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Oregon Pioneer Biographies


 

ADAM SMITH HAMILTON, written by Nancy Prevost

     Adam Smith Hamilton, son of Robert Wilson and Rebecca (Smith) Hamilton, was born 9 June 1832 in Sangamon County, Illinois. When he was five years old, his parents took him to a town near Burlington, North Carolina, then to Arkansas, Texas, Arkansas again, Missouri, Iowa, and finally Missouri again before finally setting out across the plains to Oregon in 1845. Adam was thirteen then, and like many of the pioneer children, walked barefoot most of the way. He was the oldest of the six surviving children who came on the trail with their parents.

     In later years he told of encountering large numbers of buffalo, which made it necessary to keep to a guard out to prevent the loss of their cattle, and of the Indians making an attempt to steal one of his brothers. The family took the infamous Lost Meek Cut-off across eastern Oregon, and were nearly out of supplies by the time they finally reached The Dalles. There they built log rafts and journeyed downriver to the Cascade portage. At this point they subsisted mainly on dried salmon skins left behind by the Indians. Below the Cascades, the journey was still beset by difficulties. High winds prevented them from rounding Cape Horn Mountain, and his father walked six miles for 15 pounds of flour. By the time they reached the next landing, Adam was so hungry that when he was given some syrup he ate so much of it he was sick. Dr. McLaughlin fed them at Fort Vancouver, where Adam had pork and beans. Although he thought the pork very fat, he decided it tasted very good.

     The family reached the settlements destitute. They stopped first at Linnton, then went to the present site of McMinnville for the winter. They lived mainly on boiled wheat and watermelon seeds they had brought along to plant. Adam was so hungry he even tried eating green leaves. In 1846 they went to live briefly in Oregon City, and there Adam went to school for the first time, for three months. Most of the other students were half his age, which made him feel awkward, but he was determined to learn while he could. All together he only had five months of formal schooling, but he continued to educate himself by reading up into his old age.

     Early in 1847 the family located on a donation claim in the Eola district of Polk County across the river from Salem. The next year when he was sixteen, he went to the French settlement and helped build a barn for Mrs. Gervais. On 1 Nov. 1851, he settled on a donation claim of his own (Oregon City claim #1087) in Polk County. The next fall his uncle and family arrived in Oregon, along with some former Arkansas neighbors, the John and Laurissa Ingram. They all located in Lane County in 1853, and presumably Adam spent some time with them or helped them get settled, for on 2 Feb. 1854 (recorded in Linn County) he married the Ingramís oldest daughter Melissa Jane, born 24 July 1834 in Arkansas. In 1855, Adam sold out his claim and moved to Linn County. Their time of happiness was to be brief, for Melissa died on 2 Jan. 1859, just over two weeks after the birth of their third child and only daughter.

     Adam took his children back to Polk County, where his family could help to look after them. In 1862, leaving them with his parents, he went to the Salmon River mines in Idaho. The gold diggings were quite rich, particularly around Florence. He went on to the Boise mines the following year, but eventually sold out his interests and returned to Oregon. On 19 March 1865 in Lane County, he married for the second time to Elizabeth Ann (Hayes) Fountain, a young widow of his acquaintance. The daughter of Henry and Mary Hayes, she was born 1839 in Missouri, and had married first to Henry C. Fountain in Jan. or Feb. 1854 in Linn County, by whom she had three sons, William, E., and Theodore.

     Adam and Elizabeth settled down in Polk County, where they had four children. A few years later they moved to Lane County, where Elizabeth died on 24 Nov. 1878, leaving him a widower for the second time. Adam farmed near Eugene for seven years. In 1881, he was one of the founding members of the Springfield Lodge of the IOOF (Odd Fellows), serving as an officer the first year, and attaining the "Scarlet" degree. During his years in Oregon he served as assessor for two years, and as a justice of the peace up and down the Willamette Valley.

     Some of his older children had gone to live in Whitman County, and in 1885 Adam, with the two children who yet remained at home, followed. They made the journey by train, arriving on 29 October. He took up a homestead claim of 63 acres about two and a half miles west of the small settlement of Diamond, and there he and his son George lived a bachelor existence. That winter and the following year, the two worked in a saw mill at Colfax, but then Adam came down with typhoid fever and had to quit. While recovering he lived with his son Francis M., and when he regained his strength he began peddling books for a living. In 1890 he was appointed census enumerator for the government, and about that time opened a merchandise store at Diamond. The store functioned as a post office as well, and Adam was postmaster for sixteen years. He found the time again to act as a justice of the peace, serving in that capacity all told in Oregon and Washington for seventeen years.

     In spite of his lack of formal schooling, Adam Smith Hamilton constantly improved his mind with reading and self-study, and was accounted a well-educated man. He operated his store in Diamond until about 1916, when he retired at the age of 84 and went to live with his son Francis. When nearly 90, and still very much alert, Adam recounted some of his stories and experiences for J. Orin Oliphant of the State Normal School in Cheney (later Eastern Washington University). Oliphantís account appeared in the "Colfax Gazette" in April 1922, and in May the "Spokesman-Review" at Spokane featured Adam in an article. He was injured in a fall in December of 1924. Confined to his bed, he became ill and eventually contracted pneumonia, from which he never recovered. Adam died 8 August 1925 at his sonís home near Diamond, at the age of 93. His passing was noted by the Oregon Pioneer Association, of which he had been a member, and was reported in several Oregon newspapers as well as those in Colfax and Spokane, as one of the regionís well known early pioneers.

Children of Adam Smith and Melissa Jane (Ingram) Hamilton:

  1. Francis Marion HAMILTON, b. 29 Oct. 1854 Polk Co., OR; d. 23 Sep. 1939 near Diamond, Whitman Co., WA; m. 8 Oct. 1876 Lane Co., OR, Mary Louise HODGEN.
  2. Byron Wilson HAMILTON, b. 12 Sep. 1856 Linn Co., OR; d. 14 Aug. 1930 Enterprise, Wallowa Co., OR; m. 28 Oct. 1879 Lane Co., OR, Annie Lavinia HEMBREE.
  3. Melissa Jane HAMILTON, b. 15 Dec. 1858 Linn Co., OR; d. 27 Aug. 1906 Diamond, Whitman Co., WA; m. 27 Oct. 1886 Colfax, Whitman Co., WA, Henry ROCK.

Children of Adam Smith and Elizabeth Ann (Hayes) Fountain Hamilton:

  1. Mary Ethel HAMILTON, b. 27 Jan. 1866 Polk Co., OR; m. 4 Mar. 1885 Lane Co., OR, Alonzo C. WINDOM.
  2. Emma Louella HAMILTON, b. 14 Apr. 1868 Polk Co., OR; d. 30 May 1882 Springfield, Lane Co., OR.
  3. George Loren HAMILTON, b. 16 May 1870 Polk Co., OR; d. 1935 San Francisco, CA; m. 17 Nov. 1903 Spokane, Spokane Co., WA, Mrs. Dora (ZIEGLER) WAKLEY.
  4. Nella (Nellie) Myrtle HAMILTON, b. 3 Apr. 1872 Polk Co., OR; d. 18 Feb. 1954 OR; m. 23 July 1890 Colfax, Whitman Co., WA, Dale LeRoy TORRENCE. Sources:
  1. "Sketches of Whitman County Pioneers: Adam Smith Hamilton." Colfax Gazette, 7 Apr. 1922.
  2. "A. S. Hamilton, Nearly 90, Came Across Wester Plains in 1845," Spokesman-Review, 14 May 1922.
  3. Obituary, "Aged Plainsman Hears Last Call," Spokesman-Review, 10 Aug. 1925.
  4. Obituary, "Oregon Pioneer of 1845, dies in Washington," Oregonian, 23 Aug. 1925.
  5. Obituary, "He Came to This Region 80 Years Ago," unknown newspaper clipping, Hamilton scrapbook.
  6. Mrs. Dale L. Torrence in "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Fred Lockley, 13 Apr. 1937.
  7. Recollections of Minnie Flemming, granddaughter, related to Mrs. Russell Rock in 1922. (Family papers in possession of the author.)
  8. F. M. Hamilton Family Bible.
  9. Oregon and Washington Census records.
  10. Marriage records of Polk, Linn and Lane counties, Oregon, and Whitman and Spokane counties, Washington.
  11. Oregon and Washington land records.
  12. Family records in possession of the author.

Contributed by Nancy Prevost - prevost@ieway.com, October 23, 1998.


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