Benjamin F. Bergen

Past and Present of Alameda County, California,  By Joseph Eugene Baker, Published 1914, S. J. Clarke, page 373-376

  A man who achieved distinction as an official of the United States government and who later sustained a high reputation as a member of the bar of the Bay cities was Benjamin F. Bergen.  A native of Schuyler county, Illinois, born in 1838, Mr. Bergen was the descendent of the early New Jersey Bergens, the first of whom came to America with Henrik Hudson in 1621. The head of this family married the first white woman to be born in the province of New Netherlands. The great-grandfather of our subject was a soldier in the Revolution and his grandfather an officer in the War of 1812. His father, George S. Bergen, conducted a large stock farm in Schuyler county. He was a native of New Jersey, from which state he removed to Kentucky in 1818, the same year that Illinois was admitted to the Union. Four years later he went to the latter state and entered Shurtleff College, which had just been founded. On completing his course of study there he settled at Jersey Prairie, near Jacksonville. At this time Illinois saw a large influx of people from the northern Confederate states, who settled in the country between the Wabash and St. Louis rivers, especially in Vermilion, Edgar, Champaign, Sangamon and Morgan counties.  The mixture of these old families with those of the pioneers produced a race of people from which sprang many of the country's greatest men.
  Benjamin F. Bergen received his early education in the common schools near .his home and at an early age decided to become a lawyer. This meant in those days long and steady application to his studies in a law office, but he persevered and was finally admitted to the bar. Although he was of an exceedingly studious turn of mind, bent on further perfecting himself in his profession, he found time to participate in politics, being affiliated with the democratic party. He possessed an aptitude for organization and had few peers in the state. As long as he remained in Illinois - nearly twenty-five years - he was a delegate to nearly every state convention of his parry and he numbered among his associates such men as Hon. Virgil Hickox, Hon. William M. Springer, Hon. James C. Allen, Hon. William A. Richardson, Hon. O. B. Ficklin, United States Senator John M. Palmer, Hon. William R. Morrison and others who have left their impress upon the pages of history. He was a member of the democratic state central committee from the state at large for many years; a member of the executive committee of that body; and also secretary of the state central committee during the Tilden campaign, spending several months at the headquarters in Chicago. He called to order the memorable convention in the Windy City at which Tilden was nominated for president.
  In 1885 Mr. Bergen was sent to California and went to Eureka, Humboldt county, as special agent of the United States land office to investigate irregularities in the acquirement of certain redwood timber holdings, being commissioned by President Cleveland. He prosecuted several cases successfully in the federal courts and became the bane of the "land-sharks" of those days. In the course of this work he reclaimed many hundreds of acres of valuable timber lands which had illegally been taken from the government. When Cleveland was succeeded as president by Harrison he resigned and began the practice of law in San Francisco. When first he tendered his resignation it was not accepted, the reasons for which are later seen in letters from Washington. He made his home in Berkeley until 1910, when he moved to Alameda. Until 1896 he maintained his law office in San Francisco, achieving much distinction and handling much important litigation. Then he removed his office to Oakland, that he might be nearer his family, and continued to practice until his death, which occurred on June 22, 1912.
  During his residence in Alameda county he took an active interest in local affairs and in 1894 was a candidate for the superior bench.  He served several terms as member of the board of education of Berkeley and in 1898 was appointed a director of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute in the college city.
  Mr. Bergen was first married at the age of twenty-three to Elizabeth Ann Clark, daughter of David C. and Martha Ann Clark of Santa Rosa. She died in 1900. In 1910 he wedded Mrs. Louise (Briggs) Bigler of Alameda. Four children were born of the first union : Anna, who married James U. Smith, of Berkeley; M. Emily; Benjamin C.; and Ethel, the wife of Frank N. Lowell of Berkeley.
  Among the records of his career as a government official which were treasured by Mr. Bergen and which go far to show that he had been one of its valued agents is a letter received by him from the commissioner of the land office, on receipt of Mr. Bergen's resignation, which is reproduced herewith:

Washington, D. C., May 9, 1889
B. F. Bergen, Eureka, California:
  Dear Sir: - Referring to your request to have your resignation as special agent accepted as soon as practicable, I have to say that I regret very much to learn of your purpose to leave the service, and hope you will reconsider the matter and find it agreeable to remain.  Your thorough knowledge of the land laws and the duties of your office have enabled you to render service which has been of incalculable benefit to the government; and I feel it my duty to do and say whatever I can to keep you in the service. You have proven yourself to be an honest and efficient officer, and the government cannot well afford to lose your services. The able manner in which you conducted the trial in the California redwood case is especially deserving of the highest commendation and praise. I shall therefore decline to recommend the acceptance of your resignation, as long as I believe you can be induced to remain in office.
Yours very truly,
Commissioner, G. L. O.

  The "California redwood case" to which the foregoing letter referred was the prosecution of the California Redwood Company, or "Scotch Sydicate," in which he was bitterly opposed by the best legal talent procurable. It involved the title to some sixty thousand acres of redwood timber land in Humboldt county, valued at twenty million dollars. The case was long contested, over four hundred witnesses being examined, but Mr. Bergen won it for the government. In further recognition of his valuable services and summarizing well his career, William F. Vilas, then secretary of the interior, when Mr. Bergen's resignation f1nally was accepted, wrote to him: "An honorable record is your just reward for public labor."
  As a lawyer in after years, in private practice, Mr. Bergen maintained his high reputation for ability, integrity and faithfulness to the interests of those who intrusted their affairs to him. In social life he was one of the most companionable of men, of genial disposition, and popular among the host of friends who were privileged to know

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