Oscar Lewis arrived in Dakota Territory in June 1889, several months before North Dakota became a state. He left behind his wife, Ida, and his two sons, Harry and Harould, in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. During his time in North Dakota, he worked at a hotel for several months, spent at least two years in service to Netcher and Morgan’s general merchandise store, and played coronet for the local Emerado band. During his time in North Dakota, he wrote his wife Ida regularly. He detailed to her several plans for earning a thousand dollars, which he wanted to use to start some sort of enterprise he could share with his son, Harry. He intended several times throughout 1889 to 1899 to return home to his family, but changed his mind every time, stating that his job opportunities in the West greatly exceeded those found in the East. He refused to let his wife and sons move to North Dakota during this time, with the explanation that it was not safe. According to Ocsar Lewis, the water in Emerado was unhealthy and the environment was dangerous. He details throughout his letters instances of murder and mobs. He, however, may have embellished his report of these instances. An example of this is found in his description of a man named Will Lycan being lynched in 1889. In this case, Lewis's whole story is undermined by the fact that there are records of Lycan being alive in the 1900s. Another reason he gave to deter his wife from coming was that his work often required him to travel; he made several trips to Grand Forks, St. Paul and Montana. In 1890 he relocated to Arvilla, North Dakota, and then to East Grand Forks, Minnesota. In 1891, he asked his family to join him, although it is unclear whether they did so. Lewis's last letter was on June 10, 1899, after which he disappeared.
Correspondence of Oscar Lewis, Box 1, Folder 2, Folder 3, Folder 4 and Folder 5
Donor's Letter, Bruce P. Dembling, Box 1, Folder 1