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Pathways: A Story of Trails and Men (1968), by John W. Bingaman

Harry Coupland Benson

“Colonel Harry C. Benson was born at Gambier, Ohio, December 8, 1857. He was the son of the Reverend Edward C. Benson, Professor of Latin in Kenyon College and graduated from that college in 1877 with the degree of A.B. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. In 1887 Kenyon College conferred upon him the degree of M.A.

“He was the husband of Mary Breeze Benson, and the father of First Lieutenant Thomas M. Benson, retired, whose death in 1922 was directly due to illness contracted in the field in France.

“Colonel Harry C. Benson was connected with the military establishment for more than forty six years. He entered the United States Military Academy, July 1, 1878, and was graduated June 13, 1882, standing number 7 in a class of 37 members. He was then appointed a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Artillery; was transferred to the 4th Cavalry, January 31, 1884; promoted to the grade of First Lieutenant, March 4, 1888, and to that of Captain, November 21, 1897. During the war with Spain he was made an Inspector General in the volunteer forces with the rank of Major, May 12, 1898, and served in that capacity until May 12, 1899. He reached the grade of Major in the 13th Cavalry of the Regular Army, October 20, 1904; was transferred to the 14th Cavalry, January 12, 1906, and to the 5th Cavalry, October 27, 1908, and was promoted to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel in the latter regiment, August 11, 1911. He was a member of the General Staff Corps from July 31, 1912, to October 14, 1914, and had become a Colonel of Cavalry on September 27, 1914.

“After performing garrison duty in California for a short time 1882 to 1884, he was on frontier duty in the field in New Mexico and Arizona from July, 1884, to June, 1887, and filled that position for the four years ending in August, 1891. Later the appointment of Regimental Quartermaster was tendered to him but he declined it and served at Walla Walla, Washington, at the Sequoia National Park, the Presidio of San Francisco and the Round Valley Indian Agency, up to January, 1893, when he was placed on duty at Chicago, under the Department of State, in connection with the Worlds Fair at that place. Returning to his regiment he saw service at stations in California for nearly five years, ending in June, 1898, when he went to Chickamauga Park, Georgia, where, in the war with Spain, he was Inspector General of the 1st Division, 3rd Corps, from July to October, 1898. He was then Inspector General of the 2nd Division, 4th Corps, at Anniston, Alabama. This position he relinquished in December, 1898, when he became Collector of Customs at Tunas de ZaZa, Cuba, which position he filled until May, 1899. He then was made a member of the commission appointed by Congress to report upon roads and conditions in Yosemite National Park, and served there during four months ending October 31, 1899.

“He than went to the Philippine Islands with the 4th Cavalry and served with it there until August 1901; was then at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for three years; at the Presidio of Monterey, California, from October, 1904, to April, 1905 and again at Yosemite National Park from April to December, 1905. He was then at Headquarters Department of California, and at the Presidio of San Francisco for a time, and was Provost Marshal at San Francisco when occupied by troops during the fire there in 1906. Following this he was at the Yosemite National Park and at the Presidio, alternately, the greater portion of 1907 and 1908, but in December of the latter year he became superintendent of Yellowstone National Park and remained there until October, 1910. In that month his duty took him to Hawaii, and he served at Schofild Barracks until August, 1912. From October, 1912, to October 1914, he was Chief of Staff of the Philippine Department. Returning to the United States in broken health, he was under treatment and on sick leave of absence until retiring at his own request, December 8, 1915, after more that 37 years service.

“Colonel Benson was known for his great vitality and physical endurance as well as for his general efficiency and conscientious per-, formance of duty. He was commended in orders, when still a Lieutenant, for bearing uncomplainingly the most incredible fatigues, privations and dangers in operation against hostile Apache Indians in Arizona and Sonora in 1885 and 1886, and his ride of ninety miles in nineteen hours was commented upon in General Field Orders. In 1899, he was highly commended by his commanders for his service as an Inspector General.

“Colonel Benson was an expert marksman and the holder of two medals won in competitions.

“He received high praise from the Acting Secretary of the Interior, and from Inspector of Yosemite Park, for his efficiency in the management of that park, and also from the Inspector of the Yellowstone Park.

“The following is one of the many tributes paid him for his splendid services in connection with our national parks:

“In the early days of the national parks it took more than ordinary energy, enthusiasm and ability to protect them from depredations and misuse. Moreover, it took courage to face the hostility of men, often powerful and influential, whose selfish interests were thwarted by the withdrawal of the park lands from exploitation. If it had not been for the timely protection afforded by the United States Army our legacy would have come to us seriously impaired. Many officers and men contributed to this valuable service, but Colonel Benson stands pre-eminent among them, not alone because of the long period of his activity in the national parks, but because he also brought to his task a prophetic vision. For more than thirty years he maintained his interest in the parks, and in the later days he beheld the realization of many aspirations.”

“In World War I Colonel Benson was recalled from the retired list and served actively as Department Adjutant of the Western Department from August, 1917, to April, 1919.

“The foregoing is a brief outline of a long and valuable military service. Failing health, largely or wholly incident to his service, cut short Harry Benson’s active career before he had attained the rank and rewards due him for his efficiency, character, and record. Of outstanding ability, energy and zeal, he threw himself body and soul into anything he undertook, and it is no surprise to those who knew him well that he should bear uncomplainingly incredible fatigues, privations, and dangers. As he was modest to a fault, the only wonder is that any body should have heard enough about him to make him the subject of ‘a commendatory order. A typical officer of the ‘old’ army, Benson was imbued with its spirit and ideals. High-minded, courageous, honest, intolerant perhaps of what he considered departures from its code, he was frank and outspoken, while trying always to be just and considerate. It was a passion with him to play the game, whether of life, golf, or what not, according to the rules and it must be admitted that he usually knew the rules better than most people. Alert of mind, interested in people and things, and a student of both nature and books, he was an interesting and delightful companion. He was an ornithologist and discovered a species of quail which the Smithsonian Institute named after him - The Benson Quail.

“He died at the Letterman General Hospital, Presidio of San Francisco, California, September 21, 1924.” 1

1 (Note) these excerpts from the Annual Report, United States Military Academy. Class of 1882. Number 2938.

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