not mistaken, I do not want to say any bad things about people on your blog so i will leave out alot of details, but Lee left on 'vacation' to West Virginia about 10 years ago.

Last year, the government took lee into protective custody and put him into a rest home and attached his pension after they found him covered in bruises. Lee however checked out mentally from a bad case of Alzheimer's before Shirley took him on 'vacation' to West Virginia.

Robin Shelley said...

I don't even know what to say about that, Johnathan, but I am very sorry to hear it. My condolences.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Sadly, I know from interveiwers that Lee was failing in his last interviews. He rembered the past in great detail, and he was very glad to be interviewed, but the spark of intellect was fading.

For some reason, we all live longer than our brains or our bodies. Maybe dying young is not so bad... Oh well, it's too late for me to die young anyway.

Robin Shelley said...

Brenda Merz? Why do I know Brenda Merz? I'm picturing her much younger - a high school girl - full of spunk & fun - but I cannot place her. Help! Is she a relative, John?

Ernie Branscomb said...

I was able to talk to Terry Guerrero on the phone. He said that Lee will will recieving a firefighter service fitting to CalFire standards in recognition of his long service to C.D.F.

(Terry has done a bit of Calfire duty himself)

Robin Shelley said...

Ernie, stop it now! I remember when Terry first started with CDF (see how old I am!) & now he's an "old timer" there... sigh. Nice guy, too. Young. (:

Robin Shelley said...

I went to school with Lee's kids & his ex-wife, Jeannie, was the school cook. Almost everybody in town has a Wilson memory, I bet. It will probably be a long service. His son died last year but his daughter is still in L'ville or nearby, I think. Please give her my condolences if you see her. Thanks.

Johnathan Wilson said...

Brenda is Shirley's daughter and was giving care to Lee. No blood relation. She was living with Lee and Shirley in Laytonville before she went into the air force.

And sorry about the picture of the little kid, i pointed that out to my dad but he swore that it was Lee.

Johnathan Wilson said...

From what i understand, Lee was the one that hired Terry for CDF as well.

omr said...

Jonathan I am sorry to hear of your families' loss.
As for retrieving a picture from the Willits newspaper with Lee hunting, a call to that paper may help.
I directed one author that direction and I think he was frustrated that they did not archive the photos.
There is a good chance that that photo that Rena Lynn used came from the Mendocino historical society, or the Robert Lee collection which is now at the Sunhouse, but not so accessible.
I was told that a bunch of Wilson family photos were donated to one of these organizations but no one seems to know where exactly they went.
You might try a call to the MHS in Ukiah.
Best wishes, and condolences.

Robin Shelley said...

Speaking of photos, have you ever seen the Clair Whitcomb collection? I have no idea what happened to it after he died but he had some great old photos of the stagecoaches (his dad or other relative was a driver, if I remember correctly) & logging in the L'ville/Mendo area. I hope his family preserved them or donated them to the museum. Definitely would be worth your while to track them down if you haven't seen them already.

spyrock said...

sorry to hear about your great uncle passing away. i see oldtimers as a transition time. they have one foot in the next world and one foot still in this one. my dad was almost 98 when he started getting old timers. he called me up near the end and told me to pick him up and take him home. he had a fanny pack full of important papers which for him included pictures and articles about him from the newspaper, maybe something important and some junk mail. i told him that he was already home and he told me that i might be right because he saw a picture of himself on the wall. he was getting irritated that my mother who had died 3 years earlier kept talking to him. of course, he never believed in anything like this his entire life. just at the end. i guess oldtimers is the excuse they use to explain this behavior to the rest of us who have to stay here.
i like to go through the old pictures too. one day, i'm going to scan them all and tell the story and put it on a dvd for future generations.

Anonymous said...

I have known Lee Wilson my entire life. He had a contageous laugh and incredible sense of humor that followed him everywhere. He knew not a stranger.

The last time I saw Lee was at the home place below Jimmy Nyhen's in L'ville on the Wilson/Nyhen Homestead property. I met Lee to proof read his story that is in Elder Book II. Lee greeted me at the door in his long handles, a long flannel shirt, and tall rubber boots as he'd been burning some of the old fence posts from the homestead days. He said they were too hard to cut for firewood. Believe me, I was unprepared for that greeting, lol. We sat for hours by the fire on the wooden day porch of his lovely home, which he'd set up as "HIS" place, as he called it. I will never forget Lee's reaction as I read his story back to him. He lifted both legs off the floor and slapped his knees laughing hysterically, reliving the every moment of his story. It was the greatest time ever with him and I will never forget it.

Lee Wilson loved talking about old times and could remember the past very well. He could remember all of the stories about his family moving here around 1856; that they were looking for land. They were some of the first settlers in this valley.

It appeared to me that as long as Lee was around the things he'd always known and loved he held up pretty well, memory wise. He loved telling his stories over and over to his great friend, Clinton Roy Wilson. What a pair they were! It saddens me beyond words that Lee left what he knew so well to go to a place where he knew no one.

Lee's dad was best friends with my grandfather, Roy Branscomb; they were in the military together (he said they mustered together). They sat for hours talking about the war and so on. Lee was told that as long as he was quiet he could sit and listen but if he interrupted he'd have to leave. Lee told me that's how he learned so much about the area. He was great friends with my dad and all of dad's brothers and sisters.

You were one of a kind, Lee Wilson. Rest in peace my friend.

Anonymous said...

That post was from Cousin.

Anonymous said...

Johnathan, I can not imagine that Shirley's family would be remotely interested in such old family photographs of people she didn't know anything about, but Shirley told me once that if she'd known the content of the books she could have gotten me a LOT of pictures. I do not know if she still has them or if she donated them to one of the museums, etc.. it might be worth asking.

Johnathan Wilson said...

Cousin, Thanks for your post, I really enjoyed reading that. I only wish that I was a little older to remember Lee and to take in what he had to say.

Sadly to say Shirley got rid of everything and anything she could before she took Lee to West Virginia, and then cut off all contact with us. We got some pictures from Lee before they left, but i wouldn't be surprised if the others wound up in a landfill somewhere.

Ernie Branscomb said...

As it turns out, I will be able to attend Lee's services. I will be taking a couple of Lee's old family friends with me.

Thanks for the memory Cousin, I knew that you would come through.

Johnathan Wilson said...

It was great meeting you and your mother at the service Ernie. Once Lisa sends me those pictures I will send them your way.

Anonymous said...

I've known Lee most of my life and he gave me a couple of items over 30 years ago. One is a can opener that comes with the old c-rations that I still have. It is about wore out from opening several hundred cans of Dennison's chili. The other was 3 pieces of barbed wire cut 18" long. Lee told me the wire was very rare and may be worth good money. I guess somebody else decided they needed the wire more than me. Wish I had that wire today just for a memento.


Tom D said...

I was a Laytonville CDF firefighter in 1968 while Lee was there; Bud Bartlett was the big boss. Lee always seemed to be laughing or smiling, and he was real easy to get along with and work for. It doesn't surprise me that everybody has good memories of him.

Tom Dietz