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Klaus Dieter Cook - Webmaster -

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Several weeks ago our genealogy site was hacked by persons unknown. They managed to delete the entire directory of the genealogy software, the picture and document files, and also a large directory of pictures that I had stored on-line. Luckily, I had saved the site to my home computer about a week prior to the hack, so the only thing lost were the changes made during that week. Secondly, since our database is accessed by a unique username and password, they were unable to gain entry. I have already restored all of the data and the site is back in operation. In order to prevent problems in the future, I will be making several changes in the operation of the site:

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Klaus Dieter CookWebmaster

 

John William Smith: Soldier, Messenger, Patriot.

“The winning of the independence of Texas by a handful of American pioneers, against the almost overwhelming odds opposed to them forms one of the most remarkable events in the long record of human warfare, unsurpassed by the most heroic examples in ancient and modern, history. To understand how it was accomplished, one must look to the character of the men who composed the Texas forces. They were men animated by that high-soul courage which characterizes the patriot who is willing to die in defense of his country’s liberty or his own home. The pages of history are filled with the deeds of such as these but beyond a passing notice little is known of the last courier of the Alamo, John William Smith. whose daring exploits helped very materially in the great struggle.”

In order to obtain a fuller picture of John William Smith and the age in which he lived, one must start with the beginning of his life. William John Smith, as he was christened, was born in Virginia on November 4, 1792, the second son of John and Isabel Smith. A few years later (no exact date is given) he and his family moved to Ralls County, Missouri. Little is known of his youth other than that he received the best possible education that Missouri could afford at that time.

In either 1821 or 1822 he married Miss Harriet Stone in his home town, of Hannibal, Missouri.  At the age of thirty one he was elected to the role of Sheriff of Rolls County and State and County tax Collector.  Two children, a son Samuel and a daughter Mary Elizabeth were born to them and their lives flowed along accepted and happy lines for several years.

In 1826 Green DeWitt made a trip to Missouri in order to arouse interest in his colony in Texas. He had obtained permission from the Mexican government on April 15 of the previous year to bring four hundred families with him into Texas. He must have succeeded in arousing interest in William Smith for in 1826, before the birth of his third child, he resigned his positions and made plans to go to Texas. His wife, Harriet, adamantly refused to make the move. She was aided and abetted in her decision by her brothers, Samuel and Theophilus, who continually warned her of the dangers and hardships to be found in Texas and urged her to seek a divorce on grounds of abandonment.

Harriet, subsequently, remarried and was rather ironically convinced by her second husband, James Boyce, to move with him to Texas with five other families from Hannibal.  Smith, however, in spite of such overwhelming family opposition, remained firm in his resolve and he and his older brother, Francis, joined the DeWitt party. Carrying with him a letter of recommendation that was given to him by the citizens of Ralls County, he set out for Texas. This letter meant a great deal to him, coming at a time of change and upheaval in both his personal and business life. He must have cherished it for the original was found among his papers and reads as follows:

Letter of recommendation. New London April 1826. We, the undersigned citizens of the County of Ralls in the State of Missouri, do hereby certify that for three years lost past we have been personally acquainted with the bearer of this, William J. Smith, during that time and now a resident of this country and state aforesaid, who is about to visit the Province of Texas. And we do further certify that we have always considered him a man of correct habits and principals and of a good moral character. And, as such, we cheerfully recommend him to the favorable notice and attention of the authorities and citizens of that Province in the Mexican United States. 10 April, 1826. James C. Barnett; Pleasant Hudson; Volney Bruer; Oney Carstcrchen; John Markle; Amos Gridley; Joseph Wright; Wm. Jameson; Chapel Carstarphen; Josiah Fugate; John Thrasher. WITNESSED BY STEPHEN GLASCOCK.

The DeWitt party arrived in Gonzales in December of 1826, and immediately became an integral part of the community. On December 14, 1826, Green DeWitt issued the following directions:

DeWitt Colony. Green DeWitt Empresario. 1826 December 14, 1826. La Bahia station put under direction of William Smith. signed Green DeWitt.

Later that following year, he moved to San Antonio de Bexar, where he changed his name to John William Smith. Supposedly because William (GuiIlermo) is difficult to pronounce in the Spanish language. He was considered a handsome man. He stood six feet one inch tall, and weighed between one hundred and eighty and two hundred pounds. His good looks were accentuated by his long red-brown hair, large blue eyes and a firm well-shaped mouth and nose.

He became known throughout the city as “El Colorado” or “redhead”. On December 15, 1827, he was appointed military storekeeper and served in this capacity until March 6, 1835.

Maria Jesusita CurbeloHe also worked as a civil engineer and surveyor during this time. On May 20, 1828, he and his brother, Francis, were baptized into the Catholic faith at San Fernando Cathedral. Two and a half years later, he once again entered San Fernando Cathedral, this time to be married to Maria Jesusita Curbelo, who was then just a girl of fifteen, while he was a mature man of thirty eight.   Maria Jesusita was the great-great-granddaughter of Juan Curbelo, a Canary Islander of great wealth and distinction. He had been ordered by royal decree, May 10, 1723, along with four hundred other families to leave the Canary Islands and establish a colony in the new world in the name of the King of Spain. They chose to settle on land that is the present city of San Antonio. There are many descendants of the original Curbelos still in San Antonio today.

PATRIOT

In the fall of 1835, San Antonio was occupied and controlled by the Mexican forces under the command of Colonel Domingo Ugartachea, and was being harassed by a small band of Texans who were determined to oust them. Colonel Ugartachea sent for reinforcements and by the winter of 1835 General Cos and his army arrived, and the Mexicans held an even firmer grip on the city.

In the early days of the unrest John W. Smith sided with the group of men who were content with the status quo, but time and events changed his views and he gave himself up “hand and heart” to the cause of Independence.

Smith, Samuel Maverick and P. B. Cooke were arrested by Ugartachea on suspicion of communicating with the enemy. Smith was confined to his home, but managed to keep up communication with General Burleson, who commanded the Texas Army.

One night as Smith and his follow-captives were playing cards, they were startled by the report of a gun fired close by them. Immediately following the shot, a Mexican officer rushed in and commanded that the man who had fired the shot rise or he would kill them all. Unable to understand the language, the Texans stared at each other in wonder, and the officer leveled his gun to carry out his threat when Smith’s beautiful Castilian wife rushed in, kneeling at the feet of the officer, she implored him in eloquent Spanish to search the house before he condemned her husband, assuring him that if any arms or ammunition were found he could do his duty. Moved, by her entreaties, he turned to do as she requested, when the door was flung open by a faithful servitor, Graviel, of Smith’s who claimed to have fired the shot at some passing American. Thus Smith’s life was spared due to the efforts of his young, beautiful wife.

Smith and Maverick managed to escape and got out of the city to join Ben Milam’s forces which were camped on San Pedro Creek, and officially joined the Texas Army on December 3, 1835. The morale of Milam’s little band of men was at a very low ebb for they were receiving inadequate food, clothing and pay and they were about to give up the siege. However, when Smith arrived he managed to give the little army a new hope, he reported the Mexicans starving, dispirited and low on ammunition. He also drew a most accurate plan of the town “in which almost every object of sufficient magnitude to attract the vision was delineated with great minuteness and exactness.”

He was very familiar with the city and its fortifications and he was the only Anglo-American in San Antonio with enough mechanical skill and training to draw such an accurate map.

After discussing the situation with Ben Milam and urging him to make on immediate attack, John Smith was assigned the position of chief guide for the first division for the battle of San Antonio and Erastus “Deaf” Smith was assigned as guide to the second division. “Smith knew every inch of San Antonio and it was in the light of this knowledge that this well-conceived plan of attack was decided upon.”

With the aid of the knowledge and leadership thus obtained, on the night of the fifth of December, 1835, a small and devoted band of less than 300 men assaulted the strong town of San Antonio, which was defended by 1700 troops and 20 pieces of artillery. The ensuing battle lasted for five days and nights. “In the annals of our military achievements, it stands unparalleled, as well for the boldness of the enterprise, as for the exhibition of an inflexible obstinacy of resolution and determined valor, which no danger could appall-nor continuance of the deadly grapple, however prolonged, could exhaust.” Smith, with his characteristic calmness and deliberation, was among the leaders of “the party which succeeded in penetrating to the square (Military Plaza), when the capitulation was proposed.

Because of the tremendous amount of aid rendered by Smith he was presented 640 acres of Donation Land, which was situated on the Leon, a branch of the Medina, and about sixteen miles northwest of San Antonio, thus making him one of the largest landowners in the city. He was already the third wealthiest man in San Antonio, with a valuation of $24,000.00.

January, 1836, found San Antonio under the protection of one of the armies of the Provisional Government of Texas. The troops were commanded by James Bowie, who had been sent by Sam Houston with orders to demolish the Alamo. The thought was that San Antonio was too isolated and could not be successfully defended. However, when Bowie arrived, he could not bring himself to destroy the garrison. He decided to stay, fortify and protect the Alamo for he believed, “the salvation of Texas depended to a great measure on keeping San Antonio de Bexar out of the enemy’s hands”. It served as the frontier guard, and if it were in the possession of Santa Anna, there would be no stronghold from which to repel him on his march toward the Sabine. Bowie became ill a few days after he arrived in San Antonio, and at his request, Colonel Travis accepted command of the troops. San Antonio de Bexar was under strong threat of attack by General Santa Anna for after the Battle of San Antonio, the seizure of the town was more than just a strategic problem to the Mexicans, it was a “national outrage, a humiliation” and a blow to their pride. Juan Guillermo Smith was in San Antonio at this time with his wife and children, when asked when he thought Santa Anna would strike, he is reported to have said, they would wait until March for he knew Santa Anna to be a shrewd and careful man who would wait for the spring grass to grow before he would bring his cavalry north. Smith’s assumption proved to be incorrect, for a sentry claimed he saw the Mexican force on the 23rd of February.  Dr. John Sutherland told Colonel William B. Travis he would ride out and check the lookout’s story. However, he needed someone who knew the country to come along and be his guide. Smith immediately volunteered 30 and told Travis that if he saw them coming back at a gallop that that would mean they had seen the enemy. Upon reaching the top of a slope about one and a half miles from Bexar, they saw within 150 yards, some 1500 Mexican cavalry, their polished armor glistening in the rays of the sun with the commander riding along the line, waving his sword as though giving orders. Quickly comprehending what was amassed in front of them, they wheeled their horses and started for town at a full gallop. Sutherland’s horse slipped on the wet mud, for there had been heavy rains the night before, and fell on him, breaking his leg. Smith immediately raced back for him and helped him onto his horse !Sutherland’s). As they neared the Alamo, the sentry who had first seen the Mexican army saw them and for the second time that day began clanging the church bell. By the time they arrived, Travis had already moved his men into the Alamo. Travis immediately addressed a note to Judge Andrew Ponton asking for assistance and started to hand it to Sutherland for him to take to Gonzales, but impulsively he crossed the Judge’s name out and wrote “To all of the inhabitants of Texas”.

In the meantime, Smith raced home to close his house and pick up some important papers. No record says exactly where his wife and son were at this time, but it is believed and is probable that they had been sent to New Orleans for their safety. This statement seems to be justified by the fact that my great-great-grandmother, Maria Josepha Augustina Smith, was born to Maria in New Orleans in October of that same year.

Then he left heading for Gonzales, a 70 mile ride, to gather some reinforcements. Smith and Sutherland met leaving town and decided to ride together. After reaching a ford a small distance from town, they glanced back and saw the advanced cavalry units of Santa Anna pouring into Military Plaza. They then hurried on, taking the old unused Goliad Road, which runs south for some distance, to avoid any chance of being spotted by the Mexicans. After riding about one-half mile on this road, they “turned due east into mesquite and chaparral brush” and followed the winding paths that led through it until they reached the Gonzales Road about one mile east of the Salado Creek. They, however, did not continue on the Goliad Road for they saw three men riding in the distance, about one and a half miles away, and fearing they were a scouting party of the enemy, they veered off the road to the left. The pain in Sutherland’s leg had become so acute that by the time they reached the Salado Smith had to persuade him to go on for he was at the point of turning back. They managed to continue on for another sixteen miles then were forced to stop because of Sutherland’s pain. By the next morning, Sutherland’s pain had subsided somewhat and they, after riding hard, arrived in Gonzales about 4 P. M. Wednesday, the 24th. Upon entering the town, they spread notice of their mission and sent messages to all of the neighboring settlements.

By Saturday Smith and Sutherland had succeeded in getting 25 men, mostly from the town of Gonzales. Sutherland was compelled to stay in Gonzales because of his leg and Smith started back to San Antonio with the men. When they reached the Cibolo Creek, Smith had gathered enough new men to increase his band to 32. As they entered the suburbs of Bexar, they were approached by a man on horseback, “Who asked them in English: ‘Do you wish to go into the fort, Gentlemen?’ ‘Yes,’ was the reply. ‘Then follow me,’ said he, at the same time turning his horse into the lead of the company. Smith remarked: ‘Boys, it’s time to be after shooting that fellow, at this, the man put spurs to his horse, sprung into the thicket, and was out of sight in a moment, before a gun could be brought to bear on him. Some supposed from his fluency in the English language that this was General Wall, who was an Englishman in the Mexican service.”

Smith, cautious as always, sent a messenger to the Alamo but there seemed to have been a misunderstanding as to the direction from which they would approach. The sentinel, thinking they were part of the Mexican army, fired on them without giving warning. The shot hit one of the men in the foot. The sentinel soon realized his mistake and permitted the men to enter without any other hindrance. With the addition of the force brought by Smith the total number of men protecting the garrison were 203. These men from Gonzales carried with them the first flag ever made by the Texans for use in a battle. It was made of white silk taken from the wedding dress of Naomi DeWitt, the daughter of Green DeWitt, whom Smith had accompanied to Texas.

The siege continued. At about noon on the 23rd as Smith was at his post, he heard an uproar arising from the town. The cry was “Santa Anna, Santa Anna”. This, of course, attracted his attention and because the buildings in the city were low, he was able to see a large body of the enemy entering the city. Smith, related later to Sutherland, that before this time he had not believed that the main body of Santa Anna’s army was at San Antonio.

On March 3, when the situation was looking its worst for the men in the Alamo, Smith was summoned again by Travis. He asked him if he would deliver a last supplication to the Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, a mission which was to preserve his life. Near midnight, Travis approached and handed him a bundle of letters also his message to President Houston. He grasped his hand and added “Tell the reinforcements to bring ten day’s rations with them”. He said, “He would fire the eighteen-pounder three times a day-morning, noon and night-as long as the Alamo stood, when they heard that they would know he was still fighting”.

The gate at the northern end of the Alamo swung open and Smith whipped through, “Turned east, and vanished into the dark riding one of the “best horses in the Alamo” which was perhaps the same horse he had bought from a soldier on November 27th for $46.00.

It is believed by many that he changed horses several times before reaching Washington-on-the-Brazos but a more reasonable explanation is that he rode moderately all the way to his destination for he had no time to change mounts.

Whether he changed mounts or not does not alter the fact that he completed a daring ride through enemy lines over 200 miles in less than 57 hours carrying Travis’ last dispatch and the last words of the men of the Alamo who died fighting for their beliefs. When Smith, weary and travel-stained, reached Washington-on-the-Brazos Sunday morning much of the convention quickly assembled to hear the reading of Travis’ eloquent last letter. Their hearts sank with despair as Houston read the letter to them but they clung to one last hope, that Travis’ determination to defend the Alamo would enable him to hold out until relief could be sent.

Smith, although he was weary past exhaustion, was not through. On his own authority, he recruited almost 50 men and set out for the Alamo. They reached Cibolo Creek on March 10th and halted while the horses drank. Smith pressed his ear to the ground and listened hoping to hear the sound of guns but he heard nothing. Early the following morning, he sent eight scouts towards Bexar, however, after going only six miles they were spotted by the Mexican advance guard, who chased them, but none of them were injured. Now faced with the grim reality, he had been praying was not true, Smith sadly turned his men eastward.

Smith’s life as a patriot did not end with the tragic fall of the Alamo. He was present and participated in the triumphant eighteen minute Battle of San Jacinto which was the concluding military event of the Texas Revolution, and one of the “decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico, won there, led to annexation and to the Mexican War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and other parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty”.

Even though the Battle of San Jacinto did bring an end to the Texas Revolution, John W. Smith had not yet come to the end of his career as a soldier. He was employed as a scout and sent on many a harrowing mission. Many of his narrowest escapes came when he entered the city of San Antonio to obtain information or to visit his family. When in the dead of night, he came home to his house on Flores Street, his faithful peon, Graviel, would muffle the horse’s hoofs with blankets and while his master was having a few moments of ease with his family, he would hold its mouth so that it could not neigh and attract the attention of the sentinel just across the ditch. “One night this same sentinel did see him as he stood taking leave of his family with a tiny child, my mother, in his arms. Seeing that if he fired, the child would also be killed, the kind-hearted Mexican spared his life.”

Two years after the Republic of Texas had been organized and the Municipality of San Antonio created by an Act of the Texas Congress, an election was called to name San Antonio’s first city administration. “Through Smith’s personality and the influence of his wife’s family, he was elected San Antonio’s first mayor”. He took office on September 19, 1837, and served until the later part of 1838 after receiving fifteen votes to the two votes received by his two opponents.

Just previous to starting his first term as mayor he signed the first official marriage license in Bexar County on August 5, 1837. The town of San Antonio over which Smith and his aldermen ruled was estimated at about 2000 people, one-third of which were American and English, another third German and the remaining third were a mixture of various races. Smith and his aldermen initiated various city ordinances, one of which follows: A public bathing ordinance which “Prohibited it after 5 A. M. and before 8 P. M. in the Son Antonio River and the San Pedro Creek. Any bather caught exposing himself to the public gaze during those hours was subject to a $2.00 to $5.00 fine and the ‘Peeping Tom’ who brought about the conviction received one-half of the fine and the City got the rest.” There were also ordinances which provided for the maintenance of city cemeteries, the enforcement of chimney sweeping and the removal of fire hazards. Business houses were forced to close at 9 P. M. on Sunday. The storing of hay and combustibles within the city in a manner that might create a fire was prohibited. There was even an ordinance passed which said it was alright to have milk cows in the downtown area, but that these cows must be milked and in the corral by 10 P. M. Violators of this ordinance were subject to a fine of $2.00 to $5.00 and as in the bathing ordinance, the informer got half of the fine. Smith and his aldermen proved to run an efficient city and even sought to enrich the city treasury through the taxation of dogs. All female dogs were taxed $2.00 and males $0.50. In the second city election he did not run for re-election and was succeeded by William H. Daingerfeld. However, he did run for re-election in 1840 and, won and remained in office until 1844.  It was during this term that he had the first proper bridge in San Antonio built across the San Antonio River on Commerce Street. .

He was very popular with the Republic and at one time held eleven different commissions under President Sam Houston and Acting President Mirabeau Lamar. The most noteworthy of which was the responsibility of gathering all the Indians in the San Antonio area and take them to Waco Village to exchange them for Texas prisoners .

When Adrian Wall, on September 11, 1842, with a force of about 1400, captured San Antonio for the second Mexican invasion of Texas in 1842, “El Colorado” served as a scout once more and managed to secure information of the enemy’s situation and of their plans. With this information the Texas forces were able to surprise the Mexican forces with an ambush thus defeating and preventing them once again from taking possession of Bexar.

Recognizing Smith’s ability, the people of Texas sent him to the Senate of the Republic of Texas at Washington-on-the-Brazos in late 1842. Smith was kept well occupied with his job but he was displeased with the weather and grew very homesick for his wife, family, and San Antonio.  He, however, remained at his job and fought with great deliberation for that in which he believed, essentially the annexation of Texas. He did not live to see the culmination of his efforts, for in January, 1845, he was seized with pneumonia and died and was buried in a small cemetery at Washington-on-the-Brazos.

His sudden death was a great loss to his family, friends, San Antonio and undoubtedly to Texas, for with his great courage, unbounded energy and untiring devotion to duty, his efforts in behalf of the people and the state of Texas would have been unceasing.

Author – Zelime Vance Gillespie II