The Other Samuel



Sam with Grandad (3:2009)

Newborn Samuel and his grandfather (2009)

“We’ve decided to name him Samuel.”  —Jill Simmons (2009)

With this statement my eldest daughter, Jill, informed me that the name of my first grandchild was Samuel.  I hadn’t previously discussed names with her so the announcement caught me somewhat off-guard.  I don’t recall how I responded, although I remember suggesting that perhaps some ancestor in our family had also been named Samuel.  Jill simply replied: “Well, Dad, that doesn’t matter to me; I just like the name.”

Jill’s announcement started me thinking more about the name Samuel and its significance in our family.   So I decided to delve into ancestral records and identify other Samuels, if there were any.  I learned that the name Samuel is quite rare; only one ancestor before my grandson had the name, his great-great-great-great Grandfather,  Samuel Jones Green.

I’ve discovered that the other Samuel led a very interesting life—so much so that I purposed to write a personal essay to introduce him to our family.   It recounts the story of Samuel Green’s life to the extent that I’ve been able to piece it together.  There are inevitable gaps and questions, of course, and I’ve followed my instincts and intuitions to try to fill in and resolve them.   I also followed my great-great grandfather’s footsteps in my family’s homeland of Martin County, Indiana, as well as over a portion of the California Trail on which Samuel and his brother William traveled in 1849.  I’ve concluded that my grandson Samuel shares several qualities in common with his ancestral grandfather besides his name, and one of those is a strong sense of adventure.   So on with the life of Samuel Jones Green—and let the adventures begin!


Samuel Green's long rifle

Samuel Green’s Kentucky long rifle

I was initially introduced to my great-great grandfather Samuel Green as a boy.  I don’t remember the details, although I do recall the context.  I was about nine years old and visiting my paternal grandmother, Grace Green Simmons Goss, at her home in Indiana.  It was summer and one of those occasions as a boy when I spent a few days alone with her.  Sometime during this particular stay she gave to me an amazing family heirloom.  It was a “Kentucky long rifle” and she explained that it had once belonged to her grandfather who lived in Martin County during the mid-1800s.  I’d never even been to Martin County at that point in my life, and I doubt that my great-great grandfather’s name made much of an impression on me then.


“Davy Crockett” movie poster (1955)

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“Davy Crockett” Steve & other family (1955)

The antique rifle my grandmother gave me that summer, however, was important to me for another reason.  I, like many boys then, was enamored with the character of Davy Crockett who had been popularized in a Walt Disney film released earlier that summer.   I even had a coonskin cap like the one Davy wore in the movie.  I was also aware that Samuel Green’s long rifle was similar to the ones Davy and his associates carried and used in the film.  I don’t know that I equated my great-great grandfather’s life with Davy’s legendary exploits, but I’m sure the Crockett film gave me an appreciation that my ancestors had once been pioneers and had lived in the backwoods just like he did!

My antique rifle was taller than I was at that time, plus I could barely lift its heavy barrel.  After completing my visit to my grandmother’s house, I took the rifle back with me to my home in Terre Haute, Indiana.  When my father saw how heavy it was, he indicated that he would take it to a workman he knew and have him “saw off the barrel so it’s cut down to your size, Steve.”  I’m thankful he never acted on that proposition, and Samuel Green’s Kentucky long rifle—just as he knew it—has been with me ever since.


Howard & Blume at Hindostan Falls - c1991

Howard and Blume Sherfick in Martin County, Indiana (c1991)

Even though I’ve known of my Grandfather Samuel through his rifle since about 1955, it’s only been within the last thirty years that I’ve gone deeper in learning about this ancestor.  It came about through the influence of my father’s first-cousin, Howard Sherfick.  I initially met Howard in 1990 at my Grandmother Grace’s funeral.  When he learned that I was interested in knowing more about my father’s family he invited me to come visit him in Martin County.  He promised to show me the local landmarks that relate to my paternal ancestry.   About a year later I took Howard up on his offer and went to see him at his house in Shoals, Indiana.  After lunch he and his wife, Blume, took me on an excursion through the hills and hollows of the county and we visited a number of sites of significance to my forebears.

Green Cem - Apr 2011

Green Cemetery in Martin County (2011)

One place we visited that day was a small, obscure cemetery on a knoll overlooking a country road and the nearby White River.  I don’t recall what Howard shared with me about the cemetery then, but I knew its name—Green—was the same as the surname of my Grandmother Grace’s family.  I’m sure Howard informed me that day that a number of my ancestors were buried there.  He may even have told me then that the graves of my great-great grandparents, Samuel and Catharine Green, were there.  However, it was still a few more years before I began looking into the history of the Green family.


Lone redbud in Martin Co

A lone redbud tree shouts across the hills of Martin County (1999).

It’s one of my most treasured photographs.  I took it one fine April day in 1999 while driving on that same narrow road that passes Green Cemetery on which Howard Sherfick had taken me during our initial visit to my Martin County homelands.  It was springtime and I was looking for possible photographs  as I passed through the countryside.   I spotted a lone redbud tree in full blossom against rows of distant hills.  I stopped my car, got out and took several photos of the impressive scene.  I was only a short distance from Green Cemetery, although it didn’t occur to me then that this lovely blossoming redbud might be symbolic of my Green family.

Land of my mothers and fathers                                                                                                  How I long to return                                                                                                                           To touch thy earth                                                                                                                            And find again thy sacred paths.

A former university colleague of mine once remarked to me: “We see what we know.”  By this he meant that what we observe comes to us through a ‘filter’ of our prior experiences and education.  As such we sometimes can’t see what is directly in front of us because we don’t have the experience or expertise needed to interpret it.  And so it was with that scene of the lone blooming redbud tree in the Martin County hills.  It’s taken on new meaning for me as my understanding of the Green family history has become more complete.  I now know that this redbud tree and associated hills, which stopped me in my tracks that April day years ago, were symbolic of my Green family ancestors.   At that moment, without knowing it, I was photographing the very land that had once belonged to my great-great Grandfather Samuel.


Had I been playing closer attention, I might have known that Howard Sherfick in 1993 wrote a narrative about the Green family history.  He identified James Green as the first of the family to settle in Martin County.  He based this on an 1839 deed by which James acquired forty acres in Lost River Township.  I’ve since come across an even earlier deed (dated 1830) in which James acquired another eighty acres within the same area.  I don’t know how much land he acquired in total during that 1830 to 1840 period, but I believe it was all located within that same west-central area of Lost River Township near the Green Cemetery.  About the same time or soon after they came to Indiana from Kentucky, James’ wife (whose name is not known to me) gave birth to three sons: William G. (1828), Samuel J. (1832) and David R. (1835).

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Portion of the land deed granting possession of eighty acres of Section 35 to James Green. (1830)

Map of Lost River Twnshp (1876) showing site of Samuel Green land

Map of Lost River Township showing location of the 40-acre tract of land deeded to Samuel Green by his father in 1847.

Not much detail is known about the Green family during the 1830s and the first half of the 1840s.  However, a significant development in their history occurred on Christmas in 1847.  On that day records show that James Green deeded forty acres of land to each of his “beloved sons,” Samuel and David.  Samuel’s tract was the “South West quarter of the North West quarter of section thirty five.” This is the same land on which the Green Cemetery is located and where I stopped to photograph the lone blossoming redbud tree one-hundred and fifty-two years later.  I didn’t appreciate its significance then, but I certainly do now.  We see what we know.

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Deed of land from James Green to his “beloved sons” Samuel and David. (December 25, 1847)


At the same time James Green deeded land over to Samuel and David, he also sold a tract to his neighbor, Samuel Wininger.  I don’t know what prompted him to transfer land at that point (he was about fifty years old then), but I suspect he might have become seriously ill or injured and knew he didn’t have much longer.  He was simply putting his affairs into order.  From the deed documents I know that James was already a widower in 1847.  He may have deeded land to his eldest son William too, although I don’t have records documenting that.

Since the deed for Samuel’s and David’s land was not registered until October of 1848, I have a hunch their father died sometime during the late summer or early fall of that year.  I only can imagine how the loss of their father affected the Green brothers.  I’m touched by James’ reference in the deed to Samuel and David as his “beloved sons.”  Since their mother had died earlier,  probably in the early 1840s, the Green brothers were left to fend for themselves.  I don’t know the location of the grave sites for James or his wife, although I assume they must be buried at Green Cemetery.  No graves or markers are known to exist for them.



Detail from “Encampment on the Plains” by Thomas Worthington Whittredge

Howard Sherick offered a broader context of the times of the Green brothers soon after their father’s death:

It was exciting times and the populace was on the move.  Martin County had been settled just forty years earlier, and Indiana had only been a state for thirty-two years.  Yet the new land was becoming populated and some folks were becoming restless.  No doubt William and Samuel, being young bucks full of vim and vigor, dreamed of high adventure and wealth—in the newly discovered California gold fields. 

In mid-1848, while the Green brothers were possibly bracing for the death of their father, word of the discovery of gold on the American River in California trickled into the eastern United States.  In December 1848, President James Polk officially announced the discovery to Congress.  By spring 1849, gold fever was epidemic and thousands in Indiana and other eastern states were making plans to go to California!  Since Samuel was functionally illiterate, it’s probable that he became aware of the gold-strike by word of mouth.  However they got the news, Samuel and William made the decision in early 1849 to follow the siren call to the California gold fields!  Again, Howard Sherfick offers a viewpoint:

We will treat this expedition as a joint venture by the two brothers.  Their grubstake was assured from their share of their [recently deceased] father’s goods…They surely left in early spring in order to cross the Sierra Mountains before winter set in, usually by late September. 

Samuel Green was barely sixteen years old when he and William decided to go west.  At this young age, I expect he went more out of a sense of adventure (and duty to his elder brother) than any aspirations of “striking it rich.”  He may not have fully comprehended the kinds of hardships he would face during the endeavor.

The youngest brother, David, was thirteen years old then so he was probably considered too young to go.  At the time of the 1850 census, David was shown living in Martin County with a twenty-five year-old Roda Green, who may have been a cousin or aunt.  My sense is that Samuel and William intended to be in California only long enough to make their fortune and then return to their Indiana farmlands.

Howard Sherfick offered this perspective about the specifics of the brother’s journey west:

They may have taken a stagecoach to St. Louis in spring, boarded a paddle wheeler up the Missouri River to about where Kansas City is now.  They then joined a wagon train with the intention of arriving [in California] by late fall or early winter.  The California Trail carried the majority of the Forty-Niners; this was before the trans-continental railroad spanned the nation.  The Trail passed through Nebraska along the Platte River, through Wyoming, then to southern Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and finally on to California.

Most of the “Forty-niners” started out during the months of April or May from St. Joseph, Missouri, on the Missouri River.  Many signed on with “wagon companies” for a fee.  The company outfitted them for the journey and assigned a “Captain” to be their leader.  Groups leaving St. Joseph that spring were so numerous that most remained within sight of at least one other wagon group during much of their journey west.

Despite “congestion” on the Trail in the spring of 1849, the Green brothers still saw the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains much as they had appeared to Lewis and Clark forty-five years before.  The natural features of the region were still intact.  For example, Samuel and William would have seen the native tall-grass and short-grass prairies stretching from horizon to horizon, as well as still observing herds of bison roaming in some areas.

Wagon wheel on wagon

Samuel told how the turning wagon wheels were a source of fascination for native people he encountered during his journey along the California Trail.

Many of the landscapes through which the California Trail passed were then still the homelands for Native American tribes.  Few stories of Samuel’s journey west have survived, although his granddaughter Anna Bryan did recall one.  She told about how her grandfather was impressed by the native people’s response to the large wheels on his wagon.  He recalled that they sometimes walked beside the moving wagon and closely observe the rotating wheels.  Besides their turning motion, wheels also squeaked and groaned.  It occurred to Samuel that these people probably had never seen such wheels before.

While preparing this essay, my wife Mary Ann and I traversed the portion of the California Trail from Ft. Kearney, Nebraska, to southern Idaho where the Trail departed the Oregon Trail and headed southwest towards California.  Our route took us 850 miles—almost one-third of the total distance the Green brothers traveled from Indiana to the California gold fields.

Today most of the landscapes through which Samuel and William traveled have changed, and especially in areas where agriculture is now dominant  Yet some landmarks that Samuel and William would have seen along the Trail, such as Chimney Rock in western Nebraska, are still there.

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As Samuel and William traveled across Nebraska on the California Trail, one of the first landmarks they would have sighted was Chimney Rock. It’s shown here in the distance as I approached along the Trail route from the east.

As Mary Ann and I followed the Green brothers’ steps along the California Trail, we weren’t alone.  We had with us the same Green family heirloom long rifle that I had received from my Grandmother Grace sixty-five years before.  I’ve learned the rifle is even older than I originally imagined; it was likely constructed as a flint-lock during the first decade of the 1800s.  Later (e.g. 1820s) it was converted into a percussion-cap rifle, its current configuration.   I think the rifle likely originally belonged to Samuel’s father, James Green, and was passed on to Samuel after his father died.  I don’t know whether it actually accompanied him to California, although it’s possible.

Accordingly, I chose to bring the rifle with me.  At Ft. Laramie (in eastern Wyoming), which is one place I’m sure Samuel stopped during his journey, I carried the rifle with me as I walked through the site.  One-third of the way along their journey to California, the Green brothers’ wagon group would have arrived there sometime during early June.  I made sure I took the rifle to the site of the original trading post at the fort, which dates to 1849.  After all, it may have been there before!

Samuel's long rifle at Ft. Laramie Trading Post

Samuel Green’s “long rifle” stands in the doorway of the 1849 trading post at Ft. Laramie.

Just west of Ft. Laramie are some of the best-preserved remnants of the California/Oregon Trail.  In an area where the trail ascended and crossed a ridge of sandstone, the many wagons passing over the trail wore deep “ruts” into the soft stone.  Those still remain, and like the trading post at Ft. Laramie they were a place where I felt a special closeness to the Green brothers and their transcontinental adventure.

Wagon ruts at Guernsey WY near Ft Laramie

Wagon ruts along the California Trail near Ft. Laramie.

West of the wagon ruts, the California Trail proceeded across Wyoming (which was not yet a state).  Even today it passes through a landscape with few inhabitants where one can readily imagine what Samuel and William saw during their journey.  Knowing the wooded hills of Martin County, Indiana, as I do now, I can imagine what a large adjustment it must have been for the brothers to be in such “big sky” country.  Following college I too went from Indiana to the Great Plains of Wyoming where I was assigned to serve in the Air Force.   I initially found this new landscape of wide-open hills to be interesting and beautiful at times, but also daunting.  I missed having trees and forests around me, plus I yearned for rainy days as I had known them in the Midwest. Most importantly, I found the winds incessant and longed for calmer days as I had experienced in Indiana.  I never felt “at home” in Wyoming nor did I desire to live there indefinitely.  I expect Samuel and William may have responded in a similar way.

Landscape of central Wyoming

A typical “big sky” landscape in central Wyoming.

After leaving Ft. Laramie, the next landmark of significance to the California Trail travelers was Independence Rock in central Wyoming.  Its name stems from the fact that emigrants intended to reach this point in their journey on about Independence Day (July 4th).  I don’t know when the Green brothers reached this landmark, but I can imagine them, along with others from their party, climbing to the top of the Rock to appreciate the views.  I doubt that they inscribed their initials into the stone but they may have watched others doing so.  There were a number of places along the trail where such inscriptions were left by travelers.   I’ve wondered if perhaps there was some other place along the way where young Samuel Green might have asked a fellow literate traveler to inscribe his initials and date into the stone—something like “S. G.  1849.”  It could have been for him, just as for many others, a way to leave a record that he had been there.

Independence Rock along California Trail (2017)

Independence Rock, Wyoming, where wagon groups planned to arrive by about July 4th.

IMG_7385 (1)

Artist William Henry Jackson’s depiction of emigrants inscribing their names, initials and dates on Independence Rock in Wyoming during the time of the California Trail.

Another place I felt especially close to Samuel as I retraced his journey was in southern Idaho.  In an area that once served as an encampment for wagon groups along the Snake River, I found a simple inscription on a “register rock.”  I’ve chosen to ascribe it to my ancestor Samuel.  The initials are worn and lost to time, but the date (1849) is still clearly visible.  It’s symbolic for me of my ancestor’s presence in this place long ago.

Register Rock inscription

The high point in the portion of the California Trail that Mary Ann and I followed—both literally and figuratively—was when it went over South Pass in western Wyoming.  As the lowest elevation along the Continental Divide in the central Rocky Mountains (7400 feet), it offered a natural crossing point for the Trail.  Nevertheless if the weather was favorable as they crossed this pass, they would have been afforded spectacular panoramas.  I’m sure the memory of these remained with Samuel for the rest of his life; they certainly will mine.

South Pass (2017)

Dramatic panorama along the California Trail just east of South Pass.

Considering the Green Brothers had not previously traveled far from their Indiana home, it’s not likely they fully appreciated the physical landscapes through which they passed.  For example, the idea of the “continental divide” would have been foreign to them.  It’s doubtful as they crossed South Pass that they understood they were entering a new watershed–one that fed into the Pacific Ocean.  Even so, they surely knew they were now well past the point of no return.

Map of California Trail and cutoffs in southern Idaho (c1849)

Map of the California Trail and cutoffs in southern Idaho (c1849).

After Samuel and William entered what is now Idaho, the trail turned northwest towards Ft. Hall and the Snake River.  Along the way were other landmarks to experience.  For example, they surely stopped at “Smith’s Trading Post” along Bear River,  which was operated by a man named ‘Pegleg’ Smith.  A former mountain man, Smith was legendary in his time for having amputated his own leg during the 1820s.  Soda Springs may have also been a memorable stop for the brothers along the Trail.  It was known for the “acid taste and effervessing gasses” of its spring waters.

A new cutoff was established just west of Soda Springs in July 1849 that was supposed to shorten the distance to the California gold fields.  It soon became the primary route for the ‘49ers, although it saved less time than its promoters claimed.  It also by-passed Ft. Hall, which was an important place for travelers to replenish their supplies and prepare for the difficult final leg of their journey.  The Green brothers likely passed through this portion of the trail before the “Hudspeth cutoff” had become the norm so I expect they followed the traditional route through Ft. Hall.  That was the way Mary Ann and I followed as we retraced Samuel’s and William’s journey.


The Snake River along the California Trail near American Falls in southern Idaho.

Once the brother’s wagon group left Ft. Hall, the Trail followed the Snake River past American Falls to a place where it cut south and broke away from the Oregon Trail.  Coldwater Hill was the landmark at this point of departure.  It was also where Mary Ann and I concluded our following of the Green brothers’ path and we continued along the Oregon Trail towards our home in the Pacific Northwest.

Coldwater Hill

Coldwater Hill where the California Trail diverged from the Oregon Trail and cut southwest towards California.



Early print of California miners working a claim c1849.  Source: Granger

I know nothing about how Samuel and William fared during the remainder of their journey to California.  I also don’t know where they actually went to mine for gold.  Did they, like many others, go to Sutter’s Mill where gold had originally been discovered the year before? Or did they possibly stake a claim somewhere else?  Howard Sherfick offered this perspective:

Did they pan for gold, work underground, or do other work to support the miners?  We don’t know.  About fifty thousand men crowded the gold fields.  Many were killed by accident or through strife.  Some died from sickness.  Some prospered, and a few became wealthy.  Not a few engaged in riotous living.  The brothers probably accumulated what wealth they could and took care of what came their way. 

During their time in California, the brothers probably received few if any letters from their friends and family back in Indiana.  Family lore says that after a period as miners, the brothers decided to go into business selling provisions to other miners.  William later became a dry-goods merchant when he returned to Indiana, and I have a hunch his business experience in the gold fields helped prepare him for this subsequent endeavor.

My grandson Samuel (age 10) has also wondered if the brothers might not have done both gold mining and selling to miners.  While one tended store, the other might have worked their claim.  The truth is we don’t know. With no written correspondence to draw upon, Samuel’s and William’s lives during their time in California are closed to us.  All we have are questions and intuitions.


When asked how the brothers fared during their time in the gold fields, Howard Sherfick responded: “The family’s point of view is that they didn’t get rich, but they didn’t come home empty-handed either.”  Probably the best indication that the brothers fared reasonably well is that they could afford to return to Indiana by sea rather than overland.  One advantage of taking the sea route was that travelers could leave any time of the year, not just in spring.  Also those who chose to cross the Isthmus of Panama (as opposed to sailing around Cape Horn) were able to complete their journey within one or two months compared with six months via the California Trail.


Route taken by the Green brothers from San Francisco to New Orleans by crossing the Isthmus of Panama (c1851).


San Francisco harbor - c1850

Sailing vessels jammed into San Francisco harbor (c1850).

After one to two years in the California gold fields, Samuel and William boarded a ship in San Francisco and began their journey back to Indiana.  Their ship left San Francisco harbor and then sailed south along the Pacific Coast towards Panama.  Since the men had never been on an ocean-going vessel (nor had they even seen an ocean before then), I imagine they were in awe as their ship headed onto the high seas.  Once they had developed sea-legs, they might have become bored, and especially when there was no land in sight.  They would not have been able to read or write to pass the time.  Surely they amused themselves by watching and conversing with other passengers on the ship.

One thing they probably did not do was spend extra time in their cramped sleeping quarters.  Ships were overcrowded then, and there were no “state rooms.”  Sleeping berths were tiered and crammed together.  Add the fact that a number of the passengers were probably seasick at any point in time and one can see that the mystique of sailing likely faded quickly for Samuel and William.

Steamer GoldenGate - 1851

The steamer ‘Golden Gate’.   It might have been like one the Green brothers sailed from San Francisco to Panama in around 1851.

Once the brothers’ ship reached Panama, the only option for crossing the Isthmus was by foot—railroads and the canal did not yet exist.  The five-day overland journey involved traveling inland from the Pacific Ocean by mule through the jungle and then hiring a small boat to carry them down the Charges River to the Gulf of Mexico.  It wasn’t an easy journey; most travelers trusted themselves to hired guides and outfitters to accomplish it.  The tropical conditions of Panama meant that those crossing the Isthmus were vulnerable to yellow fever and malaria.  One traveler remarked in 1851: “There was a great deal of sickness, and absolute misery…”  I expect the brothers were grateful when they finally reached the Gulf of Mexico.

Isthmus Crossing - c1850

Artist’s rendition of a party crossing the Isthmus of Panama (c1850).

Samuel and William then boarded another ship bound for New Orleans, which was a bustling riverboat town then.  It was also the jumping-off point for the next leg of their journey via steamboat up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  Their destination was probably New Albany, Indiana, where they then purchased horses or mules and made their way back to Martin County—and home.

Steamship Ben Campbell (1852)

A steamboat (c1852) similar to one that the Green brothers may have taken up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers during their return to Indiana.  Source: Library of Congress


JUG ROCK - APR 2011 COPY (1)

Jug Rock, the iconic symbol of Martin County, Indiana, would have been well-known to Samuel and William Green.  (Source: Indiana Geological Report, 1870)

I imagine how Samuel and William must have felt as they approached Lost River Township and again viewed its familiar landscapes.  They also likely encountered people along the way whom they knew .  They wouldn’t have been able to send word back home about their impending return so folks probably were surprised to see them again.  Brother David, who was now about sixteen years old, was possibly most pleased of all.  It had been more than two years since his brothers departed for their adventures in the west and he would have wanted to appraise them of changes on the home front.

What are your dreams and your dreads?                                                                                      What moves you, excites you, alarms you?                                                                               What interests or bores you, amuses or grieves you?                                                                Where do you go when you’re homesick?                                                                                   Who are you when you’re alone, and whom do you miss?                                                          And who misses you?              —Gerhard Frost

There are a number of questions I have about the Green brothers and their experiences during the 1849 to 1851 period of their adventure.  As I followed their route along the California Trail, I often thought about how they regarded their lives as they were making their way into such unknown circumstances.  I also wondered who they had left behind in Indiana?  They knew there would be little contact with such people while they were gone, and some they might never see again.  They surely experienced homesickness—and especially younger Samuel.  One wonders if William might have left a sweetheart behind?   This possibility seems plausible since he married a local woman within a year after arriving back in Indiana.

Samuel’s story after returning to Indiana also suggests he might have had a Martin County girl on his mind during his time in California.   If so, she might have been the proverbial “girl-next-door.”   One of the daughters in the Wininger family,  who lived on a farm located adjacent to the Green’s, was named Catharine.  She was two years younger than Samuel, although they would have grown up knowing each other.  After he returned to Martin County, he began courting Catharine (who was now seventeen years old) and they married in April 1853.

All I know with certainty about the lives of Samuel and Catharine during the years immediately following their marriage is from the 1860 census record.   By that time their daughters Sarah (1854),  Rachel (1856) and Eliza (1858) had been born and they were living in Lost River Township. Throughout this time Samuel presumably continued to farm the land he’d received from his father.



Civil War Draft Registrations (June 1863) showing the names of Samuel and David Green.

In April 1861 the Civil War began in the United States.  As the war heated up, public sentiment in the north was that it would soon be over; few thought it would last four long years!  Younger men without families were the first conscripts, so the Green brothers (being older and married) were not initially registered for the draft.  However, by June 1863 both Samuel and David were listed as potential draftees from their Congressional District.   In March 1863, Catharine bore her first son and they named him George.  He was to later became my great-grandfather.  About this time David was drafted into an Indiana Infantry Regiment and sent to Tennessee.   Sadly, he became ill and died of dysentery at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in March 1865.  One more daughter, Ellen, was born to Samuel and Catherine in September  1865.


Headstone for Private David R. Green at Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee.

Although Samuel was not called to serve in the Civil War, there is an interesting family story about him during this period.  It was told to Howard Sherfick by his grandfather George Green:

“Pa,”  as we called him, related one incident about his father’s life.  During the Civil War, just before the election of Lincoln to his second term in 1864, a secret group seized Samuel Green and others of his political persuasion, charged them with being Southern sympathizers, and held them by force in railway boxcars until the polls had closed.  They were released, but it was too late for them to vote by then.

Samuel Green may well have intended to vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 1864, George McClelland.  However, it’s highly unlikely that he was a “Southern sympathizer,” and especially considering that his brother David was serving in the Union army at the time.

In fall 1868, Samuel and Catherine learned that they were again expecting a child.  They were in their mid-thirties by then and possibly hoped to have another boy who could eventually help Samuel and George with the field work on the farm.  All who lived then in remote rural areas of Indiana (like Lost River Township) were well-acquainted with  grief associated with deaths of children.  For  example, Samuel’s brother William had suffered the deaths of two young sons during the 1850s.

Still, as the time for the arrival of their child approached in spring 1869, Samuel and Catharine were probably counting on finishing the 1860s on a positive note.  However, tragedy struck on April 8th when both the infant son—and Catharine—died during the birthing process.  She and her unnamed son were laid to rest together in a grave located near the crest of the knoll at Green Cemetery near their home.

1870 Census Samuel Green (shows illiteracy)

U.S. Census record for Samuel Green and family in 1870. Note that his wife Catharine had died by this time. The record also calls attention to the fact that Samuel was illiterate.

I can’t even imagine the loss that Samuel felt in the aftermath of Catharine’s and his son’s deaths.  The 1870 census shows that there were five children in the Green household then, ages four to fifteen, and the eldest daughter (Sarah) was now described as “keeping house.”  In his writings, Howard Sherfick offered a glimpse into this difficult time for the Green family:

Grandfather George Green spoke to me of many things and people…[but] he spoke little of his father’s family, probably because his mother had died when he was six years old and he came largely under the care and influence of his mother’s family, the Winingers.  He spoke often of them and with high regard.

It’s probable that Catharine’s family mostly helped to care for the Green children after her death.  They lived close by and Samuel would have been occupied with spring field work.  His brother William had a family of his own, plus he’d taken on other lines of work in addition to farming by then.  Howard Sherfick explains:

William owned and operated a store at a place called Sitka near the Green Cemetery in Lost River Township.  Before the railroad came through Shoals in 1856, he would haul his merchandise by team and wagon all the way from the Ohio River at New Albany/Louisville, a distance of some sixty-five miles…The position of postmaster was often a political plum in the early days.  In July 1869, a post office was established [in the store] at Sitka–and the first postmaster was William G. Green.

By the time of the 1880 census, George (age 17) and Ellen (age 14) were the only children of Samuel and Catharine still left at home.  Samuel described himself as a widower and a farmer. Ellen was “keeping house” and George “works on [the] farm.”  One enigma of the 1880 census is the inclusion of an eight year-old boy, John, who was described as a “son.”  My thought is that perhaps after Catharine’s and her son’s deaths in 1869, Samuel adopted an orphan boy hoping that it would help fill the void and ease his grief.  Orphans certainly were plentiful in that time.  John Green went on to marry and have a family of his own; he died in 1933 at nearby Knox County.

The reluctance of Samuel’s son George to talk much about his childhood or his father’s family may reflect the overall sadness that carried through in the family during the 1870s.  The children went to school, of course, and did their chores on the farm, but there probably wasn’t a lot of joy in their home then.

On one matter, however, the record is clear.  Samuel Green died unexpectedly at the age of 52 on May 30, 1885.  Although I have a sense that Samuel’s final years were not especially happy ones, I do wonder if he might have drawn some pleasure at least from reflecting back on his amazing adventures during the California Gold Rush thirty years earlier.  I would like to think that on at least one occasion before he died, Samuel and William sat together and reminisced about their experiences on the trail and in the gold fields.  This may, of course, not have happened, but if it did I imagine Samuel’s Kentucky long rifle was leaning against a wall in the corner of the room–just as it is for me at this moment.

And it was taking in every word…


Gravestones of Samuel and Catharine Green at Green Cemetery in Martin County, Indiana.



George & Elzora Green house with family (c1900)

George & Elzora Green at their Martin County home with children Rachel, Columbus (‘Lum’), Grace and Anna Bryan (c1900).

I undertook writing this essay for several reasons, but most important was my desire to introduce my family to our “Grandfather Samuel Green.”  By researching the piece I aspired to also learn more about the Green branch of my family and its heritage.

As I wrote I would have liked to have  had some vintage photographs of Samuel, William and other principals in the story.  Yet if any of those ever existed, they are now lost to me.  I do, however, have one picture that’s come to  mean a lot to me in the process of producing this essay.   It depicts Samuel’s son George Green and his wife Elzora with their four children.  They’re standing in front of the Lost River Township house where they lived in about 1900, which may well be the same house occupied earlier by Samuel Green.  This picture served as a ‘proxy’ for me as I was trying to envision how Samuel and his family might have appeared in the late 1860s before Catharine died.

At the time of this photo, George and Elzora Green’s family had the same gender mix as did Samuel’s family thirty years earlier.  George was the only one of my great-grandparents I might have known.  He died in March 1948 when I was sixteen months old.  However, I have no information about whether my parents ever took me to “meet” him.

Ft. Laramie Trading Post & Green long rifle

Samuel Green’s long rifle at Ft. Laramie trading post (2019).

I also wrote this essay to introduce the only family heirloom I have that is directly linked to Samuel Green—his Kentucky long rifle.  It may well have belonged to his father James before him.  I desire that this rifle should be passed down in time to my grandson Samuel, who shares his great-great-great-great grandfather’s name.  Whether the rifle actually accompanied Samuel and William on their magnificent adventure to the California gold fields or not, it is emblematic of that epic saga in their lives.  The rifle also symbolizes the pioneering spirit of the early Green family as they made their ways in the backwoods of Martin County during the 1830s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

A short time after bringing Samuel Green’s long rifle to Washington State with me and retracing Samuel’s steps along the California Trail, I invited my grandson Samuel to come to meet the heirloom rifle.  He already knew about it—he’d even seen a few pictures—but I’m not sure he was prepared for just how large and heavy it actually is.  I think it’s fair to say though that it was love at first sight.  Mary Ann took photos as Sam and I staged a ceremonial “passing down” of the rifle.  Then we watched a portion of the classic 1955 Disney film about Davy Crockett, which shows a shooting match between Davy and a backwoods bully using long rifles much like Samuel’s.  For our photographs Sam wore a replica coonskin cap like the one worn by Crockett in the film—and like I wore when I initially received the rifle from my Grandmother Grace more than sixty years ago.


Samuel’s long rifle is passed on to his great-great-great-great grandson Samuel (2019).  Above the fireplace is a vintage photograph of the Green family’s house in Martin County.

I’ve thought a lot about the path of Samuel Green’s life and his extraordinary experiences during the 1849 Gold Rush.  Most adventurers, even today, would have difficulty matching his exploits.  And yet, from what I can tell, Samuel seldom left his county again after he returned to Indiana.  Maybe he’d “gotten it out of his system”—whatever that means.  Still I’m inclined to believe that the qualities that make one an adventurer are inborn and never leave.  So I expect that Samuel Green found other, less spectacular ways to satisfy his adventurous spirit after returning to his home.  Traveling isn’t the only avenue to adventure.

My grandson Samuel has already traveled widely in his young life.  Yet I’m equally impressed by his capacity to find adventures in even the smallest ways.  For example, I remember a time when he and I were walking down a sidewalk together near his home; he was just a toddler.  At one point he stopped, crouched and spent a long time just watching ants moving into and out of their anthill, which was built into a crack in the sidewalk.  Sam was entranced, and although the word “adventure” was beyond his vocabulary then, it appeared to me that he was having a grand one!

Maybe Samuel Green was like that after he returned from California.  Travel had ceased to be his means for accessing new adventures.  Instead he probably came to them in less obvious or spectacular ways, and possibly through nature, which was so abundant at his doorstep.  Whatever his subsequent adventures might have been, I have a hunch his great-great-great-great grandson Samuel would have found them appealing too.

It’s in his blood, after all.

Sam & Grandad at zoo (1)

It’s in his blood, after all.


Cited:  “A Favored Land” by Howard Sherfick  (1993)


Steve Robert Simmons wrote this personal essay in 2019.  All rights reserved.




8 Responses to The Other Samuel

  1. Vernon Rainwater says:

    Steve, thank for for sharing the wonderful story of Grandfather Samuel Green.The journey of your own life has been quite an adventure and I love hearing and reading the stories of it. I especially appreciate the scholarship, evidence and pictures that document the story.

    Your young Samuel is not the only inheritor of the adventuresome spirit – it’s in your blood as well.

    • steverobert says:

      Thank you for reading my piece, Vernon. Since we both have Kentucky “roots”, we’ll need to compare notes more closely next time. And I’ll bet YOU could draw a bead with that Kentucky long rifle! 🙂

  2. Lindy Uehling says:

    What a fantastic story, so filled with details far beyond my imagination. This was a wonderful eye-opener for me, because the design of your writing is so well done, I became totally transfixed. I will be reading it again to catch more details I may have missed!!! Thank you, dear cousin :0) All the best, Lindy

    • steverobert says:

      It means so much to me that you took time to read my new essay, Lindy! Even though my Martin County Green clan is “the other side of my family” from your and my shared lineage in Jackson County, I expect there were some similarities. For example, I expect that our early ancestors like Casper Rapp, J. J. Rapp or James Wilson might have been much like James or Samuel Green were; they certainly were contemporaries during the 1820s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Also James Green lost his wife in the early 1940s, just as did James Wilson. They both also died at a relatively young age around 1850. I look forward to having an opportunity to talk with you in person about it the next time we’re together, Lindy!

  3. kperrymn says:

    HI Steve!
    Just want to let you know that I really enjoyed this essay. I loved that the rifle was taller than you were when you received it. And I love imagining you and Mary Ann retracing William and Samuel’s route as they traveled west. I had never really thought about how the Gold Rush people might have returned home. And I never knew that many of them took a sea route all the way to New Orleans before heading upriver to the Midwest. Your photographs are stunning. I love that you and Sam are fellow adventurers. Your essay is a lovely and moving gift to your family, and to historians and is a tribute to adventurers everywhere!

    • steverobert says:

      You are so good to read and respond to my new essay, Katy. I’m especially pleased that you found it informative, as well as a story about my family. That’s my intent with every essay I write. I do trust that it will be a gift–especially for grandson Samuel–and for other members of my family and beyond. 🙂

  4. John Gibbons says:


    Enjoyed your essay as always and appreciate all of your research this involved. Great that you have an actual relic to pass on in addition to the photos and manuscript.

    Hope you and Mary Ann are enjoying your latest adventure in NZ.

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