Paul Lewis – Cowboy, Farmer, Husband, Father, Businessman and Distiller of Fine Spirits
There’s a lot of facts to tell about my Pa.
First off his name was Paul after the apostle.
That’s about as close as he ever got to religion
in spite of his Ma, my Granny Elizabeth,
and her determination to raise her first son to be a preacher.
As he tells it, he left home at the age of 12
in order to save what was left of his hide from Granny’s switch,
and headed west on the mule his Pa, Ulysses Lewis
gave him so he wouldn’t have to walk all the way to California.
He also give him 2 dollars, his best suit of clothes,
3 loaves of bread, 8 coonskins for trading
and the watch his Pa, Great Grandpa Samuel Lewis
had given him so as he wouldn’t forget where and who he came from.
Well my Pa never made it all the way to California.
He got to Texas where he learned how to ride herd on cattle.
For 10 years he drove cows from Texas to Abilene, Kansas
and from Montana to Dodge City.
When he had saved a thousand dollars
he decided it was time to return home
and share his good fortune with his family,
find a woman to marry and raise children with
and tend a small herd of cows for the rest of his natural life.
By then Granny Elizabeth had give up on the idea
of raising a preacher due to a falling out she had with the Lord
regarding the death of 3 of her 10 children
before they reached their 7th birthdays.
Once you got on her bad side, even a God,
you was as good as dead to her.
Pa bought some good pastureland and cows
and set himself up in business.
Once he had his affairs set he let it be known
that he intended to marry Miss Lillian MacDonald from Ashton, KY
and anyone who objected
should come and contest his claim on her, if he be man enough.
The one man who took up the challenge
was none other than Mr. Hamish MacDonald, her Pa.
He didn’t figure he liked his daughter being treated like a prize cow
and he also wouldn’t approve of his daughter
marrying so far beneath her class.
The Lewis clan were known drunkards and distillers of spirits.
It was also known that Mr. Paul Lewis had gone out West
and frequented such modern day Sodom and Gamorrahs
as Abilene and Dodge City.
Furthermore there was a rumor circulating about the hollers and towns
that Mr. Paul Lewis had relations with an Indian woman
who bore him a child and who he had subsequently abandoned
to life among the heathen tribes of the Great Plains.
So it was rumored.
The whole of this speech being delivered by Hubert MacDonald,
the eldest son, as Mr. Hamish MacDonald refused to speak
to a man rumored to be such a low and Godless scoundrel.
The meeting was adjourned without further speechifying or incident.
Three days later Mr. Paul Lewis, accompanied by his father,
approached the gate of the MacDonald homestead
with a mule drawn cart which carried a barrel of said spirits
produced by the Lewis’s,
He was met by Hubert. After exchanging cordials
the three men went to the back of the cart to sample and judge
the quality of the Lewis spirits.
After about an hour great gales of laughter could be heard
emanating from the shadow of the large barrel.
With his honor at stake, his curiosity aroused and a thirst
caused by the heat of the day.
Hamish MacDonald approached the men and demanded an explanation.
Instead Hubert handed him a mug and urged him
to at least sample the spirits before dismissing them
as too low a quality for his refined palate.
The tasting went on for several hours throughout the afternoon
until the men were called to dinner by Mrs. MacDonald.
When the evening ended and the barrel was dry,
Mr. MacDonald was satisfied that the rumors
were likely false and circulated by other
jealous and cowardly suitors for the hand of Lillian MacDonald.
The one confirmed rumor, that the Lewis’s were known drunkards
and distillers of spirits was dismissed as a trifle
and smoothed over by Mr. Hamish MacDonald
being signed on as the sole distributor of the most excellent Lewis spirits.
That is how my Ma and Pa came together
and united the 2 wealthiest clans in Harlan county.
Lillian MacDonald Lewis – Wife, Mother, Daughter, Businesswoman
and First Woman Elected to the High and Honorable Office of Mayor of the Township
of Taney Holler in the County of Harlan, KY.
My Ma was a woman of the highest caliber.
Along with my 2 Grannies she made Taney Township
a place that would produce some of the finest citizens
ever to call Kentucky home.
The 3 of them established a school system throughout the county,
they worked on civic committees
that attracted or created enough businesses
to employ every able bodied person in the county.
They ran the KKK out of our town and eventually
out of the entire county by holding freedom rallies
and meetings where they read the Constitution and Bill of Rights
to folks who couldn’t read and finally by exposing every local member
of that vile organization including the Mayor, the sheriff
and some of the leading citizens in Harlan County.
Together they started a Freedmen Association
to encourage former slaves to do their business with local merchants
and to give them a stake in making Harlan and Taney prosperous.
Before my Ma passed she witnessed the opening
of the first Negro college in the state of Kentucky.
She was the only white person to ever sit on their board of trustees
and the chapel still bears her name The Lillian MacDonald Lewis Memorial Chapel, though it eventually came to be known as The Mac.
They were smart women with good business sense.
I remember many times when my Pa or Mr. MacDonald
was fixin’ to crack some stubborn peckerwood’s head
and one of them ladies would step in and let ‘em know
that it weren’t necessary, everything is under control.
There was this one fella Mr. Edward Harris,
owner of Harris & Sons Dry Goods,
who just couldn’t get used to the idea of having negroes in his store.
He said they wasn’t to be trusted and they scared off
some of his best white customers.
Now as I said already, my Ma had a real good head for business.
So she asks Mr. Harris to tally up his charge accounts
to find out who bought the most on credit.
Well there was about 5 accounts that accounted for more
than two thirds of the outstanding credit.
My Ma pointed out that none of those accounts belonged to a negro.
Well it didn’t take a Rockefeller to figure out who was responsible
for the healthy cashflow at Harris & Sons.
My Ma pointed out the obvious,
even to a clodhopper like Edward Harris,
“it seems that some of those fine white customers
you’re so worried about are being carried on credit
by the very negroes they are so offended by.”
It became clear to the merchant class in town
that many of them owed their solvency to the negro cashflow.
For a time tensions were eased and the negroes
helped make Taney Township a prosperous place to run a business
and raise a family.
Over the years problems came and went just like in any place
but in Taney Township, Harlan County, KY
people mostly let each other be and everyone
knew who was responsible for that.
Her ability to keep so many balls in the air at once
set a awful high bar for her children to chase after.
One by one she helped us climb the ladder as far as we could
and that’s all she ever asked from us.
Amos Ulysses MacDonald Lewis:
My brother Amos was oldest and he was about the most booksmart boy
in the whole state. Amos also had a knack for fixing things,
the smaller and more complicated the better.
He helped Pa and Grandpa Ulysses care for the livestock
Especially in the lean years, the livestock kept us fed and warm,
so there was never any question but that everyone
pitched in to care for the animals.
Amos was a cool head when things happened,
especially with the animals. He learned how to set bones,
birth calves, pigs and horses.
He could put things together with his hands and his mind.
By the time he was 15 Amos was the first to be called
to tend to sick and injured animals. From kittens to bull oxen
he just had a way of doing the right thing.
Now there never was a question but that Amos
would go to school right through college.
The rub came when it was time to find a college.
He didn’t want no part of leaving the holler
and everyone and everything he knew.