Biography of Haman C. Lewis
HAMAN C. LEWIS. – This dauntless pioneer of the earliest times in our state was born in New York City January 31, 1803, and was the son of a ship carpenter. He early was apprenticed to learn the trade of a cooper, but while only a boy of fourteen went to sea, serving six months as cabin boy, and later was apprenticed to the ship carpenter. At eighteen he went as sailor – or perhaps more strictly speaking as “fillibusterer” – to the Gulf coast, taking service on a Mexican privateer. For a number of years he followed a most adventurous life, engaged in many rencontres with the Spaniards, and at the ports of Mexico, the West Indies and Yucatan saw all of life in the hot and riotous portions of North American. He took an excursion into Alabama, and in that state enjoyed six months schooling, – all that he received, – and became there very deeply imbued with Southern views and principles. At Mobile, in Texas, and in New Orleans, and again on the Spanish main, he undertook and carried on many doubtful adventures, which required resource, address and courage, – all bravely concluded, but without the monetary results that he hoped for; for, in all these chances and hazards, he was seeking for a fortune in order that he might go to his native place and buy a home and begin life with the girl he loved best.
In 1830, and for some six years thereafter, he followed life on the Mississippi steamboats as carpenter. In1836 he became an itinerant merchant and in 1839 was married to Miss Mary Moore, making a home on a farm in Northern Missouri. This business not proving very profitable, and the conditions of life in that state being hard, he was ready, therefore, in 1845, to join a company bound for Oregon. The journey across the plains to The Dalles was not in his case unusually severe; but at that point his family of wife and two little children were attacked with mountain fever; and thenceforward, even through the damp and dark winter in the Willamette valley, matters went hard enough, culminating in the death of the youngest child.
He spent the first winter in our state in Washington county, finding a smoke-house as the only shelter. In 1846 he moved up into Benton county, placing his cabin south of all the settlers then on the west side. Here he met with little opposition or trouble from the Calapooia Indians. They were occasionally saucy, and at one time had a “law” that all settlers must give them toll, or rental, in the shape of beef, for occupying their land. Lewis refused to accede to their demand; and upon their arrival in force at his farm, with threats to shoot him through the cracks of his cabin, he stood them off with his shotgun, and satisfied them with the gift of a little flour for a sick child in their tribe. For the offense of besieging his house, he with other settlers went to the Indian camp and flogged the chief and interpreter. Lewis also once found an old French Chippewa half-breed carrying the hide of one of his heifers, but, restraining his first impulse to shoot the supposed thief, found upon investigation that this hide had come into the half-breed’s possession by a white man’s killing the heifer, taking a quarter, and giving the rest to the Indians. In such way did he learn that many of the thefts or knavish deeds of the savages might be traced to white men.
Going to the mines of California in1849, he was soon turned back by the rumor that the Cayuse Indians had broken out, and had crossed the cascade Mountains to massacre the families in the Willamette valley. In hot haste he made his way with a number of other married men to his home, exhausting provisions, cutting up tents and wagon covers for clothes, and marching even bare-headed from the loss or destruction of hats. He found the valley serene; but his provisions and means were exhausted; and he went down to Oregon City, obtaining employment in making desks for the primitive state house. Returning home with five hundred dollars, he build and loaded with a cargo of flour a flatboat, and took it down the Willamette river, disposing of her to good advantage at Oregon City. In 1851 he sold cattle to the amount of four thousand dollars, single animals bringing as much as one hundred and ten dollars apiece. In1853 he took a pack-load of wheat to the Rogue river valley, selling it for seed at twelve dollars per bushel. In 1855, in a similar expedition to Southern Oregon, he fell into the Indian war, and escaped only with his life.
In the more tranquil years succeeding, he devoted himself to farming, stock-raising and dealing in lands and cattle or horses, and was usually successful in his ventures.
Mr. Lewis was a member of the state constitutional convention, and served in the legislature from 1857 to 1860. He was a Democrat in politics; and in 1861, when the war broke out, he made no secret of his sympathy with the South. In 1869 he drove a band of cattle and horses to California, and spent about a year there, but after his return to Oregon remained upon his old place, which he had settled upon in 1846; and it was there that, at a ripe old age, he died April 17, 1889. He left his aged wife, whom he had married as a girl of sixteen in 1839, and who had borne him six sons and seven daughters, six of whom, three sons and three daughters, are living. He left an estate worth about forty-five thousand dollars.
The spirit of adventure manifested throughout the entire life of this rugged old pioneer was a prevailing characteristic of the man who broke the trail and led the van of civilization to the sunset sea. He was a type of the class of men who, by their unconquerable perseverance and unwearied exertions. He was far more than an ordinary man. Born to poverty and obscurity, unassisted, unheralded, and relying solely upon his own ability and personal effort, he bore himself bravely through the strife, and up the thorny pathway of earlier life. Although his early education was limited, he had read much; and his travels and contact with men gave him a fund of general information possessed by few; and, when a convention was called to frame a constitution for his adopted state, he was elected to assist in laying the foundations of the prosperity of the state he had helped to establish. He was a man of pronounced convictions, and outspoken on all subjects, brave, generous and hospitable, a good neighbor and a true friend.