%> Nevada Riches: The Land and People of the Silver State
People & Life Ways
Riches, Ranching & Railroads

Life on Ranches and Farms in Western Nevada

The photo of men working in the Brockliss blacksmith shop in Sheridan in the 1890s is unique.  It shows an African-American man working within the shop with three Euro-American men.  None of the men are identified by name, so very little is known about them or their work.  It is rare, however, to find photographs of African-Americans in Nevada during this period, especially in small ranching communities.  And it was rare to find African-American ranchers in 19th century Nevada.

Ben Palmer was an early Carson Valley rancher, and African-American settler in Nevada, and there are no known photographs of him.  Originally from Missouri, he and his sister Charlotte had been slaves.  He moved to Nevada, then a part of Utah Territory, in 1853.  He later returned to Missouri and brought his sister and her family to Nevada.

Palmer became a horse breeder and cattle rancher.  In 1875 Ben Palmer drove a herd of 1,500 head of cattle from Washington Territory to Nevada, to fatten the beef and sell it in Virginia City.  The Palmer ranching operation was widely known for the quality of its livestock, and especially fine horses.  The Palmer's themselves were famous for their hospitality.  Their home was frequently used as a lodging house for travelers and new settlers in the Carson Valley.

There were not many African-American residents in the Carson Valley, but it appears that Ben Palmer was widely respected and accepted.  His sister Charlotte was married to a Euro-American rancher, David Barber.  One indication of the lack of racial discrimination is apparent in the business dealings of Ben Palmer.  He was partners with another rancher, H. F. Dangberg, and the Genoa postmaster and surveyor, C. P. Young, in the Douglas Consolidated Mill and Mining Company.

When Ben Palmer died in 1908 the Gardnerville Record-Courier declared, "One of the Carson Valley's best citizens is dead."  The newspaper continued, "He met success in every meaning of the word and leaves one of the finest farms in Carson Valley as a monument."  He is buried in the Mottsville cemetery.

Photo Credit:
University of Nevada Oral History Program