Neriah's parents were descendants of American colonists who had been a part of the early historical events of America. According to the family tradition Neriah Sr. had seventeen uncles in the Revolutionary War. Stories of their experiences were exciting to his children and grandchildren; especially tales of the soldiers who were spies. Neriah was tenth of twelve children. The family members were large in stature. Neriah, who was the smallest of the brothers, was six feet one inch tall and weighed one hundred and seventy pounds. The older brothers helped their father to clear land in Kentucky in order that the crops could be raised and homes built. It was related that they cut six to eight loads of wood per day.
In the winter of 1846-47, Neriah's brother David came to visit and preached the restored Gospel to them. Neriah accepted the Gospel and was baptized. His wife did not join the church at that time. William Hendricks Lewis, who was a young lad at the time, remembered well the events of those years and wrote the account from which the following information was derived. "In the winter of 1846-47 my uncle David Lewis came to my father's home and preached the Gospel to my parents. My father accepted the same and a few weeks later sold out and moved to Nauvoo, where the family stopped with my mother's and father's relatives for about two weeks. We then started for the great unkown west, traveling through Iowa to the Missouri River. I was present when Colonel Allen and other United States Officers called for the Mormon Battalion, and I saw the wives and mothers of those soldiers left on the black prairie without protection and with scarcely food enough to eat. A rude, flat boat was constructed on which we crossed the Missouri River. We joined Bishop George Miller's company and continued our journey westward hoping to reach the Rocky Mountains that same season. However, after we had traveled a few hundred miles, winter came. We met some Punca Indian chiefs who told us they had grass, timber and water and we had better winter with them. We accepted their offer, left the trail we had been following, and went with them. just after we arrived at their camp some two or three hundred Indian warriors came on horseback to serenade us. They were wearing war paint and rode at full speed in single file. They fired their guns as they came and did not forget to give their war whoop. It was very exciting for our people, many of them had never seen an Indian before. While this was happening an old chief appeared on the scene, excitedly waving his hands and giving words of command. He said a war party of Paunees were at his camp killing their women and children. On hearing this, the warriors broke their serenade and went at full speed to their camp where they had a desperate battle with their enemy. They fought like demons for their families. Their war chief was killed and never before or since have I listened to such howling and mourning. During the fall and early winter we dug roots to eat which we called pig potatoes. They were a great help to us, but later frost came and the cold was so intense that the ground was frozen three and four feet deep. There could be no more digging of roots. When cattle died of hunger and cold, some of the people dressed, boiled and at the meat. It was a cold, black winter and we suffered much from want of food. About eighty persons of our company died of black leg or scurvy and were buried without coffins. We had a little corn in the camp which the women would grind on a hand mill. At times there were as many as twenty or thirty persons waiting for their turn to grind. Our corral of wagons in this camp was a long one and contained our cattle and horses. It was broken-up one night by stampeding of the cattle which ran over the wagons, as if nothing were in the way, and made kindling of most of our vehicles and their contents. Two boys were sleeping under one of the wagons at the time, but an old iron pot which stood under the axel-tree saved their lives. As soon as spring came we made our way back to Winter Quarters where we remained and farmed during that season. We then moved to the Iowa side of the Missouri River and lived there for one year."
The family moved to Platte County, near St. Joseph, Missouri remained two years before having sufficient means to start again toward Utah. Again from the account of William H. Lewis we read; "Having there earned sufficient means to purchase a good outfit to come to the Valley, we started for Utah in April, 1851. At Winter Quarters we joined Orson Pratt's company with James Cummings as captian of hundred and Ormus Bates captain of fifty."
Among the loved ones who died on the plains were Rebecca's brother Allen Hendricks and his wife. This couple were survived by their four children Elizabeth, Lyde, Samuel and John Hendricks. Neriah and Rebecca took these children into their family.... A short distance out on the plains we left the old road and went around the Elkhorn. This caused us to travel about five hundred miles without a road. We had a successful trip and arrived in Salt Lake City October 7, 1851. My father purchased a home in the 15th Ward and we farmed the following season. In the fall of 1851 we moved to Centerville, but returned soon afterward to Salt Lake. The family attended meetings in the Old Tabernacle regularly for many years and listened to President Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and the apostles of the prophet Joseph's time. We learned to love them and cherish their teachings. One of the most tragic scenes of life is to see small children left without a mother. Neriah was called to witness this once again when on December 6, 1854 his own beloved wife and companion died and left four or her own children and two of the orphaned children of her brother Allen. When the family had first arrived in Salt Lake, Neriah's brother Beason and his wife Betsy had taken two of the Hendricks children to raise, after the death of Rebecca they took the other two. This beloved couple had a family of fourteen adopted children. After his second marriage Neriah and his family moved to Farmington, Utah where Martha's first two children were born. In 1859 Neriah went to Cache Valley to help colonize that territory, and in 1860 moved his family into the fort at Richmond, Utah. During the 8 years Neriah's family lived in the Fort home, four sons were born and two daughters were buried. Life in the early settlement at Richmond and some events which occurred during the time the Lewis family lived there have been vividly described in the history of Cache County compiled by M.R. Harvey. Additional source material for the following acount was obtained from Cache Valley residents. President Young had advised the people to build their homes close together in the form of a fort, to give better protection from the Indians. Such a fort was built at Richmond on land which later became the tabernacle square. One of the settlers who did not heed counsel built his home on the land allotted him outside the fort. Everyone feared for his safety. One night some of the men dressed as Indians, went to his home. They were successful in frightening him enough so that he moved into the Fort. However, they almost lost their lives when he started shooting.
The first person buried in Richmond was a miner who was killed by Indians. His body was brought to Richmond and the land around his burial plot became Richmond Cemetery. Many of the Lewis family were later buried there.
In center of the Fort at Richmond was a court several rods wide which extended east and west. A row of log houses was built close together on each side of the court. One historian describing the humble homes in the Fort said, "The furnishings were few and simple. An adobe fire-place was built in one end of the house and around this was centered the life of the family." Immediately in front of each house was a walk, then a water ditch, finally the court. Just back of the homes was a street two rods wide which entered the fort at the east and west ends. Beyond the street were lots for gardens, hay-yards and corrals. A strong, high pole fence was the outer protection and the stack yards and corrals were placed against it. The main road passed north and south through the lower section of the Fort and court, and later ecame Utah State Highway 91. Guards were stationed outside the Fort night and day so they could give an alarm, if necessary. Cattle were always guarded while they were in the pasture to keep the Indians from stealing them.
When the settlers first arrived, the land was surveyed and each was given two city lots, plus twenty acres of farm land and five acres or meadowland for pasture. The leaders counseled together to plan for the safety and edification of the people, and the building of the new community. At first a branch of the church was organized. The people responded by sharing many pleasant hours, as well as helping each other in their work and in times of trouble. Canals were built to bring irrigation water to the land. This was done by first plowing the land, then scraping the dirt back with a "go-devil". This instrument was made by fastening two poles together in a "V" shape and placing rocks on the platform built across the poles. The men took on the "go-devil" while the oxen pulled it to push the dirt. The finishing work was done with picks, shovels, and spades. It took a very long time before the project was completed. When the water started running in the canal, a water master was appointed to notify families of their turn to use it for their land.
The men spent much of their time in the canyons getting lumber for buildings and pole for fence. (There were no wire fences in those days). A sawmill was built in the canyon to facilitate their work. Wood was also burned the longest and gave the best heat. Most of the wood was brought from the canyons in the summer and stored for winter use. Fires were started with dry shavings cut by sharp pocket knives which the men always carried.
When it was necessary for the people to travel between the different settlements they drove a team of horses, or oxen, or walked. It was customary to stop at the settler's homes along the way where teams were fed and lodging provided for travelers when needed. Men often walked to Salt Lake, a distance of ninety miles, to attend Conference of the Church.
Other events told by the settlers to their children concerned the serious problem with the Indians. The following was based on an account by H.R. Merril and S.P. Morgan; "Cache Valley was used by several tribes of Indians as a winter camping area. Large bands would camp at Battle creek, where hot springs made warmer camp grounds. Pioneers followed the policy of feeding the Indians rather than fighting them. This policy prevented blood shed for a time, but it led the Indians to believe that their word was supreme law. Their demands were often unreasonable and burdensome. A food bin was maintained at Franklin, Idaho which was located a few miles north of Richmond, to which the settlers contributed. The Indians drew from this bin. (Wheat was not the only commodity) Yet they felt immune from punishment and often stole cattle, chickens and other supplies from the settlers. They became a menace by day and a terror at night. Conditions became so bad during the winter of 1862-63 that the people became alarmed. They felt that the Indians would drive them from their homes at any time and might kill many of them.
In 1868, Neriah moved his family into the rock home he had built on his city lot. He carried pine logs from the Fort to be used in building a barn near his home. Members of his family have since marveled at his strenth, because he was able to carry logs which were eighteen feet long and ten inches in diameter. The family home was located across the street from the southwest corner of the tabernacle square. It was cool and comfortable and had a cellar to keep milk and other foods. Three children were born in this home which completed a family of nine.
In February of 1878 when the fuel was getting low, it was necessary for members of the family to go to the canyon to replenish the wood supplies. An early spring thaw caused an avalanche which resulted in the death of Orson, a seventeen year old son. He was completely covered but his axe protruded from the snow. He died on the way home from his injury. This overwhelming sorrow came to the family only a few days before Hattie Arminta was born.
Although a strong man, Neriah was also very kind and his anger was seldom aroused. He was diplomatic and wise in judgement and was called to be one of the church judges. Most disputes or problems that arouse among the people in this period of time were settled by the church instead of by law. Neriah was instrumental in bringing about peaceful decisions. He also was a member of the school board. He was loyal to the council of church leadership and willing to do watever he was called to, even though it meant sacrifice for himself and his family. The following incident was typical of this dedication.
"In the spring of 1868 he [Neriah] was called to furnish a team and man to go back to the states and assist the emigrating saints on their way to Utah. Although it was time to plant the crops, he sent his only team of horses and his son Robert who was then seventeen years old."
Because of his love and service to others, Neriah was greatly loved by his friends and neighbors who respectfully called him "Uncle Neriah". When he died the heritage he left his children was one of honesty, loyalty to right under all circumstances, love of fellowmen and country and a strong testimony of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter-days.
Reference: Autobiography - Neriah Lewis