FINDING A FOUNDING FATHER

 

Seated (L-R): Benjamin Franklin Green, Ebeneezer Hugill Orne
Standing (L-R): Eliza Orne, Samuel A. Orne, Joseph J. Orne

Local woman’s quest for a photograph of one of Carson’s Founders makes history

By Barry Ginter, Nevada Appeal Editor

     Historians have long been aware of one small but glaring hole in the well- documented history of Nevada’s capital city: There was no known photo of one of the city’s four founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin Green. In fact, they’d resigned themselves to the likelihood no such picture existed.

 

     Enter Louise Inman, an amateur historian who took on the four-month quest and completed the improbable task June 27.

 

     “It’s huge, I mean huge, and in time for celebrating the sesquicentennial,” said State Archivist Guy Rocha. “I’m at a loss for words that she could do this so quickly. I’m absolutely amazed, and Carson City is the better for it.”

 

     Now, history buffs needn’t draw so deeply on their imagination when they envision the four founders walking the newly platted streets of Carson City in 1858.

 

     Rocha, who has researched and written about many aspects of the state’s and the capital city’s history, knew he wouldn’t have had time to take on the mission of finding a Green photo and, even if he did, he assumed the likelihood of such a photo existing would be slim.

 

     Inman began her quest in February when she attended a history lecture given by Rocha, who showed photos of Abraham Curry, Francis Marion Proctor and John Jacob Musser.

 

     He told the group there was no known image of Green.

 

     “There’s got to be a picture,” Inman said to herself.

 

     Inman, 65, consulted with Rocha after his talk, and on many other occasions during the following months.


    She doesn’t consider herself a historian, just a person with a great curiosity. She worked at the Nevada State Museum for three years as an assistant, however, in a position funded by an AARP program, and it kindled her interest in history.

 

     “I’m just that kind of person,” Inman said. “I’ve got to know if and why and when it happened.”


     The first months of her quest brought more questions than answers, however. She contacted people in places where Green or his relatives were known to have lived, including Placerville and Downieville, Calif., and Buckley, Wash. She obtained obituaries and census data from museums, and made dozens of phone calls. She spent hours on the Internet and paged through books on local history, all at her own expense.


     “I had a lot of dead ends,” she said.

 

     On June 23, she was wondering if she would ever find what she was looking for, but decided it was too early to give up. Instead she began looking at data from the 1880 census in Placerville and noticed something she hadn’t seen before. It was a current-day notation with the name of Robert LeGro, listed on the page as a descendant of Green. And it said he lived in Antelope, Calif.

 

     Her interest piqued, Inman found a phone number for LeGro and suddenly a cold trail was blazing hot. LeGro, it turned out, is a distant nephew of Green, and is named after Green’s brother, Robert.

 

     More importantly, he gave her the e-mail address of Joni Vella in Cudahy, Wis., who has been working on the family’s genealogy for years. Benjamin’s brother, Robert, was her great-great-great grandfather.

 

     Her e-mail arrived in Inman’s inbox on June 27 with the digital image of the old photograph, and closing with the note, “It was most interesting to find out about your project, and to know that a distant relative of mine had a small part in it. I hope that I have been of help to you.”

 

     That was an understatement, and Inman quickly informed historians what she’d obtained.

 

     “It really is amazing.” said Robert Nylen, curator of history at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. “It’s a great addition for the history of our community.”

 

     “We never thought this would happen,” Nylen said. “It hasn’t shown up in all these years.”


    As for the photo itself, the museum hopes to obtain a high-quality scan of the image soon for its collections. And what of the dour expressions on the face of Green and others in the photo? That just seems to be the fashion of the time, and its possible photographers told their subjects not to smile, said Nylen. He said that photos of Abraham Curry show him with an ever-present scowl, even though he was known to have a well-developed sense of humor.

 

     That Inman’s success came during Carson City’s sesquicentennial year adds to the accomplishment.
Inman lived in Carson City for 34 years before moving to Fernley recently to be near her daughter. She likes a good mystery, a trait that served her well.

 

     “She’s a person who has a great curiosity,” said Deborah Stevenson, curator of education at the museum and a member of the Carson City Sesquicentennial Committee. Inman was her assistant when she worked at the museum. “No matter how many dead ends she hit, she just kept looking and looking. I’m really proud of her.”

 

     Vella learned from Inman about Benjamin Green’s prestigious reputation as one of Carson City’s founders, but she was also able to provide more information on the background of Green and his family. For example, Vella said Benjamin and Robert Green, who were part of a group of 18 siblings and step-siblings, fought in the Blackhawk War in Wisconsin in 1832, although their garrison may not have seen action.

 

As for Robert’s accomplishments, Vella doesn’t try to sugarcoat history.

    “He went to jail,” she said, for his involvement in a murder in Wisconsin (although it’s questionable who actually shot the victim in the mining dispute). But after his pardon less than two years later, he ended up in South Dakota, where he opened a store and made a reputation for himself befitting the Green family, serving two terms in the territorial legislature.

    Inman hopes that some of Green’s descendants will be able to attend sesquicentennial events later this summer. In Fernley, she’s already begun her next quest by helping with a committee working on the rebuilding of the historic railroad depot. Her mission is to find photos of the building so they can recreate its exact appearance.

    Those familiar with her know if those photos exist, she’s likely to find them.

    “She’s something else, this woman,” Rocha said. “She has the instincts of a history detective ... she’s dogged and persistent.”

 

 

     Contact Editor Barry Ginter at bginter@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221