Biography of Flemming R. Hill
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FLEMMING R. HILL. – Mr. Hill’s experiences have been so varied and extensive, and his services on this coast so valuable, that we can here give but enough to serve as specimens.
He was born in Overton county, Tennessee, in 1824. In 1829 he accompanied his parents west to a new home in Missouri, and in 1844, was ready for adventures of his own account. With three companions he set forth to the Rocky Mountains, but at the rendezvous left their enterprise, and joined himself as teamster to a train of emigrants bound for Oregon.
The trip across the plains was varied with many exciting and amusing incidents. Being weather-bound a day at Ash Hollow, a few hours were spent in exploring a cave filled with bones, said to be those of a party of trappers killed by the Indians. At the north fork of the Platte, Mr. Hill had a very narrow escape. After the train had crossed the ford, it only remained to cross the cattle. When this was commenced, it was found that one of the company was on foot and unable to get over. Hill offered to lend him his horse, and to take the chances of crossing upon one of the cattle. The cattle entered the river by a buffalo trail, which made a deep cut in the bank of the stream. As the last part of the stock was entering the river, Hill jumped from the bank of the cut upon the back of an unbroken five-year-old steer. The ox, of course, was surprised, and stampeded the whole band. Mr. Hill rode the animal to the other bank in safety, while his companions were anxiously watching with the expectation of seeing him drowned or trampled to death.
While in the Rocky Mountains, he and several others were left behind hunting; and not daring to return after the train, which was usually followed by prowling bands of Indians, they made a détour through “Devil’s Gate,” and over some of the most difficult rocks that a horse ever clambered across. One of the most exciting scenes resulted from a young man’s shooting a buffalo bull which had taken up with the loose cattle. The infuriated animal charged the train, tossing the dogs right and left and into the air, and receiving without immediate effect a shower of bullets. Backed up against the wagon, and keeping everything at bay, he was at length dispatched. At the crossing the Des Chutes the oxen having become weakened by long travel, were unable to resist the strong current. One team, drifting down to a bar next the Columbia, had the wagon overturned; and only by the exertions of Mr. Hill was a young lady, the daughter of his employer, rescued from drowning. Here he himself lost his invaluable buffalo gun.
Arriving in Oregon, he took up the various pursuits or occupations which promised some return, taking a claim also on the Tualatin river, and busying himself at Oregon City. In 1847 he enlisted in Captain Owen’s company to punish the Cayuses, and had some desperate experiences in this war, participating in the fights at the Des Chutes, on the Tukanon and on the Touchet.
Just before the fight at the Des chutes, the men were drawn up in line and counted off, every seventh man being detailed to guard the train. Hill drew number seven; but as a young man named Manly Curry, who had drawn number six, had an excellent rifle, Hill offered to exchange numbers with him if he would also exchange guns. The offer was accepted, and Hill became one of the fighting men. While the company were in line of battle, Hill saw an Indian coming down the opposite mountain on horseback. Without orders Hill broke ranks, and ran forward to an intervening gulch bordered by willows in order to intercept the Indian. On arriving at the opposite bank of the gulch, finding that the Indian was too far off to run towards him, he thought he would get within range before the Indian could climb the mountain, and ran across a small plain to intercept him. When he was discovered running across the little prairie, Colonel Gilliam and the whole command called to him to come back. Hill, however, continued the chase until he thought he was within reach, when he fired and knocked the Indian off his horse. Hill made his escape to the gulch in safety under a very heavy fire from the Indians.
At the Tukanon he was one of the charging party to save the life of the interpreter, Mungo, who was wounded and downed among the Indians. The rest of the party failed to charge; and Hill, finding himself alone, saved his life only by falling from his horse upon the sand as if shot, and at an unobserved moment drawing his gun and shooting the Indian who was about to finish the killing of Mungo; and springing on his horse to ride away. This diversion as of a dead man coming to life confused the Indians and allowed the others to save the interpreter.
Mr. Hill was one of the party to escort Reverends Ells and Walker out of the Indian country; and, after a winter and spring of adventures, he returned to the Willamette valley and was honorably discharged. As to the affiliations of the Indians during the trouble, and the responsibility of war, Mr. Hill says: “I made up my mind from what I saw during the campaign that if I had been a ‘King George’ man I could at any time have gone into the hostile camp with perfect safety. all may draw their inference.”
He was among the first to go to the California mines in company with Nesmith, Ford, Judge Locke and others, and was among the number to purify Placerville of robbers, – making the name “Hangtown” appropriate, – and serving notice that that was the place where felons might expect to hang. The proceedings by which four desperadoes were executed were orderly. The trial was conducted by lawyers on both sides, and the verdict rendered by lawyers on both sides, and the verdict rendered by the entire community as jury. Returning to Oregon in 1851, he selected a claim at Wilbur, in a delightful valley, and has made this his home to the present time.
In a public capacity Mr. Hill has ever been at the fore, having been the chairman of the convention to organize Douglas county, and in the following year was elected sheriff. He has also served as postmaster a number of years, but is at present occupied in keeping a hotel. He was married in1853 to Miss Belinda Reed, daughter of Doctor Reed, the pioneer of 1850, who built the first sawmill in Douglas county. Their two daughters are both married, and are living in Oregon.