WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
JOHN BENSON VAN HAGAN
BIOGRAPHYJohn mined in Pioche and then moved to Silver Reef. He was the superintendent of mines with William T. Barbee in charge of operations. As an "old Mexican veteran", John was appointed to a committee to solicit subscriptions for a banner to be carried at the Centennial Exhibition. He was president of the Silver Reef Jockey Club organized in 1877 at the Capital Saloon. Horse races as well as foot, sack, and wheelbarrow races had purses of $50, $100, and $250. John acted as judge for the horse races.
John was elected president of the Masonic Association in Silver Reef in 1879. He and William T. Barbee were partners in the Barbee & Walker mine, later known as the Barbee & van Hagan Mill & Mining Company. They had an office in Silver Reef, but they managed their properties separately. For instance, Barbee sold one of his "sand banks"—the noted Tecumseh mine—to the Christy Company. In May 1879, fire was discovered when three men saw smoke rising from beneath the plank walk near Harry Wiest's barber shop in front of the Palace Saloon and Restaurant. John was one of the men who tore up the board walk to give access, but the fire had spread to the rear of the building. He was later nominated for chairman of the fire committee.
It was the fire of June 25, 1879 that burned down the Barbee & Walker mill northwest of town, causing $50,000 damage. With no source of income, John and William T. Barbee began to order supplies and new equipment to rebuild the mill. After months of delay and long shipping times, the new machinery, piping, and lumber arrived and reconstruction began. By the time the mill was completed, many of their best miners had left for employment elsewhere, but milling resumed in February 1880. On the 1880 census, John was miner, living in Silver Reef, Washington, Utah Territory. His brother and his nephew were also miners in Silver Reef that year.
Judge John B. van Hagan was a delegate for the national Democratic convention, returning from New York in July 1880. He was appointed to the Liberal territorial committee. John and Barbee were bought out by New York investors who knew of the mine from the report of George W. Maynard. John departed Silver Reef in late June 1881 and went to New York City.
He married Emily Theodora Thompson in 1881 in Quincy, Massachusetts. They had three children.
About 1887, the family moved to Mohave, Arizona. John's health had been declining for more than two years, and consultations with eminent physicians determined his disease was incurable. His long wasting illness gave him time to contemplate his shortened future.
John died of consumption on March 18, 1888 at Thompsons Ranch, Coara Springs, Mohave, Arizona. He left a wife and two small daughters. He was buried in the Hackberry burying grounds. His obituary noted, "Men always had respect for his judgment and the soundness of his convictions… He deliberately chose the straight path of rectitude… He was a kind husband and affectionate father."
Emily and her small children moved to California and she lived there until her death in 1935.
REFERENCESJohn Benson van Hagan
A research report by Elaine Young, Ph.D.