ALFRED WASHBURN BENSON GRAVESTONE PHOTO
The Ottawa Herald, Saturday, Jan. 1, 1916, Pg. 1 & 6
Died: Jan. 1, 1916
Buried in Highland Cemetery, Ottawa, Franklin County, KS.
Judge Alfred W. Benson of Ottawa, former soldier, mayor of Ottawa, county attorney, district judge, United States senator and justice of the Kansas state supreme court died at 6 o’clock this morning at the home of his daughter, Mrs. H. Ward Page, in Topeka.
He had been in ill health for several weeks. Paralysis is stated as the cause of his death. He was stricken late Wednesday night at the Benson apartments, 915 Quincy street, Topeka, and later taken to the Page home, 801 Lane street.
No funeral services will be held in Topeka. The body will be brought to Ottawa at 11 o’clock Sunday morning. Funereal services will be held at 2 o’clock in the Congregational Church Third and Hickory streets. Mr. Benson was a member of that church.
The Rev. W. A. Elliot, pastor of the First Baptist Church of this city will conduct the services. Short talks at the services will be made by District Judge C. A. Smart of this city and the congregational pastor of Topeka who will accompany the funeral party.
Burial will be in Highland Cemetery on the family lot where four of the Benson children are buried. All services will be short and simple.
The body will not lie in state.
Pall bearers will be old friends of Judge Benson. Three members of the George H. Thomas Post, G. A. R. and association will officiate. The men are: Veterans---J. N. Harrison, S. F. Beeler, Peter Kaiser; Lawyers---C. A. Smart, F. M. Harris, W. S. Jenks.
Judge Benson is survived by his widow and one daughter, Mrs. H. Ward Page of Topeka. Four children are dead. Two died in infancy and two Kate and Marian, died after they reached young womanhood.
Mr. and Mrs. J. N. Harrison, former Ottawans, and probably representatives of the state supreme court and other Topeka friends of the Benson family will accompany the funeral party here. A delegation of Ottawa veterans of the Civil War will go to Lawrence Sunday morning to meet the funeral party.
The deceased was one of the foremost figures in state law circles for nearly half a century and was the only man in Kansas ever promoted to a United States senatorship by telephone. His death recalls detail of one of the most unique lives in the annals of Kansas.
Was Born in 1843.
Alfred Washburn Benson, born in Jamestown, N. Y., July 15, 1843, was of English descent. The Benson family was established in America in the early days of the Massachusetts colony by an ancestor from England. Judge Benson’s grandfather, Consider Benson, was a native of Massachusetts, as was also his father, Peter Benson, who served in the war of 1812, Judge Benson was the descendant of an old stanch Massachusetts family on his mother’s side also, his grandfather, William Washburn, having been a revolutionary soldier. Members of both the Benson and the Washburn families removed from Massachusetts to the state of New York in an early day and were united by the marriage of Peter Benson and Hannah Washburn, to whom were born five children, only two of whom survived until the present day. These are James H. Benton of Chautauqua county, N. Y., and Judge A. W. Benson.
Judge Benson was reared on a farm. He attended the district schools of Chautauqua county and the academies at Jamestown and Randolph, N. Y., until 18 years of age, when he became a teacher, and was thus engaged during the winter of 1861-62 in Warren county, Pa.
Went to the War.
In July of 1862 he enlisted in Company H, 154th New York volunteers. This regiment was composed mainly of Cattaruqua county young men, many of whom were students at Randolph academy as was young Benson. It was assigned to duty in Northern Virginia under Major-General Bigel and was in various marches about Manassas and old Bull Run, battlefield until the spring of 1863, when it moved with the Eleventh corps to Chancellorsville, where in May, Benson was wounded.
Left for Dead in Battle.
He was left as dead on the field at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. A Confederate minie ball had pierced his right lung and put him out of the fighting. Later two Confederates found him still alive, relieved his suffering as far as they could and filled his canteen with water. He was a prisoner on the field for eleven days after the battle. On May 13, those prisoners who were able to march were sent off to Richmond, while the wounded were paroled. Benson recovered slowly.
After securing his release from the Confederate army by which he had been taken prisoner he was sent to Chestnut Hill military hospital at Philadelphia and while there received his first commission---that of second lieutenant. In October following, he rejoined his regiment then at Bridgeport, Ala., and was detailed acting adjutant. The Eleventh corps was soon afterward consolidated with the Twentieth, in which corps he served to the end of the war.
Came Out as a Major.
Mr. Benson was in the march to the relief of Chattanooga, the battle of Missionary Ridge, all of Sherman’s campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and from Savannah to Raleigh. He participated in the battles of Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, New Hope church, the battles around Kenesaw mountain, at Peace Tree Creek, and the capture of Atlanta.
He received his commission as a captain at Atlanta in September 1864, and served as a member of the division court martial at Atlanta and Savannah. While the corps was at Savannah he was recommended for major of the regiment and received his commission as such at Goldsboro, N. C. in April, 1865. When the war ended he marched with his regiment from Raleigh to Washington where he took part in the grand review before President Andrew Johnson on May 25, 1865.
To Ottawa in 1869.
After the war Judge Benson entered the office of Cook & Lockwood at Jamestown, N. Y., to resume the study of law which he had begun at Randolph before his enlistment, and was admitted to the bar at Buffalo, N. Y. in November, 1866. In the following January he commenced the practice at Sherman, N. Y. in partnership with A. A. VanDusen, who was later a county judge of Chautauqua county. While living at Sherman he was elected a member of the board of county supervisors, which office he resigned when he moved in 1869 to Ottawa, Kans. heeding Horace Greeley’s cry: “Go west, young man, go west.”
He was elected mayor of Ottawa in April, 1873, and April, 1879; was county attorney of Franklin county; was a state senator from 1881 to 1885, during which time he was chairman of the committee on Temperance, which framed the first Kansas prohibitory law; was elected, judge of the Fourth judicial district, composed of Franklin, Anderson and Douglas counties, in 1884 and served three successive terms—twelve years---declining to be a candidate for re-election, and resumed his law practice.
State and National Legislator.
In the fall of 1904 he was elected a member of the Kansas house of representatives and served as chairman of the judiciary committee until his resignation on June 11, 1906 to accept the appointment by Governor Edward W. Hoch, of United States senator in the place of Joseph R. Burton. He served as senator until January 29, 1907, and on August 1, 1907 was appointed by Governor Hoch to a position in the supreme court of the state to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Adrian L. Greene. In 1908 he was elected to that office for a term of six years. He was a candidate for re-election in 1914 but was defeated. Then he became a permanent member of the faculty of the law school of Washburn College at Topeka, where he had been a lecturer for several years.
Judge Benson was a charter member and on of the organizers of the Kansas State Bar association. For ten years he was a lecturer on code pleading at the Kansas University school of law at Lawrence and his position at Washburn at the time of his death was similar to that.
Mrs. Benson’s Family.
Judge Benson was married at Sherman, N. Y., to Unettie L. Towsley, May 10, 1870. She was a native of Manchester, Vt. She was the daughter of Darius and Lydia (Fowler) Towsley. Both the Fowlers and the Towsleys were pioneer families of their respective states of New York and Vermont. Nathaniel Towsley, father of Darius, was a soldier in the war of 1812. Two of Mrs. Benson’s brothers served in the Union army, one of whom, Leonard Towsley, was killed at Antietam. The other brother, Nathaniel Towsley, is still living, residing in Manchester, Vt.
Judge Benson was a master Mason since 1867.
Many reminiscences regarding Judge Benson were revived today when word of his death was received in Ottawa. Although it was known here that Judge Benson was critically ill, his death came as a shock to his many friends in the city and county.
In connection with Judge Benson’s appointment to the United States senate, Henry J. Allen, former owner of The Herald and now of the Wichita Beacon, used to tell a story on the judge.
“I had known Judge Benson for a great many years,” Mr. Allen said, “and in all that time his natural modesty- had been proverbial in Franklin county, but the sudden appointment to the Senate brought out the fact that so far as dress was concerned he was just like the rest of us. Senator Chester I. Long telegraphed me urging that I plead with Judge Benson to accept the tendered appointment offered and start for Washington at once. I called Judge Benson on the telephone and delivered Senator Long’s message. The judge hesitated, and then replied: “I don’t see how. I can start so soon, Henry, I haven’t the clothes one should wear in the senate.”
H. F. Sheldon and Judge Benson were boyhood friends back in New York. Mr. Sheldon came to Kansas ahead of Mr. Benson. Mrs. Sheldon and Mrs. Benson were also girl friends in the East. When Judge Benson came to Ottawa Mr. Sheldon met him and entertained him at the Sheldon home.
Where Bensons Lived.
When the Bensons first came to Ottawa they lived in a house near the present Missouri Pacific station. Then they moved to a house near Third and Elm street and later to Ninth and Cedar streets, later sold to Mrs. F. C. Polsdorfer. Mr. Benson then purchased the property at Fourth and Willow streets, occupied now by Albert C. Carpenter and family. The property belongs to the Benson family now.
His Law Record.
Upon establishing a law office in Ottawa Mr. Benson became a partner of the late H. P. Welsh. Later he was in business with W. L. Parkinson and then practiced alone. After leaving the district bench here he and Charles A. Smart were law partners. When Judge Smart ascended to the district bench Mr. Benson associated with him Fred M. Harris. That firm remained until Mr. Benson went to the supreme court. Many volumes of Mr. Benson’s law library are in Mr. Harris’ library now.
Was an Active Lawyer.
Judge Benson was a vigorous and active lawyer. His military training was shown in later life. Everything under his direction moved with precision and rapidity. He was firm but not dictatorial.
The judge practiced law throughout his long career. Only a month ago he appeared before the Supreme Court to make arguments in one of the Rorschbach-Diven cases from Franklin county. It was one of his last appearances in the court on whose bench he had been an efficient jurist for several years.
Students Liked Him.
Judge Benson’s popularity with the law students of Washburn College was well known. When the anniversary of the grand review of the Union armies was held in Washington a few months ago Judge Benson wanted to attend but did not wish to leave his work in Topeka. The students learning of his desire, unanimously decided that their instructor should attend. With much good feeling they made all the arrangements for the judge to take part in the parade down Pennsylvania avenue in Washington, fifty years after he had marched down the same avenue as a major in his regiment.
Commanded G. A. R. 6 Years.
Judge Benson was one of the charter members and the first commander of George H. Thomas Post No. 18, Grand Army of the Republic, of this city. The post organized February 11, 1880, and the judge served as commander for six years. He was universally liked by the veterans of the Civil war here and their grief at his death today was marked. Member of the post will act as pallbearers at the funeral.
Tribute to Benson.
In speaking of Judge Benson today, District Judge Smart said:
“In every station in life and every position he ever filled he was preeminently a high-minded, conscientious man.”
Various other Ottawans who knew Mr. Benson for many years spoke of him in the highest terms. News of the judge’s death was a shock to H. F. Sheldon, old friend of the deceased. Mr. Sheldon has been ill recently. He is eleven years older than Mr. Benson.
“I have always felt that if I have learned any of the highest principles of the practice of law or the best ethics of the profession. They came from Judge Benson,” said Mayor F. M. Harris who was a law partner of the deceased from January, 1901 until the judge went to the supreme bench. “I have never seen a man who had the interests of the young man in the law profession as close to his heart as Judge Benson.”
Ottawa was “Home.”
Ottawa was always “home” to Judge Benson. Until a few months ago when his health began to fail he always cherished the idea of returning to Ottawa to live quietly and in retirement from public affairs. Although he and Mrs. Benson have lived in Topeka since 1907 they generally returned for every gala occasion here. The judge always came to Ottawa to vote and attend most of the memorial day and other G. A. R. events.
A young man in Ottawa spoke of Judge Benson in endearing terms today. On a snowy Sunday several years ago the judge fell in front of the Congregational church just as services were dismissed. The youth helped the man to rise, picked up his snow-covered Bible and Sunday school books and aided him in recovering his balance. The judge never forgot that young man and always greeted him warmly whenever in Ottawa.