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!