Gideon Smith


    1851 November 3: John D. Black sold 3,000 acres, the “Cedar Brake” tract, reaching the river on the north to Gideon Smith. It was land in the Siraco Contes survey. The Hardin Hart survey lay between this land and the Journey survey farther west. Gideon deeded almost 1,500 acres of this purchase to his brother, Dr. John C. Smith, on July 20, 1855. An itinerant blacksmith and minister,  J. R. Briscoe, made monthly visits to their “plantation.”

    Six letters written from Bonham between 1851 and ‘53, when the Smiths were arriving on Red River, provide views of a country “very sparsely settled,” but changing fast.

    ...poorest place I ever saw...shouting Methodists...whites and negroes together...not rained here a nuff...mooveing to the rivers...hav knot huggs a gall...rained like the devil...

emigration to this country...fifty families per third...blacks, all slaves...never rue my abundance...fair damsels of Texas...Land has thribled...reading business...daily valuable...induce litigation...refinement in northern states...streets of Bonham...dark, crowded with wagons and slaves... abolitionists...of all fools...the most pitiable...Women grievously fickle....

    Addressed to Gilbert Trusler of Fayette County, Indiana. They were found in an abandoned house in Indianapolis in 1937 and sent as a gift to Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, by Mr. and Mrs. Norton A. Stuart of Warren, Ohio, because they heard him  speak on television of his “pride in Bonham, Texas.” Mr. Rayburn passed the letters to his library in Bonham.

    In 1909, Judge Evans in Bonham supposed “the present generation will be glad to know something of the men who paved the way and laid the foundation.”

    Col. Gid Smith was born in Alabama April 15, 1815. He married Miss Mary Brownlee of Picken County, Alabama, and came to Texas in 1847. He lived in Harrison County until 1849, then came to Fannin County and purchased 3,000 acres of land on Red river. He cleared up and put in cultivation a large plantation. He owned a number of slaves that he worked on his plantation raising corn and cotton as well as hogs, horses, and cattle. He and his good wife were noted for their hospitality, their kindness to the poor and needy, their liberality to the churches and their Christian walk in life.

    They had three children to survive them, vis: Milton Smith and [Annie Pamela] Mrs. Ed Lyday, who now resides in Fannin County, and [Ida] Mrs., Dr. Pennington who resides at Greenville, Texas. 

    His first wife died in Bonham in 1883. Col. Smith married again. He died at his home on Red River in 1891.

    When the civil war came up he raised a volunteer company for service with the Confederate army. He was elected captain and afterwards became colonel of the regiment. He served in the army though he was beyond the military age.

    Col. Smith belonged to that old time class of Southern gentlemen who were always remarkable for their chivalry, their noble and honorable acts, generous deeds and gentlemanly bearings. He was just that character of man that made everyone who visited him feel cheerful, pleasant and welcome. We hope that we may always find among our people those old time gentlemen whom to meet, look at and be with bring up memories of the sweet past and give us a higher regard for our fellowman.

    Judge Evans quickly acknowledged, “...we have made some mistakes.... For instance, in our write up of Col. Gid Smith we failed to get the name of Gid Smith, Jr., who died in this city about three or four years ago and whose wife and children still reside here....”

    By 1917 the Masons were unable (or unwilling) to say when Gideon, Sr. died, nor did they mention his second marriage.

    He was a hightoned, honorable gentleman and commanded the respect of all who knew him. He was a member of the Baptist church, and did as much, perhaps, as any man in this county to promote the interest of that denomination. He was initiated in this Lodge on November 29, 1956. He was a zealous Mason until his death which occurred on _________ [left blank]. He was buried by this Lodge with Masonic honors. Col. Smith had all the elements of an old-time Southern gentleman....

Jeanne Magruder, a great grand daughter of Gideon Smith, wrote to me:

    As a small child living in Bonham with

my grandmother, Ola Smith, and my two

aunts, Vera (Smith) Chitwood and Katilee

Smith, I sensed a strangeness about their

early life on that River. Once, with my

Uncle Gene and my mother also present,

the family made a pilgrimage to Mulberry

and the old log house where my mother

was born. I remember very well a tall,

elderly black man with a stately presence

who smilingly greeted us on the steps of

the old house. I  also remember over-

hearing the adults say that he had been a

slave. I didn’t understand what that meant, so they explained. That’s one reason I remember so vividly that trip to Mulberry. The man who greeted us was a long-time family friend, and today I believe he must have been the first Sam Smith. My Aunt Katie once commented that some of the Smith land was (is) still in the family. It’s just that this side lost it and the other side still owns it.

     1880: Gideon Smith and Thomas Lightfoot contribute a report included in the Tenth U. S. Census.

    1890 October 1: Gideon Smith and second wife Lizzie designated 450 acres “as our homestead.” Milton Smith cited the earlier “death of our mother, Mary Elizabeth.”

     1891 October 15: Gideon deeded 177 acres to Milton and son-in-law Edward Lyday.

     1891 December 18: (Dallas Morning News“Mortuary”  Gideon Smith.  Bonham, Tex.  Dec. 17.

Col. Gideon Smith, one of the early settlers of Fannin County, died at his home north of the city last night. Col. Smith at one time represented his county in the legislature.

    1892 February 15: Another record states that Gideon Smith died on this day and was buried “with Masonic honors.”

    1893 November 15: “Mrs. Lizzie Smith, wife of Gid Smith, deceased,” for $300, released “ undivided interest in [a] certain tract”—150 acres—to Gideon Smith, Jr.

    1895 December 17: Lizzie Smith before a Notary Public, Chickasaw Nation, I. T., “granted, sold and conveyed...all that certain tract or parcel of land...being 600 acres...[mentioning 150 acres]...the same land conveyed to Gideon Smith, Jr. by Gideon Smith, Sr...and I convey all interest I have in and to said land....”


   [Jeanne Magruder] This family tale I’ve heard on numerous occasions. Milton and Gid, Jr. decided to scare her [Lizzie] off the place. They even had Sam Smith dressed up in a sheet in the attic pretending to be Gideon’s ghost. It worked.

“Killed Himself Accidentally”

    1902 February 7: (Bonham News)  Sunday afternoon about half past three o’clock Gid Smith [Jr.] accidentally shot and killed himself at his home in the eastern part of the city. No one was in the room at the time, and it is not known exactly how the accident occurred. Mr. Smith had asked his wife for a copy of a paper, and she told him it was in another room. He went into the room and in a few seconds a shot was heard and the wife ran into the room to find the husband lying on the bed with a bullet through his body. The pistol was lying several feet away by the side of a chair. He was unable to speak, although he attempted to talk. The only intelligible words he uttered were that “it struck the chair.” A pistol was lying on the mantle over the fire place and is it supposed that when he reached for the paper, he pulled the gun off with it and in falling the hammer struck the back of the chair and discharged the shell. The ball entered his body a little above the right groin and ranging slightly upward, passed through his body.

    He walked a few feet to a bed and lay down.  Dr. Martin was summoned, and arrived in a few minutes, but could do nothing to stay the work of death.  In only about twenty minutes from the time he was shot he breathed his last.

    Monday afternoon the body, followed by many friends of the family, was taken to Willow Wild cemetery, where it was buried.

    Last October Gid Smith exchanged his farm near Ravenna for the Chaney livery stable outfit in this city on West 4th Street, and with his wife and five children moved here. He was a man about 35 years old.... The deceased was a scion of one of the oldest and very best families in Fannin County, a son of one of the most worthy of Fannin County’s pioneers, Col. Gid Smith, who for many years was a prominent figure in this county and was greatly esteemed. His last years were spent on his plantation near Ravenna, where his son, the deceased, lived until last fall, when he sold his farm and bought a livery stable here. His wife who survives him is a daughter of S. M. Newton of Ravenna. She [Senah Leola] and her five little fatherless children have the sincere sympathy of our people in their hour of sorrow.

“My mother went to her grave believing she had killed her father.”

anne Magruder]  He was a deputy marshal in the north part of Fannin County. He came in and laid his pistol on the mantle piece. He put his newspaper down beside the pistol. My mother had been told to dust the room. She moved the paper on top of the pistol. When he reached up to get it, he knocked the pistol off; it hit the floor and discharged.

    There were ugly incidents in the last years. She was afraid of him. He drank and and gambled. When he was in town with cash from a cotton crop, maybe $2,000, the gamblers would all be waiting. The farm had something like a company store where all the sharecroppers got provisions and paid when the crop was sold. One time there was a flood and the crops were lost; the sharecroppers couldn’t pay. This also helped ruin my  grandfather. My mother often went to school with cardboard in her shoes.

        photo: (above right) Mary Cornelia Smith (1891-1975), daughter of Gid Smith, Jr.

          (below right) Senah Leola (Newton) Smith (1870-1954), wife of Gid, Jr.

    Ever since I was a child, I have heard various tales and stories from various sources abo
ut the Smith family.... Gid Smith, Jr. had five children ranging in age from fourteen years to nine months when he died.... Because of the circumstances surrounding his death and his precarious financial situation, the children seemed to harbor a life-long resentment, due to the childhood hardships inflicted on them. They did not maintain a particularly close relationship with the remaining Smith family...gravitated toward their mother’s side...the Newton’s. Three of the children, including my mother, left Bonham to live elsewhere.... The eldest child, Eugene Brownlee Smith, was fourteen when his father died. He quit school to work and help support the family.... From what I gather, he grew up in Mulberry with Sam Smith...and remained close to them all his life.... Evidently, my Uncle Gene was quite a tale-spinner...differed from Katilee’s and my mother’s versions.... My mother [Mary Cornelia] talked very little about the family until the year before she died. Then she began
to recall childhood experiences, some of which were unpleasant and disturbing. Katilee, too, began to dwell on her childhood...although she also seemed to have a fierce need to defend her father and his family. I am writing this letter partly to settle and clarify what my position is in the Smith family saga and its roots in Mulberry ...writing a history with documentation and spinning a tale are...apples and oranges.... Letha said her deceased husband, John, wanted her to write this story.  He, and also his father, my Uncle Gene, were always impressed with how much better the Black side of the Smith family had fared and managed than the White side, and he wanted the story to be told.  As far as I am concerned, I told Letha some time ago...“Fortunes are made and fortunes are lost....”

            photo: Jeanne with grandmother, Senah Leola (1954)

    Eugene Brownlee Smith, grandson of Gideon, was fourteen in 1902 when his father Gideon, Jr. died accidentally in Bonham. At that time the family land in Mulberry was passing to J. E. Spies. His father told him, “You’ll have to take care of your little brother [Claude].” There were also three sisters: Mary Cornelia, Katilee and Vera. Throughout his life Eugene retold the Smith family stories; and his son John Eugene, of the fifth generation, continued, charging his wife Letha, after more than sixty years of hearing them, to put the stories in a book.

    Letha’s telling preserves a reflection of actual people, events and customs, like the way a slave’s age was recorded: “Tis true they had little sticks notched for each year of their lives, but no one knew for certain....” Cotton bales were floated down the river to New Orleans on cedar rafts; then the rafts were sold for making pencils.

    Letha calls him “African,” the slave Gideon rescued from a brutal beating. “Essra, the oldest of the male slaves,” was the first to be buried in the new cemetery, Siloam, now called “Union”.

Peter Shoot

   ...the men, including the African, had been out hunting over in the territory of Oklahoma [I. T.], and had seen an Indian also hunting with a bow and arrow. Gideon felled a deer with his muzzle loader, but when he reached his prey, the Indian was getting ready to dress it.... Gideon swore that his shot had killed the deer, but the Indian insisted, through sign language, that his arrow had claimed the victim.

    Gideon, showing his red-haired temper, not only put the deer on his horse, but tied up the Indian, with a rope, and took him along also. No one ever knew whether his name was really Peter Shoot, or if the hunting party from the plantation had named him on the way home.... Gideon thought nothing about claiming the Indian for his own, saying that he had probably been across the river hunting on Smith land at one time or the other. Regardless, he had acquired another slave without putting out any money.... Now his earthly life was over. Buliah thought back to the funeral a few days ago and hoped that Peter Shoot was in the happy hunting ground. She also noticed that the African had built a little fence around Peter Shoot’s grave.

    “Buliah” in Letha’s account was the mother of the first Sam, who was fathered by “Nathan” and born in 1815 within days of Nathan’s other son, Gideon. As the years passed, there was also Little Sam or Samuel, 1856-1934: “Sam said he couldn’t call him Sam, Jr., like Gideon would do with his son....” Samuel’s death certificate shows his father was Sam, followed by Sam III, Sammy, 1894-1972: “Since Gene loved Sam III like a brother, the visit with him had been a special treat”. According to Mary Cornelia’s daughter Jeanne, “Whenever Uncle Gene told a story, Sam [Little Sam] and Aunt Emmar were always there.”

    A light of improbable grandeur may touch Letha’s story, but her theme of respect and affection between the white and black sides of the Smith family must surely follow them into Mulberry’s story.

    [Letha writing] Sam and Emmar came in from their farm and stayed with them [during a “terrible flu epidemic”], also caring for several other families nearby. Gene was so grateful to them because he felt completely comfortable with them in his household. When all were well, Sam made a business deal with Gene and Toughy to build him and Aunt Emmar a house.... It wasn’t very far from Gene’s old home place, where he spent his childhood as a carefree young boy. The memories rushed back, the good ones first; then the bad ones of the death of his father, Gid, Jr. and the suicide of his grandfather, Gid, Sr. The latter thoughts seemed to crowd out the happy times. He also remembered the struggle for mere existence through which his mother and fatherless children went just to survive and have any kind of life then and later.

    One day Mary [Cornelia] came home from school [in Bonham] crying. One of the students had told her that everybody said that her daddy had committed suicide just like his father, Gid, Sr. had done, the only difference being, that Gid, Sr. had hanged himself, while Gid, Jr. shot himself.  Leola got all the kids around the table that night, and after they had their devotional time, of Bible reading and prayer, told them that their grandfather did hang himself, the reason being that he had become a drunkard and had little money left. She went on to explain, however, that their father’s death had been an accident, but he had always carried a gun, something they must never do. Leola also said that whiskey was the root of the Smith’s heartaches.

    All of his mother’s talks really got home to Gene....

    In her book written after John’s death, Blood’s Thicker Than Prejudice, Letha finds another Sam, so that Sam II is the husband of Emma, and it is Sam III, “Sammy,” who marries Maria Hill to become the father of Vera Ross. The recording that John sent to Vera in 1981 begins like this: “The last time I saw Sam or Emma....”  Hear his voice...


    I found no record of a will or gift of land, White Smiths to Black, but a deed in 1910 shows that Samuel Smith “assumes the mortgage,” acquiring 100 acres from Louis Dupree and Alice Smith. Katilee Smith was fiercely defensive of her father’s, Gid Junior’s, memory, as Alva Cain of Mulberry knew. Occasionally he stopped by the land title company where she worked. It was “Uncle Milton” who....

    [In Letha’s telling]  Uncle Milton came by, from time to time, to tell [Senah] Leola that Gid [Jr.] owed such and such, until she had sold all the rent houses and also the livery stable. Gene suspected that his uncle was getting to his mother, but he had no proof, so they became very poor.




above: “a pilgrimage to Mulberry”

(about 1931)

from left: Vera (Smith) Chitwood,

Eugene Brownlee Smith,

Mary Cornelia (Smith) Lemacks,

John Eugene Smith,

Senah Leola (Newton) Smith,

with Mary Jeanne Lemacks

(future Magruder),

at the Mulberry Methodist church

left: “the old house,” the “Little House,”

home of  Gideon Smith, Jr. and Ola Smith

in Mulberry (in this picture, exterior “siding” hides the original log construction and thick interior walls.