IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.

Willard A. & Elmer E. Benton

No history of Clayton county could be written without frequent mention of Elmer E. Benton and of his father, Willard A. Benton, both of whom served the county in the office of sheriff and both of whom took active part in all the affairs of Clayton county's civic life.

Willard A. Benton, father of Elmer E. Benton, was born in Afton, New York, and was the son of Orange Benton, a descendant of one of the oldest families of New England. The life of Willard Benton was filled not only with good deeds and substantial accomplishments, but with adventure and travel such as fall to the lot of but few. He was born on the farm which was the ancestral home and received his preliminary education in the schools of the county. At an early age he started to earn his own livelihood and first worked as an apprentice at the tanner's trade. It was while he was working at this trade that the discovery of gold in California filled all the east with dreams of a golden El Dorado. The bold and adventurous nature of the youth was at once fired with these reports of fabulous riches and he joined the exodus to California and, with a companion, George Church, he made the voyage "around the Horn," landing in San Francisco in 1853. Three years were spent by him in the gold fields of California, and he suffered all the hardships and partook of all the excitement and vicissitudes of the early days of placer mining. His fortunes were varied and his golden dreams were not fulfilled, but his spirit was undaunted and he resolved to push on, across the broad Pacific, to the gold fields of Australia. He traveled through this new continent for about six months, finally reaching the gold fields. He arrived with no resources save strong and willing hands and a knowledge of mining gained in California. He immediately staked a claim, and fortune smiled on him, for the result of his first day's labor was an ounce and a half of virgin gold.

While moderately successful in Australia, Mr. Benton longed for his native land and within six months he was again on the Pacific, returning to America. The good ship "Yankee Blade," on which he embarked, suffered a most tempestuous passage and was finally wrecked off the coast of Southern California. The passengers and crew were rescued by the ship "Goliath," and Mr. Benton was enabled to resume his voyage and to return to his home in the Empire State.

His next, and most fortunate adventure was on the sea of matrimony, and, in 1856, he was married to Anna Maria Buck, also a descendant from an old New England family, who proved a model help-mate in every way and who was for many years one of the most popular and beloved women of Clayton county. Two children were born to them, Nellie M., who died at the age of three years, and Elmer E., whose name heads this brief biography. In 1857, shortly after their marriage, this brave young couple decided to move to the wider opportunities of the middle west and settled on Iowa as their future home. Arriving at Prairie du Chien, they crossed the Mississippi at McGregor's Landing, and Mr. Benton bought a farm in Howard county, which he cultivated for about a year.

This was in the "Golden Era" of McGregor's history and Mr. Benton decided to cast his lot with the promising young metropolis. He engaged in the commission and real estate business and soon established himself as one of the leading spirits of that progressive city. He was an ardent union man, and, in 1861, he was appointed postmaster of McGregor. As the magnitude of the war increased and the call for troops became more pressing, McGregor, like hundreds of other cities, was hard pressed at times to fill its quota. It was in such an emergency that Willard A. Benton volunteered to raise a company of infantry. The story of his work, how he fairly stormed the town with martial music and with stirring patriotic appeals, has been told in volume one of this history. In a short time a company of more than one hundred men had been raised and Willard A. Benton was the unanimous choice for captain. He accepted this call to duty and, amid the cheers of the people of McGregor, he and his gallant company embarked on the "War Eagle," and glided from the peace of Iowa to the grim scenes of war. The company proceeded to Camp Franklin, where it was mustered into the regular army. Captain Benton took part, with his company, in the battles of Hartsville, Mo., Port Gibson, the charge of Black River Bridge, near Vicksburg, and various other engagements under General Grant. Sickness compelled him to leave his command, to the great regret of his brave company, and he returned to McGregor, where, as soon as he had regained his health, he was reinstated as postmaster, during his absence the position having been efficiently filled by his capable wife.

He was postmaster at McGregor for eight years and upon retiring from that office he undertook a large contract to supply wood to the C, M. & St. P. Ry., and also conducted a flourishing real estate business. It was at this time also that he introduced a unique industry into Clayton county, devoting his spare time to the raising of trout in a hatchery which he conducted for several years, thus being a pioneer in the great work now undertaken by the Government at North McGregor and many other stations. In 1873, Willard A. Benton was elected sheriff of Clayton county, serving with greatest efficiency for three terms in that important office. Retiring from this position he returned to McGregor, where he spent the remainder of his life. His useful, patriotic and successful career ended on this earth September 9, 1905, when he died at the age of seventy-six years, having been preceded in death by his wife, who passed to the other life, March 26,1894.

Elmer E. Benton received his preliminary education in the public schools of his native city, McGregor, and later was a student of the high schools. Before graduation, however, being ambitious to make his own way in the world, he obtained a position with his father as deputy sheriff. In 1880, at the close of his father's term of office, he went to Butte City, Montana, taking a position in the mines, and later prospecting for about two years.

He returned to McGregor in June, 1882, and engaged as a traveling salesman for John Elbling, being employed in this capacity for about five years. He then accepted the position of deputy sheriff under J. J. Kann, and he later served in the same capacity under Sheriff George Cook. In 1895 he was elected to the office of sheriff on the democratic ticket. He was thrice reelected, serving a total of eight years. Such was his popularity that for his fourth term he had no opposition, the Republicans conceding his election, and no candidate caring to stand against him. Mr. Benton is today serving his country as field deputy revenue collector, in which work he has proven an efficient and incorruptible public servant. His name, like that of his father before him, is synonymous with kindliness, good fellowship, efficiency and ability.

source: History of Clayton County, Iowa; From The Earliest Historical Times Down to the Present; by Realto E. Price, Vol. II; pg. 40-42

-OCR scanned by S. Ferrall


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