Ollie O. Burdg

Interviewed by Richard Curtiss, February 16, 1970   

This is a slightly edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual.

Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program,

California State University, Fullerton, California, 92634.

Copyright © 1977

The Oral History Program

California State University, Fullerton



Richard M. Nixon Project

Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda

O.H. 825



by Richard Curtiss


February 16, 1970

O.H. 825



Richard M. Nixon Project


INTERVIEWER: Richard Curtiss

SUBJECT: Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda

DATE: February 16, 1970

C:This is an interview for the California State College, Fullerton, Richard M. Nixon Oral History Project. Richard Curtiss is interviewing Mr. Ollie Burdg on February 16, 1970

Mr.Burdg, before we begin talking about Richard Nixon and his early life, tell me a little about yourself—when you come to this area?

B:I came to Yorba Linda in 1914 . . . well, I came to Whittier in 1911, and then I went to Yorba Linda. I built a house up there. Bruce Wharton's father used to be a contractor. I worked with him, and we built a house up in Yorba Linda for Frank Milhous. And then I went to work for Frank Nixon in 1914. I've been in this area ever since. I worked for Frank for two years, and then I went to work for the Yorba Linda Water Company. I put in thirty years for them.

C: And how old are you now?

B: I'll be 83 in May.

C:Now exactly what is your relationship to the Nixon-Milhous clan?

B: Mrs. Milhous, that's Mrs. Nixon's mother, was my aunt. My [1] father's sister. And then Richard was about, I guess he must have been around six months old when I went out therein 1914. I think he was born in 1913, wasn't he?

C:Yes. So you are a cousin to the . . .

B:I'm first cousin to Mrs. Nixon.

C:The Milhous side of the family?

B:That's right.

C: Now, what was your first encounter with the Nixons, when you came to build the house?

B: No, no, when I first had contacts with the Nixons was in 1914, in spring. They had a lot of groves to take care of, and planting trees was mostly what we did, and taking care of them, you know, the first year. Then I had to take care of the trees from then on. I worked for Frank for two years, practically two years.

C: And of course, Richard Nixon was just a baby at that time.

B: That's right. He was, I'll say just about six months old when I went out there, I guess.

C: How much contact did you have with Richard Nixon at that time?

B: Oh, well, you know, like little kids I played with him quite a little bit, and I rocked him to sleep several nights while I was there. But he was a good kid, and Mrs. Nixon was one of the—well, I guess you would call it the quietest woman; I never saw her mad in my life.

C: This is Hannah Nixon?

B: Yes.

C: Because you were able to associate with the children and play with them in a close relationship, how did Richard Nixon, if at all, differ from his brothers?

B: Well, they always got along well. Donald was the older boy, and he was bigger; he went to school. The kids always got along well. The Nixon family, Mrs. Nixon was a Quaker. Frank, he didn't go to church so much, he generally stayed home and took care of the kids and she went, as a rule.

C: Well now, did you notice any difference, because he associated, of course, with other children, any difference in Richard [2] Nixon because of this Quaker background?

B: Well, I don't know; kids are kids, (laughter) I raised three boys in all, and every one of them was different from the other one. Richard always had big ideas. My wife went over there when he was three years old—I was going with my wife, we were to be married in 1916—and he sat on her lap, and he was quite a talker. He was telling her about how, when he got big, he was going to kill wild animals and elephants and lions and tigers. Well, I guess he's got his hands full of tigers and everything else. No, he was a very good kid, very quiet, never was a crybaby or anything like that. He was very good. The oldest boy went to school; he was older than Richard.

C: This is Harold?

B: Harold, right. He passed away, I don't know, it was years ago . . . I don't know whether he passed away in Whittier or whether he passed away back East. But anyway, after they left Yorba Linda, I kind of lost track of him for quite a while. Then they were running a store up there at Leffingwell.

C: And Whittier Boulevard?

B: Yes. I went up there and visited them a couple of times. But she was always . . . I hated to go up there on account of I didn't want to bother her . . . she baked homemade pies, you know, and put them in the store. In those days you could do that, but now they wouldn't allow you to do a thing like that.

C: Now in his childhood, you mentioned Richard Nixon did like to talk, in the typical childhood fantasies of being the wild game hunter and so on, but did he differ in his conversation, that is, was he more interested in things that were happening around him?

B: Well, I don't know. Of course, I wasn't around him too much in the daytime I was not in the house too much, you know; I was in and out all the time, and so I don't know, I couldn't tell you much about that, he was just a normal child, that's what I'd say, and a very good child at that.

C: Was he quieter than the other Nixon children?

B: Well, I don't know, you know that's been a long time ago.

C: Did you notice that he liked to read more than most children? [3]

B:Well, he wasn't big enough to read then.

C:But I mean in his later years, when he got into school.

B:Well, in later years I didn't know him, see.

C:You didn't see him after what age?

B:Well, they left Yorba Linda, it was just about . . .

C:He was about nine, wasn't he?

B: I don't know when he left. I don't remember just when they did leave there.

C: I believe it was around 1922.

B: Well, I don't remember exactly. I worked for the water company up there, and we didn't associate together too much after I left there. In fact, in 1917 or 1918, I left Yorba Linda and went up the canyon for a year, during World War I.

C: Well, now you mentioned that you worked with Frank Nixon, Richard Nixon's father. How was he? What kind of a man was he?

B: Frank was a nice guy; Frank and I got along swell. He was a good guy to work for. Oh, he was sometimes a little radical, but who doesn't get radical once in a while, though? No, I always liked Frank; he and I got along just swell.

C: Was he more of a person that liked the outdoor life more than the indoors?

B: At that time I was surprised he got in the store business. He liked to do ranch work and stuff like that; I know he did, because he took a good interest in it.

C: Well now, it has been said that Hannah Nixon, being a Quaker and a rather strong woman in what she wanted, ran the family. Did you find this to be true?

B: No.

C: You did not?

B: No, no, they got along swell, and I never heard a cross word between the two as long as I was there; two years.

C: In addition to Hannah Nixon being quiet, which you mentioned [4] earlier, what else perhaps put her apart from other people? What were some of her characteristics?

B: Well, she was not a gossipy woman; I didn't hear her talk about anybody in my life. And she was kind. As I've said, I never did see her upset as long as I was there. She'd get a little aggravated, of course, we all do once in a while, but nothing serious.

C: Was she, as far as around the house and all, pretty much sticking to home?

B: She was a good housekeeper, and a good housewife, and she was in the church, too. Whenever there was church work, she was ready for that.

C: She was very active then, in church work?

B: Oh, yes, she was very active, yes. She'd go to the meetings, and that's what I say; at nights she'd go to the meetings, and Frank would stay home with the children. She was a housewife, and a very good one.

C: Do you think that her Quaker background in any way helped her bring up Richard Nixon to be the individual that he is now?

B: Well, I'll tell you, yes I do. I think that she really thought a lot of her church and she thought a lot of her family and she tried to bring them up that way, you know. But she never did fuss about it or anything like that, she was always kind and as sweet as she could be all the time.

C: As far as running the household, were there any other characteristics that perhaps made her different from the typical housewife as far as her habits around the house?

B: No, I never could see that she—she was just a good housewife, that's what I would answer. She used to cook. She was a good cook, and she'd hardly ever sit down and eat with us. Well, once in a great while.

Now I understand that the Nixon family, the Nixon-Milhous clan, have always been extremely close. They've had yearly meetings and things, at Christmastime; was this true then? Were there a lot of family members that would get together?

B: No, not while I was with them, they didn't, not too much. They'd get together, yes, they were together a lot, but I don't know that they did any more than anybody else. I know that years later, we used to have a cousin reunion every year, when Aunt Allie was living. Then, after she [5] passed away, we've only had it once — Hurless had it once — it was the relations you know, they'd get together once every year.

C: And who was that — Hurless Barton — but who was that other name that you mentioned? Alice, was it?

B: Who?

C: What was her name? You mentioned they kind of dropped off after her . . .

B: Oh, Aunt Allie; that was Mrs. Milhous.

C: Allie?

B: Allie. A-L-L-I-E. And she was my father's sister.

C: And approximately when was that, when did she pass away? Was that before the first World War?

B: Before World War II, no, no, she was living after—in World War II she was at my place.

C: Oh, I see.

B: She was out here. We had a reunion here, at my place here, and that was in World War II, because my boys, all three of them were in the service at that time.

C: Now this would be in the 1940's that the reunion was here in Orange?

B: Yes, that's the last time we had a reunion, was here when she was living.

C: I see. Now in 1968 they had a reunion up in Whittier at the Marshburns; 0. 0. Marshburn, I believe.

B:Yes, Oscar Marshburn.

C:Did you attend that meeting?

B:No, no. I didn't know anything about it.

C: So as far as the reunions out here in Orange County, they more or less ceased in the 1940 's.

B: Well, Hurless Barton had it, but I don't remember just what year it was. He had it in Yorba Linda, and they had it at the Women's Clubhouse. That was after World War II.

C: Were these family reunions an outgrowth, perhaps, of the [6] Quaker background?

B: No, well, I wouldn't say that, because there were a lot of my cousins on the other side of the house, just like Hurless Barton, and they—now the Burgesses in Whittier used to be all Methodists. My sister was a Methodist. And I belong to the Lutheran Church in Whittier. There were a lot of them that belonged to the Quaker Church, but there were a lot of them that belonged to other denominations too; it didn't make any difference.

C: Well, why, do you happen to know—did Mr. Frank Nixon ever happen to tell you why he picked Yorba Linda? Why he bought the grove and came out here?

B: Well, I guess I don't know. No, he never did say why he bought it. I guess it was just because they had land there and I guess it was a reasonable price, and what have you. Anyway, he never did say why he bought out here. I never did talk to him, because he had already had his house built when I came out there.

C: How well did the groves prosper?

B:Well, there wasn't very much soil there where he bought. It wasn't too good, so part of it was all right and part of it wasn't all right—along next to the ditch on the north side it was for school ground; that's what it should have been to start with.

C: Well now, what was your activity in taking care of the grove—what did you do?

B: Well, I worked them; I worked the groves, and furroughed out and irrigated. Frank did most of the irrigating; I did the furroughing out and I generally worked the groves, but then finally he got a tractor after I quit. He bought a tractor, and he did most of the furroughing out with a tractor.

C: Can you remember in those first few years, when Richard Nixon was a child, did he like to be with his father a lot, or did he stick around home mostly?

B: Well, I'll tell you: he got along with his dad, he always sat with his dad at the table, and his dad always fed him. Then Donald came along, and he had two of them. Hannah was generally always cooking and bringing stuff in to the table instead of sitting down and eating with us. She'd get it ready, she'd get us fed, and then she'd feed herself; that was kind of the way she worked it.

C: Well now, have you followed Richard Nixon in his political [7] life, to any extent?

B: I always admired Richard, and I've always admired the whole family. Hannah, she was just as—I hated it because I wasn't at her funeral; I was on a trip at the time, and I didn't get home until that night, the night after the funeral; though I hated to miss it. No, I don't, I haven't kept up with it like I wanted to, but I just never had the time.

C: Now, my reason for asking was that some people have said that some of the characteristics that Richard Nixon now possesses were developed during his early years, and I was wondering if perhaps he got some of those characteristics from his father, or his mother, or perhaps from close friends or relatives.

B: Well, I wouldn't know about that, I really wouldn't.

C:One particular characteristic that has stood out for many years in Richard Nixon is that once he gets a problem, or finds a problem, or is confronted with a problem, it is said that he doesn't let go of it until he has solved that problem. Now was Frank or Hannah this way?

B:Well, you know, I think that most of us are more or less that way, and I'd say I think a little in both of them. You know what I mean. Mrs. Nixon was always very nice, very kind, and she never had a bad word for anyone.

C:So Richard Nixon drew from both parents. He doesn't favor any one parent?

B:I don't think so. Frank was, as I say, a little radical once in a while. Some people didn't like him because he was just a little bit too outspoken, they thought. No, I think that they both liked to achieve their goals and all, and Hannah was very much that way too. And I think that he took a lot of it from both of them, because Frank was the same way.

C:Well, now when you say that Frank was a little bit radical— in political views or just in everyday conversation, every once in a while?

B:Well, you know, he would go to a meeting and he'd get up and well, that's what I'd call it now. He was a pretty decent guy. I liked him, I always did.

C:Was he the type of individual that once he established idea that he wouldn't let go of it? Was this what you mean when you say radical? [8]

B: Well, yes, you know, it's like anything else, you get a belief that you're going to do this, and you want that as your belief. That's the way it was with Frank, a little bit more or less. He'd go on like that, and five minutes later--that's all it ever was.

C: Would you say in any way that he was stubborn? B: It never did appear to me that way.

C: You said he would try to make his point at these meetings— what kind of meetings were these?

B: At that time, Yorba Linda was young, and one would have this idea, and one would have that idea—he'd get up and explain his idea, you know, that's the way I saw it. He'd want to explain his idea and he thought he was right; well, the other people thought the same thing; they thought they were right in their beliefs, so . . .

C: Were these meetings regarding, say, the development of the city?

B: Well, I don't know, so much as the—yes, at that time Yorba Linda was young and needed a lot of things to be done. Of course, I never did go to any of those meetings very much, because I was a single guy, and I didn't have any business there.

C: These were mostly landowners, then?

B: Yes, that's right, it was the guys, and course, then he would tell me what his idea was, and what the other guys ideas were. I always got along with him.

C: I wonder, did he participate in politics in any way, outside of Yorba Linda?

B:Well, not that I know of, no.

C:He was mostly centered around Yorba Linda ideas?

B:That's right.

C:I see. Did Hannah Nixon in any way participate . . .

B: Well, as I say, she was in the church doings and in the P. T. A. [Parent/Teacher Association], and Harold was going to school there, you know.

C: But she didn't participate in the meetings, with Frank? B: Not too much, no. Oh, she'd go to church meetings, and I [9] think she'd go to P. T. A. meetings at night. I don't know what kind of meetings she'd go to; I didn't ever know, but at times I'd help Frank wash the dishes, you know, and she'd go away, and he'd stay home. She'd go off with the kids you know. Harold and Donald would come along in later on, but they got along fine.

C:Did you find that the grandmother of Richard Nixon was an influence on him, in any way?

B:Well, no, she never interfered with the family, you know not that I ever knew of.

C:Were most of the social activities of the Nixon family centered around the church, the Quaker Church?

B:Well, I don't know. The families were related from both sides, you might say, and it's a kind of mixed up, just like it was when we had a family reunion. Some of them were Quakers, some of them were Lutheran—I guess I was the only Lutheran in the bunch, but the rest of them were very well set on their church. They weren't radical about it, or anything like that, they were always nice about it.

C:Were there many activities? Because Yorba Linda was so new and a young growing area, were there many activities outside of your own church?

B:No,not at the time. After I got married, I didn't have anything to do with these meetings because, well, I didn't have anything up there to fight for. No, they were all always with everybody. It wasn't just the Quakers, the Friends, they'd call them. No, I never did notice that.

C:Well now, since activities were somewhat limited, did they make many trips—were they an outdoor family? Would they perhaps go to the hills up here or something?

B:In those days, you know, we had horses and buggies. When I was with them they would never take any, you know, outside trips, or anything like that. They had this preacher, Billy Sunday—you never knew of him, did you? He was an Evangelist preacher, and he was preaching in Los Angeles. Well, they got a carload; two streetcars started from Yorba Linda and went to Los Angeles. We went up there one night to hear him preach.

C:This did not concern any one particular religion?

B:No, it was just a little community, and we got them all . . . I don't know who was back of it, but the Nixons were the ones that came after us. The wife and along, and you know, it was nice, very nice. [10]

C: Then most of the activities were centered in Yorba Linda?

B: Yes.

C:I see. Was Frank Nixon unusual in other ways from what you've mentioned as far as well, radical or stubborn?

B: Well, I don't know what you'd call it. That's what I call it.

C:Did he seem to like ranching or farming?

B:Oh, yes, he said that was his big goal, was farming.

C:Was he able to make much money from it?

B: Well, I don't know what he made out of it, you know, he charged so much, and he paid me good wages for then, you know. Some days there wasn't big money made anywhere that I know of.

C: But I mean the market itself, was there a demand . . .

C:Well, I don't know. The trees, when I was there, weren't big enough to get anything off of them.

C:Well, this was just the beginning of the groves?

B:Yes, I was just setting them out.

C:Oh, I see.

B: Yes. I'd set them out, and have to spray them, and what have you, but they weren't big enough then to bear. Some of the groves were big enough, because they were older than his. A lot of them were bearing, but his weren't. I was there two years, and they weren't bearing yet.

C: Were there many growers in the area at that time?

B:Oh, there were a lot of growers that never lived there. That was the reason that Frank had a lot of groves where nobody lived. Some of them lived in Whittier, some of them lived back East; but no, there weren't too many houses there, you see.

C:Well, now, to kind of review for just a little bit, you said that you met the Nixons in 1914?

B: Well, I had met them before that.

C: What was your earliest acquaintance, do you recall? [11]

B: Well, I don't know; 1911, I guess was when I first came out here. I don't remember just when I did meet the Nixons, but I knew them before I went to Yorba Linda.

C: And when was your last—I mean, when did you stop working for Frank Nixon?

B: I quit; I left there after 1914 . . . 1916, but I boarded with him until November.

C: Of 1914?

B: Of 1916. And in February, I went to work for the water company in Yorba Linda.

C:Did you board with him for the entire two years?

B:I boarded a room from February until November.

C:Of 1916?

B:Yes, 1916.

C: I see. So, have you been in the house since that time, recently?

B:No. No, I haven't been there since they left.

C:Have you been by it to look at it?


C: I was just wondering if it had changed in any way as you knew it?

B: No, I don't think it has; but the last time I was by there was a couple of years ago. And I just remember from the boulevard there, I looked up there and- it didn't look any different. The only thing, the barn was gone. There used to be a barn down between the house and the road, see, south of the house, towards Yorba Linda Boulevard.

C: Well now, so the groves were located behind the house, is that right?

B: It's on the west side—west and south.

C: I see. Then the ditch was in front of the house?

B: The ditch was on the north side of the house, part of it 'on the front, call it on the north side.

C: Yes, I see. So then, in 1916, November, when you left, what [12] did you do?

B: I worked for the water company.

C: The Yorba Linda Water Company?

B: Yes. I moved up north of Yorba Linda, in the pump house up there. They had a pump house north of Yorba Linda.

C: When was the last time that you can recall that you saw Frank and Hannah Nixon?

B: Well, I don't know exactly when it was, but we went to see them, and they lived out in La Habra then. They bought that big house out there, you know. Frank wasn't feeling too good, he was pretty sick then; but the last time I was there was when Richard's brother got married. I was in the reception, and I went up there.

C: Was this Harold or Edward?

B: It was Edward.

C: Edward, the youngest; I see. You mentioned when I first arrived, you thought that the Nixons, when they left Yorba Linda in 1922, went back East. Is that right?

B: I thought so. That's the way I got it.

C: And do you know how long they were gone before they came back out here to California?

B: No, I don't.

C: Do you have any kind of a family album or record might indicate this?

B: No. I'll tell you, Hurless can give you more on that than I could.

C: Is that Hurless Barton?

B: Yes. He comes over here; Hurless was trying or somebody from Sacramento was trying to get the house up there furnished the way it used to be, you know. Well, you know, a young guy, he doesn't pay so much attention to that as a guy who was older and was married. I wasn't even married, and so, no, I wouldn't know when they went back there—how long they were gone. I don't remember.

C: Do you happen to have any old photographs of any of the Nixon family? [13]

B: No, I've got one now in the house of his family when he was elected to the presidency.

C:Is it signed by him?

B:No, no, it's just a magazine.

C:Oh, I see.

B: And my daughter-in-law gave me that when she got it out of a magazine, paper or something.

C: I see.

B: I'll show it to you before you leave.

C: All right. Can you perhaps suggest any other relatives in this area that are related to you or to the Nixons that might be of some help to us in our program?

B: No, I don't know any out here. Hurless and I are about the only ones left in this part of the country, and Mrs. Oscar Marshburn, she's a sister to Hannah, you know, and they could probably give you more about it than I could.

C: Did Frank Nixon employ anyone else, other than you that perhaps may still be living?

B: No. No, he had another guy that worked for him for awhile, but he worked there when Frank's father died, and he went back East, so I had some help to keep it going while he was gone. I think that was in 1916—1915 or 1916. I think it was 1915.

C: Can you recall his name?

B: Oh, he went to the army in World War I, and I've never, nor anybody else has ever heard from him, no.

C:So you don't think that he's in this area at all?

B:No, I don't think so.

C:But do you recall his name?

B:His last name was Thompson.

C:His first name?

B: Curley. We always called him Curley Thompson, I don't know what his real name was.

C: Perhaps Mr. Barton . . . [14]

B: I don't know--well, I doubt it.

C: Was Mr. Barton in that area at that time?

B: Oh yes, Hurless lived out there where they got the garage, the Chevrolet garage, out there.

C:Well, do you mind then, if we use this interview to add to the archives of Richard Nixon College, Fullerton?

B:Well, no, if it'll do you any good.

C:Well, I'm sure it would.

B:Sorry I can't give you more imformation, but that's about the best I can do for you.

C:Well, that's just fine.

B:Thank you.

C:Thank you.

End of Interview [15]

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