Biography of Smith Deaf Smith
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Erastus Smith, better known as “Deaf Smith,” was the son of Chiliab and Mary Smith, and was born in New York on the 19th of April 1787. At the age of eleven years he emigrated with his parents to the Mississippi Territory, and settled near Natchez. His parents were strict members of the Baptist Church, and gave him such moral and intellectual training, as the circumstances around them would permit. He first came to Texas in 1817 likely with some of the patriot forces that were constantly arriving at that time in the Province. He soon, however, returned home; but in 1821 he came again to Texas, for the purpose of making it his home. This he did, never leaving it. He was in the country before Stephen F. Austin, but in what section is not known. His nature was to ramble alone and be by himself. He was not entirely deaf, but unable to hear an ordinary conversation, and if such was going on around him would generally walk away and stand apart, gazing into space. He also had a habit, if anyone addressed him, of putting his finger to his lips, indicating by that, it was supposed, that he was unable to hear the one that addressed him.
When the colony under Green DeWitt commenced settling where the town of Gonzales is now located, Smith was one of them, going there in 1825. From there he drifted out to San Antonio, and in that place formed the acquaintance of a handsome young Mexican widow of the fine Castillian type, named Guadalupe Duran. Her maiden name was Ruiz, her husband, Vincente Duran, only living a short time after their marriage.
She and Deaf Smith were married in San Antonio in 1828, and the record of the marriage is to be found in the old parish church, now San Fernando Cathedral. What occupation Smith followed from that time until 1835 we do not know, except that at times he went on long hunts for buffalo and to explore new localities. He came to Texas in very feeble health, but his constitution was soon built up again from the effect of good climate and active exercise in these long hunts and rambles, eating wild meat and camping out in the pure ‘air, of the western prairies. He was a man of limited and plain education, spoke the Spanish language well, and was a close observer of men and things, and thoroughly acquainted with the manners and customs of the Mexicans and the geography of Texas and the frontier.
In 1835, when the war between Mexico and her American colonies began, commencing with the fight at Gonzales over the little cannon, General Stephen F. Austin raised a force and marched upon San Antonio, then garrisoned by, Mexican troops under General Prefecto Cos. The Texans encamped on the Sallado Creek, four miles east of San Antonio, and while there Deaf Smith and a man named Arnold (who was his brother-in-law) came to Austin’s camp on their way to San Antonio. They had geen gone for several weeks in the Little River country north of where the city of Austin now is, hunting buffalo, and Smith had not seen his wife and children for some time. He told General Austin who he was and that his wife was a Mexican woman, and she and his children were in the town now commanded by General Cos, that he had heard of the war just commencing, but did not wish to take sides in the fight between the colonists and the military. He then asked permission of Austin to pass his pickets (who were in the prairie west of the creek toward the town), so that he could have a talk with the Mexican officers in command of the enemy’s pickets who were beyond the Texans in the edge of the town. Arnold preferred to remain with the Texans, but Smith was furnished with a pass and went on his way, getting through Austin’s pickets all right, not anticipating any trouble in passing the Mexicans.
Next day Mr. Smith came back to General Austin’s tent without his hat, and he himself considerably ex-cited, and said: “General, I told you yesterday that I would not take sides in this war, but I now tender you my services, as the Mexicans acted rascally with me. The officer I talked with yesterday said I would have to consult General Cos as to whether or not I would be allowed to go into San Antonio to see my family, and told me to come tomorrow and he would let me know. When I went awhile ago and was talking to the officer I saw cavalry coming toward me in a gallop, and being satisfied they intended to capture me, I wheeled my horse around and put spurs and whip to him, and finally had to resort to my gun. The officer I was talking to went for me and the cavalry commenced firing at me, and but for the timely arrival of some of the Texans who fired on the Mexicans, I expect I would have been captured.”
Some Texan picket guards afterwards stated that the Mexican officer struck Smith over the head with his saber, knocking his hat off and wounding him so that he bled profusely, and that he fired his rifle and a brace of pistols while the cavalry were pursuing and firing at him. The Texan pickets then came to his assistance and drove the Mexican cavalry back by a volley from their rifles. Two of these pickets who helped to relieve Smith were Wm. Joel Bryan and John W. Hassell, of Captain Eberley’s company from Brazoria County.
General Austin very graciously accepted the services of Smith, and called on him to guide his army from the camp on the Sallado to the Mission de Espada on the San Antonio River below the town of San Antonio, which he willingly proceeded to do, part of the way being through woods without any road. After arriving at the mission a Mexican came into camp and was brought to the General’s tent, who was the bearer of a letter from John W. Smith in San Antonio to General Austin, informing him of the force under General Cos and of the fortifications being made, etc. At the request of Deaf Smith, the General wrote to John W. Smith (no relation of Erastus Smith), requesting that he would, on a certain night, have Erastus Smith’s wife and children conveyed to a certain place near town and Erastus Smith would be there to meet his wife and children, which was done, and they were brought into camp at the Mission de Espada. Moses Austin Bryan, who was with the army of General Austin, gives these facts about the family of Deaf Smith being brought to the Texan camp, and in a letter says: “I went to see them there and talked to them in the Spanish language, which I had learned in a Mexican family.”
Deaf Smith soon became one among the most trusted scouts of the Texan army. He was always on the alert, watching the enemy and bringing information, being ably aided in this by John W. Smith, Henry Karnes, Bird Lockhart, Placido Benavides and Anold. They took part in the battle of Mission Concepcion, and Deaf Smith brought on the “Grass Fight” by reporting to Colonel James Bowie the approach of a body of Mexicans from the west. Finally, when the Texans stormed San Antonio under Milam and Johnson, Deaf Smith led the way as guide and killed a Mexican sentinel at daylight. Later on in the desperate fight at the Veramendi House, where Colonel Milam and others were killed, Deaf Smith was severely wounded, and had to be taken down from the roof of the house, to which he had ascended in order to get a better view of the enemy. The city was taken and the captured army of Cos paroled and sent back to Mexico. Most of the Texan soldiers returned home, only a garrison under Colonel Neill first, and Colonel Travis later, being left at the Alamo. This was in the fall of 1835 but in the following February Santa Anna, President of Mexico, arrived with a large invading army and commenced the siege of the Alamo.
As soon as Deaf Smith had to some extent recovered from his wound he conveyed his family to Columbia on the Brazos, and, bearing of the invasion of Santa Anna, hurried away and joined General Houston, who was marching with a small force, to the aid of Travis, whose appeals for help had reached the east and fired every patriotic heart. At Gonzales Houston sent Deaf Smith and Henry Karnes to see if anything could be learned as to the fate of Travis and his men at the Alamo. Fifteen miles west from Gonzales they met Mrs. Dickinson, wife of Lieutenant Almon Dickinson, who had escaped from the Alamo with her child and a negro boy belonging to Colonel Travis. She told the sad tale of the fall of the Alamo and the death of all of its gallant defenders. She was conveyed to General Houston, who, after hearing her report, ordered all the people of DeWitt’s colony in and around Gonzales to retreat toward the Sabine. Messengers were also sent to settlements further east with the news of the coming of Santa Anna, and the famous “Runaway Scrape” commenced, the little army of Houston then numbering about 300, going with the fleeing settlers. The Mexican army came east in three divisions, Santa Anna leading the first and following after General Houston. Deaf Smith and other scouts kept in the rear, closely watching the Mexican army and fighting and capturing their scouts at every opportunity.
When the Texas army had retreated to San Felipe on the Brazos and went into camp there, Deaf Smith, Henry Karnes, Wash Secrest and McManny had a fight with the Mexican scouts on Rock Creek, west of the Colorado, in which they killed two and captured several and brought them to camp. Moses Austin Bryan, nephew of Stephen F. Austin, was then sergeant of the camp guard and was at the guard line when the Mexican captives were brought in and General Houston sent for him to question them. They failed to give out much information, but said they were Sesma’s men and that officer was leading the advance of the first division, but did not state that Santa Anna was present with the army.
On or about the 30th of March, Deaf Smith and John York were sent back to the Colorado to spy the movements of the Mexicans, and came to the camp of Captain Mosley Baker on the east bank of the river at San Felipe, and reported the Mexican army on the Benard, twelve miles from San Felipe, which caused Captain Baker, some say, to order the burning of the town, which, he said, was General Houston’s order in case the Mexicans came that way. Houston and the main body of the army had gone on up to “Groce’s Retreat” and went into camp there. It was a mistake, however, about the Mexicans being on the Benard, as they did not come in sight of San Felipe for three days after the burning of the town. It was supposed that Smith and York had seen stock watering at Benard crossing and mistook them for an army. There horses were almost broken down from constant scouting and they dared not venture very near the supposed army on the prairie, and they had no field glasses. This was the first time that Deaf Smith ever brought in a false report and he was greatly mortified over it, as was also John York. When the Mexicans did come Captain Baker and his men fought them so fiercely they failed to affect a passage of the river there, and consequently came on down the river and crossed at Fort Bend.
On the 18th of April, 1836, after General Houston had taken up the line of march from his camp, Deaf Smith, Henry Karnes, Wash Secrest and Pierce were sent on in advance of the army and crossed Buffalo Bayou at Harris-burg, and about twelve miles out on the road to the Brazos they met and captured three Mexicans, one a captain in the army, going to join Santa Anna, who had been at Harrisburg on the 16th and marched from there to New Washington, hoping to capture President Burnett and his cabinet, who had just left Harrisburg for, Galveston in time to escape being taken prisoners. Another one of the captured Mexicans was a. courier with dispatches from the secretary of war and General Filasola on the Brazos at Thompson’s Ferry. The third one was a Mexican who belonged to Captain Juan N. Seguin’s company in the Texas army. Capt. Seguin had secured a furlough for this man. When General Houston retreated from Gonzales to go to San Antonio and provide for his family. General Sesma had found him and was using him for a guide. When the Mexicans were captured Deaf Smith exchanged suits with the courier, and when the party arrived at the camp of the Texans Houston sent for Moses Austin Bryan to question them, and he thus describes the scene:
“The ludicrous appearance of Deaf Smith, and the still more laughable appearance of the Mexican courier, caused general laughter and hurrah. Smith had on the Mexican courier’s fine suit of leather, all braided and fixed up uniform style, a broad-brim sombrero headband and trinkets attached and fine shoes and socks, but the suit was too small and too tight for Smith, the pants not reaching nearer than six inches of the top of his shoes. The Mexican courier had on Deaf Smith’s old ragged coat and ragged pants, too big and too long for him, and old brogans with his toes sticking out of the holes in them. The men and officers came in squads to see Deaf Smith in his new suit and to sympathize with the forlorn-looking courier, who looked as though he would like for the earth to open and swallow him up.”
Mr. Bryan questioned the Mexican who belonged to Seguin’s company for General Houston, and all the facts were learned about Santa Anna and the forces under his command who had passed down two days before, hoping to catch President Burnett and his cabinet and then make their way to Anahuac, where he expected to embark for Vera Cruz and leave Texas to be garrisoned by his second in command, General Filasola.
For the first time now General Houston knew for certain that Santa Anna was in person with the army and what his plans were. He now crossed Buffalo Bayou two miles below Harrisburg and rapidly followed Santa Anna, getting between him and Cos and Filasola, crossed Vince’s bridge close upon the rear of the enemy, and, turning down Vince’s Bayou, went into camp on Buffalo Bayou, near its confluence with the Stan Jacinto River. The Mexican scouts discovered the Texans and reported to Santa Anna, who was at New Washington, and he turned back with his army and went into camp facing them on the 20th of April. Some skirmishing was indulged in that evening, and that night Cos crossed Vince’s bridge with 500 men and joined Santa Anna.
On the morning of the 21st, the day of battle, General Houston sent for Deaf Smith and one other man (supposed to be Moses Lapham), and instructed Smith that he and his companion take axes and cut Vince’s bridge down to prevent any more reinforcements from reaching Santa Anna, and also to prevent the escape of the Mexican army in case they were defeated. Smith had already reported to the General that the 500 under Cos had crossed and that he now thought Santa Anna’s forces were near 2,000. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon the Texans moved out from their camp to attack the Mexican army, and as they were advancing Deaf Smith and his companions came galloping across the prairie to join them, Smith waving an axe and shouting at the top of his voice that Vince’s bridge was down. He fell in with the cavalry under Lamar and Karnes, and was one of the central figures in that short, but desperate fight with the cavalry of Santa Anna. Besides his gun, Smith had two large, heavy pistols, and, after firing these, hurled them at the heads of his enemies. He also carried a short saber, which he broke off at the hilt. Captain Karnes, with a small portion of the cavalry, pursued some of the fugitives to the destroyed bridge, where, they not being able to cross, milled like a bunch of cattle and many were killed, but some of the most important ones, of whom was Santa Anna and Cos, for the time made their escape. During the night Karnes, Deaf Smith and others guarded a thicket, in which four Mexican officers had taken refuge after abandoning their horses, not being able to cross the boggy bayou. They went into this thicket at twilight, but when daylight came only one remained. He surrendered and proved to be Santa Anna’s secretary, and stated that the other three were Santa Anna., Cos and an-other officer. Captain Henry Karnes now, with Deaf Smith, Wash Secrest, Fielding Secrest and James Wells, went in pursuit of the fugitives, passing around the head of Vince’s Bayou toward the Brazos River. Wells being the best mounted kept in the lead and came upon General Cos, Captain Iberri, Captain Bachiler and two or three others near the Brazos timber, where the fugitives seeing Karnes and the others rapidly approaching, halted and surrendered. Cos, whose identity at that time was not known, inquired of Deaf Smith if General Cos had been killed or captured; Smith replied: “He has neither been killed or captured. I am hunting for him now, for he is one scoundrel I wish to kill in person.” Having fairly surrendered, however, Cos was safe even in the hands of Deaf Smith. They did not reach the Texan camp with their prisoners and others they picked up until the 23rd.
Santa Anna had separated from the others that night in the thicket, and went off alone. On the 22nd, mounted men in small squads scoured the country on the route towards the Brazos, picking up many straggling Mexicans. A party under Col. Ed. Burleson reached and crossed the bayou above the burned bridge, accidentally finding a place where the passage could be made, and soon after directed some of his men to return to camp and search down the east side of the bayou, saying he would continue up the bayou on the west. A group of six cavalrymen-composed of Second Sergeant James A. Sylvester, Joel W. Robinson, Edward Miles, Joseph Vermillion and Thompson and others started back, traveling somewhat parallel to and down the bayou. Five of the party followed a bend of the stream while Sylvester went directly across about a mile to the lower part of the bend. Before separating the en-tire party had noticed a man on foot in the locality, but before Sylvester arrived he had disappeared. On reaching the spot, however, he found the man lying down and trying to conceal himself in the high grass. Before this Sylvester had been ‘attracted to the spot by the actions of some deer which had detected the presence of the man in the grass, and were trying to satisfy their curiosity by circling around the spot and looking. ‘Sylvester ordered the man to arise, and was soon joined by the other party. This was Santa Anna, but he had thrown off his uniform and put on that of a common soldier, which was a blue jacket, glazed cap, and white pants. He had, however, retained his fine shirt with gold studs in the bosom and his sharp pointed Shoes, which was commented on by his captors at the time, but they had no idea their prisoner was the Meixcan President until they arrived at camp.
General Houston dictated terms to Santa Anna, and made him sign an order to Filasola, his second in command, to evacuate Texas at once with all the Mexican troops, and this order was entrusted to Deaf Smith to deliver into the hands of the Mexican general. Filasola, however, had learned of the defeat of Sana Anna from a wounded soldier of the Tampico regiment, who came to him at Fort Bend with his horse and himself covered with blood and mud. Filasola asked him where Santa. Anna and the army was “Todas vamosed per el diablo,” he said (“All gone to the devil”). This caused a panic in camp, and before the order which Deaf Smith bore reached Filasola he had caused Gaona’s division to recross the Brazos and commence a hasty retreat. At Mrs. Powell’s farm, fifteen miles from Fort Bend, he had concentrated his troops, including Urrea’s division, making his force at that time more than four thousand men, and this only four days after the battle. A council of the generals was held, and it was agreed to retreat beyond the Colorado, open communications with the capital, and await advice and assistance. The retreat was very disorderly, the road being strewn with carts, muskets and other effects in such quantities as to impede the progress of the enemy. On the 28th, before they reached the Colorado, Deaf Smith overtook them, bearing Santa Anna’s order of the 22nd. Gradually now the different divisions of the Mexican army withdrew from Texas. On the return of Deaf Smith he hunted up the people who were in hiding in the dense cane-brakes of the Brazos bottom in Fort Bend County, and told them that they could return to their homes in safety.
The end of Deaf Smith was near, and but little more of his eventful life remains to be told. He carried his family back to San Antonio, and in. 1837 was made captain of a company of rangers to scout along the Texas and Mexican border. He left San Antonio with his men on the 6th day of March (just one year from the storming of the Alamo), and on the 16th was camped on the Chicon, a small stream within five miles of the town of Laredo. Here he was discovered by the scouts of the Mexicans, who still made a pretense of holding the country west of the Nueces River. Captain Smith also discovering the enemy, and anticipating an attack, took up a position in a mesquite thicket, and awaited developments. A company of Mexican cavalry twice their number advanced to attack the Texans, but after a sharp fight in which they suffered a loss of ten killed and as many wounded the Mexicans retreated to Laredo. Only two of Smith’s men were wounded. In the fall of this same year, after his men were disbanded, Deaf Smith left his family in San Antonio and came to Richmond, Fort Bend County, and in company with John P. Borden established a land agency. Soon after, however, a fatal sickness attacked him, and he died November the 30th, 1837, at the home of Captain Randall Jones, about one mile north of the present business center of Richmond. John R. Fenn, then a boy, was in town, and remembers seeing the funeral pro-cession pass through the then small village, about twenty men being in the party.
The Houston Telegraph, draped in mourning and announcing his death, said: “This singular individual was one whose name bears with it more respect than sounding titles. Major, Colonel, General, sink into insignificance before the simple name of ‘Deaf Smith.’ That name is identified with the battlefields of Texas. His eulogy is inseparably interwoven with the most thrilling annals of our country, and will long yield to our traditionary narratives a peculiar interest.”
In the Matagorda Bulletin of December the 13th, 1837, there is a report of a public meeting held in Richmond, Fort Bend County, to do honor to Erastus Smith and give a public funeral. R. E. Handy Was chairman, John V. Morton secretary, and a committee consisting of John V. Morton, D. L. Smithers, Maj. C. C. Sebring, John Shipman and I. L. Bryan were appointed to carry out the wishes of the meeting.
The exact spot where the remains of Deaf Smith rest is now lost. Thomas J. Smith (no relation), helped to bury him, and many years after located the spot as near as he could in the southeast corner of the yard fence enclosing the Episcopal Church house. Here a rock was set up by the “Daughters of the Republic,” with name and date of death of the famous spy and scout, but. was subsequently removed and placed in the Richmond cemetery beside the grave and monument of General Lamar.
Mrs. Mary Polly Ryon, one of the earliest born settlers of Fort Bend County, and wife of a Mier prisoner-Colonel William Ryon was present when Deaf Smith died and buried. She survived until ten or twelve years ago. Her recollection of the spot was about the same as that of Thomas J. Smith. Mrs. V. M. Ryon, who still lives of Richmond, says that when she was a little girl, going to school, their route lay by a sunken, grass-grown place in the ground, and were told that was the grave of Deaf Smith. This was about 1853. She says a little tree grew near it, and her idea is that the grave was where two streets now cross near the Episcopal Church. Thomas J. Smith made several excavations searching for the remains, but was unable to find them. The wife of Deaf Smith survived her distinguihed husband nearly twelve years, dying in San Antonio May the 1st, 1849.
The children of Deaf Smith and his wife, Guadalupe Smith, were two, a boy and girl Trinidad Travis Smith and Simonia Smith. The latter married I. N. Smith of San Antonio, and many of their children survive and live there. Trinidad Travis was educated by R. A. Martin, of Baldwin, Mississippi.
Erastus Smith had fine property at Grand Gulf, Miss., but he did not attend to it.
Mrs. Roach, of the American House, of San Antonio, is the recognized grand-daughter of Deaf Smith and sister of Miss Palma Fisk and Cornelia Fisk, the latter being many years a public school teacher and daughter of J. N. Fisk, once Justice of the Peace. The family is an honor-able one, and they are honorably connected by marriage. The State of Texas recognized Guadalupe Smith (formerly Duran, nee Ruiz), and the children, and they inherited the lands made to Erastus Smith.
Deaf Smith died from a broken down constitution caused from incessant toil in the rain, mud and water during the invasion of Santa Anna.