Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Many Benefits of Hemp and What it Could Mean to Missouri

Long ridiculed and called "ditch weed" by marijuana users for its low THC content, and yet still banned by the government due to essentially being a variety of the same plant marijuana is, hemp seems to get no love. Hemp is banned as it is simply another variety of cannabis, the same plant marijuana is a variety of. Yet it has many, many uses in industry. The one most historians may be familiar with is in making rope. At one time Missouri was one of the top producers of industrial hemp, and with that production of hemp came rope factories. In the small town of Huntsville, Missouri where I live in there were actually two rope factories and the same was true of other small towns around Missouri in the 1900s. It was a big industry, and could be once again. Even George Washington grew hemp.

Unlike its more well known cousin marijuana, hemp is a hearty plant that is easy to grow. It does not need any special care. Indeed, you basically plant it and it grows until you harvest it. There are fields of it here in my county that have grown wild for over 150 years. This despite being routinely cut down and burned by law enforcement officers to show that they were waging a war on drugs. The fact is hemp has only 1% THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that gets one high. It therefore cannot be used as a recreational drug. Hemp is a plant that does not harm its environment by needing fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. It therefore has very little impact on its environment. In essence, industrial hemp is easy to grow, and at the same time gives high yields in a little space. It is therefore a desirable cash crop to grow from an economic standpoint when one considers what it can be used for.

Its uses are many, in addition to rope, industrial hemp can be used to make textiles for clothing among other things. Cloth made from it is very durable and it can be used to make jeans, coats, T-shirts, suits, shoes and yet it can also be mixed with other fibers like silk to make lingerie. It is so durable it can be used to make heavy canvas of the variety you use to cover your car or boat. Industrial hemp's potential for use in the garment industry alone are reason enough to permit its being grown and used in manufacturing. However, it has many other uses. One is in the manufacture of plastic. Many plastics today are made from petroleum which has a negative impact on the environment in their production. Plastic made from hemp though would have much less of an impact on the environment and would be cheaper to produce as well given the price of petroleum these days.  And the plastic from hemp is very durable. In 1941 Henry Ford had a car made that had doors and fenders made of hemp and soy plastic. He demonstrated its durability by using a sledge hammer on it. Unfortunately, the car never made it out of the stage of being a prototype. Now though many automakers are moving to using hemp plastics in their cars. Ford, GM, Honda, and Mercedes are all manufacturing door panels and dashboards molded from hemp plastic. Currently, most of the hemp used to make this plastic is grown overseas, but it could be grown here if the ban on industrial hemp were to be lifted. In addition to car parts hemp plastic can be used to make plastic bags, water bottles, computer parts, nearly anything and everything currently made out of plastic from petrochemicals. Hemp can also be used to manufacture such building materials as insulation, fiberboard, floor tiles, floor boards caulking, shingles, and more. There is even a form of concrete called hempcrete which is a mixture of hemp hurds and lime and sometimes additional ingredients like sand. It is not brittle like regular concrete and therefore has the advantage of  not needing expansion joints when used in construction. One of the oldest uses for hemp is to make paper, and this was done as early as 2,000 years ago. Most paper today is made of wood pulp, and the trees to get the wood pulp from take years to grow. Hemp on the other hand can be harvested every year. By using hemp for paper we would be saving our forests, and our forests help fight global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the air. Finally, hemp oil can be used to manufacture biodiesel much like vegetable oil is used now. With dwindling petroleum supplies, the price of diesel is only going to go up, and a cheaper alternative needs to be found. Hemp oil can provide one of those alternatives.

Given all of hemp's uses the legalization of industrial hempcould mean an economic boon for stagnating rural. economies where it could be grown. With all its uses, its growth and use in manufacturing could bring billions of dollars into rural areas with struggling economies like the one I live in. The county  I live in, Randolph County, Missouri was once one of the biggest producers of hemp in the nation. There were four rope factories alone. Now imagine what a county like the one I live in could have with the legalization of hemp now we know even more uses for it? In addition to hemp farms, there could be clothing factories, rope factories, plastic factories, places that produce fiberboard and insulation, bio-fuel plants, to name a few things. It only makes sense to place these plants near where hemp is grown, and Missouri is ideal for growing hemp. With Missouri towns suffering from the loss of industries to places overseas, the railroads ceasing passenger service and closing lines, hemp could serve to revive ailing economies. There is no reason to be against the legalization of hemp with its many uses in manufacturing. Even marijuana has many medical uses that could benefit the economy.

But alas those wanting marijuana legalized for recreational and medical use drown out those that may present the more logical argument that the legalization of marijuana will also mean legalizing industrial hemp with all its economic benefits. Politicians love money, and tell them their backers can make a lot of money growing and using hemp in manufacturing, and they might be more behind lifting bans on both varieties of cannabis. Right now according to a recent poll 51% of Missouri voters are against lifting the ban on the growth and sale of cannabis. The reason perhaps is that all these voters think the legalizing of the growth and sale of cannabis would mean is that potheads would have the legal right to get stoned. Their minds shift to the dangers of people driving cars and operating heavy equipment while high from smoking marijuana. But lifting the ban on the growth and sale of cannabis could mean much more than that. It could mean bringing a lot of money into rural economies that badly need it. As for the dangers of people driving or operating heavy equipment while high from smoking cannabis we have the same problem with folks doing such while drunk, and no one is suggesting we go back to the prohibition of alcohol. Even though I have pointed out the benefits of hemp here, there are many reasons for marijuana to be legal as well with its many uses in medicine as a potential way to fight cancer. Even recreational use can benefit the economy. Colorado is expected to make over one billion dollars off of taxes on marijuana sold for recreational use. Such an influx of tax money for the state government to use could mean better schools and better roads that would benefit all. The reasons for keeping the ban on the growing and sale of cannabis are dwindling. There simply are too many reasons to make it legal, and rural Missouri economies need it. With the legalization of cannabis we could see a new era of prosperity for small Missouri towns. If you wish, by all means share this post to Facebook, Google+, or tweet it on Twitter. And write your State Legislators. Tell them you want it to be legal to grow industrial hemp and use it in manufacturing. I could care less myself whether marijuana is ever made legal, but I feel passionate about making it legal to grow industrial hemp, and to use it in manufacturing in Missouri. However, if marijuana has to be legalized for industrial hemp to be grown, so be it. You can get your State Legislator's addresses by going to the State Senate website. Just enter your address in the Legislator Lookup form and it will give you all the contact information for your State Senator and State Representative. The State Senate website is at: http://www.senate.mo.gov/

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Forgotten Village of Smithland, Randolph County, Missouri

On many maps of the State of Missouri dating between the years 1844 and 1875 there appears a place called "Smithland" located in the Southern part of Randolph County. Often it may be the only place shown in the county besides Huntsville and Mount Airy, places still remembered today. Smithland though has been largely forgotten. Many that have lived their entire lives in and around the town of Higbee, Missouri but two or three miles away have never heard of it. Its name does not appear once in the numerous county histories written as early as 1884. I, myself did not recall ever hearing of it, and would have been blissfully unaware of Smithland had I not noticed the name on so many maps of the period. I therefore went on a quest to learn more about it. The only place I found detailed information on it was from a pamphlet entitled Higbee Centennial 1872-1972: Higbee Through the Years compiled and edited by Emily F. Patison now deceased. I presume the information in the pamphlet was compiled from early editions of the Higbee News (sadly for many years a defunct newspaper) about the history of the area many years before at a time when folks remembered Smithland. While what information there was was enlightening, it did not answer the one question I had, exactly where was Smithland? The early maps clearly show it in the Southern part of Randolph County in the general area of the towns and villages of Higbee, Roanoke, and Yates. That is a very large area though. Too, I had many other questions about it. While the piece from the Centennial pamphlet was interesting, it really did not provide much information. So I went searching.

Here is what I learned. Smithland was an active community roughly between 1830 and 1871 founded by prominent landowner Joel Smith. It served as a stage coach stop on a line from Hannibal, Missouri to Fayette, Missouri, and had a post office that served between 1838 and 1858 (it was only one of five in the county at the time). In 1833, State Representative George Frederick Burckhardt of Randolph County was going to introduce a bill declaring the stage road from Paris, Missouri via Smithland to Fayette, Missouri a state road. I could not find out whether he did or did not do so. According to Esther Leech's Master's Thesis published in 1933 Place Names Of Six East Central Counties Of Missouri  the stage line stopped operation when the Western  Branch of the North Missouri Railroad began operation which would have been in 1866. The biography of William Smith, son of Joel Smith found in Randolph County, Missouri, Cemetery Records and Histories says much the same thing. I also learned from Missouri As It Is in 1867 by Nathan Parker that in 1867 Smithland had a population of only 50. The last State of Missouri map I can find that it appears on is from 1875. As early as 1885 it was being called "Old Smithland" in obituaries. In this part of the country a town or village is only called "Old" if it has ceased to exist. However, in its heyday Smithland boasted a post office, a small inn, a blacksmith shop, a general store, a tavern, and even a horse race track. It was large enough that political rallies were sometimes held there according to old stories told by old timers of their parents found in editions of the Moberly Monitor-Index from the 1930s.

What caused its decline is anyone's guess. Its post office ceased operation in 1858, the same year the Renick post office in Randolph County opened. Indeed, it is said in such sources as Ester Leech's thesis that Smithland was displaced by Renick. The Civil War may have done it no good either as the Battle of Roan's Tan Yard was fought within a couple of miles of Joel Smith's land. According to Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Missouri, Volume III Joel Smith was pistol whipped and had two horses taken from him by some of Bloody Bill Anderson's men as they traveled through the area from their raid on Huntsville, Missouri in July of 1864. It could be the guerrilla activity in the area seriously hurt the business that kept Smithland alive. Finally, it is known that Joel Smith was a slave holder from government records (Descriptive Recruitment Lists of Volunteers for the United States Colored Troops for the State of Missouri, 1863-1865) that show he sent two slaves to fight for the Union army during the war. Many slave owners suffered economically due to the loss of income from the labor of the slaves after the war. The final blow was perhaps the stage line ceasing operation in 1866. It had continued to appear on maps though throughout the Civil War, but it may have already have been in decline by then. Its days would have been numbered anyhow. In 1872 Higbee was founded not three or four miles away to the Southeast to be followed by Yates not many miles to the Southwest. The Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad went through Higbee in 1874, and Yates got a railroad in 1879 when the Chicago and Alton Railroad built through both it and Higbee. Later the mining town of Elliot would spring up not far away as well as the town of Harkes. All these towns were in about a six mile radius of  what had been Smithland. Joel Smith moved to Moberly, Missouri in 1880, and died two years later though his daughter Sarah remained living on the original farm. Any number of factors could have lead to Smithland's demise. Most likely it was due to accumulation of many things. All that is known is by 1885 it was being called "Old Smithland" a clear indicator it was no more. My brother Terry has suggested that perhaps it was like a "company town" that declined with the fortunes of its owner. I cannot discount that idea.

I have compiled a list of people that lived in and around Smithland from sources on the internet. First off there is Joel Smith's family. Joel Smith was originally from Kentucky. His wife was Dorcas Smith nee Tureman. They reportedly had nine children, but I can only find the names of six. He had one son William Smith who married Florence Head daughter of Doctor Walter Head of Huntsville, Missouri. He operated the stage line between Allen and Fayette and between Paris and Huntsville all in Missouri during the years of the Civil War and built and operated the Grand Central Hotel in Moberly, Missouri in 1880. The rest of Joel and Dorcas Smith's children were daughters and they are listed in no particular order. One of his daughters was Mary who married William James, William James was through his sister, Susan, brother in law of Doctor James Marion Walker who owned land beside some of Joel Smith's properties. Then there was Sarah Catherine who married James Edwin Rucker. According to her obituary in the Higbee News she lived on the farm she was born on her entire life and died there in 1924. The Smiths' daughter Elizabeth married John Tunstall Coates who would become a Circuit Judge and was influential in the early days of Moberly (he has one of the streets in Downtown Moberly named for him). Elizabeth died young. and after her death her sister Amanda married Judge Coates. Finally their daughter Annie married George Bradford. George became a prominent farmer Southeast of Columbia, Missouri.

There are others that may have lived in or around Smithland. I say, "may have lived" because some of these names are from genealogy pages which do not always have correct information. Smithland produced one famous or should I say infamous son. According to the Encyclopedia of  Frontier Biography Thomas F.M. McLean also known as "Bison" McLean was born in Smithland. He attended the University of Missouri and was recommended for an appointment to West Point by W.W. Hudson Professor of Mathematics as well as University President John Hiram Lathrop. He was admitted to West Point in July of 1844, but was dismissed in August of 1848 for being "deficient in conduct." He then traveled to California where he took up life with Native Americans and took to raiding. It could be he is related to Doctor William B. McLean whose estate was listed for sale near Smithland in a January 24, 1846 edition of the Boon's Lick Times, a paper out of Fayette, Missouri. A Mary McLean according to the 1876 plat map of Randolph County Missouri owned land adjacent to Joel's Smith's property. I cannot help but think they are all somehow related. Abiel Leonard who was at one time Secretary of State of Missouri and lived in Fayette apparently stayed in or near Smithland at some point. He received a letter there in 1855 from a Mrs. Terrell according to The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 58.  Also according to that volume Fleming Terrell lived in Smithland or nearby. According to postal records Reubon Watts was Postmaster of Smithland in 1856. Other people are mere names, and they are Thomas H. Withers, his wife Susan nee Shackleford, William Fleming Boulware, Peter Bass, Susan E. Creason nee Robb, Henderson D, Wilcox founder of the village of Harkes, Missouri owned property adjacent to Joel Smith's property.

Now to the question of locating Smithland. To do so I started first by checking the An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Randolph County, Missouri, 1876. Despite its glorified name it is essentially a plat map showing where people owned property within the county along with the acreage they owned. Through this I was able to locate where Joel Smith owned property in 1876. However, this is long after Smithland's heyday, and he may have sold or bought property in the intervening years. It would be of little use in locating Smithland. I then decided to check for the purchase of land patents by Joel Smith at the Bureau of Land Management website. He obtained land from the government in 1833, 1835, 1837, 1843, 1856, and 1859. The largest patent was the one in 1833 for 160 acres, though he obtained more acreage in another year by buying two patents. The 1833 patent was the largest one at one time. As the township, range, and section are given on the documents I could then locate them on a present day county map. With this information, I set about making my own map. I first drew in the land grants up until 1843. We know Smithland existed in 1838 as that is when the post office was opened, but I figured the later grants may be near to his original holdings. I then went back to the 1876 plat map, and drew in the properties he held in 1876. Amazingly he only sold one of his original land grants that being the 40 acre one in Section 35. Now to the map itself. Sections where he may have owned property between 1832 and 1876 are outlined in red and white. His land patents up until 1843 are outlined in blue and white with the dates of the grants given. Land he owned in 1876 in addition to the land patents are outlined in heavy red lines. As can be seen nearly all the properties run along present day Randolph County Road  2480 or close by. Only two of the properties had residences on them in 1876 (that are marked on the plat map anyway), and I have marked these on my map. In the Higbee Centennial pamphlet it is stated the settlement was near the main house. For that reason I think Smithland was in most likely Section 31, the location of the 1833 land patent. It is possible it was in Section 32 as we have no idea when he obtained that property, but I find that unlikely. It is possible there were other residences on the properties that were torn down before 1876, or that simply were missed in the making of the map. We have no way of knowing. So for now I think the best bet is that Smithland was in Section 31. It would be nice someday, if the present land owners were to allow it to explore Section 31 with a metal detector to find the exact location. Perhaps still there may be those that know the exact location.

Update February 25 2014: I emailed Randolph County Commissioner Jerry Crutchfield who someone said is very knowledgeable about county history. He said he did not know, but he asked County Commissioner Wayne Wilcox (Great, great, great grandson of H.D. Wilcox who founded Harkes) who lives very close to there. According to Mr. Wilcox, Smithland is South of the County Road 2530 and County Road 2520 intersection. It lies West and slightly South of a low water crossing on County Road 2520. Joel Smith did indeed own 80 acres there a little to the South in 1876 in Section 9 Northeast of Higbee shown on the map above. And his son William Smith owned 80 acres catty corner to the Northwest of this property in Section 4. This is a little West of where County Commissioner Wilcox says it is, and far from where I thought it was. However, the Smiths may have owned more property in that area and sold it by 1876. I have no doubt Commissioner Wilcox is probably right and this is the general location of Smithland. It is very near Route A which is a state road, and we know Representative Burkhardt was trying to have the road from Paris to Fayette via Smithland declared such. If that is the case Smithland is probably in Section 3  directly West of Renick. This would be in keeping with old accounts that put it West of Renick. Part of the problem has always been is Joel Smith owned so much land in the area, and referred to all of it as Smithland making locating the village difficult. I owe the Commissioners a great deal of thanks for their help! I cannot thank them enough!