did the son of a Slooper and the brother of one of the most famous
Norwegian-Americans to serve in the Civil War, end up in an unmarked
grave in Santa Rosa?
August 1839, the youngest
of Ole and Sally Olson’s four surviving children was born. The boy was
named “James Webster,” Webster coming from Daniel Webster, the great
orator and statesman, whose wife Grace Fletcher Webster was Sally’s first
grew up in Illinois, under the
wings of his two brothers, Porter and Soren.
Porter was one of the first “Sons of Norway” to attend college,
after which he taught school like his father had in
the Civil War broke out, Porter organized Norwegian Americans in the
became Company F of the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This
regiment went through some of the most horrific battles of the Civil War.
The regiment and Company F in particular suffered heavy casualties.
rose to command the regiment as Lt. Colonel.
He died from a bullet to the chest after leading a charge at the Battle
of Franklin, TN, late in 1864. Soren had died in an earlier battle when a
mortar round took off his head.
the three brothers, only James survived the Civil War.
But he bore the mental and physical scars of the war the rest of his
A doctor described him as “morose” and “irritable.”
He had trouble keeping a job and moved many times before settling in
James Webster Olsen
scanned from p.380, Slooper book]
Susan Whitney Olsen
scanned from p.380, Slooper book]
[click on images above for larger size picture]
after the war, James married Susan Barrett Whitney in
Susan was part of the same old
and the cotton
Three of their four daughters came with them to Santa Rosa, the other
died in Kansas
at an early
Daughter Pauline worked for Luther Burbank.1(see
photos below) Daughter Edith married Edson
Merritt, a prominent
best known for making the Gravenstein apple famous.
The third daughter, Geraldine, died in 1900 at the age of nineteen.
She was the first of the family to be buried at Odd
in Santa Rosa.
James finally seemed to find peace in Santa Rosa
He was active in the Congregational Church but he mostly maintained a
quiet existence in his home at
In the second decade of the 20th century his health declined
and by June of 1912 he had difficulty signing his name.
James’ heart, weakened by myocarditis, perhaps stemming from his
Civil War experience, finally gave up on
Both Santa Rosa
paid headline attention to the death and burial of James Webster Olson.
Many Civil War veterans attended the burial at the Olson plot in Odd
His fresh grave was described as being “flower lined.”
READ 1912 NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS
Obituary: " J. W. Olson Passed Away; Well Known Man Answers Final
13 Nov. 1912
of J. W. Olson; Remains Interred in Flower Lined Grave"
Santa Rosa Republican, 15 Nov. 1912 >>>
on clipping images above for readable versions
Perhaps James’ widow intended to honor her husband and herself with a
monument at their grave, but she outlived her husband by almost thirty years.
Edson Merritt died before her and there were few left in the family to
attend to things like a monument after Susan died.
Though James, Susan, Geraldine and Pauline are buried together in the
Olson plot, none are honored with a marker, except for that recently obtained
Whitney Porter Merritt, James’ grandson and his last direct descendant, died
James's listing on Vesterheim's online Norwegians in the Civil War
- Pauline Olson photos:
|Photo taken circa 1906 with the following persons,
left to right: Marie Swanson, Luther Burbank, Pauline
Olson. Photo is
captioned "Under the Loquat Tree at Sebastopol."
||Photo, also ca. 1906, shows Pauline on the left
holding flowers, Marie Swanson on the right, & Ella Wheeler Wilcox
with large hat center.
|click on image for larger
Photos provided by Ms. Rebecca Baker, volunteer
Burbank Home and Gardens, Santa Rosa. Both photos
came from an album with the title "Edna Burbank Hayes Wonder
Book." According to Rebecca this album or scrapbook was
created by a co-worker of Pauline in 1905-06.
Burial Records from the Cemetery for Plot
198 reveal following interments:
- 19 year old (daughter) Geraldine Olsen (sic).
- 73 year old J. W. Olsen (sic).
- 95 year old (wife) Susan W. Olson.
- 72 year old (single daughter) Pauline Whitney Olson
Webster Olson's married daughter, Edith Olson-Merritt, is buried nearby in
Plot 250. It is also interesting to note that Robert Ripley of "Ripley's
Believe It or Not!" fame is also buried nearby in Plot 214. See
linked Cemetery Map for these plot
locations. See Wikipedia's
Santa Rosa page for more information about
this northern California town and other notables from this area.
PHOTOS OF CEMETERY PLOT 198
taken after 30 Mar 06 landscaping.