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Yuma County Pioneer Photographs:

George Adam Benkelman, Benjamin Franklin and Wilhemina (Hesse) Benkelman, Jaqua

January 24, 1908 "John George Benkelman, founder of the town of Benkelman, died in Denver, Thursday night of last week aged 77 years."

George was the first Benkelman born in the United States. He was born only a few weeks after Adam and Catherine arrived.

In her history of the Colorado and Nebraska Benkelman's, Margaret "Bonnie" Jacob wrote that George Adam Benkelman was living with his family in Cass City, Michigan when his Uncle, "Big George" Benkelman, contacted him about going into the cattle business with him in Colorado. Just 19 years old, and eager to get on with his life, "Little George" eagerly accepted. It was 1870 when he arrived in Denver. Big George explained to him the need for a relocation of the cattle herd. Little George saddled his horse and rode from Denver to the Kansas-Colorado state line and down the south fork of the Republican River. Just inside the state line he lay in a draugh and watched an entire hunting party of Cheyenne Indians cross the river and continue riding south. He knew that if they saw him that he was dead. Luckily, he continued on his journey, but traveled cautiously from then on. He returned to Denver drawing to a close his 400 mile horseback trip.

Little George set out on a second trip east to find line camp headquarters for the Benkelman Ranch. When George Adam Benkelman viewed the valley of the south fork of the Republican River, he saw a carpet of buffalo grass about 8 inches high. It was lush and beautiful with very few trees. The stream trickled across the prairie aimlessly. One did not have to travel very far in either direction to find a bleak desolate land with no water and absolutely no trees. The visibility on a clear day was for miles. There were no buildings except for the deserted stage station which was made of sod. There was not yet to be a fence on the prairie. This trip he traveled much the same route as the first trip only he continued down the south fork of the Republican into Nebraska Territory and back down through what is now Oberlin and on to what is now Ellis, Kansas just west of Hays. Indians were encountered several times on this trip and several skirmishes took place. He returned to Denver with the location selected on the south fork of the Republican River just inside the state line of Kansas. The journey encompassed approximately 800 miles on horseback.

In 1874, Big George, Little George, Jake Haigler, Ben and Jim Morning and a handful of cowboys moved the Benkelman herd to the selected area in 34-4-42 Kansas. Big George returned to Denver. Little George, Jake Haigler and the Mornings looked after the herd. A sod house was built and the ranch was named the JC Ranch. The grazing lands included northeastern Colorado, Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas lands. Large herds of 5,000 to 20,000 head of cattle were run on this range.

George Adam generally kept 10 cowboys, but during round-up and branding time the number would increase to 30. The closest place for the cowboys to purchase supplies was the Roubidoux Store at Fort Wallace, which was 70 miles away. The trip was made about 3 times a year. A guard was posted at Fort Wallace to prevent trail herds being driven north from Texas from taking strays belonging to the Benkelmans.

Jake Haigler was the foreman on the JC. Realizing that other large cattle companies might move in, George Adam urged Jake to from a cattle company up north to prevent a squeeze. Jake went to Missouri in 1875 for 1 year and then returned and formed a cattle company. The Haigler, Aix, Perkins Cattle Company was made up of family and friends. In 1876, he established on the Arickaree Forks in Nebraska.

The winters in western Kansas were extremely cold. The location of the line camp was straight west of the deserted station 20 on the Pikes Peak Leavenworth Trail. The road to Denver lead home for George Adam. On his trips home, he always stayed at the Benkelman residence.

One particular trip in 1877 proved to be a turning point in his life. The guest of honor at the Benkelman house was Mary Barbara Rommel, Christine's sister. She had been in America only five years.

When John George and George Adam returned to the range in 1878, they moved the headquarters of the ranch down the Republican River seven miles for better hay meadows and springs. The Benkelman Ranch was headquartered up the river from Wano. The exact location was 11-4-41. The new operation was called the T Wrench Ranch because of the brand. The new headquarters consisted of a row of 3 sod houses, an underground storage room, a blacksmith shop, sod barn 20x90 for 22 horses, 11 stalls for two horses each. The roof was made of tree limbs and hay. The corral was 204 square feet.

On January 6, 1880, George Adam Benkelman was united in marriage to Mary Barbara Rommel at the Benkelman residence in Denver. The ranching business had been quite prosperous. George Adam longed for Mary Barbara to be by his side. Their first child, Lottie, was born October 24, 1880 in Denver, as was their son Frank. George and Barbara were living with George and Christina at the time of the 1880 census.

George was 33, a cattle dealer, born in New York Mary 32, also in New York, Lottie 4, Franklin B. 2. both Colorado.

George Adam loaded his family into a wagon and moved from Denver to the JC Ranch in September 1886. Mary Barbara had to be surprised when she saw her new home. It was a small sod hut absolutely colorless with no trees or landscaping. Water had to be hauled from the river, which was only a few steps away. The outdoor privy was not constructed until shortly before she arrived. The inside of the soddie allowed no frills. The walls were plastered with a limestone mixture. She had brought her cookstove from Denver. Wood and cow chips had to be gathered from the offerings of the prairie. One always felt better when there was a stash of chips piled not to far from the house, because of the severe winters. It is amazing what she did with the one room soddie with a few curtains and well spaced colored articles. Life was hard for the pioneers, but Mary Barbara never complained. She tended her family with all the grace and charm with which she had been endowed. Two more children were born, Charles in 1888 and George Albert in 1890. They were the first children born on the ranch.

The ranch cook was Billy Walsh of Irish descent. He had hunted buffalo on the prairies since 1872. A.W. Tip Spencer worked for the Benkelman's since 1877. Other ranch hands were John Burgwald, Ben Benkelman, Lee Bright, Mart Tscheudy, Walter Tovey, Harry Strangeways, John Chandler, George Fahrion, Wallace Clow, Emmet Vandergrift and Elmer Tabor. During the roundup season, the cowboys slept on the ground.

In 1894, the George Adam Benkelmans moved to St. Francis, Kansas after he was elected County Clerk. He served in that capacity until 1904, when he resigned to enter other business opportunities. In 1905, he was appointed postmaster in St. Francis. He served until 1915. He was enroute to California when he suffered a stroke. He died in Alhambra, California, February 10, 1929 at age 77. His wife had died earlier, on May 18, 1928, at age 75, in St. Francis. She was stricken with apoplexy and never regained consciousness before she passed away.

The following biography was transcribed from "A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans," written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

GEORGE ADAM BENKELMAN. One historical account states that the first cattle ranch in Cheyenne County was established in the year 1876, but there were no really permanent settlements made for several years after that. These facts give interesting prominence to the career of George A. Benkelman, a well known business man and citizen of St. Francis, who by every right and propriety may be regarded as the real pioneer and first permanent settler of the county, since he was herding cattle on the range in this northwestern corner of Kansas in the year 1876. At that time the frontier was exposed to danger from Indians, who were still numerous and many of them hostile, and there were many more buffaloes to be seen on the prairies than native cattle.

Few men still living have had more intimate contact with the life and times of the old West than George Adam Benkelman. He was born at Lancaster in Erie County, New York, September 7, 1851. His father, Adam Benkelman, was born in Wuertemberg, Germany, in 1830, grew up and married in that kingdom, learned the trade of cooper, and in 1851 brought his family to the United States and settled at Bowmansville, New York. He was a cooper there and in 1865 went to Michigan, where he was both a cooper and farmer. He died at Cass City, Michigan, in 1901. On getting his first papers as an American citizen he affiliated with the democratic party but became a republican later through his admiration of President Lincoln. He was a member of the German Lutheran Church. Adam Benkelman married Christina Schifely, who was born in Wuertemberg in 1826 and died at Cass City, Michigan, in 1910. George Adam was the oldest of their children; Louise is still living in Cass City, Michigan, widow of Andrew Schwegler, who was a farmer there; John also lives on a farm in Cass City; S. G. is a carpenter and farmer at Cass City; W. F. is bookkeeper for a lumber firm in Detroit; and B. F. is a general merchant at Cass City.

Thus of all the family George Adam Benkelman has shown the most enterprise in breaking away from home ties and discovering new fields of conquest in remote districts. He got his education in the public schools of Cass City but at the age of nineteen started out to make his own way in the world. His journeyings soon brought him into the far West and he had an extensive experience as a cowboy in Colorado and along the Western Kansas line. When he was in Cheyenne County in 1876 he had no neighbor nearer than Fort Wallace, seventy-five miles away. He ran his herd of cattle over a domain of country unvexed by wire fence or any other civilized obstruction and made no attempt to secure a more permanent location until the spring of 1888, when he took advantage of the homestead laws and filed upon a quarter section and also a timber claim. The homestead was his place of residence and center of operations until the spring of 1894. Some years later he sold that quarter section.

In the fall of 1893 Mr. Benkelman was elected county clerk of Cheyenne County, and his official duties brought him to St. Francis. He was county clerk for eleven consecutive years. In 1905 President Roosevelt appointed him postmaster of St. Francis, and that office kept him as its incumbent by successive appointments until July, 1915. In the meantime he was identified with all the progressive movements for the upbuilding of his home town. For several years he clerked in a general merchandise store in St. Francis and also owns a farm of 160 acres near St. Francis and thirty-three acres adjoining the town. He is president of the Herald Publishing Company. Mr. Benkelman's home is a modern residence remodeled in 1905, and it stands upon a considerable plat of ground. Politically he is a republican and is a steward in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He has also served as noble grand of Rising Star Lodge of Odd Fellows, and is a past master workman of the Ancient Order of United Workmen at St. Francis.

In January, 1880, at Denver, Colorado, Mr. Benkelman married Miss Mary B. Rommel, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Rommel, both now deceased. To their marriage were born four children: Lottie C., a graduate of the Cheyenne County High School and of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and is at home with her parents; Frank B. is a graduate of the County High School and of the School of Pharmacy of Kansas City, Missouri, and is a registered pharmacist at Kansas City; Charles A. graduated in pharmacy in the Kansas University and is connected with a general store at McDonald, Kansas; George A., Jr., is a dentist, a graduate of the Western Dental College of Kansas City, Missouri, and while his home and professional office are at St. Francis, he was with the United States Army on professional duty at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. "

Cass City Chronicle
July 15, 1927

George Adam "Little George" Benkelman,   b. 7 Sep 1851, Lancaster, Erie County, New York   d. 10 Feb 1929, Alhambra, Los Angeles County, California
Mother  Maria Barbara Rommel,   b. 1 Jun 1852, Bünzwangen, Donaukreis, Württemberg, Germany ,   d. 18 May 1928, St. Francis, Cheyenne County, Kansas 
Married  6 Jan 1880  Denver, Denver County, Colorado 


In 1880 Erie County, New York, Andrew Bengalmin is a blacksmith, 47, born in Germany, Sally 46, Jacob 21, FRANK 17, William 14,

In 1895 Jaqua, Cheyenne County, Kansas, B.F. "Beukelman" is 31, Minnie 29, Ruth eight months.

Adam timber-claimed a quarter in 33, 4S 42W in 1895, and Benjamin one in section 34 in 1896.

Benjamin and Adam both had cash-claimed  quarters in 4S 41W - Kansas- in 1890.  Others in Cheyenne County were George W. 1890, George A. 1894, Harry J. 1891, John 1890 and 1890 and 1900.

George Adam Benkelman 1851-1929 is buried in Saint Francis # 125305095,  with Maria Barbra (Rommel) Benkelman 1852-1928.


Benjamin F. Benkelman, 24, married Minnie Jesse 26, in Saint Francis December 26, 1893.

In 1900 Jaqua, Cheyenne County, Kansas, Ben Benkelman born Sept 1863 in New York, married seven years to Minnie Sept 1875 Michigan.  Routh July 1894, Mary May 1896, Harold Nov 1897, and Bengman Nov 1899 were all born in Kansas.

In 1910 Tuscola County, Michigan, Benjamin is 46, Minnie 44, Ruth 15, Mary 13, Harald L. 12, Benjamin F. 10, Looris J. 5, and niece Birtha 22, a bookkeeper.

After retiring from ranching, Ben Benkelman Sr. owned and operated a dry goods store in his hometown of Cass City for approximately twenty years. Ben Sr. is standing in the background of one photo. In the foreground is Mr. Philo S. Rice, who clerked at the Benkelman store for 19 years, and was proprietor of his own grocery store for nearly six years thereafter. He was born on Stuben, NY on 5 Dec 1863, and died in Cass City on 8 Oct 1928, leaving behind his widow, Carrie Fancher Rice and two children, Mrs. A. C. Atwell of Cass City and Roy F. Rice of Los Angeles. (Cass City Chronicle, 12 Oct 1928, page 1).

In 1920 Tuscola County, Michigan, Benjamin H. is 56, Minnie 54, Ruth 25, Florence S. 23, Benjamin 26, and Lois J. 14.

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