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Home > Features > The diaries of Lewis Humphreys

The diaries of Lewis Humphreys

Lewis Humphreys and the expedition to Pikes Peak (1859)

Lewis Humphreys is said to have been born on 12 January 1835 in Penybanc, near Bronwydd Arms, Carmarthenshire, and emigrated to the United States in 1855. After landing in Philadelphia he moved to Youngstown, Ohio, and from there to Kentucky. In the spring of 1859 he went to Wabaunsee County where he filed a land warrant. On 2 May 1859 he joined an expedition to Pikes Peak which, according to a newspaper report, was organised by a Welsh company, in search of gold, and he describes the trials and tribulations of this journey, in Welsh, at the beginning of one of the two diaries. Driving a team of oxen across the plains, he mentions some of the places the company passed through; they endured having to sleep in wet clothes because they got soaked by the rain; he describes a thunderstorm, and a particularly heavy storm of hailstones that they suffered; meeting other wagon trains rushing to be the first to stake their claim; the lack of water and timber in some places, cooking their food using dried Buffalo manure where there was no wood available, and hunting and killing Buffaloes.
"We were forced to cook our food on dried animal dung that is called by those who cross the prairie Buffalo Chips ...."
Diary of Lewis Humphreys (1859-1866)
On the way they met people returning home who said that the gold expedition was worthless, and Lewis Humphreys turned around and went home. In 1860 he worked in the coal mines and although he could not enlist in the Civil War because he was crippled in the right knee at the time, he was made a corporal in the Home Guards. The fragment of letter kept with the diaries is from his brother Thomas who fought in that war.

A journey to Montana (1866)

The diary continues with Lewis Humphreys's next expedition, entitled 'Our Jorney (sic) to Montana', which carries on into the next diary. In March 1866 he took a steamboat for Fort Benton, paying $140 for cabin passage. This diary is written in a more lyrical style and there are vivid descriptions of the scenery and the "picturesque scenes cut out of the mountainside" he sees as the boat makes its way down the Missouri River. He mentions seeing men digging for coal, meeting other boats navigating the same river, getting stuck on sand bars; he recounts the loss of a passenger who fell overboard; describes an Indian cemetery and the many groups of Indians they pass, with a social comment on the laziness of the Bucks, leaving the Squaws to do the work and the children "playing in the dirt and mud like so many turtles". He makes clear his distain at the unfair behaviour of the captain and the clerk towards their passengers and their bad conduct. There are comments on the villages they call at, the condition of the soil and pasture in places and the bare hills, and historical anecdotes on the various Forts along the way. The diary ends on 29th June but the journey itself ended on 1st July when 'Mrs Helena', as the passengers fondly named the boat, reached Fort Benton. Lewis didn't make it as far as Montana, travelling instead by stage to Helena and Virginia City where he mined for gold and in September 1869 he went to Lawrence, KS where he sent his gold to the US Mint and earned $6000.

Arvonia, Kansas

While at Lawrence, he heard of the Welsh colony at Arvonia and there he bought the supply store and eventually built a new store room. He also kept the Post Office and was one of the leading men in Arvonia. He was president of the Peoples State Bank of Lebo from its inception. He married Margaret Price and had a son, Lewis Price Humphreys.

Lewis Humphreys died on 14 May 1909 and was buried in Arvonia on 16 May.