Biography of Capt. Hiram Smith

CAPT. HIRAM SMITH. – Capacity for business may make a man a miser or a shark. Generosity may make him a pauper. In the one case he may so use his talent as to over-reach and distress his neighbors; and in the other he may impoverish himself and become a burden rather than a benefit to society. The benevolent heart is best when joined to a sagacious head. No man seems so happy, and certainly none so useful, as he who is able to gratify his love of doing good by having the means for its accomplishment ever at hand. Such man was Father Wilbur. Such man also was Captain Smith. Oregon may well boast of both of them.

Hiram Smith was born in Danville, New York, in 1810. That was about the time that many of the American princes were born; – when the American youth realized that the continent wa to be conquered from nature, as it had been in the last generation from tyranny. West of the Alleghanies a man might have about as much land as he could ride over. There was the opportunity to repeat the life which the world has most deeply cherished in its songs, and stories, – of making new homes, building new towns and constructing new states. the dross, the slag, of the old incrusted past was to be left behind, and the pure metal to be pushed to the western bounds. In the presence of such ideas, and embodying them largely himself, he went out to Cleveland, Ohio, where his life was made complete by his marriage to Miss Hannah M. Stone n 1835. This young lady was a pioneer herself, a native of Rutland County, Vermont, and had been since her fourth year living at Cook’s Corners, Ohio, her mother being a sister of the father of Mr. Jay Cook, the celebrated financier. When she experienced the real pioneer life of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific slope, she was able to accompany her husband on his longest expeditions, sharing his hardships, his exploits and his success.

Soon after their marriage they moved to Findlay, Ohio, the place which has become so famous for natural gas. At Waterville he engaged in the manufacture of fanning mills, the first in Western Ohio and at Findlay he continued the same business with his brother-in-law, J.E. Stone. In 1845 he came out to Oregon in company with Colonel Risley and Colonel Taylor. He made a thorough survey of Oregon and of the Puget Sound region, and upon his return in 1846 was able to give accurate information which led many to set forth for our state. In 1850 he himself organized a party, bringing his wife with him, and intending to make his home upon the Pacific. Reaching Portland he engaged in a mercantile business; – Portland, even in its infancy was a great place for “stores;” and in 1852 he drove out on to the plains with provisions and beef cattle to meet the immigration of that year. This was a business enterprise undertaken, nevertheless, with the purpose of supplying a large body of persons who would be nearly destitute at that stage of their journey. Those of the company who had money paid for their provisions; and those who had no money got their flour and beef just the same. Many of those promised to pay as soon as they were able; but it is not known that the Captain ever accepted any such remuneration. So large a number were impecunious that the enterprise was not a success financially.

The next year saw him on the plains once more. His wife was with him; and they were both on horseback. They were going on a visit home to Ohio. They stopped three weeks for rest at Salt Lake, and were but sixty days traveling. This was a simple frontier pleasure trip, the eighteenth celebration of their honeymoon. The couple, thus rejuvenated, completed their tour by a voyage back to the Pacific via Panama.

Resuming business at the old place in Portland, he experienced in 1855 a shrewd brush with the Indians of the Umpqua, which illustrates the perils of a merchant’s life in the early days. He was taking two large wagon loads of goods to the Southern Oregon mines; and as usual his wife was accompanying him. On Cow creek a band of savages burst out upon the wagons, killing one of the drivers, Charlie Jonsen, while the other, his nephew, Mr. Stone, made good his escape to a log cabin near by, where in company with other refugees the enemy was fought off. Jonsen’s body was shockingly mutilated; and the oxen were killed and packed off for beef. The stores were plundered, the goods stolen or destroyed, and the wagons burned. Fortunately, Mr. Smith and his wife were some two days behind traveling on horseback. earning of the outbreak, they took shelter in a log cabin, an incipient blockhouse, belonging to Mr. D. Barnes, who was then at the front. This was about half way between Roseburg and Winchester, near the place occupied by Colonel Martin. There he made himself comfortable, laying in provisions and buying some milch cows. But in a short time wounded soldiers were brought down from Martin’s headquarters; and the place became a hospital. Captain Smith supplied the commissary with milk and butter, and with caned fruit and other delicacies acceptable to wounded men, and very difficult to obtain. He also employed two Indian boys, and undertook to keep clean the hospital linen, in short, doing the washing for the establishment. Mrs. Smith also busied herself among the soldiers, mending their torn clothing and ministering to their mental as well as physical wants. For this service the captain received pay in government scrip, which his wife thinks he never cared to redeem. It was with him a work of humanity. He stayed at his post until the war was over in 1865, moving on then to California. In 1859 he and his wife returned again to Findlay, Ohio, remaining until 1862, when they crossed the plains once more, with a considerable company, and reaching their home in Portland entered upon life here with new zest and zeal for our glorious state.

In 1865 Captain Smith made his sixth trip across the plains, – all before the era of railroads, – and sold out his property interests in Hancock county, Ohio. One thousand dollars of the avails he set aside and gave to the trustees of Findlay, to use as a permanent fund to buy coal for the widows or children of soldiers, should circumstances make such assistance acceptable. This fund has since greatly increased. After thirty years, when the need of the soldier’s widow would be likely to cease, the fund is to be used for a like service to any poor woman who gained their livelihood by the use of the needle. Besides these benevolences, over which we naturally linger wit much pleasure, our pioneer was constantly performing private benefactions. he sought to do his good deeds in the dark in order to hide himself, and to avoid being thanked. His is peculiarly that disposition which let his neighbors know of a good thing around the corner; and he made opportunities for the deserving, and was ever ready to lend a helping hand to any fallen person trying to rise. His own business has prospered; and upon his death, in 1870,he left a comfortable fortune.

Mrs. Smith still resides in Portland, occupying her handsome residence, and continuing the works of benevolence in which her husband found his chief satisfaction. There is nothing like a living public spirit to cement the different classes of society, to prevent the rot of sordidness and vice, and thus to make a hopeful and progressive state.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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