Editor’s note: Henry C. Bennett, the Grass Valley Daily Union’s first dedicated editor under the leadership of owner Henry Meyer Blumenthal, served the paper from Nov. 19, 1864 to Jan. 27 or 28, 1865. At the time, The Daily Union’s office was still located inside the Exchange Building, later to become the Holbrooke Hotel.
H. C. Bennett arrived in California, via the Panama route, on June 23, 1852, aboard the steamship Columbia.
As early as February 1858 he was residing in Columbia, Tuolumne County, occupied as editor of the Columbia Weekly News, and afterward the Columbia Times. The Times was Republican in politics and had their share of “heated battles” with the Union Democrat of Sonora. This was at the time of Lincoln’s first presidential campaign. In July of 1861, printer, William E. Carder*, tried to initiate a duel with Bennett, over something Bennett had apparently published in the Times and had refused to retract, but Bennett apparently was able to avoid that particular incident. Bitterness between the two men must have lingered as the August 25, 1862 edition of the Sacramento Union reported the following news item:
“SHOOTING AFFRAY. - The Sonora Flag states that on Wednesday, August 20th, W. E. Carder entered that office, during the absence of the editor, with a cocked pistol in his hand, for the expressed and avowed purpose of murdering H. C. Bennett, an employe in the office. After indulging in various epithets, he retired to the street. Bennett, thinking he had left, started for his hotel, but was attacked on the sidewalk. Shooting commenced, five shots passed. The Flag adds: Carder, we are told, received a trifling flesh wound; and we are happy to state that Bennett’s wound is but a slight flesh wound in the shoulder, and that he will be out again in a few days.
— Sacramento Daily Union - Aug. 25, 1862
By mid-1864 Mr. Bennett was living in Nevada Territory, where he and Thomas Fitch established the Washoe Daily Evening Herald. Shortly thereafter, Bennett would again face the business end of a pistol. The July 29, 1864 edition of the Sacramento Daily Union, reported J. T. Goodman and D. E. McCarthy, editors and proprietors of the Territorial Enterprise, dropped into the Herald office to ask if Bennett was the writer of a certain article that had appeared in the Herald, and when Bennett admitted the deed, McCarthy drew his pistol and told Bennett he would have to “swallow it,” as Goodman demanded a retraction. Bennett refused this request, which led to a scuffle between Bennett and Goodman, under McCarthy’s drawn pistol. When the office hands came to the rescue, McCarthy allegedly threatened to shoot them. The weapon was finally holstered and the short altercation between Bennett and Goodman ended with no damages. Bennett sued for the arrest of both parties, and it was stated that the proprietors and employes of the Herald were arrested as well.
Hence, by Nov. 19, 1864 when H. C. Bennett became affiliated with Henry Blumenthal at the Grass Valley Daily Union, he was already well versed in the type of trouble that the 22-day-old newspaper had already witnessed with newborn eyes. Thus, when Bennett was challenged to a duel by John Rollin Ridge on Jan. 13, 1865 he was undoubtedly well prepared by his prior experience with things of this nature. Which led to his reply:
“A PLAIN STATEMENT. - We ask pardon of the readers of the UNION for obtruding such matters before them, but the unmanly, cowardly, falsehood respecting us, published in the National by its editor J. R. Ridge, compels us to make a plain statement. That vagabond, filled with whiskey, challenged us to fight him on the public streets, he being armed with a pistol, we told him that the streets were a bad place to shoot in, that if he desired the satisfaction of shooting at us, to name his time and place and we would be there. He said, distinctly, that he would fight us on the following morning and we had made all the necessary arrangements for the encounter, which we are still ready to meet. But in place of meeting us as a man, he abuses us, like a low-lived blackguard as he is. We do not calculate to adopt the same course, but shall endeavor to protect ourselves as becomes a man and a gentleman. We shall deeply regret to be compelled to do so on the public streets. Mr. Ridge knows where to find us any time his courage prompts him to need our services.”
— Grass Valley Daily Union - Jan. 14, 1865
The duel never transpired, most likely due to H. C. Bennett’s leaving the Grass Valley Daily Union just prior to Jan. 31, 1865. His name last appears on the paper’s masthead, Fri. Jan. 27, 1865, but the following two editions of The Union are lacking, so he may have left the paper on the 28th, as no mention of his leaving was noted in the last issue of the 27th, or the Tues. Jan. 31st edition, which newly bears Blumenthal & Co., Proprietors.
Upon leaving The Union, H. C. Bennett became editor of the American Flag in early March, 1865. He later went to San Francisco where he held the position of Secretary of the Labor Exchange as early as May, 1868, and was appointed Pension Agent in 1869. Henry C. Bennett, his wife Harriett L. and children Harry E.; Rueben; Eugenia and George F. T. were residents of San Francisco in 1870.
Henry wound up losing his position as Secretary of the Labor Exchange during a closed door session; something which he quite obviously didn’t relish as he leveled serious charges against the Labor Exchange’s leading members. Whether this circumstance may have had something to do with what came about later, is unknown, but could have put him in a position unsavory enough to lead him to adopt a life of crime.
During his time in San Francisco, he faced some libel charges, first while with the San Francisco Evening Republican and later with the Independent Defender. The latter case nearly mirrored the Blumenthal/Townsend incident as the report in the Daily Alta California revealed Bennett’s former partner in the Independent Defender, R. F. Fitzgerald, had leveled the libel charge, but lost the case as it was established that upon the paper’s sixth issue he had tried to sell-out the paper, the pair had founded, to the Roman Catholic Church and had also made off with any available funds of the concern. The testimony revealed that Fitzgerald’s past was more than a little shady, thus nothing Bennett put to print was libelous, which brought about the Daily Alta’s superb headline: “CHARGE OF LIBEL AGAINST BENNETT DISMISSED WITHOUT DEFENCE — IMPOSSIBLE TO LIBEL AN ADDLED EGG.”
These accusations would appear significantly minor in comparison to that which occurred next in the life of H. C. Bennett. For on Dec. 31, 1873 the Sacramento Daily Union ran an article that announced his disappearance. The Los Angeles Herald of Jan. 1, 1874 listed a telegram from Washington wherein Sargent recommended Henry R. Reed as Bennett’s replacement as Pension Agent (Sargent was none other than Aaron A. Sargent, formerly of Nevada City).
Next up, Jan. 21, 1874 the Daily Alta California provided news that irregularities, resulting in a large deficit were expected in the accounts of Ex-Pension Agent, H. C. Bennett. This news item was the result of a letter the Commissioner of Pensions had written to Senator Sargent. The Feb. 14, 1874 Sacramento Daily Union reported actions would soon be forthcoming against Bennett’s bondsmen, as his accounts apparently showed a deficit of $5,000. On Mar. 27, 1874 the same paper announced that this was not the first time Bennet [sic] had left his family “and kept his whereabouts in mysterious concealment” alleging that he had also done so some 20 years previous. Apparently after having been married only about three months, Bennett had then left his wife in a Western State for a trip to England. She was lead to believe he would return in a month, but he was gone for a year, while visiting Australia and other countries. It was stated that Bennett’s recent deficit had ensued through an “inexcusable blunder of the Pension Bureau at Washington” wherein no genuine list of pensioners was actually addressed, but rather the lists provided by the Pension Agents were taken as proof of the justice of each demand. Upon finally comparing the list of genuine pensioners, to that which Bennett had submitted it was found that H. C. Bennett had simply submitted names of over 100 pensioners who only existed in his own mind. It was stated that “the checks in favor of these fictitious pensioners ranged in amount from $24 to $280”. “They were all drawn during one quarterly settlement, the last settlement Bennett made. It was this which necessitated his departure.”
The Los Angeles Herald upped the ante of Bennett’s defalcation to $8,000, in their issue of Apr. 16, 1874, and on the 19th reported that amount would be exceeded. This would be followed by about nineteen months of absenteeism of Bennett’s name in the papers, until the Daily Alta California on Nov. 9, 1875 and the Los Angeles Herald of Nov. 10 both announced that Bennett was reportedly spotted in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. News of his whereabouts again died out, until about five and a half months later.
The first new hint of his whereabouts incredibly appeared in an announcement pertaining to the Nevada County Reunion, submerged in a lengthy article that ran in the May 27, 1876 edition of the Sacramento Daily Union, which reveals that H. C. Bennett was in Denver, Colo.
About two weeks later, on June 14, 1876, the Denver Herald revealed that H. C. Bennett was publishing a paper called the Independent at Denver. After nearly three years in hiding H. C. Bennett was at the end of his flight from justice. For these clues proved genuine, and Bennett was finally apprehended. It is of great intrigue that the first clue of Bennett’s true whereabouts came about via his former affiliation with Nevada County, and the reunion of former Nevada Countians may have thereby lent the necessary hand which brought about his capture. The newspapers of yesteryear were then flooded with his name: The Daily Alta reported his arrest in Denver in their Sept. 25, 1876 issue, additionally stating he was editor of the Black Hawk Post. The Sacramento Daily Union of Oct. 10 made mention of his day (Sept. 28) in court in Denver. The latter paper also reported that Bennett was back in California as of Oct. 22 to face the charge of embezzlement. The Daily Alta California of Oct. 23, 1876 reported that a Herald reporter was “left discomfited”, upon his attempt to locate Bennett upon his visit to the county jail, as the marshal had not taken Bennett to any of the city jails.
The Sacramento Daily Union of Jan. 4, 1877 reported Bennett was on trial before a jury that day. And on the same day the Daily Alta California revealed he had been “indicted for the alleged unlawful conversion to his own use of $23,744.64”, a staggering amount of money back in that time period, and well above the last alleged deficit of $8,000. The Sacramento Daily Union announced on Jan. 18, 1877, that Bennett had been convicted of embezzling Government money, following which the attorneys for the defense made motions to arrest judgement and make a new trial, which resulted in the matter being held over for another appearance. The resulting sentence was mind-boggling, and I certainly find logic in what the Sacramento Daily Union had to say following their getting word of the outcome.
“In the United States Circuit Court this morning Judge Sawyer denied the motion for arrest of judgment and a new trial in the case of Henry C. Bennett, ex-pension Agent, who was found guilty last week of embezzlement. Bennett was then sentenced to pay a fine of $5,000, and in default to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years in the Santa Clara County Jail.”
— Sacramento Daily Union - Jan. 20, 1877
“IS IT A SUFFICIENT SENTENCE? - H. C. Bennett, the defaulting pension agent, has been convicted and sentenced to a fine of $5,000 or two year’s imprisonment in a county jail. It appears to us that this sentence is lighter than the gravity of the offense seems to demand. This man occupied a responsible position under the Federal Government, and abused his opportunities by robbing the pensioners who were made dependent upon him. He misappropriated, or in plain English, stole, some $25,000, not one cent of which has been recovered or refunded, or is ever likely to be. Had he been a confidential clerk in a merchant’s office instead of a pension agent, and made away with as large a sum, the strong probability is that he would have been sentenced to at least ten years in the penitentiary. We fail to perceive any warrant for leniency in this case, nor can we understand why the thief who plunders the Government should not undergo as degrading and as severe a punishment as the thief who steals from individuals. There is neither reason nor sound policy in thus drawing distinctions between the two classes of offenders, and the only tendency it has is to encourage dishonesty among officials.
— Sacramento Daily Union - Jan. 22, 1877
Five thousand dollars or two years, in not a federal penitentiary, but in the county jail. But as reported by The Daily Alta, Bennett never suffered through that sentence.
“H. C. Bennett Released. - SAN JOSE, February 17th. - H. C. Bennett, ex-U. S. Pension Agent, appeared before U. S. Commissioner Wright to-day, and making affidavit that he had been confined thirty days and could not pay his fine, was discharged from custody, according to the Statute of Limitation of imprisonment in case a prisoner is unable to pay his fine in thirty days. He left for San Francisco on the afternoon train.”
— Daily Alta California - Feb. 18, 1877
Bennett was free to go his merry way; and the next time his name makes an appearance in the paper, it is at least on the side of what is right. For his name appears among the orators speaking on behalf of women wanting to vote, at the California State Woman’s Suffrage Association annual meeting.
Henry C. Bennett died in San Francisco, Monday March 24, 1879. The papers related the news of his death in the following manner.
“Henry C. Bennett, well-known in newspaper circles in this State, died suddenly at San Francisco, on Monday morning. At one time he was an editor in Grass Valley.”
— Grass Valley Daily Union - Mar. 27, 1879
“In the case of Henry C. Bennett, the journalist, who died suddenly last Monday morning, an autopsy showed that an abscess in the intestines, formed by a grape seed that had lodged there several years ago, was the cause of his death. Periodically he suffered great pain in the region, but did not know what produced it.”
— Sacramento Daily Union - Mar. 27, 1879
A past feature of the Sacramento Daily Union was the announcement of deaths of individuals of note within the previous year in the new years’ January edition. Their issue of Jan. 1, 1880 included a line entry for March 24, 1879 denoting the death of H. C. Bennett, ex-Pension Agent in San Francisco.
It is most interesting that the report found in the Grass Valley Daily Union, only referred to him as a past editor in Grass Valley, as they undoubtedly knew he had formerly held that position with The Union itself, this not laying claim to him, indicates that they were none to proud of what he had done later in his life, and is probably the greatest reason that he honestly was allowed to fall into obscurity.
Henry’s widow, now using the name Louisa, and two of his children, Joseph (17) and Reuben (13), were still residing in San Francisco in 1880. Louisa had not according to this census gained a year in age, as she was still listed as aged 35. It is obvious from this census that something must have happened to their youngest son, George, as he is absent from the household and would only have been about 11 years old at the time.
Where Henry C. Bennett rests for eternity is not known.
*William E. Carder died as the result of a homicide at the hands of Moses Brockman, in Aurora, December of 1864. He was not depicted as a very friendly sort of cuss in the article pertaining to his demise which appeared in the December 19, 1864 issue of the Sacramento Daily Union.
Donna Reynolds is a volunteer at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research.
“That vagabond (J.R. Ridge), filled with whiskey, challenged us to fight him on the public streets, he being armed with a pistol, we told him that the streets were a bad place to shoot in …”
Grass Valley Daily Union — Jan. 14, 1865