Texas on August 4, 1888, Oreole Ruth Keele Bailey lived about
a quarter mile down the road from Lyndon and Lady Bird. She lived
alone. Her husband James W. Bailey died in 1947.
Reporters in the 1960s described Oreole Bailey as "a tall handsome
women with streaks of blond still in her hair." She had "clear,
direct eyes" and a "girlish femininity."
She lived a quiet life in her small house on the Pedernales
River until Lyndon Johnson, her kinfolk and neighbor, became
the most powerful person in the western world. Soon her crusty charm
and eccentric personality struck a chord with the Washington press
Often described as the president's favorite cousin, Oreole fell
into fame one day, but her brush with stardom didn't impress her
A very independent woman, Cousin Oreole did pretty much as she pleased
even after LBJ became president. She cared little for Secret Service
When driving over to see Lyndon and Lady Bird, she usually drove
straight down the president's private runway, weaving through the
airplanes parked behind the house, sending Secret Service men scrambling
to intercept - until they saw it was just Cousin Oreole.
Her honest, folksy comments appeared in newspapers all over North
America and Europe. A reporter once asked Oreole how the president
looked. "Tired," she said, "but don't print that. He says it will
cause a depression."
She remembered LBJ as a baby. She always addressed him as Lyndon,
and she never shied away from correcting him, even in front of reporters
and television cameras.
Despite being a favorite of the press, Oreole never hid her disdain
for reporters. She believed the print and television media portrayed
people, including herself and the Johnsons, as hillbillies.
One evening the president, along with famed White House reporter
Helen Thomas, paid Cousin Oreole a social call. The story Thomas
wrote about the visit described Oreole's house as a ram shackled
tin-roofed shack whose owner met visitors at the door in her bare
The next time Oreole saw the president she shook the newspaper at
him and said "Tell me something Lyndon. Does Helen Thomas sleep
with her shoes on?"
Still, most people, including Helen Thomas, found Oreole's irascible
personality delightful. LBJ's favorite cousin charmed President
Ayub Khan of Pakistan and President Lopez Mateos of Mexico. A call
at Cousin Oreole's house became a regular evening ritual when the
Johnsons left Washington for a dose of the real world at the LBJ
As much as Oreole loved Lyndon, she never voted for him. She belonged
to the Christadelphians - a religious group that does not believe
in voting or running for political office.
A Washington reporter, unaware of Cousin Oreole's religious beliefs,
once asked her and her houseguest, Aunt Jessie Hatcher from San
Saba (another presidential kinfolk and Christadelphian), when
they would be casting their votes in the upcoming election.
Aunt Jessie spoke for them both. "I only vote for the Lord," she
Even though Cousin Oreole didn't vote, she celebrated LBJ's political
victories. She hoped to be in Washington for the inauguration on
January 20, 1965 but was "feeling poorly" and couldn't make it.
By then Oreole had become such a celebrity, a company called International
News Pictures of New York called the Fredericksburg Standard
asking for images of Cousin Oreole for distribution to reporters
and news outlets. The Standard kindly sent several glossies.
Oreole Bailey died on October 4, 1974 in San
Antonio. She is buried in the Johnson Family Cemetery at the
Members of the Washington press corps had never met a character
like Oreole, but Hill
Country people couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
Every family in these parts had a colorful relative like Cousin