Bohemians in the Attic: In Search of Ruth Larson Hatcher

Ruth, age 12, as seen in the 1924-25 Clinton (Oklahoma) High School yearbook

Our mom used to mention an Aunt Ruth, her mother’s sister, who lived in Taos, New Mexico, and was an artist. We’d met Ruth on a couple of occasions, she assured us, but we had been so young at the time, we had (and still have) no recollection of those encounters.

But as we grew into adulthood and came to more greatly appreciate creative types—bohemians, as they are sometimes called—we began to wonder about Aunt Ruth and to fervently wish we could at the very least see some of her artwork, which Mom had led us to understand would be paintings.

We did an internet search every few years but never turned anything up, in large part because didn’t know her last name (we assumed she’d been married at some point).

We even included a heavily fictionalized version of Aunt Ruth in one entry in Men My Mother Dated and Other Mostly True Tales, the collection of humorous essays and stories we published some years back. In this particular tale, Ruth and her husband lived not in Taos, but in Amarillo, Texas, where they operated a roadside eatery. The story had it that Mom, feeling restless as her senior year in high school approached, was given permission to spend the summer with Aunt Ruth and work as a waitress in the diner.

As the story progresses, Mom meets Jack Kerouac, who is traveling south from Denver with Neal Cassady to visit William S. Burroughs in Mexico City. A mildly fictionalized account of that trip is found in Kerouac’s novel On the Road, but Mom’s encounter with Kerouac isn’t, of course, mentioned there, since it never happened (except in the pages of our book).

In recent years, we’ve become an avid (if entirely amateur) genealogist, digging gleefully into the various branches of our family tree via and other similar sites. But only very recently did we make any serious progress in learning more about Aunt Ruth, who was, it turns out, a citizen of some prominence in Taos, so much so that one Mary Alden penned a 1,000-word profile of her for The Taos News that was published on March 4, 1999, nearly a month after Ruth passed away.

From that profile, we learned much more than we’d ever known about Ruth (which was admittedly next to nothing).
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In search of Pat

Maude Ellen Johnson Oakes in 1937

We only knew one of our great-grandparents, our mother’s grandmother Maude Ellen Johnson Oakes, who as a teenager in the 1890s, traveled with her family in a covered wagon from Illinois to Oklahoma. She lived to the age of 92, so in her lifetime, she saw an astonishing number of changes. Think of it—she came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon in her youth and lived long enough to see men on the moon, not to mention the advent of cars, radio, moving pictures, television, women being given the right to vote (she was nearly 40 then), the civil rights movement, and on and on.

Distracted by the tunnel vision of youth, it never occurred to us to ask Maude, who was in her eighties and nineties when we knew her, about her husband, and though we’re not proud of it, we’ve long considered genealogy buffs kind of, well, dorky.

But with the recent passing of our mother and our weekly devotion to Who Do You Think You Are?, the notion of tracking down info on our ancestors suddenly began to appeal. We took, which is featured frequently on WDYTYA?, up on their offer of a two-week trail membership, and began digging.

It’s remarkable, really, what one can uncover in a short amount of time.

Patterson and Maude
in happier times

In 1900, Maude married a man named Patterson Nehemiah Oakes, who was born in North Carolina (as was his father before him; his mother was born in Tennessee). Maude was born in Illinois (Taylorville, we learned from a news clipping published at the time of her death), as was her mother. Her father was born in Ohio.

In 1910, Maude and Patterson lived in a town called Canadian in the Texas panhandle. All three of their sons—Cecil (my grandfather), Herbert, and Elmer—had already been born. Patterson was working as the manager of a confectionery.

In 1920, they were still married and living in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City. Their address was 102 N. Elm Street. Patterson was a civil servant—a rural carrier (which I’m guessing refers to mail). Maude was a saleslady at a dry goods store.

Maude is listed in the 1920 census as being 37 years old, which is a couple of years younger than we thought—we had her as being born in 1881, but perhaps she fudged her age a bit? Patterson was 41.

One additional tidbit of info: According to that census, everyone in the family—Patterson, Maude, and their three sons Cecil, Herbert, and Elmer—could read and write.

We’ve not managed to pin down the date, but Maude and Patterson were divorced sometime relatively soon after that 1920 census was taken. We know it wasn’t long after the census because Cecil, their eldest son who was born in 1904, was still in high school at the time. We may never know why Maude and Patterson (did he go by Pat? Not sure) parted—Granddad never spoke of the divorce or, indeed, Patterson himself to our mother and her siblings.

Now, let’s jump forward to 1930.

Maude and Pepper, greatest
dog ever, in 1970

Patterson is now married to a woman named Ellen, who was born in Indiana (as were both her parents) and was 12 years older than Patterson. In 1920, he is 52; she is 64.

Ellen has been married before (as has Patterson, of course).

They live at 338 East 3rd Street in Oilton, Oklahoma, about 39 miles west of Tulsa, where he is employed as the manager of a filling station. Ellen works as a seamstress out of their home.

They own a radio (yes, that was a question on the 1930 census).

Patterson died in 1948. The date, place, and cause of death we’ve not tracked down, though we’re still on the case. Maude died in February 1972, on our mother’s birthday.

That’s all we have so far. I’d still like to know what came between Patterson and Maude in the early 1920s, but when you consider that, six or seven weeks ago, we didn’t even know a single thing about Maude’s husband—not even his name—it’s not a bad start.