Jacob Hawn was born on 13 January 1804 in western New York State. Different sources list Ontario and Genesee counties as the place of birth, but the discrepancy can be explained by changes to county boundaries in the early 1800s.
Information about Jacob’s father, Henry Hawn, is sparse. Family oral history suggests he immigrated to New York from somewhere in modern-day Germany, and that he had three children in addition to Jacob: Michael (who died in Pennsylvania), James (died in California) and Mary.
Harriet Elizabeth Pierson was born on 30 August 1818 in Newark, New Jersey to John Pierson and Thankful Wilcox. She was probably their only child: John (23) and Thankful (21) both died in 1819, and there’s no firm evidence as to who raised her—the Pierson clan was all over northern New Jersey, and there were an abundance of Piersons and Wilcoxes in western New York as well. Harriet’s daughter Levia tells us that Harriet was raised by family in New York.
Jacob married a woman by the name of Myers, probably in the late 1820s or early 1830s, but she died before they had any children.
On 18 November 1833 in Cattaraugus County, New York, Jacob married fifteen-year-old Harriett Pierson—she was nearly half Jacob’s age (29).
Jacob was a carpenter who specialized in building grain mills. In 1833 or 1834 was hired by the federal government to build a flour mill in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is where Jacob and Harriet had their first child, Laura Ann on 1 September 1835. Green Bay was little more than a military outpost at the time, and Wisconsin wouldn’t be admitted to the Union until 1848.
The Oregon Public Archives mention that Laura had a twin brother, Jacob Jr. Jacob Hawn did append a “Sr.” after to his signature name on a few occasions. If Laura did have a twin brother, he died very young.
After finishing work in Wisconsin, Jacob and Harriett moved to Caldwell County, Missouri northeast of Kansas City and Independence, Mo.
According to a map of plats in Caldwell County, Jacob acquired land along Shoal Creek on 7 December 1835, just a few months after Laura was born. The family’s second child, Alonzo Pierson Hawn, was born in Caldwell County a year later on 26 January 1837.
Haun’s Mill Massacre
In 1830, the founding prophet of the, Joseph Smith, had a vision that his followers could establish a utopia near Independence, Missouri, and the existing church in New York began the move to West at that time. The migration to Missouri mostly stopped in Kirtland, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie not that far from western New York state, but by 1836, some members of the LDS Church had moved to the areas surrounding Independence, including in Caldwell County near a grain mill owned and operated by one Jacob Haun along Shoal Creek.
Jacob Haun and his wife probably weren’t Mormon, but they were apparently comfortable with the local Mormon population, hiring Catherine “Kitty” McBride (the daughter of a prominent Mormon, Thomas McBride) to help care for their children. Thomas McBride had property close by on Shoal Creek.
Missourians weren’t particularly happy with the LDS arrival in Missouri. LDS church members were met with open hostility, and in 1833 were actually evicted from nearby Jackson County, the home of Independence. In December of 1836, the Missouri legislature split Ray County in half, creating Caldwell County as a home for Mormons.
The situation continued to escalate, though, and eventually armed gangs of Missourians and Mormons began to harass each other, engaging in tit-for-tat attacks that mainly caused property damage and minor injuries, with deaths quite rare. The series of skirmishes were collectively known as the (Missouri) Mormon War of 1838, but the climax was far less innocent than the low-grade gang warfare that was otherwise typical.
On 25 October 1838, the residents of the isolated area around the mills sent Jacob Haun to Mormon headquarters at Far West, Missouri about 20 miles to the West to discuss the security situation. Among several Mormon leaders, Jacob apparently met the Mormon Prophet and founder Joseph Smith. The main topic of the discussion was whether or not all residents around Haun’s Mill should withdraw to Far West for protection. Joseph Smith advocated withdrawal, and Prof. Blair blames Jacob for not conveying this message to his neighbors. Blair’s argument ends up relying on an ex post facto logical fallacy from Joseph Smith himself: “None had ever been killed who abode by my counsel. At Haun’s Mill the brethren went contrary to my counsel; if they had not, their lives would have been spared.”
On 30 October 1838, a mob of 240 men from Livingston County, Missouri attacked the Mormon settlement around Jacob Haun’s mill in next door Caldwell County, killing seventeen men and wounding thirteen, including a nine-year-old boy.
Alma R. Blair described the massacre in the Autumn 1972 edition of BYU Studies:
Jacob Haun’s mill was one of several scattered along Shoal Creek. For about a year it had been the home of fifteen to twenty families of the Saints, and other Church members in the area used it for grinding their grain. It had also become a stopping place for those migrating to Caldwell County from Kirtland [Ohio]. Although few Saints had settled in Livingston County or Carroll County to the east, and although the mill was inside Caldwell County, it was close to the borders and threatened to become a center for the Mormon population that might spill over into gentile territory.
Tension had built in Livingston during October and the county militia had been called out. Two companies especially were active in trying to turn back migrants from Kirtland and in patrolling the borders adjoining Caldwell County. The battle of Crooked River, fought 25 October, raised fears among the Saints in eastern Caldwell County, and several families gathered to Haun’s Mill for protection. The group considered but decided against going to Far West at that time. The Saints at Haun’s Mill had had no previous difficulties with the gentiles and reached an agreement on 28 October with the militia group led by Captain Nehemiah Comstock, stationed near Mooresville and Utica, to preserve the peace. The Mormons then removed their pickets but reestablished them after learning of another militia company operating about fourteen miles directly east of the mill. Under the leadership of Captain David Evans, the Saints devised the plan of using the blacksmith shop as a fort, feeling that they could hold off any group likely to attack them. They had not considered the possibility of having to face a vastly superior force.
It is not clear why the gentile militia decided to attack Haun’s Mill at this particular time. Daviess County men had been talking to those from Livingston, describing real or fancied Mormon injustices perpetrated against them. The “Extermination Order” issued by Governor Boggs on 27 October was now widely known and the state militia was beginning to move against Far West. These factors may have been decisive. Under the leadership of Colonel Thomas Jennings, the several companies of Livingston militia were formed into a battalion. The decision to attack the settlement was made 29 October at Woolsey’s farm [near Breckenridge] about ten miles northeast of Haun’s Mill. Jennings and his force of about 200 men left after noon on 30 October and rode south to within several miles of the mill. There they dismounted, marched across the open prairie to the woods just north of the mill, and filtered through the trees.
Captain Evans had withdrawn the pickets that had been stationed in the woods the previous day, but was apparently planning to set them out again that evening. The attack came about 4:00 p.m. without warning. Some of the Saints at first thought the approaching men were reinforcements from Far West. With the opening volley of shots, the hamlet was thrown into confusion. Evans waved his hat and shouted for “quarter[s].” He was not heard, but it is doubtful if peace would have been given anyway. The women and children scattered, and some of the men ran for the woods and safety. Those who got to the blacksmith shop found it to be a trap; they were fired upon through the large cracks between the logs and were so crowded inside that they were easily hit. When they tried to flee from the building, they were again fired upon and only a few, most of them wounded, managed to get to the woods where they hid until night.
Seventeen Saints, all men and boys, died that day or in the following weeks. One woman was injured, and some men were hacked to death by corn knives after they had been wounded. Thomas McBride, a seventy-eight-year-old man, was wounded, then shot with his own rifle as he surrendered, and finally hacked by his murderer. Ten-year-old Sardius Smith was deliberately killed as lie tried to hide, and nine-year-old Charles Merrick suffered with his wounds for five weeks before he died. The Missourians had three men wounded who were taken away in wagons stolen from the Saints. Jennings’ men stayed for less than two hours and then returned to Livingston County.
Blair omits some of the more gruesome details, for example how ten-year-old Sardius Smith had his head blown off by a point blank gun shot from one of the attackers.
After the massacre a few of the survivors sought refuge in the Haun home, including one Isaac Leany, who had been seriously wounded, and—out of fear the mob might come for him—was hidden underneath a floor board for several hours. Two other men, Austin Hammer and John York, died in the Haun home. Blair also indicates a reference that Jacob Haun might have suffered minor injuries as well.
Are Jacob Haun and Jacob Hawn the same man?
The question for the Harding family history is whether our Jacob Hawn and the Jacob Haun who owned that mill in Caldwell County are one and the same.
There is no smoking gun. None of Jacob and Harriet’s descendants have shared any hints of the story, and academics studying the incident haven’t found a reference to Jacob’s wife or of his children.
Moreover, there was a Jacob Haun (born 1791) living in Montgomery County, Missouri in 1830, and in Boone County from 1840 to 1860. Those counties are quite a distance from Caldwell, but a decade is a long time—there’s no reason that that Jacob Haun couldn’t have moved from Montgomery County to Boone County via Caldwell County.
On the other hand, the circumstantial evidence is compelling, despite the difference in the spelling of Haun and Hawn.
- Haun and Hahn are alternate spellings of Hawn.
- Both Jacobs were carpenters who built mills.
- One of the sons of our Jacob and Harriet, Alonzo Pierson Hawn, was born in January 1837 in Caldwell County, Missouri.
- When the Mormon community left Missouri for Illinois in 1839, our Jacob and Harriet left as well, albeit for New York, and then Texas, rather than Illinois. There is even evidence that their property in Caldwell County was owned by another man by February 1839.
- Several LDS sources covering the Haun’s Mill Massacre state that Jacob Haun was from Wisconsin, where our Jacob Hawn’s first child was born.
- LDS sources refer to a Mormon named James Haun, who was Jacob Haun’s brother. We believe that Henry Hawn had sons named Jacob and James, and Levia tells of a cousin from California who worked with several of Jacob’s sons. As Harriett didn’t have any siblings, the cousin must have been a Hawn, and there are records of a James W. Hawn living in California who had four sons.
- U.S. General Land Office Records show nearly adjacent land grants in Caldwell County for Jacob Hawn and James Hawn (not Haun) both in Township 56N, Range 26W, Section 17, which is exactly where the Haun’s Mill site is. Jacob’s dates to 7 December 1835, a few months after Laura was born.
It would be nice to have a census record showing Harriet, or a reference to the events in Levia’s or Laura’s memoirs. But odds are, our Jacob Hawn and the Jacob Haun of the Haun’s Mill Massacre are the same man.
Historian Alexander L. Baugh, in a more detailed study, comes to the same conclusion.
The lure of Oregon
After the 1838 Mormon War, nearly the entire LDS population in Missouri left the state, with most moving to Nauvoo, Illinois just across the Mississippi river from Iowa and Missouri.
The Hawns left Missouri as well, but their destination was far more ambitious than Navuoo, Illinois.
In the spring of 1836, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman—two Methodist missionaries from New York—left for Oregon to begin a life bringing Christianity to the Native Americans.
She and Eliza Spalding—the female half of the other couple traveling with the Whitmans—were the first white women to cross the Great Plains. Narcissa kept a journal of the trek, portions of which were printed in hundreds of newspapers across the United States.
Narcissa’s letters are given some credit by historians for making the trek across the Great Plains by families traveling with ox cart plausible, and may have played a part in Jacob and Harriet’s resolve to make the journey beginning in 1839.
Oregon and the entire West of the Continent was a hot topic in the United States—and in 1839 the country didn’t extend much beyond the shores of the Mississippi River. As early as 1812, American political leaders had been advocating expansion all the way to the borders of the Pacific.
The Oregon Territory had been disputed territory since the Treaty of 1818 had set the British-American border along the 49th Parallel from Lake of the Woods, Minnesota west into the Rocky Mountains, but not to the Pacific coast. Britain’s most extreme claim to the Oregon territory extended to the 42nd parallel, then the northern boundary of Mexico (today, the 42nd parallel separates Oregon from California). The United States’ most extreme claim was the 54th parallel 40 minutes, or to the edge of the Russian Empire’s territory on the Gulf of Alaska (today, that territory includes all of British Columbia up to the southernmost edge of the state of Alaska).
The reality was that almost no Europeans lived in the vast territory which includes modern day Idaho, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, so neither party could really push their claim. The British had a stronger presence in the area, with small military bases and the far-flung outposts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, but the obstacles to colonization were high: there wasn’t an overland route from the British colonies on the east coast of the Continent, and sailing required a trip all the way to the southern tip of the Americas and then all the way back up—a fast ship might make it in three or four months, but nine months was more realistic. In fact, the British resupplied the area via the Pacific, meaning Australia was effectively closer to the Oregon Territory than the Canadian provinces. So instead, Britain and the United States deferred the issue of ownership and claimed joint sovereignty.
According to Harriet’s obituary, written by family friend Matthew Deady, Jacob and Harriet decided to move to Oregon in 1839, and went east to New York to find passage aboard the Lausanne, a ship bound for Oregon via South America. When they arrived, however, they discovered the ship wasn’t going to leave for another six months. Instead, Jacob found a contract to build a mill in the newly independent Republic of Texas. Their third son, Jaspar, was born in 1840 in the Republic of Texas. Levia wrote that they also lived in New Orleans for a little while. (There are no solid candidates for the Hawns in Republic of Texas tax records, or in the 1840 US Census in Louisiana).
Deady added in the obituary that the weather near the Gulf was hard on Harriet, and the family deciced to return to Missouri. This time, they lived in Franklin County, close to St. Louis, rather than return to Caldwell near Kansas City.
Oregon was still on their agenda, though, and according to Levia, they nearly joined the small party which set out for Oregon in the spring of 1842 (a party which included Lansford Hastings and his family). But friends wrote to Jacob and Harriet, and encouraged them to delay until the spring of 1843.
According to a letter written by their daughter Laura when she was an adult, Jacob (39), Harriet (25), Laura (8), Alonzo (6), Jaspar (3) and Newton (3 weeks) left Franklin County on 10 May 1843 by boat for Independence, Missouri where they purchased oxen and other supplies in preparation for the long overland trek to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
The Oregon trail
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley and eventual advocate of westward expansion, wrote several editorials in 1843 opposing a planned great migration to Oregon, opining:
“This migration of more than a thousand persons in one body to Oregon wears an aspect of insanity. We do not believe nine-tenths of them will ever reach the Columbia alive”
A few weeks later, he added:
“It is palpable homicide to tempt or send women over this thousand miles of precipice and volcanic sterility to Oregon.”
It’s hard to remember what a momentous decisions it was to travel 2,000 miles west to the Columbia River valley. The Oregon Territory—which included modern Oregon, Washington and Idaho—had all of 250 or so white residents in 1843. There was no government, no real military, no law enforcement, no infrastructure to help settlers get started when they arrived. Oregon wasn’t even a country in the western sense of the word. It was Indian territory. And realistically, this was a one-way trip, leaving everything behind except your immediate family and possessions stuffed into the back of a wagon.
That spring of 1843, about 875 men, women and children—along with over 3,000 cattle, horses and oxen—gathered in Elm Grove in what is now Kansas to begin the journey. The first order of business was to elect a government for the trip: the council of nine would create rules of conduct, mediate disputes, conduct trials and carry out any punishments for the entire overland journey.
The company also hired John Gantt, a former US Army captain and now fur trader and trapper with extensive knowledge of the plains. Gantt would receive $1 per person.
Marcus Whitman—who was returning to Oregon after a trek East to argue for additional funding—agreed to join the trek as well.
On 22 May 1843, the trip began in earnest. (Laura Hawn wrote that their company of 300 left on 18 May 1843 led by Jesse Applegate as captain. If this is the case, they must have joined up with the larger group before 22 May 1843).
Both Laura and Levia wrote that the train didn’t follow a known track, but went due west as the compass directed. They had a guide, and due west would not have led them to South Pass’s easy crossing of the Continental Divide. But it brings up a key point: migrations in the 50s and 60s simply followed the broad path beaten down by previous trains, sometimes with wagon tracks dug deep into the earth. Traces of the wagon tracks were visible for decades after the railroad replaced the ox-drawn wagons. But in 1843, that trail didn’t exist. Prior to 1843, wagon trains were small affairs that left little mark. A journey across the plains with so many people and livestock had never been attempted. They had a guide, the route was roughly known, but the emigrants of 1843 were trail blazing, right down to spending days hacking down trees and brush to clear wagon trails through areas of heavy vegetation.
By 28 May, the vanguard reached the Kansas River, and had to construct a ferry, as the existing one was little more than a platform on top of two canoes—the wagons were too big. It took four days for the entire company to cross the river, and the delay pointed to a deficiency in the company’s governing structure: they needed an executive, not just a legislative council.
A reporter for the New Orleans Picayune who was with the group described the election:
The candidates stood up in a row before the constituents, and at a given signal they wheeled about and marched off, while the general mass broke after them “lickity-split,” each man forming in behind his favorite, so that every candidate flourished a sort of tail of his own, and the main with the longest tail was elected! … Here was a congregation of rough, bold, and adventurous men, gathered from distant and opposite sections of the Union, just forming an acquaintance with each other, to last, in all probability through good or evil fortune, through the rest of their days. Few of them expected or thought of ever returning to the States again.
Peter Burnett—who later became the first governor of California—was elected captain, but he didn’t stay in the post long. He quit within weeks because of the “10,000 little vexations” that came from leading hundreds of adventurous, independent spirits.
By the time the group had reached the Big Blue River, heavy mud from spring rains was causing the portion of the company with more livestock to slow the company down. The company decided to split in half, and those with livestock, including brothers Jesse and Lindsay Applegate whose herd exceeded a thousand head of cattle, elected Jesse Applegate as captain. Levia tells us that her family were among the 300 people in Applegate’s company.
Life on the trail was predictable and slow—a copy of Jesse Applegate’s memorable “A Day on the Oregon Trail” is in the appendix, but here’s a quick summary.
The men on watch woke everyone before sunrise, and while the women began stoking fires to cook breakfast, the herders began to gather the cattle. By seven a.m., everyone had to be fed, packed up and ready to move: everyone had the chance to lead company’s train once every two weeks, but those who weren’t ready to move at 7 a.m. had to go to the back of the train that day and spend the day breathing in the worst of the collected dust from those ahead, as well as be the last to camp at night.
No one actually rode in the wagons. The wagons were completely packed with goods, tools, furniture and other items, and they didn’t have suspension. Everyone except the youngest children and the sick walked alongside the ox-drawn wagons. Jacob, Laura and Alonzo probably walked the whole way. Harriet probably carried Newton—possibly riding on one of their horses at times—while three-year-old Jaspar likely endured the jarring wagon ride.
With the exception of an hour for lunch, the train was on the move from 7am to 7pm, when the wagons were stretched out to form an interlocking circle for the night.
Once camped for the night, it wasn’t right to bed. Laura Hawn, who turned nine while on the overland trek, wrote:
The people would spend their evenings around the camp fires visiting, telling stories, singing and often dancing. Often the strains of a violin could be heard. We had no sickness or fear of Indians, all was well and happy. We had men hunting for game so had plenty of meat.
The Great Plains aren’t particularly known for trees: as Levia wrote “wood was very scarce [so] they gathered up for fuel for fires, buffalo chips, which were dry and hard like wood, and this is what they burned to cook their meals.” Buffalo chips are just dried buffalo feces and it’s what the Hawns used to cook every meal for months.
Buffalo were so numerous they were both a risk and a food source. The main trouble was cattle and other livestock getting caught up in the herd and lost to the caravan. Laura Hawn recalled:
They would have two men with guns go ahead of the wagons on horse back to look out for buffalo, if they were coming towards our wagon train; the signal was to come back posthaste with handkerchiefs tied to their guns. Then the teams would circle and the stock put inside the corral. The men would shoot at the buffalo to get the herd to avoid our stockades. Sometimes one or more of the buffalo would be killed. At one time they nearly ran over the train as the buffalo turned toward our wagons.
When they killed a buffalo, it was divided with every family and the hides were cut in strips and wrapped around the running gear of the wagons if that was needed. Some of the hides were kept whole which came in handy later on. There were thousands of buffalo; it would look like the prairie was covered with them.
But a stampede was a different story. Edward Lenox, a teen on the journey, wrote:
We were all at lunch at the noon hour… when all of a sudden, there is a rushing “as of a mighty wind.” We are all on our feet in a moment, wondering if it is some cyclone, or what the roaring may mean. Our pilot shouts, “The buffalo are coming! The buffalo are coming! You women and children get behind those rocks on the right, and all of you men get out your guns and run to the rocks on the left, and shoot all you can as they come by.”… a herd of over three thousand bellowing, fighting buffalo [went] past the men. Seven of them fell dead as they passed the ledge of rock where the men were posted, and the great herd went plunging over the precipice twenty feet high, into the great South Platte River… where scores of them drowned.
When they reached the Platte—normally a broad but shallow river that was easily crossed—it was swollen from heavy spring rains, and couldn’t be crossed easily. Laura wrote:
The Indians found a ford for the teams, but the wagons were all fastened together by tying each team to the hind end of the next wagon. Before crossing, they took out their entire load except the heavy irons such as chains and kettles. We lost many things during the crossing and others fared the same. Some of the wagons were taken off their wheels and boats were made to ferry the families and their freight. The buffalo hides were sewn together and put over the wagon beds to make them water tight. A man would swim ahead of the wagon with a rope and two men would swim behind and push. It took two or three days to get all of the families across the river. The last boat sank close to shore. With the help of the Indians, all was saved.
In mid-July, they reached Chimney Rock near modern-day Bridgeport, Nebraska. Levia wrote of the emigrants’ encounter of Chimney Rock:
Quite a few of the men folks walked to see [Chimney Rock], but it was farther away than they thot. Most of the men went back to their wagons but a few kept on going until they reached it. It was quite high, but they managed to get to the top, which scared a wild mountain sheep, he jumped to the ground and ran off. My Father was among them and he and others climbed up on it. My Father in looking around over the Rock, found a large sheeps horn and took it with him to camp. He also broke off quite a piece of the Rock and brot it, with the Horn, to Oregon. The Rock was of a very fine grain which he made into a fine Whetstone.
Food began running short after Chimney Rock, and at Fort Laramie a few days later, they traded with Indians for dried meat and salmon, and a few potatoes. But it wasn’t enough to make the rest of the journey. Laura wrote that:
One night we camped by a creek that was lined with choke cherries. Everyone ate cherries. One woman had been sick for several days and was just feeling better; filled up on the cherries and died in the night. This was the only death we had in our company. The people by this time were eating anything they could get. Those that had tallow candles did well. The first family that came eating candles had a thousand dollars with them but couldn’t eat it. They used the rawhide that was wrapped around the wheels and the running gear of the wagons; they would scrape it and boil it. Our family had some dried salmon yet and gave our rawhide to those that had none… We would boil raw hide and make soup of it with the flour and some dried salmon. We had no bread for three weeks.
There was a train of horse teams one day ahead of us that was better supplied than ours. The children would run ahead of our train to where the horse train had camped the night before. We’d pick up scraps of bread—if one child got more than one piece, he would divide. At night the families would camp off to themselves to keep the children from teasing for what others might have.
You may be wondering why we didn’t kill our stock to eat—we could not spare them. We had two yoke of oxen, two horses and one cow. If the oxen gave out, the horses were put in their place and the next day the oxen would go back to their routine after a day of rest. The milk we had to have for the small children. Three of them were younger than me. The youngest was 20 days old when we started our trip.
On 30 July, the company reached Independence Rock, a rock formation in central Wyoming where the company rested for three days. The rock was named by a group of Americans who celebrated the Fourth of July there in 1824.
South Pass was next. The challenge to the traveling overland from the Mississippi to the Pacific was finding a way to bring wagons through the Rocky Mountains and across the Continental Divide. Fur traders working for John Jacob Astor discovered the pass in 1812, but Astor and his men considered the route a trade secret. It was rediscovered more than a decade later, and was the key enabler of westward migration. South Pass wasn’t some narrow valley: it was 20 miles wide, and more prairie than valley.
By 26 August, the company had reached Soda Springs in modern Idaho’s Bear River Valley, where they met John C. Fremont and his exploration party. Laura wrote that the company rested their stock for four days, and when they found the hot and cold springs a bit further on, they rested another day to wash their clothes, which must have been caked with dust and rank with stale sweat.
They soon reached Fort Hall (about 11 miles east of modern-day Fort Hall, Idaho), an outpost of the Hudsons Bay Company, a British fur trading corporation. The outpost was run by Richard Grant, who followed his employer’s policy of discouraging emigration to Oregon by suggesting the emigrants either abandon their wagons, or head to Mexico’s California Alta instead. Both Laura and Levia wrote that Jacob purchased a pint of flour and a pint of coffee at Fort Hall for the exorbitant price of $0.50. Comparing pre-industrial costs to information-age dollars is not simple. From the nationwide perspective of a basket of basic goods and services, it would work out to $15.70. Relative to per capita income at the time, it was more like $290. And if you look at it from a share of GDP, it’s $4,860. But however you calculate it, it was clearly exorbitantly priced in Laura’s and Levia’s eyes, even decades later.
At Fort Hall, Marcus Whitman—who had been with the company from Missouri—decided to push forward ahead alone, but left the two companies written directions for the remainder of the trip that included details of the path ahead and where to camp. He supplemented this with notes pinned to trees or on stakes to help guide them.
On 28 August, the company left Fort Hall and followed the Snake River all the way into Oregon, until it met the Columbia.
At the Burnt River near modern-day Huntington, Oregon, Levia related that her parents had some bad luck:
In crossing the Burnt River one of their wagons tipped over. The one that had their tools and lots of other things. All the light stuff floated away but the heavy things sunk. They managed to fish up quite a bit of their stuff and two things my mother gave me, a hand made steel fireplace shovel and hand made pair of tongs that my father made.
The company stopped at Whitman’s mission for several days, where Jacob converted Whitman’s hand-powered grain mill into a horse powered one with far greater yield. In exchange, Whitman gave the company provisions to last them the few days needed to reach the Native American settlement at the site of modern-day The Dalles.
Laura picks up the story from here:
Near the falls we bought Chinook canoes from the Indians that lived along the river. We started down the river—staying mostly on the Washington side and passing through The Dalles rapids—or Dalles as it was called at that time. The women and children would walk around the rough places; then we would get in the canoes again. We passed the Indian village where the City of The Dalles now stands… We camped on the Washington side. We were soaked as it rained all day so we built fires to dry out our clothes. Our supper consisted of the last of our flour that we brought from Dr. Whitman’s and a small piece of bacon for breakfast. We had a small piece of bacon about a pound for eight persons…
We went on, there was a high wind and we were blowed ashore near a small stream falling over the bluff in the Columbia. Made a fire, then father says “I am going to get something to eat dead or alive.” He sharpened a stick [and] he went to this small stream. The salmon run up it until their backs were out of the water, he killed two. He named it Salmon Falls. They were so long and big he had to drag them on the ground. We ate salmon straight roasted on a log fire without salt or pepper and no bread.
We went on in the morning going through the cascade rapids, going mostly on the Washington side. Mother would have to bail out the water out of the canoe all the time to keep from swamping. The roughest we walked around at one place towed the canoe around with a rope, then we would get in again.
Dr. Whitman had sent out an Indian to Vancouver to tell McLaughlin there was a man coming down the river that could build mills and to stop him… We got to Vancouver about nine o’clock that night, run in shore the night was intensely dark, so we nearly swamp[ed] our canoe on the cable of a sloop laying in near the landing.
Just then… a man hailed us, “who comes there?”
By this time father was out of humor. He says “it is none of your business.”
Then [the man] says “I am fixed to stand to here and hail any man that comes along. [I am] waiting for a man that could build mills.”
Father told him his name.
“Come right in shore,” this man says. “I have stood here four days [waiting for you and now] my job is done.”
By this time there was some Frenchman came down to the landing, unloaded our canoe, stowing our things away, carrying the children up to the old fort. Supper was ready, the first whole mean we had for weeks, so our hardships was ended.
Using a Native American messenger, Marcus Whitman had sent word ahead to John McLaughlin, the Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, about the impending arrival of a millwright. McLaughlin had mill parts from England sitting in storage, but no one with the expertise to build a mill—Jacob’s impending arrival was good news.
When the Hawns reached Ft. Vancouver, McLoughlin immediately hired Jacob to build a mill at Oregon City.
It took a few more days to reach Oregon City, but nearly seven months after leaving Missouri, the Hawns were finally done with the long trek. Unlike many of their fellow emigrants who rushed to build log cabin homes when they weren’t hunting for game to stay alive, Jacob was employed, and his job included new housing paid for by McLouhglin.
The flour mill Jacob built was on the falls in modern-day Oregon City that some of Jacob’s descendants drive past regularly on the way to and from Canby.
After wintering in housing provided by John McLoughlin, Jacob and Harriet lived briefly in Portland and in Moore’s Valley (where they gave a go at farming). But by 1845, the Oregon Territorial Census shows them living in Yamhill County, which was the home of the Hawns until Jacob passed away in 1860.
Jacob and Harriet built a hotel in Lafayette—a town that had been founded in 1846. They called it the Lafayette Hotel, but locals called it Hawn’s Tavern. Jacob hadn’t given up his profession as a millwright, but Harriet could run the hotel when Jacob was away.
They also made a land claim in 1851 for a 447 acre parcel of land on the southwestern corner of Yamhill village. The claim is bounded on the southwest by the confluence of the North and South Yamhill rivers, and on the south and east by the Yamhill River. The area bounded in blue in the map to the right is the approximate area of Jacob and Harriet’s claim. Just northwest of their claim are modern day Hawn Creek Road and Hawn Creek Reservoir.
With few to no public buildings in such a young town, the hotel also served as the main public building: The county court convened in one of the hotel’s large common rooms until 1850. On 8 January 1850, it also became the home of the Yam Hill Falls post office. Jacob was the town’s first postmaster.
The gold rush of 1849 wasn’t something Jacob could avoid. Whether he was drawn by the gold itself, or plagued with labor scarcity due to the vast manpower drain to California, he decided to go down to California himself to find his fortune. His brother, James, may have been living in California by then, making it a family experience.
Jacob’s time in California wasn’t hugely profitable: a Yamhill County historian, Jim Lockett, states that Harriet saved more money running their hotel than Jacob collected in California gold.
By 1850, the US census shows the entire family living together in Lafayette with a newborn daughter, Leviaette “Levia” Statira Hawn (Ralph Allan Harding’s maternal grandmother).
The Hotel also housed newcomers for long periods of time. Levia’s singular first name was dreamed up by one such long-term hotel guest, Matthew Deady. He had arrived in Oregon just months before in November 1849, and was given room and board by the Hawns in exchange for teaching the children of Lafayette. Levia wrote that her mother plumped Deady up in his first year after arriving, emaciated, from the Oregon Trail.
Deady—who appears living with the Hawns in the 1850 census—was an influential figure in Oregon politics, representing Yamhill in the new state’s lower legislative chamber, helping draft and publish many of the new state’s laws, and then serving as a territorial supreme court judge appointed by President Pierce.
Another resident of the hotel who appeared in the 1850 census was Lafayette’s founder, a man named Joel Perkins.
Laura Hawn and the murder of Joel Perkins
On 23 August 1850, the 29-year-old businessman married 14-year-old Laura Hawn (she was only a few days shy of her 15th birthday). The couple left Lafayette to strike out anew, settling near the Rogue River in Josephine County, 225 miles south of Lafayette, and 30 miles north of California. Joel built a ferry there, and the town which grew up around it was called Perkinsville until 1865 when the name was changed to Grants Pass to honor Union general Ulysses S. Grant.
The pair didn’t stay long in Perkinsville, moving south to Los Angeles the next year, where their first two children, Harriet and Dan, were born.
In 1856, the family of four trekked north back to Oregon along with a hired hand (and family friend), John Malone.
The couple spent the night of their sixth wedding anniversary at a ranch near Klamath Falls. A 2010 Associated Press story about restoring the name Perkinsville to Grants Pass recounts what happened next.
According to reports in the Oregon City Argus, one of few newspapers in the state at the time, on July 24… Perkins and a man named John Malone, an Irish hired hand who’d worked for him for more than a year, went out to check the livestock.
Malone returned, but Perkins did not.
When night came and Perkins still hadn’t shown up, the owner of the ranch became concerned and Malone offered that his employer must have been killed by Indians. The next morning, Malone and Laura Perkins insisted on taking the stock and continuing on their trip north since Perkins was no doubt dead. A small boy, presumed to be Perkins’s adopted son, begged the ranch owner to keep him because he was afraid Malone and Laura Perkins would kill him.
“The boy said he had often heard Mrs. Perkins and the Irishman consulting about killing Perkins while on the road, besides witnessing acts in the absence of Perkins that criminated these parties,” the Argus reported.
A search party induced Malone to confess by telling him Laura Perkins had ratted him out.
“He began to curse Mrs. P. as a traitor, and acknowledged the crime,” according to the Argus.
Malone said he shot Perkins and beat his skull in with the butt of a rifle, even though Perkins begged for his life and said he had two young children who were depending on him. The plea fell on deaf ears, as Malone told authorities he had fallen in love with Perkins’ wife.
The Weekly Oregonian added some more details on 23 August 1856:
John Malone, the murderer of Joel Perkins of Yamhill County committed suicide in the jail at Jacksonville on Sunday the 27th by hanging himself with the chains with which he was fastened to the floor. A few moments before he ended his existence, he made the following statements to the sheriff in relation to the murder of Perkins; that he murdered Joel Perkins, who for the last two years past was his best friend; that he had been prompted to do the deed by wife of Perkins; that from the time of his forming her acquaintance, something near two years since, she not only had urged him to murder her husband, but on one occasion attempted herself to poison him by putting arsenic in his coffee which by some means he failed to drink.
…Malone stated that his connection and illicit intercourse with the woman placed him under her control almost entirely; that she was continually urging him to murder her husband; that he had attempted or laid in wait several times, but his heart failed him up to the morning of the 24th of July last. While he was in company with Perkins hunting horses, being prompted by the devil, as well as the woman, and stimulated by liquor, he committed the murder, by shooting Perkins through the body and beating him over the head with a gun. He expressed his willingness to die, said he was guilty.”
With Malone dead, there was no one to testify against twenty-year-old Laura Hawn Perkins. Her parents bailed her out of jail, and charges were never filed.
Laura and her three children wouldn’t want after Joel’s murder. According to Norris H. Perkins in Slow Settles the Dust in Oregon:
Laura and her children shared an excellent inheritance because Joel, by the early 1850’s, with Dan Johnson, had acquired property at the corner of Yamhill and Front Streets in Portland. It included a warehouse on the waterfront, which was rented to an early forerunner of the Meier and Frank store. The property was owned by the family for nearly 50 years.
Front Street was renamed as Naito Parkway in 1996.
Joel also had an additional property in Portland, several properties in Lafayette, and the ferry business on the Rogue River.
Not that there wasn’t more controversy: Joel’s brother, William, filed two motions with the Yamhill probate court attempting to wrest custody of Joel and Laura’s children—and along with it, much of the property.
That petitioner verily believes that the said Laura Perkins is in every way unsuitable to have the guardianship of the said children, in this that her character and disposition as well as her associations render her in every way unsuitable to act as guardian of said children.
That the family of Jacob Hawn is not a suitable family for small children to live or associate with – there being in said family every want & absence of morality and correcting of manners, and in fact no family discipline or order…
In a subsequent filing, William added that the children were “impertinent and saucy to their own parents and to the neighbors & to strangers, and have frequently been heard to cuss their own parents.”
Yamhill County historian Jim Lockett wrote that, while Laura retained custody, the scandal in the small town of Lafayette was too much for Jacob, and he sold his tavern. Perhaps his custom suffered as a portion of the town sided with the Perkins’s and didn’t visit the tavern. Jacob put his full focus on building mills for the next three years.
Laura married twice more: the second marriage to John William Atwood ended in divorce a few years later. The third was to David Patterson in 1862. David and Laura Patterson had seven children in addition to the three she had with Joel Perkins. They settled in The Dalles. David’s younger brother, George Washington, would later marry one of Laura’s younger sisters, Levia, and the two lived on a farm close by David and Laura’s.
Laura died on 17 April 1921 in Portland, Oregon.
The Yakima War of 1855
In the 1850s, the Umatilla, Walla Walla, Nez Perce and Cayuse tribes signed a series of treaties with the United States government, wherein they were coerced to give up millions of acres of land and move to reservations in eastern Washington and Oregon. But after gold was discovered in the newly formed Yakima Reservation, white miners encroached on that territory, violating the terms of the treaty and causing the start of a low-grade conflict in the region.
In response to rumors of the killing of several white miners, Yakima Indian Agent Andrew Bolin was sent to investigate. He didn’t return, and rumors spread that he had been killed on 23 September 1855. The commanding officer at The Dalles, Brevet Major Granville O. Haller, felt compelled to respond with a punitive expedition, and took the raw recruits of US Army Companies I and K, Fourth Infantry—a total of 84 men—out into the field.
On 5 October 1855, Haller discovered that several tribes living on the Yakima reservation had united under the leadership of Chief Kamiakin when his small command was ambushed by a force that outnumbered him anywhere from four-to-one, to six-to-one. While Haller’s troops did their best, they could not overcome the numerical disadvantage, nor their unfamiliarity with the terrain. The night of 5/6 October, the outnumbered US Army troops attempted to withdraw, marching forty miles before meeting a relief column from The Dalles. With twenty-one casualties, the expeditionary force had one-in-four men injured or dead. It was a complete rout, and the fears of the white settlers in Oregon and Washington would reach a fever pitch as the news of the US Army’s defeat by a new Indian alliance spread.
As early as 22 September, there had been calls in Oregon newspapers for the militia to be formed based on rumors of Indian military preparations to reclaim ceded territory. Considering the American tradition of governments selling land cheap to volunteers after a military emergency, combined with the impending expiration of Oregon Donation Land Law, there was an economic motivation to mobilize as well.
After Kamiakin’s victory, the Oregon media began beating the drum for war, and Governor Curry obliged by calling for the formation of the Oregon First Regiment of Mounted Volunteers. Each county was supposed to muster a company, and Yamhill resident and 1843 émigré Absalom J. “Abe” Hembree organized ninety-nine men on 16 October 1855. At 45, Hembree was the oldest of all the militia Company Captains, but compared to his next door neighbor, 51-year-old Private Jacob Hawn, Abe was a young man. There’s no explanation to why Jacob signed up—Harriet was pregnant at the time, and gave birth to a daughter on 17 November 1855 when Jacob was in the field—but perhaps the simplest explanation was that Jacob wanted to keep an eye on 18-year-old Alonzo and 15-year-old Jasper, who had also signed up to fight.
By 5 November 1855, Captain Hembree’s Company E had caught up with ~350 regular US Army troops pursuing Chief Kamiakin in the Yakima Valley. On 8 November, a group of US Army dragoons commanded by Brevet 2nd Lieutenant Phil Sheridan skirmished with Indian forces. Captain Hembree’s Company E didn’t see action: they had been delayed by the need to carry a seriously ill private by stretcher.
The morning of 9 November 1855, Captain Hembree’s Company E, along with Companies C and F were on point, sweeping the brush for snipers along eight miles of the Yakima River valley near modern-day Union Gap, Wash.
The next day, the regulars and volunteers attempted to flush out Indians on the heights with Hembree’s Company E attempting to circle around to the Indians’ rear while regular forces charged to flush the Indians into the trap. The regulars botched it and the hostile force escaped (albeit with three dead, one a child, the other an old man).
The US Army and the Oregon Volunteers could wander around Yakima country as long as they wanted, but they could not get close enough to force a decisive action. Eventually, the winter and dwindling provisions required them return to camp, On 25 November 1855, the volunteers straggled back to camp after sixteen all-but-pointless days in the field.
Company E, stationed at Camp Klicikitat outside The Dalles, only had a few days to recuperate before they were order to march to the Umatilla River to respond to the Indian sacking of Fort Walla Walla. Departing on 29 November, they were supposed to catch up to the rest of the volunteer force that was already marching to the fort near modern-day Echo, Oregon.
The main volunteer force encountered a group of Walla Walla Indians who may have temporarily aligned with Kamiakin, but who were now willing to make peace and return what they had taken from Fort Walla Walla.
The volunteers were suspicious, and insisted on a party of hostages to guarantee the peace. The Walla Walla’s chief, PeoPeoMoxMox, volunteered himself.
The next day, the volunteers encountered a larger force of Walla Walla Indians. My one source of history for the Yakima War gets very confusing at this point, but the volunteers seem to have started a battle out of carelessness and overconfidence. The Battle of Walla Walla didn’t go well for the volunteers, and as things fell apart, the men guarding PeoPeoMoxMox and the four other hostages lost their cool. While attempting to tie up the hostages, one of them attacked. A volunteer replied by smashing PeoPeoMoxMox’s head with his rifle so hard that the blow bent the barrel. Another volunteer charged in and shot PeoPeoMoxMox at point-blank range.
PeoPeoMoxMox, who had volunteered to be a hostage to preserve peace, became a grisly trophy: “The whole scalp was taken from his head and cut into twenty pieces. His skull was divided equally for buttons, his ears preserved in a bottle of spirits and large strips of his skin cut off along his back to be made into razor strops.”
Abe Hembree’s Company E wasn’t there when PeoPeoMoxMox was murdered—they were still on the march. They arrived at a static battle where both sides were running low on ammunition after days of pointless skirmishing. The next morning, the Indians were gone, wisely avoided another day’s battle with the now larger volunteer force.
It was a few weeks to Christmas, and Company E—along with Companies A and K—were ordered to make camp near Walla Walla, Washington for the winter. There was nothing to do but try to stay warm, and the volunteers—who had probably expected a quick action—were losing their drive. While Washington Territory Governor Curry was calling for more volunteers, some of the men requested they be discharged to return to their families. In February, fifteen of Abe Hembree’s men requested a discharge, including Private Jacob Hawn on 12 February 1856.
Come March, the volunteers broke camp and marched east to try to engage Kamiakin’s men. They quickly outmarched their supply lines, and Jaspar and Alonzo—along with the rest of Company E and the volunteers—were forced to eat horse flesh. The volunteers wandered around the Palouse, again failing to close action with any of Kamiakin’s men.
On the morning of 7 April 1856, Captain Hembree and eight other men were scouting near the Simco Valley where Haller had been routed. Lying in wait were 50 to 60 hostile Indians, who surprise attack set eight of the nine volunteers into a rapid retreat. The ninth was Captain Hembree, who had been shot in the hip and knocked him from his mule. Hembree cried out “my God boys, don’t leave me” and five of the retreating men turned around to help him. Hembree was on his belly, apparently unable to stand from wound, but holding out his two pistols in defense. That first rescue effort didn’t last long—five against fifty isn’t much of a fight. One of them men said his last sight of Hembree was of Abe propped on his right elbow firing into the Indians.
The main force of volunteers heard the attack, and quickly rallied in response. The attackers fled, but Abe Hembree was dead and scalped to the neck. His body was brought back to Lafayette for burial, and Levia could never forget the image.
I… remember when his body was brot to his home in Lafayette. He was buried with great honor. I remember just how he looked in his coffin, with only a small lock of hair hanging over his forehead… I was not more than six years old at the time but I cannot forget how the captain looked after he was scalped.
The campaign was largely over for the volunteers. Lacking horses and provisions, they returned to The Dalles, arriving on 13 April 1856. On 28 April 1856, the US Army issued an Order abolishing the volunteer force as there were now sufficient regular forces available in the area.
Company E had one last mission—to drive any stray cattle in the Umatilla area east to The Dalles to help provision the regular forces. Most of the men, including Alonzo Hawn, were discharged on 7 May 1856, the rest ten days later on 17 May 1856.
Inconclusive skirmishes continued in Washington Territory until September of 1858, when Kamiakin engaged US troops near Spokane, Washington at the Battle of Four Lakes. The Army was equipped with new Springfield Model 1855 rifles which had an effective range of 500 yards—ten to twenty times that of the Indians’ smoothbore rifles. The Indians couldn’t even get within range.
Jacob’s death and The Dalles
On 27 January 1860, Jacob passed away at the age of 56. He is buried in Pike Cemetery in Yamhill.
At the age of 41, Harriet was a widow. According to Levia (who was just ten at the time), Harriet settled the family’s affairs “as best she could” and then moved to The Dalles. Why Harriet chose to leave Lafayette and resettle in The Dalles isn’t clear. Lafayette County historian Jim Lockett suggested that the eldest sons were able to find employment there to help Harriet support the family.
After arriving at The Dalles on 18 November 1861, Harriet immediately set about building a new hotel. Finding temporary housing that bitterly cold winter/fall was difficult, and she ended up renting a two-room house for her family of six from a man who owned it and decided to live in the cellar.
That winter was a combination of unprecedented rainfall and cold: when the Columbia finally began to melt, it carried away that two-room house, and Harriet moved the family into their unfinished hotel, the ground floor of which was already flooded with about 18 inches of water.
Harriet named the hotel “The Oregon Hotel” but didn’t end up running it for long. A saloon opened up next door and was frequented by rowdy miners and U.S. Army soldiers who would drink and fight late into the night. Harriet hated the arrangement and sold out 18 months after building the hotel.
She moved the family to a house on Second St., where she kept boarders and raised her remaining children into adulthood. Over the next decade, her children began to move out.
- 1861: Melissa Jane (1846-1920) married Charles Wesley Johnson in 1861 at the age of 15 and the couple had two children. Charles died in 1870, and Melissa is back living with her mother that year. She married Charles Stillwell in 1871 and had six more children. Charles and Melissa divorced in 1905.
- 1862: Laura Ann (1835-1921), the eldest child, settled into a stable marriage with David Patterson in 1862.
- 1863: Alonzo Pierson (1837-1902), struck out on his own in 1863 at the age of 26, working in gold mines in across the Pacific Northwest, wintering with his mother and siblings. He evenually married a woman named Eva, and worked as a laborer in Washington State. He moved up to Skagit County at the same time as his brother-in-law George Washington and niece Etta Harding, and died there in 1892. He is buried close his niece’s husband, Willard Harding.
- 1865: Jasper Columbus (1840-1919) began working with a cousin from California in 1865 when he was 25: the two ran ox teams hauling freight in the area. Jasper had returned to Yamhill County by 1880, where he remained for the remainder of his life. He never married.
- 1868: Leviaette Statira (1849-1934), married George Washington Patterson in 1868.
- 1869: Newton Watson (1843-1921) married Martha Ann Beasley in 1869 at the age of 26, in Pendleton, Oregon. The couple had two children before moving to Boise, Idaho sometime in the 1880s. After two decades in Boise, they returned to Oregon, living first in Portland, and then in Waluga, Clackamas County. Newton had probably moved out of his mother’s home before 1869.
In 1870, the census shows Harriet living with Alonzo, Iola and Melissa. It’s not entirely clear where Mary Edith was living.
- 1872: Mary Edith (1853-1940) married John Marion Bunn at the age of 18, and the couple had eight children. The Bunns spent most of their lives in the Yamhill area. Their son, Chester Bunn, had a daughter named Beverly Atlee Bunn. Beverly married Clarence Cleary, and published a best-selling series of children’s books featuring Ramona Quimby. She also wrote a book called A Girl From Yamhill which includes a few pages on her great-grandparents, Jacob and Harriet Hawn. While Beverly Cleary is still alive at the time of writing, she has a burial plot marked in Pike Cemetery where Jacob and Harriet, along with many members of the Bunn family, are buried.
- 1879: Olive Arrilla (1855-1938), the youngest, married Christopher Cummins () 1847-1934) at the age of 23. If they couple did have children, none of them lived to maturity.
By 1880 at the age of 62, Harriet was on her own. The census lists her as running the county hospital and poorhouse in The Dalles.
Harriet died three years later on 17 April 1883. Matthew P. Deady, the emaciated young man who Jacob and Harriet took in the winter of 1849 and now a State Supreme Court Justice, wrote her obituary, saying:
She never failed to welcome the weary traveler and social neighbors to her warm hearth and good cheer, according to her light and opportunity.
She was a faithful and devoted woman and thro her long and toilsome life probably never shirked a duty or slighted a task within her field of labor. She wrought well and did her full share to make this once wilderness to bud and blossom as the Rose.