A man who died at Los Angeles a few days ago was employed by The New York Times when its printers wore silk hats but walked home nights to Brooklyn and Williamsburg. The man was a compositor then, but followed many other vocations later. He achieved distinction while "swinging around the circle" with President Johnson by sending The Times a dispatch from Chicago that was twelve columns long – said to be the longest telegram sent to any newspaper in the world up to that time.
He became, in his long career, a school Principal, a feature writer, a proofreader, war correspondent, dramatic critic, composer of war songs, a playwright, confidential secretary to Andrew Johnson and an officer on his staff, a Major in the army, a special agent to the Treasury Department, a Paymaster in the army, a Washington correspondent, special agent for the Post Office Department in charge of the Pacific Coast, an owner of five newspapers, a volunteer fireman, one of Southern California's publicists, a great traveler, a judge of good wines, an expert in food, a noted story teller, and a man of many friends.
His name was Major Ben C. Truman, and he was 81 years old when he died on July 18 last at Los Angeles.
Mayor Truman came to New York City when it had three car lines, which ran a car an hour after midnight. In those days many bohemians used to gather at Pfaff's restaurant in lower Broadway, one of them being Ben Truman. A few of these men are still alive and remember his early history. There was also an old-fashioned saloon in Christie Street, where Truman met Stephen C. Foster, the famous song writer. Foster wanted to write a song that would be as "famous as 'Home, Sweet Home,'" and after a conversation with Truman in the saloon composed "Way Down on the Suwanee River."
Major Truman was an intimate friend of Collis P. Huntington and was also on the best of terms with John C. Heenan, the "Benecia Boy," and John L. Sullivan. He knew every General in the Armies of the North and the South, and many odd characters he had met in China and distant parts of the earth. He had a remarkable fondness for interesting persons, and, sent to Paris in 1889, his headquarters became a gathering place for persons who were either notables or notorious, but who were never dull.
Mayor Truman was born in Providence, R.I., on Oct. 25, 1835, and became a school Principal at Canterbury, N.H., when he was 17 years old. He learned to set type when he was 18 and began to write stories for the newspapers a year later. In 1855 he came to New York City and set type and read proof for The New York Times for five years.
Later, when he had developed his ability to tell good stories, he used to derive much humor from the spectacle of the printers in their splendid headgear, plodding miles to reach their homes. There were no buses in the city in those days and one either had to walk or wait an hour until a car came along.
In 1860 he went to Philadelphia as a correspondent for The York Clipper and as a writer for The Sunday Mercury and Forney's Press. He also wrote criticisms of plays and composed war songs and war farces. John W. Forney recognized his ability and made him a war correspondent.
In 1862, when Andrew Johnson was made Brigadier General of Volunteers and Military Governor of Tennessee, he selected Truman as staff officer and confidential secretary, with the rank of Captain. Truman also acted as war correspondent of The Philadelphia Press and The New York Times until the end of the war. He was elected the first Major of the first loyal white regiment in Middle Tennessee, and was for a time Provost Marshal of Nashville.
He remained with Johnson until the end of the war, but went into the field at intervals and served on the staff of General James S. Negley at the battle of Stone River, and with General Kenner Gerrard at the battles of Spanish Fort, Mobile, and Blakeley.
While he was war correspondent for The Times he sent this newspaper an account of the battle of Franklin two days before the news of it reached the War Department. The cutting of the wires between Nashville and Louisville enabled him to achieve this "beat." His description of the burning of Atlanta was published in The Times one day ahead of all other newspapers, and he sent the news of the battles of Spanish Fort and Blakeley to The Times and The Cincinnati Gazette five days before other papers printed it.
He also achieved the distinction of his descriptions in The Times of the achievements of Thomas near Nashville in December, 1864, and by his "stories" of the battles of Stone River, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, and Peach Tree Creek.
President Johnson sent for Truman after the assassination of President Lincoln and made him his confidential secretary, a post he held for eighteen months. During this time he spent eight months in the Southern States as a special Commissioner in Johnson's scheme of reconstruction, and two months in Florida and South Carolina correcting abuses of the Direct Tax Commissioners for those two States.
Later he was sent to Europe as a special agent of the Treasury Department, and upon his return the President appointed him a Paymaster in the army. He expressed a desire to go to the Pacific Coast, and a special agency of the Post Office Department was created for him. This gave him jurisdiction from Alaska to Mexico. He held this position for three years, in the course of which he made trips to China, Japan, Alaska, the Sandwich Islands, and Mexico.
In 1869, after marrying Miss Augusta Mallard of Los Angeles, Truman went to Washington as the correspondent of The New York Times and San Francisco Bulletin. A year later he returned to the Pacific Coast and was appointed Census Marshal of San Diego County, after which he purchased The San Diego Bulletin. Two years later he moved to Los Angeles and became the editor of The Los Angeles Express. In 1873 he bought The Daily and Weekly Star from Henry Hamilton, but sold the paper to his printers in 1877.
He was again appointed special agent of the Post Office Department on the Pacific coast, and held the office for two years, when he became chief of the literary bureau of the Southern Pacific Company. He held this post for eleven years. In 1890 he went to Chicago and took charge of a Southern California exhibit for the Santa Fe Railroad, and in 1892 he was appointed Assistant Chief of Floriculture of the World's Fair at Chicago.
In the intervals of his busy career Truman owned newspapers in Philadelphia, Nashville, and San Francisco. He wrote books about Southern California and the civil war.
He remained a loyal champion of California until the end, and was active almost up to the day he died.