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Biography of Siney Lewis

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1848 to 1929
Location: [unknown]
Surname/tag: Lewis
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The following biography of Siney Lewis, a Mormon born in Iowa, the son of David Lewis, was posted in July 2011 here on ourfamilyheritage.blogspot.com

It has been copied and pasted here in August 2020 for reference in its original form. Unless an original document has been found, please do not edit the contents below.

On August 1, 1848 in a little village along Mosquito Creek, near Council Bluffs, Iowa, twins - a boy and a girl, were born to David and Duritha Trail Lewis. I, Siney Lewis was the boy. My sister was named Olive. Our names were symbolic of two of the sacred mountains in the Holy Land, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Olivet. There were three children older than we, Arminta, Preston King, and David.

While we were still small babies, mobs composed of men prejudiced against our people, because of religion, came upon us, took all the property they could carry or haul away, and burned our homes from over our heads. In some way, my father got together an outfit consisting of a team and light wagon or double buggy, and took us back to Kentucky where his people and mother's people lived.

After my parents were converted to Mormonism in Kentucky they traveled or were driven by hostile mobs from place to place, always seeking a place where they might worship God as they pleased in peace. They had traveled around about 12 years before taking this trip to their old home.

During the time they had been gone, (after 1850) my Grandfather Trail had died leaving a large estate. My mother took her share of the estate, in equipment for emigration to the west, one Negro slave, called Jerry, two women slaves, and money.

When we were ready to start back to the gathering place of the Saints, we had two yoke of oxen, two covered wagons well loaded with supplies, including seed grain and garden seeds, bedding, clothing and food. We also had two good milk cows.

We left Kentucky sometime early in 1849, and joined the Saints who were moving westward. (Solomon Trail probably died between Aug. 1850 census date and about May 1851 when they actually left for SLC, thus distributing his inheritance to them before their final push to SL Valley.)

My father was a cooper by trade, and as barrels, tubs, and kegs were in great demand by the Saints for storing supplies for traveling, he had more orders for work than he could do.

The people did not move very fast that first month. They would stop at favorable locations, build a few rude log cabins, and make a settlement for a short time. Sometimes they would come to an old fort or settlement where some houses were all ready built that had been abandoned.

We were stationed for a short time in Iowa, I don't remember the name of the settlement. Here father's work was so much in demand that he hired a young fellow named Baker to help him. My sister, Arminta, although only 14 years old was large for her years and was very pretty. My mother could see a growing attachment between her and young Baker, but my father was blind to it. Mother worried a great deal over this affair, but father thought her fears were groundless.

We were living in a two story house at that time and Arminta's room was upstairs. One morning, we awoke to find Arminta and Baker gone. She had thrown her clothes from the upstairs window and sneaked downstairs where he was waiting with our best horse.

We never saw her again but heard rumors of her from time to time. We never really found out what became of her. We all missed her very much, especially mother who had depended on her to care of one of us twins while she cared for the others. Mother never really got over losing her and was always hoping to hear of her or that she would return.

Soon after this we began our journey across the Great Plains. (May 1851) Although I was only two years old, some of the incidents and scenes remain in my memory, to this day, of that hard journey. I remember vividly a huge herd of stampeding buffalo that rushed through our camp grounds. I was sitting on the wagon tongue close to the wagon, for no one had time to take me into the wagon, and some of these plunging snorting beasts leaped over the lower end of the very tongue upon which I was sitting.

Fortunately, I escaped unhurt, but a very frightened little boy. I imagine my parents and the rest were more frightened if possible than I was.

About fifteen years later, I went back over this same trail to bring immigrants to Utah. Many of the scenes were familiar to me.

We reached Salt Lake Valley in fall of 1851. My father located a vacant adobe house and moved the family into it.

The winter was long and very cold for us as we were used to a much milder climate. Father and Jerry, the Negro, hauled wood for the fireplace from the canyon near where Ft. Douglas now stands. The wood was green and very slow burning and it was hard to keep us little children warm. The next spring we planted what little grain and seed we had left expecting a good crop. But that was the year of the grasshopper plague and we were not fortunate enough to save any of our crop. Mother bought a little home and about 15 acres of land not far from where the city and County buildings now stand (in Salt Lake City) with the money she had saved from her share of Grandfather Trail's estate (or from the sell of the two women negro slaves sold before immigrating across the final leg to Salt Lake).

The winter of 1852-53 was just as hard if not harder for us than the previous one had been. We had very little to eat and that caused us to feel the cold more keenly. We all worked as soon as we were old enough and each had his job or chores to do. In the fall after the harvest, mother would take the younger children with her to some field recently vacated by the reapers. Here we would glean the few stalks of grain they had left and put them in mother's apron.

When we arrived home we would thresh this grain out of the stalks with sticks or by rubbing it between our hands and blow the chaff away. It was then ground through an old coffee mill, mixed with cold water into a batter by mother and fried in an iron skillet held over the coals raked to the front of the fireplace. We were each given one of these cakes with a small cup of milk each evening and morning. There was no midday meal for us and no piecing between morning and evening meals.

I must have been about four or five years old when I began herding our cow up and down the bank of the irrigating ditch in front of our place. I had to keep her from getting into our own and our neighbor's gardens and fields. Sometimes I would go with other boys to a nearby slough, made by the waters of Emigration and City Creeks. Here we would catch frogs or small fish and roast them over a fire. We didn't know what matches were and had no flint and steel to start our fire with, but we possessed a priceless treasure in the form of a sun glass, which was quicker and surer than any other primitive methods of starting fires as long as the fuel was dry.

When I was about six years old I got some of the neighbors to let me herd their cows along with our own, for which I received a half cent per head each day. I took them out along the East Bench as it was called, where the University of Utah now stands, wandering as far north as the present site of the Capitol and as far south as the Penitentiary. There were other boys who herded in the same vicinity. I had some of the happiest times of my life playing with them while our cows were feeding. We still caught fish and frogs in the creeks and ditches, roasted them over fires and relished them greatly.

But we weren't successful in catching our dinner every day and were often very hungry. One day, an older boy and I were together. We hadn't had any lunch and no prospects of getting any. My mother had always taught me not to beg, but the pangs of hunger can make us forget any teaching. We talked it over and finally decided to ask an English lady who hadn't been in America very long and who seemed prosperous and kind hearted for something to eat. We knocked on her door and made our request very timidly. We hadn't over estimated her for she was very kind to us and gave us each a large slice of bread and butter. Since that time, I have had many wonderful meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other times, but never one of them tasted so good to me as that bread and butter did that day. I have never forgotten that lady's kind face and generosity and never will.

On January 14, 1853, a new baby boy came to our home and was named William Trail Lewis. He was a joy and comfort to us all.

About this time my father married two other women - sisters whose last name was Price, (Elizabeth had been raised by her mother and stepfather John Price). Soon after this he (Father) was called by the heads of the Church to go south and help settle some new colonies. He took his two new wives, two wagons, two ox teams and my brother Preston to drive one of the teams. This left mother with no one to help her with the farm and us children except Jerry, our faithful old Negro. (Jerry was 34 at that time) But she was a very good worker and manager and we seemed to do as well as we did before father left.

My first schooling began when I was a little chap of five or six. I well remember my first teacher - not because of anything he taught me, but for his cruel and inhuman treatment of all of us. The schoolhouse was a crude log structure with holes between the logs large enough to throw a cat through. We sat shivering on the sawed log benches, with no rest for our backs and our feet dangling a foot or more from the floor.

One day, this fiend lined a bunch of us little fellows up at the back of the room, for punishment. As I remember it now, we hadn't been doing anything to break any of the rules, but he simply had a grudge against us all, and enjoyed torturing us. He took a whale bone ruler, made us hold out our cold little hands, while he whacked them with this ruler until they were black and blue and swollen terribly. My mother was very angry when she saw my poor hands and tried to get father to do something with this man. But father always hated strife of any kind so the incident was passed up. But I vowed, then and there, little though I was, that I would get even with that man, if I ever grew large enough and had the opportunity.

Years later when I had grown to be a strong and sturdy young man, my brother Preston saw this same teacher in the Penitentiary. (Preston was arrested for cohabitation) He had led a wicked life and his physical power was practically gone. Preston told him of my vow to get even with him and that I was certainly strong enough to do it now. He claimed he had forgotten about punishing us, but I didn't. However, I never got the chance to try to even that score as he died a short time afterward in the penitentiary.

The school terms were irregular and short in those days here in Utah. If all the schooling I ever really received, had been counted in terms or years, I'm sure it would not have amounted to more than two years. My father died in about 1855, in the southern part of the state, (Utah) where he had gone to colonize. As soon as his health began to fail he started for Salt Lake City, but when he reached Parowan, he was too ill to go farther. He died and was buried there. He had only paid us one visit since his trip south. (During 17 months) I remember I was too young to realize the significance of his death. Mother came to me where I was herding the cow. My sorrow was for her only, because she was crying so bitterly, as I knew very little about my father, and hadn't seen him for sometime.

In the spring of 1866, I started out with a company of about 70 other teamsters to take goods east for sale and then pick up members who had been converted to the Church, from nearly every country in Europe, for the return trip. Each man had one wagon and two yoke of oxen. We didn't have any exciting adventures on our way out as we were not loaded heavily, we made good time. But on our return trip we had plenty of excitement. I had sixteen passengers assigned, (persons luggage mostly and camp supplies) in my wagon. I had men, women, and children.

When we came to the Black Hills everyone that could walk had to do so as the climb was heavy. I had one woman in my wagon who weighed about 200 pounds, who refused to walk. The captain of our company rode up and seeing this woman still riding, told me to order her out. So I did and it made her very angry. She climbed down and began walking, but instead of following the road, she started over the country. The captain rode after her on his horse and made her come back. She was about the angriest woman I ever saw. I had quite an exciting experience while we were camped near the Platte River. I was helping cook supper when all at once I heard the crack of rifles and realized with fear and trembling that the camp guards had discovered Indians either after our oxen or attacking the camp. I felt for my revolver and found it safe in the holster. I left the rest of the preparation of supper in the hands of the women and ran to join the guards. The cattle were scattering in every direction. I ran as fast as I could to head some of them when all at once I fell into a deep hole. I found out later that it was an old well that had been dug by U.S. soldiers to supply their camp with water, while a hostile band of Sioux Indians were between then and the river.

Luckily for me it had dried up and was not as deep as wells often are. I called for help, but no one heard me. I shot once or twice then put my revolver back in the holster, and began to study how I could escape from my prison. I began kicking at the sides of the well and found that I could make holes that would answer as steps. I reached my hand up as far as I could and found a tuft of prairie grass that was firmly rooted. I held onto the grass tightly and put my feet into the holes I had made which raised me a long ways and I prayed as hard as I could. By working in this way, I finally emerged from the well. Believe me the campfires were surely a welcome sight, for only a few minutes before I had almost lost hope of ever being found or getting out. When I reached camp the men were all out searching for me. They thought that the Indians had captured me as they fled from the guards. Everyone rejoiced, especially my passengers at my safe deliverance. Upon reaching home after this journey, (1866) I found that my brother, David, who had gone to California about the time I started my trip, had died and was buried in California somewhere.

I made another journey across the plains a few years later and brought in another load of immigrants. I did everything I could to help support my mother. When she was a girl she had enjoyed every comfort and luxury; been attended by slaves of which her father owned many (30), as he had a large plantation in Kentucky. Therefore, the poverty which she had to endure after she came to Utah was very hard on her.

In 1872 I met a pretty English girl. She had only been in American a few years. Her name was Elizabeth Coleman and was the prettiest and most charming girl, that I had ever met. I fell in love with her at once. We were married on January 5, 1874.

Our first child was born the next November. We named him David William, after my father and brother who had died in California. (His father-in-law’s name was William) Although he was a handsome sturdy fellow, he didn't stay with us long, for that dreadful scourge of scarlet fever, attacked him and he died February 17, 1876, being one year and three months of age. Soon after this I met Elizabeth Blair (from Big Cottonwood) whom I decided to make my plural wife. On August 16, 1876 our daughter Lenora was born. We called her Nonie. I married Elizabeth Blair, October 10, 1876. As both wives were named Elizabeth, we called the first one Lizzie and the second Betty.

Shortly before the family moved to Midway, Betty died on Saturday, 19 November 1887 in Big Cottonwood, at the age of 31 years, 6 months and 10 days and left two children, Lottie and William.

They lived in Big Cottonwood, Salt Lake, Utah between 1874 and 1885.

He and Elizabeth moved to Midway also and lived there between 1886 and 1896.

Probably one of the reasons, Siney moved to Midway was that after polygamy became unlawful it was better to take his first family away from prying eyes of the sheriff. (Preston had already been in prison for this so) There was one amusing little incident. The older children were all aware that an officer might come and take their father away. Every child was on the lookout. One day a stranger on a horse came by the place. He stopped to inquire where Siney was. Frank looked at him suspiciously and said, "Are you the deputy marshall?" The man looked amused and said no. "Well he's in the house then."

He bought a little farm and house between Charleston and Midway, Wasatch County, Utah. Lizzie had five children and Betty had two. It took just about everything a man could make to support a family of ten persons. After the move to Midway, Lizzie had four more children.

The two oldest boys, Siney Jr. and Frank, were not old enough to do much work so Annie was taken into the field to help with the planting and harvesting. Siney was the head of his home, he seldom whipped or scolded, but his word was law. He usually said yes or no, and the children were taught never to talk back or argue. Siney and Lizzie did the thinking for the children and had to abide by their decisions.

Working in the sun in the fields for long hours and without proper nourishing food Siney had a sunstroke. He and Lizzie had walked out into the fields to look at the crops. Lizzie spoke to Siney and he did not answer and at that moment he fell unconscious. Frantically, Lizzie ran to the top of the hill and called to a neighbor, but John took his time in coming saying, "It's just a bloated cow she's excited about." Siney was never too strong, whether this had something to do with it is questioned. Siney was always full of life. No matter how tired he was he loved to sing, play the accordion, tell jokes and dance. He danced until he was an old man. He never missed a celebration, he loved excitement. He was interested in civic welfare of the community. Civic welfare at that time consisted of making canals, digging ditches for the benefit of the farmers, clearing a place for a cemetery, making bridges, seeing there was a schoolhouse and a teacher in that school for the children, seeing that the children got through deep drifts of snow, etc.

Siney had an emotional disposition. He could be just as morbid at times as he was happy. Was there going to be a shortage of water? Would we have a famine? Would there be enough wheat for bread? He seemed to have inward fear of a food shortage perhaps because he'd gone through that experience.

Siney was a staunch Latter Day Saint. He never missed church, when it was possible for him to be there. He's get on quite some spells of preaching to his willful children.

Being a farmer and living in the horse and buggy days, his horses, wagons, the one horse cart, was all very important. The cart was not built for more than one person, but many times five or six of his children would meet him on the way coming home and by some magic or other, they would all get in. Old Charley, the sorrel horse, would bring them safely home.

Siney was very proud of his spirited grey team, Nig and Blue. Smul, the dog, was a member of the family. One day, Frank was driving the hay wagon as he went through a ditch the hay was bounced off the wagon. Nig and Blue, the faithful old pair decided that was excuse enough for them to run. They dashed down through the field, made a circle, leaped over a fence. Nig, the largest, clearing it, but Blue was caught. Lizzie heard the crashing and said, "was there someone hurt, was Father or one of the children under the load of hay?" Perhaps a broken harness, and a pair of tired horses was about all.

Siney had little schooling as already stated, but he loved to read. He always took a newspaper. He had one large history of the U.S. which he read and prized. Such a book was prized possession in those days when books were scarce. Even the old almanac was read. He loved mystery stories and politics. He was a Democrat. He kept sort of a record so he'd know when the children were born or baptized or got married. As the children got older they were quite amused by it. Maybe right on the same page he'd write when a cow was going to have a calf or the sow was suppose to have pigs. A locked drawer contained this record, his razor and maybe a few souvenirs left by some dear one.

Every fall a barrel of molasses was bought. That was a luxury as it was the only bit of sweet known to the family.

Siney was the first person to pay his taxes. Sometimes it was rather pathetic. He's raise a fine steer for this purpose and it would come up missing. Thieves were always on the look out for just such animals. Debts were unknown to him. They worried him so. He’d suffer poverty rather go in debt.

After about eight years at Midway, Siney heard of Uintah County. "Father had previously made a trip here and had liked the looks of the country. He came in June when crops looked at their very best and felt it an ideal place to settle."

In 1896 Siney gathered up his nine remaining children and Elizabeth and moved to Ashley Valley, (Vernal) Uinta Co., Utah. Here they lived between 1896 and 1926.

They were eight days on the road. William age sixteen drove the cattle. The fever of moving was easily caught in those days. The west could never have been settled if it hadn't been for that spirit; greener pastures were always ahead. No matter how the wives hated pioneering they prided themselves saying, "Let it never be said that I'm not willing to climb on the springseat beside my husband to go anywhere he thinks best." Eleven of them in two wagons, a herd of cows and horses, chickens in boxes tied on the back of the wagon, traveled eight days from Heber to Vernal. They bought a 60 acre farm in Glines Ward and a two room dirt roofed house. Lizzie declared she had never lived under a dirt roofed house and she wasn't going to now. She thought it beneath her dignity. So while the family camped in the yard, Siney, Willie, Siney Jr., and Frank took off the roof, put more logs on the walls to raise them and shingled the roof before they moved in. After the job of shingling and making the house ready, wood from the hills had to be hauled. That was one advantage of this country, cedar wood was not far away. Siney Lewis was ordained a high priest on 26 January 1907 in Vernal, Uintah, Utah at the age of 58.7 He and Elizabeth Coleman lived in Vernal, Uintah, Utah between 1926 and 1929.

After the winter set in Siney spent a large part of his time toting his children to school through all kinds of weather, mud up to the hubs, keeping fires and hauling water from the canal. That was a job to remember. They were always short of water except when it snowed, then they would fill the stove reservoir with snow and tubs and pails. Of course, in the summer there was a little ditch ran past the place. Years later a well was dug, later a cistern.

During their first year in Vernal we lost Willie at 16 years old. He was never well and strong. He had what they called inflammatory rheumatism, a very painful thing, and he suffered constantly. It was then that Siney, in his sorrow wondered if he had done the right thing in moving to Vernal.

Siney and Lizzie both worked from early in the morning to late at night. Peace came to them and conditions grew better. Siney was always ready to help in the betterment of the community. He was made trustee of the school district. He began to love Vernal. A stairway was put in and bedrooms were made above the living rooms. They had a good garden. In Wasatch County that was impossible because of the early frost. Lovely tomatoes, cabbage, corn, peas and an apple orchard was planted. Siney became interested in bees. In 1904 another dear child, a baby boy, passed away with that dreaded disease diphtheria. This was the first time Siney's children ever saw him cry. His faith was almost shaken. He tragically missed that little shadow behind him, his constant happy chatter. From then on Siney would fall and be unconscious at times. None of the doctors seemed to know the cause. It was a very frightening thing to the whole family. He still worked hard on the farm.

The older girls had married when two lovely babies came and brought happiness into the home. (Birdie and Jennie eighteen months apart.)

Again Siney and Lizzie talked of leaving the country. Arizona was the place of greener pastures. It was pointed out an ideal spot in which to live so Siney took a trip down there to investigate, but the fever blew over and they remained in Vernal. When he came home he was minus his whiskers. His children had never seen him without whiskers. They didn't know him. That was quite an event in their eventless lives. "Papa was home and without whiskers."

Later it was Canada. A caravan left Vernal for what they thought was the ideal spot. Siney could hardly contain himself, the spirit of moving was so great. About a year later he made the trip into Canada to look the situation over. When he came back he was quite satisfied to stay in Vernal. Unitah had a hold on him for good for they never thought of moving again.

One by one the family married, but Siney and Lizzie continued to live on the farm except the one winter they spent in Provo when Jenn was going to school. Three years before Siney's death they moved to town to be closer to the family and the doctor.

As Siney grew older, he became retiring and calm. He loved the little attentions the family gave him. He loved his smaller grandchildren.

He was a good, kind and generous man, beloved by his whole family and friends. Although he was retiring and quiet in disposition, he was always ready to help in any worthy cause.

Siney Lewis had not been in good health for years but was generally able to get about a little. He was only in bed about two days when death came unexpectedly about noon, Wednesday, November 28, 1929, at his home in Vernal Utah, at the age of 81 years, 3 months and 27 days. He will be greatly missed by all who were associated with him. A fine honest man whose labors helped give us the standards of our living today. He was honest and upright, he loved all his children. It was never too much trouble to take his children places nor was he too busy to catch a horse and hook it to the buggy and take us to school, work, or to town. His whole life was given to his family.

Elizabeth Coleman Lewis died of diseases incident to old age on Sunday, 18 December 1932 at the home of her daughter Mrs. E.W. Lewis, Vernal, Uintah, Utah at the age of 76 years and 12 days.

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