JOHN R. SMITH, of Larned, is a veteran of Western Kansas. He first knew Pawnee County when it was on the very verge of the western limits of civilization, and when a garrison of soldiers were still maintained at Fort Larned to preserve order and protect lives from raiding Indians. He was influenced to come out to Kansas from his native New York State in order to improve the health of his family, and when he had once come he was settled for good and all and he refused to be discouraged and move away when dry weather, grasshoppers and other calamities befell the country. He has always been well satisfied with Kansas as a home, and he has been well rewarded by his persistence since he now enjoys an enviable prosperity.
Mr. Smith is descended from one of the old Dutch families of New York. His great-grandfather, Peter Schmidt, as the name was then spelled, came out of Holland and located near New York City prior to the Revolutionary war. He was a farmer at Peapack, New Jersey, and died in that community. Among his children were Peter, Elias, Isaiah, John and Clarissa. All these children subsequently moved out to what was then the western frontier in Seneca and Tompkins counties, New York.
Grandfather Peter Smith (the name having been changed to its present form during his generation) settled on a military reservation seven miles from the famous old college city of Ithaca. He served in the War of 1812 and his brother Isaiah at one time was adjutant general of the New York State Militia. Peter and all his brothers were farmers and they all reared families. Peter Smith married Clarissa Haines at Peapack. In going to their home in the western wilderness of New York they traveled by ox cart. They had a few household possessions with them, and conspicuously displayed and ready for instant use during their 300 mile journey to Tompkins County were the rifle and ammunition which constituted their sole defense against the dangers that lurked in the forest by the wayside. The rifle also served as the means of food supply, since the country was full of game. Peter Smith settled five miles from any neighbors, and in a locality where the immense pines indicated the fertility of the soil. His first house, or shelter rather, was made by cutting small pines and standing them erect against a large tree, with such a slant as to provide a veritable Indian wigwam. A log house succeeded and then for many months the sound of the axe was heard in the timber and in time Peter Smith had chopped and cleared a farm out of the wilderness. He spent the rest of his life there and died when past eighty. He was one of the pioneer founders of the Methodist Church in his community, and in politics was always affiliated with the whigs. Peter Smith and wife had the following children: Elias, Halsey, William, Jared, Polly, who married Watson Aldrich; and Clarissa, who became the wife of Rev. Peter Hicks. Some of these children moved to other localities and Elias went to Virginia and reared his family in Loudoun County.
Jared Smith, father of John R. Smith, was born at Ithaca, New York, and like his father devoted his energies to farming. He married LaFanny Richey, of a French family. She died when about fifty years of age, but he kept up the record of the family for longevity and was eighty when he passed away. His children were: Irving, Monroe, John R., Gertrude, who married Darwin Kinnie and went with him to the Columbia River country of Washington. The sons Irving and Monroe both were Federal soldiers in New York troops, and both were killed, the former at Chancellorsville and the latter at Bayou Tesche, Louisiana.
Any man should be glad to claim such sturdy ancestors as has John R. Smith, and his own life has been in keeping with their rugged qualities and the ability which enabled them to make homes and carry the responsibilities of their generation. John R. Smith was born in that picturesque section of New York State around the City of Ithaca on February 18, 1842. He had a country school education and most of his early youth was spent in work on his father's farm. After he passed his twenty-first birthday he enlisted, on December 20, 1863, in Company L of the Sixteenth New York Heavy Artillery, under Capt. Ira L. Dudley and General Mulcahy. The command for six months did garrison duty at Yorktown, Virginia, and was then ordered to Fort Magruder at Williamsburg, and then to the forest around Richmond after Lee's army had evacuated the city. Mr. Smith was at Richmond when Lee surrendered and on August 21, 1865, he was mustered out at Washington, having been a private soldier. Not long after the war he married and settled down to farming in Seneca County, New York. The health of his wife and son caused him considerable anxiety and acting upon medical advice he sought a better climate for them in the West. While in the West on a tour of inspection he learned something of the climate of the region of Central Kansas, and decided to locate there.
When Mr. Smith first saw Larned in the month of July, 1874, it was a village of perhaps 100 people. The military reservation and post of Fort Larned was seven miles away. His own homestead was a quarter section adjoining the reservation on the north, being the northwest quarter of section 24, township 21, range 18. He also took up a timber claim nearby. In preparation for his family he built a 1 1/2 story frame house, and plowed several furrows aound[sic] it as a protection against possible prairie fires. He then went back to New York State and in December, 1879, the entire family arrived at Larned and went to the home. They brought along their medicine chest, since Mrs. Smith had been ill for a number of years and had been a regular patron of the apothecary shop. However, the climate soon restored her health and the medicine chest was practically abolished.
During the year 1875 Mr. Smith failed to get a crop but the next year he had a good harvest of wheat, and by combining farming and stock raising he had sufficient to maintain his family. During the dry years of the '80s and the '90s his cattle were largely relied upon for the profits and the living, and while the Smith home always had plenty to eat there were times when the members of the family were very short on clothes. Mr. Smith proved up and lived on his homestead until the summer of 1909, and then sold it for $7,500. The same farm recently sold for $11,000. He did not confine all his efforts to his home quarter but bought other lands in the same locality. One quarter for which he paid $500 is now worth $10,000, and another which he secured for $800 he sold at the same time with his timber claim and the two together are now worth at least $20,000. Since retiring from the farm and coming to Larned Mr. Smith has had no active business associations, though he is a stockholder in the Moffet Brothers National Bank and the Farmers State Bank of Larned.
While on the farm he helped organize his school district and assisted in building the first school house as a member of the board. He was also township treasurer and trustee of Pawnee Township and justice of the peace. He began voting as a republican and has never seen fit to break away from the grand old party. As Horace Greeley stated the case, he fought democrats in the rebel army during the war and he has been opposing their policies ever since. His only fraternal connection is with the Grand Army of the Republic. He is a past commander of the Larned Post.
It is now nearly fifty years since Mr. and Mrs. Smith began their married companionship and they have traveled a long road, have enjoyed struggles and prosperity, and they are now content to see the younger generation go forward with such assistance as they have been able to give them in the way of good homes and educational advantages. Mr. Smith was married November 14, 1867, to Miss Rebecca Blain, daughter of Tompkins Blain of an old New York family. This family was also related to the Blaine family of New England, which gave to the country the great statesman James G. Blaine. Tompkins Blain married Mary G. Bloomer. He was a farmer and died in middle life and there were only two children, Lacetta, who died in New York as Mrs. Marvin Brown, and Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith's mother finally came to Kansas and died in this state. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have the following children and grandchildren: Orlo J., a business man of Cherokee, Oklahoma, and by his marriage to May Fell has children named Ralph, Richey (who is now in the army), Orlo, Sylvester, Lethabell, Clifford and Arvilla; Herbert is a resident of Los Angeles, California, and married Kate Conde; Cora is the wife of Wilson Stark of Stillwater, Oklahoma, and their family circle comprises Lolus, Leonard, Hazel, Dudley, Gretchen and Vernon; Maude, the youngest child, is the wife of William Harris, of Wiley, Colorado, and has one son, Lewis.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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