Monday, June 1, 2015

Smithland, Randolph County, Missouri Revisited

A year or two ago I wrote a post on my attempts to find out information on the mysterious Smithland, Missouri which appears on many state maps from 1844 to 1875. It is always shown as being 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. It is mentioned regularly in the Fayette, Missouri paper The Boonslick Times (published in the 1840s) in regards to the arrival and departure of the mail, with an occasional announcement of an estate sale or advertisement for some goods sold in Smithland.  Yet, Smithland is not mentioned in any of the county histories, and has only brief entries in gazetteers. There is only one work I have found that contains much information on it and that was 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. Using this and what information I could glean from the Moberly papers of people remembering Smithland I composed my first post on Smithland entitled, The Forgotten Village of Smithland I have since learned new information that answers some questions and raises others,

First though a recap of what I had learned when I made that post. Smithland was in the Southern part of Randolph County, Missouri not far from Higbee, Missouri and not far from other ghost towns whose locations are known like Harkes and Elliot. It was a stage stop between Paris, Missouri and Fayette, Missouri, and served as a post office from 1838 to 1858. It was founded by landowner Joel Smith's family, and it was on the land of the Smith family it sat. Joel's son William operated the stage through Smithland during the Civil War, but stopped the line in 1866. 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. The biography of William Smith, son of Joel Smith found in Randolph County, Missouri, Cemetery Records and Histories says much the same thing.  It had operated as a stage stop for over 30 years by that time as in 1833, State Representative George Frederick Burckhardt of Randolph County planned to introduce a bill declaring the stage road from Paris, Missouri via Smithland to Fayette, Missouri a state road. Whether this was done or not I have been unable to find out.  Smithland at its peak boasted a post office, a small inn, a blacksmith shop, a general store, a tavern, and even a horse race track. According to old stories told by old timers of their parents found in editions of the Moberly Monitor-Index from the 1930s Smithland was large enough that political rallies were sometimes held there. Yet by 1867 according to  Missouri As It Is in 1867 by Nathan Parker Smithland had a population of only 50.

When I wrote my first post on Smithland it was not clear to me what caused its decline. However, having done more research and put some thought into it as well as much discussion with other researchers I have decided it was due to a number of factors. Primary was the loss of the post office, and mail being carried through Smithland on its way to Fayette or Paris. This role was taken over by Renick whose post office opened the year Smithland's closed. With the coming of the railroad mail no longer needed to be carried by coach. The railroad also meant no more riders for the stages. As long as rail traffic went north and south on the railroad as it did throughout the Civil War there was room for stages going east and west. However, with the opening of an east/west railroad in the county the need for coaches was gone especially since the largest towns were now served by them. Finally, the Civil War no doubt dealt Smithland a blow. The area of Smithland was a beehive of bushwhacker activity. The Battle of Roan's Creek (also known as Silver Creek) was fought only a few miles away. Joel Smith himself was even pistol whipped by "Bloody Bill" Anderson, and had horses stolen from him. The stage roads were used for all sorts of military and partisan traffic.Finally, Joel Smith was the second largest slave holder in Randolph County, Missouri. With the emancipation he lost a substantial investment, not to mention perhaps no longer had the manpower to operate his farms. Even had it not went into decline its days were perhaps numbered. The railroad bypassed it by a mile or so, and a new town called Higbee sprung up not a few miles to the southwest in 1872 on the tracks.

The big issue for me in addition to its history, was its location. This had been problematic. I had been told by the County Commissioners one who lived not a quarter of a mile from the Smithland site it was south and slightly west of the low water crossing on Randolph County Road 2520 and 2520's intersection with  RCR 2530. The problem with this location is none of my research backed it up. The Smith family owned land close by, but I could not connect them to that specific piece of property. On the 1876 County Atlas it was owned by Henderson Wilcox and none of Joel's land patents from earlier years were close to the area. And while the Smith family owned land nearby, it was not exactly adjacent property. Then while doing more research as the question of Smithland's location still nagged at me I found a legal notice for an estate sale in a November, 1848 issue of the Boonslick Times published in Fayette, Missouri. It read as follows:

WILL be sold to the highest bidder, on the premises, on the 25 of December next, the tract of land on which the late Wm Smith lived; known as the Smithland tract. containing about 820 acres, on the road from Glasgow and Fayette to Paris, one fourth to be paid in hand, and the balance in three equal annual installments. Any gentleman wishing to purchase a good country residence, would do well to examine this tract; the soil is good; has about 3 or 400 acres under good fence. The buildings all roomy and commodious, there is an abundance of timber land, and it all lies convenient to the grand prairie, and has an abundant supply of stock water, with a never tailing well in the yard.
There will also be sold at the same time five negroes, all in the prime of life, (to wit:) 3 men one boy, about 15, and a girl about 18 (years of age. Tho particular terms of the sale will be made known on the day of sale.
Executors of the Estate of Wm. Smith, dec'A,
Nov. 18, 1848. 39 ts.
This blew me away. Everything I had read said Joel Smith founded and owned Smithland. Not one book, not one 20th century newspaper article, not even the highly informative Higbee Centennial booklet said otherwise. Joel Smith founded and owned Smithland, end of story. Yet, here was this announcement of a sale in 1848 that says William Smith lived on the Smithland tract and had about 820 acres. My first thought was to go looking for land patents, a task made easy by the Bureau of Land Management. I did a search on the BLM website, and turned up many land patents by William Smith. and the earliest one was precisely where the County Commissioners had told me the village of Smithland was. Further land patents went up and down what is now Randolph County Roads 2520 and 2530. I can probably safely say Smithland has been located. As to who William Smith was to Joel Smith I cannot say. He could be a father, brother, uncle, or even cousin. I did a futile search for genealogical information, but could find none. What is clear is William Smith did live on the area of land called Smithland, and owned at one time the probable site of the village of Smithland.

I also managed to make a longer list of folks that lived in and around Smithland. There is Joel Smith's family to which we must add the William Smith that died in 1848. Joel Smith was originally from Kentucky. His wife was Dorcas Smith nee Tureman. They reportedly had nine children. 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 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.

In addition to the family, I have uncovered other names of people that may have lived near Smithland. 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 Mary McLean according to the 1876 plat map of Randolph County Missouri owned land adjacent to Joel's Smith's property, and near the old village site. 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, T.L. Watts operated a store at Smithland going by ads in area papers of the time.  William Fleming Boulware is stated as living near Smithland in an edition of the Randolph Citizen when his house burned. Other names linked to Smithland in papers of the period were B.G. Harris, Moses Goodfellow, and A. Foster. 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.

Probable Site of Smithland
Probable Site of Smithland