In 1866 Benjamin Franklin Jones was 16 years old and quit the farm to become a miner. He was at the tail end of the gold mining and never made more than wages working the hydraulic mines that had replaced the placer operations a decade earlier. After four years in the mines, he left Mugginsville to travel to the big city of San Francisco.
Benjamin arrived at San Francisco in the middle of a building boom. The city was expanding at a great pace. There was a shortage of skilled labor and manual labor. Benjamin took work as an apprentice carpenter and within a year was directing the efforts of other newcomers.
With money in his pockets Benjamin got into the kind of trouble a young man from the country might in a big city. He discovered women and gambling. Somehow he avoided whiskey, the third leg of the seat of wickedness. He worked hard all day and played hard most of the night. In this activity he was joined by a young man, Calvin Frazer who had come from Kentucky as a child.
Calvin grew up in San Francisco and knew his way around the city, including China Town. Benjamin grew up hearing that the Chinese in San Francisco were huddled masses of ignorant poor people. In fact there are those, but Calvin introduced Benjamin to a Chinese man in his twenties, Wu Ho Jian whose father had been a successful gold prospector.
Mr. Wu began prospecting in the rush of 1849 and almost immediately made a lucky strike. The first thing he did was take out a bit of gold and exchange it in the Chinese community for passage from China for his wife and young son. Then he hired his neighbors at good wages to work the claim and hired an Englishman to manage the operation at a very good wage. Then he slipped into the background as an absentee owner of the claim.
The Wu family, expanded in 1853 with the birth of a daughter named Xiao Mei. It was Xiao Mei that kept Calvin coming back to visit the Wu household. In 1871 she was a beautiful young woman, with a mind of her own. At the moment her mind was fixed on Calvin.
Ho Jian brought the boys back to his house one evening where they were welcomed by Mr. Wu and his wife. They spent a pleasant few hours when Mr. Wu called Benjamin aside and asked to speak to him in private. Calvin was wrapped up in Xiao Mei’s company so Benjamin went with Mr. Wu to a separate sitting room where he was offered a cigar, which he declined. Mr. Wu lit his cigar from the fireplace, sat on a sofa and motioned Benjamin take the easy chair facing him.
“Mr. Jones,” said Mr. Yu, “I have been a most fortunate man. I have assured a comfortable life for my family. I am well liked in my neighborhood because I have shared my good fortune. Outside of this neighborhood I have enemies. People who want to take what I have. Some of these enemies have gone outside of China Town to raise envy among the English for my success. I need to know what might be brewing against me in that world. Would you be willing to join Calvin in being my ears and eyes outside of China town?”
“I’m not sure what that means Mr. Wu. I am just a country boy from Mugginsville. I know very few people in San Francisco. I wouldn’t know where to begin to gather information for you.”
“Calvin has grown up here, from a street urchin to a fine young man. He knows his way around town like no one else I know. Your contribution would be that not only do you not know people here but that you are not known. Ho Jian brought Calvin to my family at my request and Calvin suggested you to help. I had you investigated and found you had a reputation for honesty and hard work. You have been indiscrete in your night life but less so that most young men in this city.”
So Benjamin gave notice to the master carpenter he was working for and became a well paid spy for Wu Enterprises. He mingled with bums and bishops, police and politicians. He became known as a young man about town and it was assumed that he came from a wealthy family. He always heard more than he said and through Calvin passed a lot of useful information to Mr. Wu.
By spending no more than necessary to maintain his supposed life style Benjamin began to accumulate more money than he was comfortable keeping under his bed so from time to time he made a trip to visit his father and mother in Mugginsville to leave a stash of gold with them. He did not share with his parents exactly what he was doing for a living in San Francisco and they never pressed him on his vague references to “business”.
In the spring of 1873 Benjamin in walking around town, happened upon a young woman sitting on the steps of a church weeping. When he asked if he could help she explained that she had been brought west from an orphanage in Massachusetts with the promise of employment, only to find that the job was as a prostitute. She concluded that she must become a whore or a nun to survive since she had no skills and was trying to decide which of the two unattractive options to choose.
Her name was Beatrice McCabe, according to the orphanage records, and she had been turned out into the streets of Boston when she reached the age of 18. She was trying to find work and was picked up by a woman who would arrange transportation to San Francisco for young women if they would agree to work for the woman’s associates for two years. So Beatrice rode the railroad from Boston to San Francisco.
The associate, as it turned out ran a bawdy house and when Beatrice found out what the deal was, she refused. The madam took all her meager savings and cast her adrift on the streets. That was the condition under which Benjamin found her.
Now Benjamin at the age of 23 was no saint, but he was touched by Beatrice’s story. He took her around to the family of one of his acquaintances and paid for her room and board. Beatrice did find work in the fish processing plant on the waterfront and Benjamin began a more or less regular courtship. In June Beatrice agreed to marry and the couple set out to travel to Benjamin’s home in Mugginsville.
Travel had changed a lot in the thirty years since Benjamin’s father Nathan had walked through the wilderness. The river edge foot paths had been improved into the beginnings of passable roads. The central valley of California offered stagecoach passage from San Francisco to Portland Oregon along the pre-historic Siskiyou Trail. Benjamin and Beatrice took the stage to Yreka where they were married. They caught a ride with a wagon load of lumber down past Fort Jones then walked cross country to the Jones farm near Mugginsville.
Travel by Coach
Benjamin and Beatrice spent a pleasant week with Benjamin’s parents. Then they returned to San Francisco to set up housekeeping. There Benjamin explained in detail to Beatrice what he was doing for a living. She quickly adapted to Benjamin being home most days and out most nights. Beatrice turned up pregnant in September and in on April 22, 1874, Benjamin Franklin Jones the younger was delivered about a month premature.
As soon as Beatrice could travel she and Benjamin and bundled up the frail infant and rushed him to the farm in Mugginsville where Beatrice would have the help of an older woman in caring for the baby. Benjamin returned to San Francisco to continue his work for Mr. Wu.
The baby gained a bit every day, kept in an egg basket on a shelf over the kitchen wood stove and fed every few hours. In a month he was ahead of many newborns in weight and strength. In that same month Beatrice continued to grow weaker. The doctor was summoned from Yreka but there was nothing he could do. Beatrice died on the last day of May, 1874.
Nathan rode to San Francisco to bring Nathan back for Beatrice’s funeral. Nathan and Phoebe Ann convinced Benjamin that his child should remain with his grandparents since Benjamin was in no position to care for him. So Benjamin returned to San Francisco with no family.
Mr. Wu’s competitors, both Chinese and American, had been wondering for a long time how Mr. Wu always seemed to be at least two steps ahead of them. Only when the Chinese and American businessmen began to talk to each other about Mr. Wu’s success did the idea of espionage come up. It didn’t take them long to put together Benjamin Jones, who seemed to be everywhere socializing with the businessmen, with tidbits of information that Mr. Wu seemed to mysteriously have.
In January, 1875 Benjamin and Calvin both disappeared from the San Francisco scene. The rumor surfaced that they had been killed. Mr. Wu and Mrs. Wu and Ho Jian cashed out a lot of enterprises and dropped out of site. Only Xiao Mei, who had been married to Calvin, could be found in China Town. She kept to herself but never went into the traditional mourning of a widow.
It turned out the Xiao Mei Frazer knew something that apparently no one else did. In mid-May of 1876, Calvin showed up again. He and Benjamin had been shanghaied on a trip the China. Calvin and Mei left town and disappeared from San Francisco for good.
Benjamin made the return trip but did not return to San Francisco and neither did he turn up at Mugginsville. None of his old friends seemed to have seen him but there were rumors that he was still at risk from some of the folks that had lost money because of his actions. Like Calvin, he never again was seen in San Francisco. Only much later did folks connect the missing Benjamin Jones from San Francisco with the Benjamin Jones that was a lumber dealer in Marion County, Oregon and in 1884 married again to Ada Settelmier, the daughter of a dairy farmer from Sublimity. They had no children and in 1901 they moved to Salem. Benjamin died there in 1913.