William and Josephine (Wilhelm Böniz and Josefa Kolmerer) had ten children, all born at Fort Ross, California. Their children's births (and deaths) were not entered in any official record (county, state, or otherwise) and the only record we have of their birth dates is this list made by William. The list is incomplete, for William did not include the unlucky first three who died as infants. (Years later, with no official record to prove he was a US citizen, Alfred was obliged to obtain affidavits from neighbors who knew him as a child.)
William and Josephine's first three children were born, and died, between late 1846 and 1850. We do not know their names nor their exact dates of birth and death. Neither do we know where they are buried.
The following excerpt is taken from the biography of their son Alfred Benitz, “Alfred Benitz: Pioneer, Sportsman and Gentleman”, published by Olga Benitz, "La California", Argentina, 1952, page 15.
“Their first three children all died in infancy. The first died at birth. The second, a golden haired little girl, was kidnapped by Indians while playing near the house. Mrs. Benitz, hearing the baby’s screams, dashed off on a horse after the Indians, rode into their encampment and snatched up the baby before the savages' surprised eyes. They were so astonished they did not attempt to stop her. But it was too late -- the little girl had already been scalped, and she died a few days later. The third was smothered by his Indian nurse who tried to stifle his crying when he kept her awake.”
Their second child, a girl, was playing outside the house when she was abducted, which suggests she was at least old enough to crawl. Her sad story fits a Kashaya folk tale about a group of their youths who abducted and killed a white child.
Some observations: The family story has been embellished: (i) the Kashaya village was next to the fort so dashing off on a horse would not have been necessary, and (ii) the Kashaya did not scalp their victims, so the child most likely died from injuries sustained during her abduction. That said: Why the abduction? William had a good (for the times) working relationship with the Kashaya. When Josephine returned 50 years later for a visit, in 1898, she specifically wanted to see “her Indians”.
Where the three infants are buried is another mystery. The Benitz-Kolmer cemetery in Timber Cove is 2-3 miles distant from the fort and — as far as we know — was not established until five years later, in 1855, when Michael Kolmer died. Had Josephine’s first three children been buried there, surely she would have included their names on the headstone she installed for her parents in 1898.
The infants were more likely to have been buried close to Fort Ross, probably in one of the Russian cemeteries. There are two clues suggesting it was a Russian cemetery: (i) From her visit to California in 1898/1899, Josephine kept just three Cabinet Cards (photos mounted on cards) of Fort Ross and Timber Cove: the Russian Chapel, the Russian cemetery, and the Benitz-Kolmer cemetery. (ii) Recent excavations of the Russian cemetery have unearthed several small Prosser buttons, used on baby clothes and dolls; first manufactured in Europe after 1840, it is unlikely they could have reached Fort Ross before the Russians departed end of 1841.
In about 1851 Josephine’s parents moved much nearer to a farm two miles north of Fort Ross at Timber Cove, a gift from William. They likely provided her with much needed support and comfort for Fort Ross was a lonely place. It may be just a coincidence, but her fourth child, Frank, born in May of 1850 was her first child to survive the frontier life.
The lucky seven all grew up at Fort Ross and in Oakland, where they were educated. The family emigrated as the children were coming of age, arriving in Argentina in 1874 on the brink of its Belle Epoque. When their father died in 1876, he left them “La California” (4 sq.leagues of some of the best crop-land in Argentina) and more than enough gold and silver on hand to have easily doubled their land holdings. But five years later Frank’s disastrous ventures cost the family dearly, most if not all of those funds were gone as well as a ¼ of their land.
In spite of this set-back, the second generation, embued with their parents’ pioneering spirit: opened up new lands, took risks, worked hard, and accumulated wealth. By the mid-1890’s, Frank, Charlie, and Herman had met misfortune and died, but the remaining family members were prospering: Josephine (daughter) was living well in Buenos Aires, Willie was at “La California”, Alfred was renting “Los Palmares” (stocked with 16,000 head of cattle), and Johnnie had recently purchased “Los Algarrobos” (4 sq.leagues). That was the beginning of their recovery. Alfred and Johnnie would continue buying land, either alone or in association with others; and all the siblings would soon build themselves and their mother comfortable summer homes in the hills of Córdoba.
These are their stories as best we could determine from their diaries, letters, photos, and other documents that have come down to us. To access, please click on their name below or on the button with their name in the first row of the above menu. The following are brief descriptions of what you may find on their respective pages (all are under contruction). We assume their protraits were taken in early 1873 for they were printed in May, 1873, in Oakland, California. These copies were kindly provided to us by Jill Hudson.
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)