21 Years of Age
Collection of Cebe Hanson, 3-15-04

A History of Thomas Chalkley Benbow
by his daughter, Dorothy Benbow Ragsdale
Collection of Cebe Hanson, 3-15-04

     Thomas Chalkley Benbow was born December 29, 1864, at New Providence, Hardin County, Iowa. His parents were Doctor Thomas Alexander Benbow and Mary Nicholson Benbow, who were born at Greensboro, North Carolina. They were married December 21, 1852.
     In the year 1862, the family migrated from North Carolina to New Providence, Hardin County, Iowa. While living here, his father practiced medicine. In 1874, when Thomas was ten years old, the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He lived here as a youth and attended school until the eighth grade. His family was of the Quaker faith, and his father was a very strict disciplinarian. Probably due to this condition, Thomas rebelled at the age of sixteen or seventeen years and ran away from home, finally arriving in North Park, Colorado.
     An incident that happened when a young man might be added here. While hunting, as he was crawling through a fence, his gun dischjarged and a bullet entered his right leg. Due to this accident, he carried this bullet in his leg the rest of his life.
     During the first years of his residence in Colorado, he followed the occupation of a cowboy and horse breaker and was a range pal of Montie Blevins Sr. who became his brother-in-law.
     He met Ida Elizabeth Mendenhall in North Park, Colorado, and they were married October 26, 1886 at Fort Collins, Colorado. They leased and operated the Road Ranch at Pinkhampton, Colorado. Two children were born here, Emma Harriet, February 6, 1889, and Mary Edna, November 26, 1891, died April 1, 1956.
     In 1892, after living six years in North Park, Colorado, the family journeyed to Absarokee, Montana by covered wagon. There were three families from Colorado travelling with them. The trip was of six weeks duration, for they were bringing livestock as well as taking care of the family, washing, cooking and baking bread enroute. Since there were no bridges over rivers of streams, it was necessary to ford or make rafts for the crossings.
     The family settled on a homestead south of Absarokee, joining Con and Jim Mendenhall, Ida's brothers, who had settled here a year earlier when this Indian reservation was opened for homesteads.
     While living here and farming the ranch in the Stillwater Valley, four children were born to the family. Cebron Alfred, October 6, 1894, died July 23, 1972, Marguerite Louise, December 28, 1896, Dorothy Agnes, May 23, 1899, and Chalkley Mendenhall, August 22, 1902.
     To describe this man is rather had for he was a lover of nature, interested in geology, and he possessed an inventive and scientific mind. He devoted much time prospecting in the mountains nearby.
     Around the year 1900, he invented the well-known Car Coupling Pin, and applied for a patent, but his application was two weeks late. Today this same pin is used on all railroad cars.
     His inventive mind was aroused in the year 1901 when he began drawing plans for an airship, and he devoted the next few years on this project. In Red Lodge, Montana in April of 1902, with the help of some backers, he formed the American Aerial Navigation Company. Pat Lavelle of Columbus was elected president, S. T. Simonsen, Absarokee, was elected vice-president, and George Pierson, Red Lodge, was elected secretary-treasurer. The airship was call the "Meteor", and the company was responsible for raising money to finance this venture which occupied the years from 1902 to 1904. Thomas had secured the patent on the airship from Washington, D.C. in 1901.
     His objective was to enter the Aerial Races at the Exposition Fair at St. Louis, Missouri, October 27, 1904, and win the $100,000 prize. The trial runs were successful, but on the day the final races were held, a wind arose during the flight and the "Meteor" was caught in a number of lines. He was disqualified from the race. This mishap was a terrible disappointemnt ot him.
     His father, Dr. Thomas A. Benbow, had traveled from Colorado Springs, Colorado to St. Louis to witness his son's great dream. A Montana friend, Harry Wells, and a believer in this project accompanied Thomas in the cage and helped him manage the steering apparatus.
(Accompaning articles from the New York, New Jersey, St. Louis, Colorado
and Montana newspapers provide detailed information about the trials and the race.)
     What a great disappontment this failure was to those concerned and who had faith in this project. His father sent him a card. On the back of which was this comment, "Dear Chalkley, keep away from and out of all highwater, even a small stream."
     Meanwhile, in the summer of 1904, Ida and the children moved to Columbus from the ranch in the Stillwater Valley. She was anxious for Emma and Mary to enter high school for further education.
     In 1905 Thomas Chalkley Benbow discovered the chrome deposits in the Beartooth Mountains forty five miles south of Columbus. He felt there were other minerals present, and in later years other minerals were located in the area. He staked out eight claims in this area.
     In 1907 the family moved to a ranch on Keyser Creek four miles north of Columbus where they resided for two years before moving back to Columbus. During this time Thomas was building a cabin on Rock Creek near the chrome claims which he was busy mining.
     One summer he managed a butcher shop at Cooke City, Montana. This location was convenient to surrounding mountains where he was still prospecting.
     When the automobile came into existence around 1914, he invented a Spring Wheel. He spent several months in Cleveland, Ohio where he built the wheel. He though the invention would be the answer to the rubber tire which was easily punctured. He used these tires on an automobile owned by Ed Runner, a friend. At this time there were only dirt roads--no gravel or paved roads. To say the least, the spring wheel was very comfortable riding but it was not accepted by the public.
     A few years later, either in 1917 or 1918, Thomas owned a bar at Absarokee. This business greatly disturbed the family.
     From this time on, he devoted the remainder of his life developing the chrome mines. Previous to this time, a Mr. Barker who was a great promotor and knowledgeable man, supported Thomas and also became an owner in the minse. Barney Berg, district attorney, as a great believer in the mines, so he became attorney for the corporation that was formed. Ownership of corporation share provided a salary for Mr. Berg.
     In 1918 during the First World War, chrome was used to harden steel, and today chrome has many uses.
     Several men and promoters came from New York in 1918 and suggested a price of $900,000 to take over the mines, but Mr. Berg opposed their offer thinking if the mines were worth that much, why not retain them and do their own development in time. In the years of 1921 or 1922, another company arrived from New York and leased the mines for development, seeking ways and means to get ore to the railroads. They paid approximately $35,000 for this project which was of a year's duration.
     Thomas gave shares in the corporation to many people who grubstaked him in the chrome mines.
     Many people called him a dreamer for he worked year after year developing the chrome mine and hoped that he and his family would prosper.
     His dream of productive mine came true, but not before his death from cancer on December 17, 1932. During World War II for a contract of $50,000,000 The Anaconda Company managed the Benbow Mine to produce chrome for the government.

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