COLONEL JOSEPH FRANCIS BENNETT, who died in the City of Mexico, July 8, 1904, was one of the best known and highly esteemed men in the southwest. The experiences of the pioneer, the miner, soldier and public official combined to make his life record, and few personal histories can equal in interest, romantic incidents and adventure that of Colonel Bennett.
He was born in Putnam county, New York, on the 11th of November, 1830, and completed his education by graduation form Milville Academy in Orleans county, New York. In 1849 he went with his parents to Janesville, Wisconsin, and in 1858 by way of the isthmus of Panama went to California and to British Columbia in search of gold. He was upon the Pacific coast when in June, 1861, in response to President Lincoln’s call for five thousand troops from California he offered his services to the government. He was at that time in San Francisco and going up into the mountains among his old mining associates he organized a company and largely at his own expense brought them to the Presidio at San Francisco. These troops became Company G of the First California Infantry and Mr. Bennett was mustered in as sergeant. In the winter of 1861 he was sergeant-major of the regiment and in April, 1862, he was commissioned second lieutenant of Company I, by Governor Leland Stanford of California, and assigned by General James H. Carleton to the position of assistant adjutant general of the California column, which moved westward to drive back the Confederate troops which had come up the Rio Grande from Texas under General Baylor. The headquarters of the California column were established at Santa Fe. Upon the recommendation of General Carleton and General West, Joseph Francis Bennett was commissioned captain and assistant adjutant general of United States Volunteers by President Lincoln and was assigned to duty on the staff of General West as adjutant general of the district of Arizona. In August, 183, he made his infamous ride on the Journada del Muerto (“journey of death”), covering one hundred and ninety miles in thirty-seven consecutive hours, accompanied by but one man, “Cherokee Bob,” recovering and bringing to district headquarters the remnants of the military mail, for the state coach which carried the mail had been attacked but a few hours ahead of them by a band of renegade Apaches, and the mail and other articles thrown from the coach to enable the occupants to make their escape. He participated in many of the Indian battles against the Apaches in New Mexico, Arizona and Western Texas in 1862 and 1863. In February, 1864, under orders from the Secretary of War, he reported for duty to General W. S. Rosencrans, of the department of Missouri, headquarters at St. Louis, and participated in the Price campaign and invasion of Missouri in the autumn of that year. He was twice brevetted as major and as lieutenant colonel for “gallant and meritorious service.” Early in March, 1865, Colonel Bennett was sent into Arkansas by General Grenville M. Dodge to offer terms of surrender to General M. Jeff Thompson, in charge of the Confederate forces there, and from him Colonel Bennett received the surrender and paroling of nine thousand men. In the following summer and fall he accompanied General Dodge in a campaign against the Indians in the northwest, at the time of the combined uprising of nearly all tribes west of the Missouri river. Refusing a commission as major in the regular army, he was mustered out in El Paso in June, 1866. Colonel Bennett came of an ancestry noted for bravery and loyalty. His grandfather, John Bennett, was a captain of the Revolutionary army and was one of five brothers who fought through the Revolution and aided in winning independence for the nation.
After leaving the army Colonel Bennett engaged in mining and merchandizing at La Mesilla, New Mexico, and became owner and manager of the overland mail and express line, running from Santa Fe to Silver City, El Paso, Tucson and other points in Arizona. By appointment of General Grant he served as consul at Chihuahua. He was also probate clerk of his county and later judge of the probate, clerk of the United State district court, commissioner of the court of claims, United States commissioner, Indian Agent of the Mescalero Apache Indians and was elected a member of the legislative council of New Mexico in 1871-1872, and introduced and had passed in that body the first public school law in the territory. He was one of the founders and builders of the now beautiful town of Sliver City, the county seat of Grant county, where he lived for several years, and he was the original discoverer and locator of the famous Bennett silver mine in the Oregon mountains of New Mexico. He was also at one time one of the owners of the Longfellow group of copper mines at Clifton, Arizona, and in El Paso was one of the organizers and at one time president of the El Paso Transfer Company, while in other ways he was closely associated with the early development and the history of this city. The last public office that he held was that of Vice Consul General of the City of Mexico, and after retiring form the position he continued to make his home there until his death. He was a man of strong, forceful intellectuality who left the impress of his character upon every community with which he was connected, and his capability, broad mind and public spirit made him a leader in military, political and business circles.
Colonel Bennett was married in Las Cruces on the 14th of February, 1864, to Miss Lola Patton, of Mesilla, and they had a family of seven children, five sons and two daughters, all of whom are still living, namely: Harry, John, Courtland O., Joseph F., H. F., Mrs. Alfred Main and Mrs. Rosalind Canseco, the last named the wife of the secretary of the Mexican Boundary Commission. The mother, Mrs. Lola Bennett, still lives in Mexico City, making her home with her son Harry.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas, Vol. I (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), pp. 443-445.