|Yorba Linda History|
|Home | Donations | Digital Collections | Map of Yorba Linda Historical Sites | Reproduction Policy | Timeline | Links to local historical societies | Yorba Linda Star index|
William H. BartonInterviewed by Richard D. Curtiss, February 10, 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.
The Oral History Program
California State University, Fullerton [Intro]
CALIFORNIA STATE COLLEGE, FULLERTON
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Richard Nixon Project
Early Years of Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda: 1913—1922
CALIFORNIA STATE COLLEGE, FULLERTON ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Richard M. Nixon Project
WILLIAM H. BARTON
Interviewed by Richard D. Curtiss on February 10, 1970 [Title]
INTERVIEWEE: WILLIAM H. BARTON
INTERVIEWER: Richard D. Curtiss
SUBJECT: Early Years of Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda: 1913--1922
DATE: February 10, 1970
C:This is an interview for the California State College, Fullerton, Richard Nixon Oral History Project. Richard D. Curtiss is the interviewer, interviewing William H. Barton at the Barton Chevrolet dealership in Yorba Linda, California. The date is Tuesday, February 10, 1970.
Mr. Barton, before we begin getting into the basic reason why I'm-here, could you tell me a little bit about your background, when you came to Yorba Linda and how long you've been here and so on?
B:Well, I came here in 1907, not to Yorba Linda but to Whittier. I came to Richard Milhous Nixon's grandfather's Frank Milhous' home in Whittier. My mother was a cousin of his grandmother (Almira Milhous), and we came from Texas to live here in California for my health. My brother brought me out here when I was a small boy about twelve years old. We stayed at Mr. Frank Milhous's place—that was his name, Frank Milhous. He had kind of a big ranch home where everybody stayed that came from the East to California. Most of them got located here. Some of them went back.
We decided to locate here—my mother did—so my father came on later. We established a home in Whittier.
In 1912 Mr. Frank Milhous was interested in some new land for citrus products and citrus raising, and it was in Yorba Linda here. This tract was opened by the Janss Investment Company. He acquired quite a little piece of  property here, and he helped all of his daughters. He's got pieces of property here.
Of course, Frank Nixon, who was his son-in-law, married one of his daughters, Hannah Milhous, who became Hannah Nixon. They acquired this property where the Richard Nixon School is right now. Also, the home is still there. He built that home in 1912.
C:Frank Milhous did?
B:No, Frank Nixon did. Frank Nixon was a carpenter and a farmer. He turned out to be very handy--a kind of a jack-of-all-trades. He had a lot of ability to do anything. He was a carpenter and he was a farmer, so he was quite a worker. He built the house in 1912 himself and planted the nine acres in citrus, mostly lemons, and he had some oranges.
Of course, Dick went to school here as a boy. I knew him just as a little boy. He never noticed me and I never noticed him very much, but he always was around. I've seen him quite often. His mother and my mother were pretty close friends, being somewhat related, you know. When Dick got up and was going to school, he made his mark in the school here. The teachers tell me he was one of the smartest boys in the school, and he went here until he was nine years old. One of his teachers is still living here. She's a doctor's wife, and she was his teacher when he was just a small boy.
C:And what is her name?
B:Mrs. Cochran. She's still here. Her husband's retired now, but they still live here in Yorba Linda.
C:That's Ellen Cochran?
B:Ellen Cochran, yes. And she's quite alert yet and knows quite a bit about his younger life. Dick was a normal boy, of course, doing some of the things that other boys did in Yorba Linda. It was kind of a rural area, and they roamed the area. They played in the irrigating ditch that went through our town and did some of the things that all boys do. They had some horses. Of course, Dick grew up having to do the chores around the home just like anybody else did. He had three brothers at that time. They had four here, but one of them Arthur Burdg Nixon died in infancy.
C:That was Edward, wasn't it?
B:No, Edward is still living. I forget his name. I'm sorry  I didn't remember that. Well, I can get it; I've got it at home. In fact, I can get it for you before you leave. Anyway there were five boys altogether, and two of them, Arthur, and Harold Nixon are dead now. Eddie, Don, and Richard now are living. Richard is the oldest in the family now living.
C:Wasn't there one named after the father, Frank? Donald Nixon? Francis
B:Donald's still living. He's the second one now living.
C:You said that you knew the Milhous family. You also knew Frank and Hannah Nixon. Can you give me a little bit as far as their background goes? How did they impress you? What kind of people were they?
B:You mean Frank Milhous?
B:Well, they were Quakers, and they were very outstanding people, Christian people. Frank Milhous was one of the leaders of the Friends Church in Whittier, which was one of the largest in the whole area because of the Friends coming from Indiana. They used to be in Indiana, and there were lots of Friends where they came from, Butlerville, Indiana. Then they came out here, and Frank, being a very energetic person and pretty well financed, bought a lot of property, which was good at that time. He bought some orange orchards and things like that. He made pretty good money, so he set up all of his children and helped them get started. He was just a normal farmer in Whittier. Mr. Rancher, they called him at that time. He was a man with a very keen sense of direction in life. He was just a kind person and he certainly loved his family because he had them around him all his life. They all clung together as a family. Of course, Hannah and Frank Nixon were some of them his family you know. Frank being a good worker, they got along pretty good together, so they developed this nine acres that we're talking about here in Yorba Linda. But it didn't happen to be very good soil. The lemons became kind of a drug on the market when they did get up there, so he had a hard time. He had to go to out and do carpentry work to support his family and pay for some of the things that his ranch wouldn't do. He had a fellow working for him by the name of Ollie Burdg that stayed right with them for several years. He more or less drove the teams that they had. One fellow in the community that had a lot to do with the boys as they grew up was a grocery boy by the name of Jack Gauldin. He's an old man who lives in La Habra, and he knew Dick when he was a child really more than I did because he was  around him more. Dick used to ride with him in his delivery wagon. They used to go all over the area here when the orchards were new. When people were new in the community, Jack Gauldin took orders for the groceries, then he'd deliver them. He was a nice young fellow growing up, had a lot of friends and took the children around with him. He seemed to love to be with kids.
One of the worst events in the life of Dick Nixon while he was here happened when his mother was driving a buckboard around where the ditch ran. There was a road that ran around where the Anaheim Union Ditch ran, and it was pretty rutty. Dick was standing up in the buck-board, and one day when she was coming in from town, the horse kind of shied, made a quick move, and jerked the buggy so that Dick lost his balance and fell out. The wheel ran over him and it practically scalped his head. They had to take him to the hospital in Anaheim to get it sewed up. To this day he had the scar on his head, they tell me. I've never seen it, but they say he's still got a scar on his head.
C:As a child, was there any one individual that may have influenced him more than any other?
B:Mrs. Mable Paine, the principal of the school and his teacher (at the same time). She was a very strict teacher, very strict, and she just insisted on the children learning their lessons. She didn't have any trouble with Dick, of course, but I know that during his campaign he always asked for her to be on the stand. He always wanted her up on the stand where he was so that he could talk to her and be with her for the time he was here. While he was senator and even when he became Vice-President, why, she was always there. Of course she's passed on now. She got pretty old. Of course, I think Frank Nixon, Dick's father, had lot of influence over him because he was a strict man also, but he was a good Christian man. He had a Sunday school class of boys that he used to work with. Dick was in that class. He used to go places with them and play with them. I know that to be a fact because I remember my folks talking about that, and he was at the Friends church here. We have a Friends Church here which, at that time was the only church in Yorba Linda.
C:Is that still in existence?
B:It's still in existence, and the old church is still here. They still use it, but it's in the back of the property. It was owned by the Friends Church, but they recently sold it out to the Baptist Church, part of it to the Baptist Church, the part which the old church stands on and the  other part went to the Bank of America for them to enlarge their services here in Yorba Linda.
C:Were there any other reasons or influences as far as the Quaker element coming into the Yorba Linda area, other than economic ones? Were there many Quakers here in Yorba Linda?
B:Yes, there were quite a few. The majority were Quakers, for, as I told you, this was primarily from Whittier. This was bought by Whittier people, Whittier farmers mostly. Whittier people invested in it, and most of them were of the Quakers, or Friends, denomination.
C:Did most of them live in Whittier and have their ranches here?
B:No. A lot of them moved out here. Mr. (H.E.) Trueblood was one of those that moved out here, a very substantial man. He was quite an influential man in the area at the time.
C:What was his first name?
B:I don't remember what his first name was. I could get it, I suppose, for you.
C:Has he since passed away?
B:Yes. He wasn't a young man then. Stein and Fassel were among the first grocery men here, and they kind of pioneered the people out here. They had awful hard times at that time, during 1912 to 1914, just before the 1917 war in Europe. A lot of things were pretty close here. But they were in this new area where everybody seemed to get along because they had a lot of things to live for. They were living for their ranches to get up to where v they could bear fruit and pay expenses. And a lot of them did. A lot of them got up to be really good orchards, and some of them are still standing.
C:As you know, there have been quite a few books written about Richard Nixon by various numbers of people. One of the individuals suggests in his book that the Nixon family was a matriarchal family and that the mother ran the family. Because you were closer to the family than they were, did you find this to be "the case? Was she a strong hand?
B:She was really a strong hand, yes. She was very capable, and not excitable in any way. A very even-minded and even-tempered person. Frank, her husband, was kind of quick to say and to do. He never was mean or anything like  that, but he'd do things under stress a lot of times where normally he wouldn't. She was the kind who would balance the wheel of the whole family. She was really the one that kept the family close together. And they worked together. She was a terrific worker. When they moved from here to Whittier, she made pies in a little store in La Habra and what is now East Whittier and really won a name for herself. There are a lot of people in the Whittier area now that remember that very distinctly, because she had a wonderful place to go eat pie and drink coffee and have meals. It got so that they had quite a little restaurant there. Don Nixon ran it after he had got out of college and Dick had gone on to his duties in the United States Senate.
C:Do you think that Richard Nixon tended to lean more toward his mother than his father, as far as when he was growing up?
B:I think so. I think the boys were a little closer to their mother than their father, but of course their father had to work to make a living. As I told you, those were hard times, and he was away from home a lot. The mother kept things together. She was very active in the community. She took part in the women's club here, which was one of the oldest clubs in the county, and did a lot of community work. She was a very capable woman, and was until she died.
C:Coming from a Quaker background, what role do you think this played in Richard Nixon's growing up?
B:I think it had a tendency to make him think deeply about what we're here for. I know that, because I've heard Dick express such things about how his mother instilled in him and the whole family this deepness, this seriousness about growing up and being somebody. She was very determined that the boys should all have a college education, which they did—the ones that were raised. She started in with that purpose, and she did that. A lot of it was from her own efforts, working and using what money they had to the best advantages, you know. She was a great saver. I knew her very well, her and Frank, because I worked on their cars and was a garage man. After the war, before they left here, I came back in 1919 from the First World War and I worked on their cars at that time. I got to know them real well. Of course, Dick was nine years old, and I saw him quite often, but he was just another boy. I saw him at some family gatherings in Whittier. My mother being a cousin of his grandmother, they had what they called family gatherings where they all got together, and I used to see Dick then. He was just a normal, good little boy. Just a wonderful little fellow!  We always liked him. Him and Don were stuck pretty close.
C:The boys were all pretty close?
B:Yes. They were all close. Now, Edward was the last one to come. He's much younger than the rest. But he never lived in Yorba Linda, he was born in Whittier.
C:In what respects did the Nixon children have a social life here in Yorba Linda? What did they do that you can remember?
B:All the social life was gathered right around the Friends church here. I was a part of it myself: the socials, the hikes, the snow trips, the beach parties and things that were all got up from the Friends Church. That being the only church, regardless of whether we were a Friend we all went to that church. I know we did. The Congregationalists started here and didn't make it, and the Methodists bought the building. That was in 1920, just about the time that the Nixon's left here. But up to that time it was all centered around church activities. Of course, they had some good influence. They had some good pastors here that played and worked with the kids. So you've got a good foundation. I'm sure of that, and I think it had a great influence on Dick Nixon's life. At least, I see some of it coming out when he speaks.
C:That's what I was wondering. To what extent did his life here in Yorba Linda influence those characteristics which he now exhibits? For instance, you mentioned that he was a strong-willed and determined person, which came from both his religious background and his mother's influence. Perhaps you had an opportunity to either talk to him or observe some other traits that may have been carried over.
B:I saw him develop in his life here. (interruption by telephone)
C:Mr. Barton, we were talking before about some characteristics in Richard Nixon as a child that you may have observed and that may have been carried over into his adult life. Can you think of any of these other than, as we mentioned before, the strong will that he got from his mother and the Quaker background?
B:One of the things I've noticed about Dick Nixon I've seen come clear on through him as I knew him. As I told you, I didn't know him too well as a boy when he was nine years old, but I do see his diplomatic ways, the way he's strong-willed, the way he puts it his will over by his smile and his diplomatic way of handling everything he says. He's quite a diplomat. I've seen this character  of Dick Nixon work, and that's what made him a good politician, because he can smile and tell you what's what. He has a strong will, and he gets that from his father, mostly, and his mother, too. His father was a very strong-willed man.
C:I was wondering if, as a child, he would rather talk than fight, as has been suggested again in some of his biographies.
B:He's not a fist fighter or anything like that. He's a diplomatic person. He's too much of a man for that. He's educated in the right way. He knows fighting isn't the way to settle arguments.
C:As a child, how did he differ, if he did, from his brothers? Did he stand out from his brothers in any way, perhaps in mannerisms?
B:No. The only thing that I ever heard his mother say was that he was such a quiet boy. He was a quiet boy. The other boys were more boisterous, especially Don. That's the brother who lives here now in Newport. He was kind of boisterous, and he is today. His younger brother Edward takes after him more than he takes after Don. But Dick's a quiet person. He's a thinker, you know. He never got in any trouble, that I heard, with a teacher or anything.
C:When he was a child, did he ever express to you exactly what he wanted to do?
C:He did not?
B:No. I never got that close to the boy. I went to war in 1917, and I was gone for two years. That was a critical time when he was growing up. He was only five years old when I left here, and then I came back. He stayed here two years after I came back. I went into business, and, of course I was busy.
The whole family were considered to be among the stable people in the community, because so much centered around certain people in the community. They played a big part. Of course, the children did too, because they were with them all the time. They were with their children.
Dick was considerate. I remember that when I came back, they used to always have their class picture and we used to always get one. They were very close, and the teachers were close to their children and had a great influence over them. 
C:You mentioned that when you returned from World War I you worked on some of the Nixon automobiles.
B:Yes, I did.
C:Did you ever have any occasion at that time to have any conversation with Richard Nixon, just a casual conversation?
B:No, I never did. I don't know whether I'd ever seen him in the car. His father used to bring the car over to the little garage where I was working. I probably did, but I don't remember anything about it.
C:What about some stories his parents may have related to you about Richard Nixon as a child, as far as his likes and dislikes, what he may have wanted to do, or perhaps what they wanted him to do?
B:He was always interested in geography and history. He was a very good student in that. I know that from what his mother said, because he was always reading every book he could get. I know that for a fact, because his father used to tell me that Richard was a hard one to get to do his chores because he would be in down on the floor reading a book. Of course, the teachers verified this in later years and said that he was a very good student, very good, tops in his class. I refer to one of the ladies, the lady who married the fellow that lived with them, Ollie Burdg. She told me that Dick, when he was a little boy, said he was going to be an engineer because he wanted to get around and do things. That was just when he was a little fellow. He would climb up on her lap and talk to her when she was over there.
C:What was her name?
B:Her name is Burdg now. Emily Burdg is her name.
C:Does she live here in Yorba Linda?
B:No, they live in Olive.
B:Yes. If you want to get in touch with them, I could give you their address. Jack Gauldin could give you more about Dick when he was a little fellow that I could, because he got around with him and was in their house a lot. Jack Gauldin is his name. I expect you really ought to see him. I don't know whether I have his card or not.
C:And this is the gentleman in La Habra? 
B:Yes, that's his name.
C:Can you tell me a little more about the Nixon family, the parents Frank and Hannah, as far as having an influence or an effect on Richard Nixon? Were they quiet people for the most part? You mentioned that Frank Nixon had a tendency perhaps to react on impulse as opposed to his wife Hannah. But for the most part, were they quiet individuals that stayed pretty much at home?
B:Yes, they stayed at home. They were very much home people as far as that goes, but they attended functions at the church, the city, the community here, and did their part and took on their responsibilities as citizens. Even though they more or less called him Frank boisterous—he was kind of a fast-talking person—I think Dick inherited a lot of that from him. Dick sounds a lot like his father. When he talks he reminds me a lot of his father. His father was altogether different, but he had a very positive way of talking that our President has. Dick has more of the traits of his mother than his father, because he's a thinker. He doesn't blare out and doesn't say things under stress at all. He doesn't get excited. His dad was pretty excitable sometimes, but not a bad man in any way, shape or form. He wasn't a person that would get mad and be upset. He would just be positive in his actions. He was a Republican from the word go, and that's why Dick's a Republican, I think, because he likes the Republicans. His father was a conservative, very much so. A dollar for a dollar, a dollar's worth for a dollar.
C:Some of his biographers have said that his grandmother was quite an influence on him.
B:That she was.
C:What was she like?
B:She was an extremely quiet person, very extremely quiet. She was always a person that was doing something for them. She'd make him little things. In fact, all her children or grandchildren were very close to her up to her death. They got so that they honored her by having a yearly get-together. She used to go to her home, the big home that I spoke about, where all the relatives used to come and have a place to start off from again. They were wonderful people. No cost at all. They never asked for any remuneration at all. They were just that kind of people. And she was, of course, the mother to all this. She handled the home.
C:Did she in any way perhaps run the Nixon home, or was Hannah Nixon the head of the home? 
B:No, Hannah Nixon was. She Almira Milhous never meddled with her in-laws at all as far as I've heard. I never heard a cross word from any of them, and I've known them for years. They were a close-knit organization--I mean the family was—real close. When Dick started in with his effort for being in politics, the whole family was in back of him, they helped finance him and everything. They did that because they believed in him, and he appreciated it, too. I've heard him say a number of times how he appreciated what they did for him.
C:You have mentioned the family gatherings on a couple of occasions. They still exist and they're still going on?
B:Yes, they're still going on.
C:Is this an outgrowth of the original gatherings?
B:I think it is.
C:Isn't it around Christmas time?
B:Yes, around Christmas time. Olive Marshburn - one of the youngest girls - carries them on.
C:This is the lady in Whittier?
B:The lady in Whittier. They have a terrific time and have about forty or fifty there. No, more than that, they have around sixty or seventy.
C:Now, it has been said that Richard Nixon as a child had the nickname "Gloomy Gus."
B:Gloomy Gus. I've never heard that.
C:You've never heard of that. Did you ever hear any nickname?
B:His mother always called him Richard. We all called him that.
C:I suppose that might have been an outgrowth from him being so quiet and reserved, associated with being gloomy as opposed to thinking.
B:He wasn't gloomy, as I remember him. He wasn't gloomy. He was just a natural boy, but he never got into any trouble that I knew of. I lived pretty close to the community, and I could hear everything in the little garage that I had. (laughter).
C:In what respects did the Nixon family associate in the  community in addition to the Friends church? Or was this the only social activity?
B:It was the main social activity. There was a lodge here, but he didn't take any part in that, that I remember. We had a chamber of commerce and they had what they called a farm bureau, but he wasn't too active in it. I'm sure he was a member of it. They had a farm bureau where they would talk about how to raise fruit and things like that. I was in business, and I never attended them - the meetings - at all. I know they were here, but I don't know to what extent the Nixon's played a part in it at all. I don't know who would tell you, unless it would be George Kellogg out here. I don't know. He might know.
C:You mentioned that Ellen Cochran is the wife of the doctor now in Yorba Linda. How can she be reached? What is her husband's first name?
B:It's just "Doc" Cochran, R.C. Cochran. I'll get you his phone number.
C:Is she active still?
B:Yes, she's a housewife.
C:Do you recall when she was his teacher. In his earlier years, or later?
B:In the earlier years, first and second. I think she had him in first and second and third grade. Ellen is her name, and it's C-o-c-h-r-a-n.
C:Has Mable Paine since passed away?
B:Yes, she's passed away.
C:And Emily Burdg lives in Olive?
C:Can you tell me how the organization came about for the establishment of the Richard Nixon birthplace?
B:Well, the state put this book out. I don't know whether we got any more of these or not, but I probably can get some. Here's the start of it: the Chamber of Commerce of Yorba Linda called us all together, and they wrote to Dick Nixon July 31, 1959, and asked him for permission. I asked the chamber of commerce if they wouldn't take hold of this, because I knew this was going to have to be done. Our President at that time was Robert L. Medder, and he asked for the chamber to get together and appoint  a committee. They wrote to Dick Nixon to see if they could have permission. You see, we have to have permission on anything like that, being a foundation like that. So he wrote to Dick Nixon, our President, and asked him, just when he first went into office, and Dick wrote back. He didn't write back, but they his office wrote back, and this is the letter they wrote: "I have been informed that Yorba Linda Chamber of Commerce wishes to acquire my birthplace property and that you have requested a letter from me stating that I do not object to the city's interest in developing this property as a permanent museum and landmark. Nevertheless, I say I am happily honored to learn that Yorba Linda plans and has no objection to the contemplation of the museum and landmark." Now that was December 2, 1968. Then they went on and reorganized from there. It speaks about how it was done in here. They asked me to be chairman of it, and we have seven on our committee. We have a druggist, a newspaperman and Mrs. Don Nixon on our committee. We have a slogan, and new letterheads are coming out with an inscription over the world. "Preserve our Heritage." This is the reason for it, to preserve our landmark as a landmark, park and recreational area.
C:Are there many residents here in Yorba Linda still that knew Richard Nixon and his family, as you have, or have most of them moved away or passed away?
B:I'd say most of them are gone. Several of his schoolmates are here. Yoneko Iwatsuru, the Japanese. Do you know her?
B:Did you ever talk to the fellow who went to school with him in East Whittier, LaVern Page? He lived here. Maybe you know about him?
B:After they moved there to Whittier he went to East Whittier school, and LaVern Page went right along with him. He was a little older. LaVern remembers a lot about him, because he was around with him in the store. So many of them are passed on. I don't know of anybody that was here.
C:Were any of those who are on the committee with you associated with him?
B:No. The chamber of commerce, of course, took it in hand, and got permission and formed the committee and our committee eventually became the foundation. We are  expanding that now. We're getting what we call the advisory committee. We're asking for an advisory group to help us raise the money, and we're just in the position now where we're starting that. We have all the furniture and got it paid for. It's in storage in Anaheim, including the piano that he learned to play on.
C:Did you ever hear him play the piano as a child?
B:Not as a child, no.
C:Whereabouts in Anaheim is the furniture stored?
B:It's down at the Penn Storage.
C:Thank you very much, Mr. Barton, for your cooperation. Would it be all right to use this tape in our program as a contribution towards Richard Nixon's earlier life?
B:Yes, it certainly would.
C:Fine, and then I'll bring some forms by or have them sent so that you can look them over and sign. Thank you very much.
End of Interview 
Top of page