WILLIAM FINLEY BENNETT
One of the best known citizens of Yreka is William F. Bennett, who is connected with the S. H. Gillette Company. He is a member of an old family of Siskiyou county, has led a very active life and is favorably known throughout this section of the valley, of which he is a native. Mr. Bennett comes of old American stock and has always exemplified the highest type of citizenship. The early records of the Bennett family go back to three brothers of Scotch descent who lived in Virginia. They were left orphans and were “bound out,” as was the custom of that period. Benjamin Bennett, who was the ancestor of the branch of the family to which William F. Bennett belongs, was stolen by Indians in a raid they made upon the settlement. He remained with the Indians for many years and was compelled to adopt Indian customs, although the savages treated him kindly in their way. He became a great favorite with his captors and after a time they ceased watching him so closely to prevent his escape, even allowing him to go on hunting expeditions alone. He always returned to them, so they thought he was content. The Indians planned a grand raid on the settlements and Ben told them he knew where they could get some fine horses and asked permission to go ahead and spy out the land. This was granted, but, instead, Ben warned the white people of the raid and fought with them against the Indians. Because they were forewarned, the settlers suffered little loss of life. Later Ben was a soldier in the Revolutionary Army and by strategy captured three British officers and took them into the American camp.
Benjamin Bennett married Elizabeth Moore, an English woman, and settled in Kentucky. He had ten children, among whom was a son named John Baptist Bennett, who was born at Breckenridge, Kentucky, February 28, 1808. At an early age he married, and they had six children. His wife died in Illinois, and he moved to Missouri, where he again married and had a family of six children, only one of whom lived to maturity. This wife died, and on December 5, 1853, he married Lucinda Kaphart, a daughter of Charles and Elizabeth (Palmer) Kaphart, of whom the former was of Pennsylvania Dutch stock, and in whose family were sixteen children. To John Baptist and Lucinda (Kaphart) Bennett were born seven children, of whom the second, Charles Kaphart Bennett, was born October 11, 1856. The family lived on their farm near Gregory’s Landing, Missouri, until the death of the father, November 13, 1868, the mother being left with seven young children. The boys worked at home and on other farms until the mother’s death, August 28, 1878, when they went to live with various relatives, while one went to an orphans’ home.
Charles Kaphart Bennett worked on a farm near Phelps City, Missouri, for a while, and then came to California, landing at the Forks of the Salmon in July, 1877. There he worked in a trading post belonging to his half-brother, W. P. Bennett, and Peter Miller. They also owned another store, several mines and two pack trains. At that time the only road to this country was a pack trail and all food, clothes and tools and supplies had to be carried over the mountains on the backs of mules. Charles K. Bennett grew very homesick after about eighteen months and returned to Missouri, where he found that his mother was dead, the home broken up and everything changed. He tried farming, but with little success, and in April, 1880, returned to California, and the Forks of the Salmon. He worked as a packer for W. P. Bennett for five years, during which time he was married. In 1886 he took up a homestead in Oregon, where he remained about eighteen months, when they returned to California, where he bought a ranch, which he later sold. He worked on various ranches until 1903, when he moved to Chico, where he went to work for the Diamond Match Company, and he thereafter spent most of his time in Chico until his death, on February 21, 1916.
On May 2, 1883, Mr. Bennett was married to Miss Louisa Finley, whose family was of Scotch descent. David Finley was born in Scotland, came to America and fought and was killed in the Revolutionary war. There are records of two sons having been born to him, one of whom, Joseph, married Louisa W. LaRue, a native of Kentucky. Joseph was a soldier in the War of 1812. The LaRues were French Huguenots who left France because of religious persecution. Joseph and Louisa Finley lived in Illinois, where a family of fourteen children were born to them, several of whom died in infancy. Samuel LaRue Finley, the oldest child, was born February 16, 1832, and was reared in a home of culture and hospitality. In 1849 he came to California, where he showed himself a man of self reliance and fond of adventure. He mined and kept store. He liked mining, but was never successful at it, and disliked storekeeping, but always made money at it. He was one of the first in the New River country, where he prospected for mines, but he and his companions were driven out by the Indians, barely escaping with their lives. He finally settled at Sawyer’s Bar, where he maintained a general merchandise store to the time of his death, on September 18, 1901.
On May 28, 1861, Mr. Finley was married to Lydia Ann Robinson, a daughter of David H. and Elizabeth (Drinkwater) Robinson. The former, of Scotch descent, was born in New York, January 16, 1810, while the latter, who was of English lineage, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, December 13, 1813. Both David and Elizabeth Robinson died of cholera within a few days of each other, leaving seven children. Lydia Ann Robinson was born September 21, 1841, and died November 14, 1897. In her childhood, after the death of her parents, she found a home with a family named Monroe (cousin of President Monroe) and lived for a time in Illinois, moving to California in 1853. They used ox teams and experienced all of the hardships and adventures incident to a journey across the plains in those days. To conserve the strength of the oxen, members of the party walked much of the distance and little Lydia, being young, walked nearly the whole way to the land of gold. The party was about six months on the way. While in the east Mrs. Monroe was kind to Lydia, but after reaching California her treatment became cruel and unreasonable and she imposed on the young girl many arduous tasks and heavy floggings. On one occasion before leaving the house she assigned Lydia a lot of work to be completed before noon. The child, seeing the impossibility of doing this within the given time and dreading the threatened punishment, decided to run away. For three days and two nights the child wandered, hiding during the daytime and traveling at night, barefoot and poorly clad, her food consisting of wild berries and nuts. She was in a wild, mountainous district. One morning she stopped at a house to ask the way to Shasta, where some friends of the Robinson family resided. The woman fed her and while she was there a man rode up. He knew the child and her living conditions at the Monroes, so he took her to his home, where he and his wife treated her as their own child. As they were poor at that time, though later very wealthy, Lydia went out to work, although their home was always hers and was so considered until her marriage to Samuel L. Finley, who took his bride to Sawyer’s Bar, where he had provided a nice home. They had thirteen children, the oldest of whom, Louisa, was born April 16, 1862. At the age of nineteen she began teaching school and during the winter of 1881-2 taught the public school at Forks of the Salmon. There, boarding with the family of W. P. Bennett, she met his half-brother, Charles K. Bennett, whom she married May 2, 1883, and they had a family of ten children, as follows: Lydia Lucinda, who was born February 27, 1884, and became the wife of J. F. Chester in 1904; William Finley; Gilbert Claude, born August 8, 1886; Jesse Oscar, born January 16, 1888; John Samuel LaRue, born December 13, 1888; Hattie, born November 20, 1891; Mildred Lee, born May 11, 1893; Charles Louis, born August 27, 1895; Margery Althea, born June 21, 1898; and a son who died in infancy.
Life in the mountains in those early days was frequently strenuous, as is indicated by some of the entries made by Mrs. Bennett in an old journal which she kept for many years. In this record it is noted that in February, 1885, when she was twenty-three years old, her husband suffered a broken leg at nine o’clock a. m. on one Friday and the physician arrived to set it at four p. m. Sunday. While the leg was still in splints, on March 18th, they had a fire; on March 23d William Finley Bennett was born; on March 26th the house again caught fire, and in June her husband was kicked unconscious by a mule. This journal, its entries covering twenty-five years, tells interestingly of their simple lives and simple pleasures. On one trip to a Fourth of July celebration, they started at one-thirty a. m. and reached their destination at four p. m. At another time they made a three days trip over the mountains to Montague to see a circus, starting at 3:30 a. m. and camping out two nights.
William Finley Bennett was born at Sawyer’s Bar, Siskiyou county, March 23, 1885, and acquired his education in the East Fork school, in Plowman valley, which is the east fork of the Scott river. He also attended high school there for two years, after which he took up ranching in the same district. He gave his attention largely to stock raising, which he carried on until 1902, when he sold out and moved to Chico, Butte county, where he and his father together bought a home and went to work for the Diamond Match Company. Mr. Bennett worked there until 1905, when he entered the postal service, filling the position of postal clerk at Chico until 1916, when he was transferred to the post office at Yreka. In 1920 he resigned and entered the employ of the Yreka Transfer Company, remaining until 1926, when his health failed. He found it necessary to give up his position and put in two years in traveling up and down the coast, from San Francisco to Spokane. On June 3, 1929, he entered St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco, in which institution his daughter Helen was a trained nurse. On July 5, 1929, when he returned to Yreka, he joined the S. H. Gillette Company, by which firm he had previously been employed about three months, and he is still with this concern. The S. H. Gillette Company serves as jobbers and distributors for automotive, sawmill and mine supplies.
On September 30, 1906, Mr. Bennett was united in marriage to Miss Helen Gibson, a daughter of George K. and Queen Esther (Broyles) Gibson. Mr. Gibson, who was a native of New Hampshire, came to California in an early day by ox-team and located in the northern part of the Sacramento valley, where he became a successful rancher and stock raiser. He spent his last years in Chico, at which time he was running the Gibson Harness Shop. He died at the age of sixty years. His widow now lives in Lodi, California. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are the parents of four children, namely: Helen Esther, who is still in St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco; two who died in infancy; and Charles Gibson, who is with his father’s sister near Sacramento, where he is attending high school. Since coming back to the valley, Mr. Bennett has made his home at Yreka. He was formerly a member of the Knights of Pythias, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, but when his health failed he dropped his membership in those organizations. He was reared in the faith of the Baptist Church, in which he held the office of deacon, but there being no society of that denomination at Yreka, he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, in which he was a member of the official board for a time. He maintains an independent attitude in political affairs. For eleven years he was a member of the Second Regiment California National Guard at Chico and was a sergeant when he quit the service.
Transcribed by Marie Hassard 14 May 2010.
© 2010 Marie Hassard..