Did you hear about Deaf Smith?
There are quite a few counties in Texas, and I mainly know the ones around here.
Then you have Dallas, Bexar and Harris, known primarily for containing large cities.
But I never knew until a few weeks ago there was a Deaf Smith County, named for Erastus Smith, a spy who worked for Sam Houston and carried Travis’ letter from the Alamo.
And yes, he was apparently deaf, caused by a childhood disease. These days in the news business we call that hearing-impaired, according to the AP Style Guide.
I wanted to learn more about Smith, since I wasn’t familiar with this historical figure. (His name also rhymes with that of my buddy and music lover Jeff Smith).
I found something on the Handbook of Texas Online (www.tshaonline.org), sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association.
According to the site, Smith was born in Duchess County, N.Y., in 1787. At age of 11 he moved with his parents to Natchez, Miss., Territory. He first visited Texas in 1817 but did not remain long. He returned in 1821 and settled near San Antonio, where he married a Mexican widow, Guadalupe Ruiz Durán. The couple had four children.
Although Smith’s loyalties were apparently divided at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, when a Mexican sentry refused to allow him to enter San Antonio to visit his family, Smith joined Stephen F. Austin’s army.
Smith took part in the battle of Concepción on Oct. 28, 1835. He was responsible for the discovery of the Mexican supply train involved in the Grass Fight. During the siege of Bexar, Smith guided Col. Francis Johnson’s men into the town. On Dec. 8 he was wounded on top of the Veramendi Palace. Smith, whom Gov. Henry Smith called “well known to the army for his vigilance and meritorious acts,” remained with the army despite his severe wounds, “as his services as a spy cannot well be dispensed with.”
After regaining his health, Smith served as a messenger for William Travis, who considered him “the Bravest of the Brave’ in the cause of Texas.” Smith carried Travis’s letter from the Alamo on Feb. 15, 1836. On March 13 Gen. Houston dispatched Smith and Henry Karnes back to San Antonio to learn the status of the Alamo garrison. He returned with survivors Susanna Dickinson, widow of Capt. Almaron Dickinson, and their infant daughter Angelina.
Houston assigned Smith to the cavalry but later placed him in charge of recruits with the rank of captain. During the San Jacinto campaign he captured a Mexican courier bearing important dispatches to Antonio López de Santa Anna, and on April 21, 1836, Smith and Houston requisitioned “one or more axes,” with which Houston ordered Smith to destroy Vince’s Bridge, reportedly to prevent the retreat of the Mexican army. Smith accomplished the mission and reported to Houston before the battle of San Jacinto.
After San Jacinto, Gen. Rusk continued to send Smith out as a scout, and after having been absent from the army for the first two weeks of July he was incorrectly reported as captured by the Mexicans. During this period his family, rendered destitute by the war, was living in Columbia, where it apparently had some dealings with Santa Anna, who was then being held at the nearby port of Velasco.
On Nov. 11, 1836, the Texas Congress granted Smith the property of Ramón Músquiz on the northeast corner of San Antonio’s Military Plaza as a reward for his military activities. Nevertheless, Smith and his family remained in Columbia. He resigned his commission in the army but raised and commanded a company of Texas Rangers that in 1837, defeated a band of Mexicans at Laredo. Soon thereafter he resigned from ranger service and moved to Richmond, where he died at the home of Randal Jones Nov. 30, 1837.
On hearing of his death, Houston wrote to Anna Raguet “My Friend Deaf Smith, and my stay in darkest hour, Is no more!!! A man more brave and honest never lived. His soul is with God, but his fame and his family, must command the care of His Country!”
A monument in Smith’s honor, paid for by the 41st Legislature, was unveiled at his grave in Richmond on Jan. 25, 1931.