CAPT. HENRY M.
Surnames: WATKINS, CLAY,
The life of a man is not counted by the number of years he lives, but rather by the events of that life, and still more largely by the character of those events. Captain Benson, U. S. A., on the retired list, and late Major of the Fourth Infantry Regiment, California Volunteers, has been a resident of this State since 1850. He was born in 1838, in old Franklin, Missouri, a town once opposite Booneville, Missouri, but since washed away. His parents were Dr. James Hord and Ruth P. (Switzler) Benson, his father a Kentuckian and his mother a Virginian. His father died in 1849, and in the following year Captain Benson came to California with his mother and uncle, his mother marrying Col. Henry P. Watkins, a nephew of Henry Clay, in 1853, in San Francisco. He was educated at Marysville and Oakland. In 1853 he joined the expedition of General Walker to Sonora and Lower California, shouldering his musket and doing a soldier’s duty, although a boy only fifteen years of age. It will be seen that he was in good hands, however, when it is stated that General Walker was his step-father, Colonel Watkins’ law partner, and he was thus drawn into the venture. On his return to California he attended school for a while, went to the mines for nine months, and then returned to Marysville, where he accepted a position in the post-office. In 1860 he was appointed Port Warden of San Francisco, for which he qualified, but never assumed the duties. Resigning, he commenced the study of law at Marysville, and was appointed Notary Public. In response to the call of Lincoln for volunteers from this State, in 1861, these duties were resigned, and he joined the army [transcriber’s note: 1st Regiment Infantry California Volunteers, Co’s. F & I]. They expected to be hurried East and into active service, but the command was sent into Arizona and New Mexico, and the borders of Texas, to prevent the Confederates from making their way into California. He was with the advanced column that had a sharp skirmish with a detachment of Confederates at Picacho Pass, near Tucson, Arizona Territory, interesting as the nearest point to California where an armed encounter between the opposing forces took place. During his campaign he was promoted to the First Lieutenancy, and later to the Captaincy of his company. After the disbanding of his regiment he was appointed Major of the Fourth Infantry, California Volunteers, serving until it was mustered out, at the close of the war. During the latter two years Captain Benson saw a great deal of service against Indians, and received honorable mention. In 1866 he was appointed Second Lieutenant, and shortly afterward promoted to be First Lieutenant U. S. A., and has seen active service on the frontier during the greater part of his military career. In the Nez Perces campaign, under General Howard, in 1877, in Montana, during a fight with Chief Joseph and his band, he received a bullet through his hips, and as a result he was laid up for several months. On May 1, 1882, he was promoted to the Captaincy, but his health being impaired on account of his wound and hard service, he went to the Sandwich Islands. On April 24, 1886, he was placed on the retired list, U. S. A., with the rank of Captain.
Captain Benson was
married, in 1867, to Miss Mary Francisca Paty, a native of the Sandwich Islands,
of American parentage. Her father was Captain John Paty, who owned and
commanded a trading vessel that rounded the Horn in 1835, and rendered valuable
assistance to General Fremont in the conquest of California. They have six
children: Maud, Mary R., Henry P., Dora Brice, Frances, and John Paty, and it
is to afford them educational advantages that Captain Benson took up his
residence in San Jose. Since retiring from active service he has become
interested in mercantile pursuits in the islands.
Pen Pictures From The
Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated.
- Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler
Proofread by Betty Vickroy