William Wesley Freeman, co-founder of Lincoln Archives, dies at 90

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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William Wesley Freeman, known to friends and family as “Wes,” was an amateur archeologist and historian who became a recognized authority on early Lincoln’s pioneers and Native Americans. For many years, he carried a “worry stone”—a piece of obsidian—for good luck-- that he found while searching ruts made by wagon trains that came through the Lincoln area in the 1800s.

Wes Freeman died Feb. 7 at his home in Lincoln after a brief illness. He was 90.

Born in 1923 to Onnie Freeman, a local postmaster, and his wife, Edith, Wes Freeman developed an early passion for hiking Lincoln and Western Placer County’s back trails.

For more than 70 years, he explored, researched and mapped historical areas such as Camp Far West and the Donner Party rescue site on the Johnson Ranch.

Just six months ago, according to friends, Wes Freeman was still hiking his beloved historical areas searching for clues to Lincoln’s past.

In 1940, Wes Freeman graduated from Lincoln High School where he was a Latin club member. After training as a radio technician, he was hired as a government civil service worker and spent World War II in Hawaii. He later earned an associate art degree from Placer College (now Sierra College) and worked as an electronics specialist at McClellan Air Force Base.

He married Theodora “Teddy” Windes and the couple had five children. During the 1950s and early 1960s, they lived in Europe and Turkey where Wes Freeman worked on missile installations and other military projects.

After his first wife died, Wes Freeman married Kathy Gannett in 1977. The couple met when Kathy, who owned a Roseville antique business, answered Wes Freeman’s advertisement in The Lincoln News Messenger. He was selling antique watches and she was buying them. She purchased a woman’s gold pocket watch inscribed with birds and in the process, “discovered what a nice man “Wes Freeman was.

In 1993, his love of history led Wes Freeman to found the Lincoln Area Archives Museum, along with boyhood friends, Jerry and Don Logan.

“There was just so much love of Lincoln’s history and they thought it needed to be saved and shared with the people of Lincoln,” Kathy Freeman said.

Over the years, the museum has moved four times, beginning in the basement of the old Carnegie Library, and in 2012, ending up in its present location at 640 5th St. facing Beermann’s Plaza.

The original artifacts in the Archives comprised memorabilia from Wes Freeman’s family, including old bank receipts, Lincoln High School yearbooks and hundreds of antique photographs.

 “His enthusiasm was infectious,” said museum volunteer Karen Boydon Crum. “He loved old photos. He’d keep analyzing and studying them until he figured out when and where they were taken.”

In keeping with his love of history, Wes Freeman was a member of the Placer County and Wheatland historical societies, and active in the Native Sons of the Golden West, an organization he joined in 1948.

“We wanted to nominate him for the NSGW’s Hall of Fame but he wouldn’t let us,” said museum volunteer, David Lightfoot. “Wes didn’t like being in the limelight. He was very humble and private.” Wes Freeman was preceded in death by his sister, Janis Freeman Ramos.

Survivors include Kathy Gannett Freeman, his wife of 35 years; six children, Janis Freeman, Mike Freeman, Denice Hart, Martin Freeman, Meda Freeman and Dina Short; six grandchildren and three nephews.

A private service was held last Thursday at Manzanita Cemetery. Donations in his name may be made to the Lincoln Area Archives Museum, P.O. Box 394, Lincoln, CA 94548.