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HON. E.L. SMITH – Although these sketches deal mainly with men who came hither in the forties and fifties, we are yet occasionally reminded of the fact that length of residence does not constitute the only just claim to recognition in our annals. Every decade has its pioneers. Nearly every year has seen added to our number someone who by force of character, intelligence and industry has made himself a place in the esteem of the people, and in the business fabric of the country. The subject of the present subject was a pioneer of 1861. Though thus not f especially early residence here, there is scarcely a man in our history who has touched more of the experiences of life on this coast than he, or who has a larger circle of friends and acquaintances, or who has a greater general knowledge of this country, in all its many unfolding phases.
Mr. Smith was born in Orleans County, Vermont, in 1837. Removing to Illinois in 1857, he became for a time a teacher in Tazewell County. In 1858 he entered Lombard University at Galesburg. In 1860 he found his life’s partner – a most happy “find” for both – in the person of Miss Georgia Slocum, of Woodstock, Illinois. During that same period of his life, too, though so young, he became by reason of his natural powers of oratory, a prominent member of the new Republican party, and gained the personal acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln and other giants of that great epoch. Many are his present reminiscences of that soul-stirring time.
Early in 1861 he went to California, and engaged n mining in El Dorado County. In 1865 he became a member of the California legislature, being with one exception the youngest member. In 1866 he received, through the influence of William H. Seward, the appointment of secretary of Washington Territory, and accordingly made his home at Olympia. During part of his term he was acting governor. In 1874 he was chosen to the legislative council of Washington.
While in Olympia he formed a partnership with G.A. Barnes and William Avery in establishing the first bank of that place. His business and public prospects at Olympia were very bright; but a tendency to pulmonary trouble threatening serious results, he was compelled to drop all his plans and seek a dry climate. His first move was a long outdoor engagement in surveying. In company with R.J. Reeves he took a contract for running the boundary line between Idaho and Washington Territory.
With health regained by the exercise and freedom of this experience, he next sought a permanent location in the dry climate of the Inland Empire. The beauty and healthfulness of Hood River appealed so strongly to him that, though it was somewhat isolated, he resolved to establish himself there. He accordingly went into the mercantile business there in 1876, adding to the store the care of a large ranch. In that most attractive of mountain resorts of Oregon he has since made his home, with one period of absence. That was during the three years from 1881 to 1884, when he was registrar of the United States land-office at The Dalles.
Since his return to Hood River, Mr. Smith has resumed on a larger scale his former business, besides devoting much attention to matters of public interest in his section and in the state. He has been for three successive years president of the Columbia River Water-way Association; and with his broad comprehension of the commercial needs of the country, and his persuasive manner of speaking, he has done much to impress upon the popular mind the need of an open river. He is at the present time grand master of the A.O.U.W. for Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
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He has been many times spoken of for the highest position in the state, as well as for that of United States senator; but his political independence is so great, and his contempt for the arts of the politician so complete, that the “managers” have been a little afraid to give him the prominence which the people would gladly bestow. In the year 1888, however, he was nominated by acclamation by the Republicans of Wasco County for the lower house of the legislature, and after a very lively canvass was elected by a large majority. At the assembling of the legislature in the following January, he was chosen speaker of the house, which important position he held with satisfaction to all.
It is deemed a great privilege to be able to claim the personal acquaintance of Mr. Smith; for his beautiful home, his peculiar enthusiasm of disposition, and his boundless hospitality, amply sustained by that of his wife and daughters, together with his rare literary taste and love of art, legend, Indian tradition and pioneer stories, make Hood River a veritable Mecca. To this must be added the effect of the majestic scenery of the place, a panorama of scenic attractions, ever varying and ever new, such as even this land, fruitful in natural wonders and beauties, does not elsewhere equal. In politics Mr. Smith, though an ardent Republican, is a devoted advocate of temperance and every other great moral reform. In religion he and his wife are earnest adherents of that denomination, small in numbers but great in intellect and influence, the Unitarian.
Six children, five girls and one boy, have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They have lost the only son and one of the daughters. The living children are Jessie (Mrs. Doctor Watt of Pullman, Washington), Avis (Mrs. William M. Stewart of The Dalles), Georgia and Anne.