Mark Twain once said: "A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval." To this end I believe that every now and then everybody is entitled to toot his own horn. If you have received BENCHMARKS since at least June 1988 you are now reading (assuming that you read the other 99) my 100th Antepasados column.
I do not expect a bouquet of roses; the reward lies in the writing itself. Antepasados gives me a reason to travel, an excuse to talk to people, and to learn something about those whose footsteps we are retracing today.
I love it; even if it is rarely a great success. Gathering information about people long dead is a time consuming endeavor and much information was buried with its possessor. Since 1985, when I first wrote about John W. Garretson in BENCHMARKS, I have been curious as to what he looked like and have been hunting for a picture of him and of his employer, New Mexico Surveyor General William Pelham. Their activities in Santa Fe between 1855 and 1860 coincided with a time when photography made its debut there, and I like to believe that these prominent surveyors availed themselves of the new gadget and "had their likeness taken".
I have searched archives and libraries in five states, so far without success. This does not prove that there are no pictures of either man, it only means that there is a need for general indices of the voluminous photo records, the federal archives in Ft. Worth alone have 37 cubic feet of them in over a hundred boxes, and it would take a small army to look through all of them.
In 1998 I was fortunate to locate Garretson’s descendants, and surprised to find that they still had some of his records. They sent me the pictures of three unidentified men and said that Garretson was very likely one of them, but that they didn’t know which one. Their belief was based on the fact that among their old family photos two were of Garretson’s wife and daughter and had been taken in San Antonio, Texas, in August 1861. I eliminated two of these fellows as being too young; photography was not commonly available until Garretson was well in his 40’s and these guys appeared to be in their early 20’s. So I went with the "old bearded man" and put him in the May 1999 BENCHMARKS. I knew that Garretson sported a beard, at least he did in the 1860’s, because his wife’s diary mentions: "[he] went to have his beard trimmed".
In March 2000 I travelled to Arkansas to meet some of the descendants of William Wilson, Garretson’s father-in-law. Wilson was a wealthy farmer who built an antebellum mansion near Fayetteville he called Excelsior, which today, beautifully restored, is the pride of the clan. Imagine my surprise as I entered the capacious hallway and met the "old bearded man" looking down on me from his place of honor opposite a bookcase – It was William Wilson. A small plaque explained: Wilson had been challenged to a duel and the day prior had himself photographed. Fortunately for him, he was known to be the best shot in the county and his challenger got cold feet and didn’t show up.
If anything useful came out of all of that it was that I enlisted more people of the extended family to look for Garretson’s picture. They are very genealogy conscious, even hiring an historian to write the family history, and can be counted on to give it a good try. Only recently an Oklahoma member found in his attic an old shoebox with photos and letters from the 1870’s, including a letter from Garretson’s daughter in which she talks about her father’s survey contracts.
Which keeps alive the hope that some day I will be able to produce a picture of the man who a century and a half ago set monuments by the thousands in three states, only to be buried in an unmarked grave.