View of Rogue Valley from Wagner Butte
Mountain of Mystery 
by Jan Wright 
2005 published in Southern Oregon History Today from Southern Oregon Historical Society

     Modern maps of the Applegate area near Cantrall-Buckley Park locate an intriguing mountain named Negro Ben. The Applegate settlers started calling the mountain “Nigger Ben” to designate the area where Ben, a blacksmith in Uniontown in the late 1860s made his home.1 In the 1960s the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed the word Nigger to Negro and made the name less demeaning.2 If they had referred to the mountain as just Ben’s Peak or left it nameless it might be assumed that people of color had no historical impact on the Applegate area. As it is, we at least know that Ben made an impression though we don’t know if he even knew that the mountain was named for him.
     It was obvious what his neighbors called him, but one might wonder what Ben’s last name was. The other known blacks in the area have first and last names on the census and other records.3 More often than not many minorities are listed in the court system. The fact that Ben isn’t found in those records may indicate that he stayed out of trouble or that Ben just didn’t live here long enough to leave a paper trail.
     Finding his last name became a goal of mine. I went to the court house looking at land or mining records and went to the mountain itself in a futile attempt to get some clues there. Nothing showed up on the census or in the memories of the old timers. I only knew his name was Ben, that he was black and that he lived for a while in Uniontown on the Applegate and worked as a blacksmith and did some prospecting.
      I was actually searching for something else when I made a breakthrough at the U of O Knight Library, Special Collections in Eugene. A “colored” Benjamin Johnson appears on the 1868 & 1869 assessment rolls for Jackson County, Oregon in Uniontown.4 A search through the 1867 rolls yielded nothing and the 1870 census does not list a Ben or Benjamin Johnson in Jackson county. With his last name to guide me, I expanded the search to other areas in Oregon and found a so-called "mulatto" named Benjamin Johnson, a blacksmith from Alabama in Albany, Linn County in both the 1870 and 1880 census listed with Amanda Johnson, his wife. According to the Linn County marriage records they were married the 31st of December 1870. Amanda was a black woman but both 1870 and 1880 list Benjamin as a mulatto.5&6  If "Negro" Ben  of the Applegate and Benjamin Johnson of Albany, Oregon are the same person, then that explains why he doesn’t show up on other Jackson County records. It may be that he moved to Albany to marry and pursue his blacksmithing in a more populated place. Ben moved on but he left his mark in southern Oregon where we are still remembering him though the mountain that bears his name.

1. Black, John & Marguerite. Ruch and the Upper Applegate Valley. 1990. p.57
2. McArthur, Lewis. Oregon Geographic Names. & Medford Mail Tribune
Sunday 1 Aug 1999 article by Paul Fattig p. 1B “Renaming Mountain Right Idea.”
3. Samuel Vose, Isaac Jones, Charles Blockwell, Samuel Cozzens to name a few.
4. U of O, Knight Library, Special Collections. Box 87 V. 41 p. 8,1868 Assessment Rolls, Jackson
Co. OR & p. 14 1869 Assessment Rolls, Jackson Co. OR
5. 1870 U. S. Census M593 Roll 1286 p. 552 Linn County, Oregon, Albany Precinct.
6. 1880 U.S. Census T-9 -1082 p. 313B Albany, Linn County, Oregon. Benjamin & Amanda
Johnson on Vine St. in Albany with an 11 year old female Maud Henderson.