WILLIAM EDWARD SMITH is a Pawnee County farmer whose commercial rating in Dun or Bradstreet would be as high as the esteem which is paid him for his achievements and his thorough public spirit in community affairs. His chief interests as a large farmer are in West Keysville Township, but his home is at Larned.
As he came to Western Kansas when a child, this history should really begin with his father, the late Esau Smith. The experiences of the Smith family in Pawnee County will give the readers of this publication a better idea of what the early settlers went through and the struggles that were precedent to the establishment of homes and the earning of comfortable independence.
Esau Smith was an Englishman by birth and parentage. His father, John Smith, lived at Luton, England, and was the father of twelve children. Of these Reuben Smith now lives in Butler County, Kansas, and Isaac is also a resident of Butler County. Esau Smith came to the United States from Bedfordshire, England, in 1867, when twenty-two years of age. He was then unmarried, and for a year or two he worked at farm labor in Illinois. He sent money home so that a brother and Esau's prospective wife might join him. After his marriage he established his home in Greene County, Illinois, and took out citizenship papers and made himself thoroughly an American. Esau married Charlotte Rainbow, daughter of William Rainbow, of Luton, England. She died in August, 1909. After her death Esau Smith sold his personal property in Western Kansas and went back to England for a visit to the scenes of his youth. He died there suddenIy of heart failure in 1910. His remains were sent back to Burdett, Kansas, and were laid beside his wife. Their children were: William E.; Avis, who died as a child; Charles, of Hodgeman County, Kansas, married Laura Jones; John, a farmer of Keysville Township, who married Bessie Ruff; George, a Pawnee County farmer, married Lena Webster; Sarah J., wife of D. N. Van Meter, of Burdett, Kansas; Arthur, a farmer in Keysville Township, who married Iona Newport; and Frank, who lives on the old homestead.
Esau Smith followed farming in Illinois about ten years before he started west in the spring of 1878. He came to Kansas with a wagon drawn by a team of nondescript horses of little value. He brought with him his wife and two children. He was poor in purse, and the fifty or sixty dollars he brought with him were paid for his relinquishment on the northwest quarter of section 27, township 22, range 20 in Keysville Township. This quarter had as its chief improvement a dugout with a box car roof on it. The entire building measured about 16 by 16 feet. It was the family home for some eight or nine years. The family experienced hard times even after leaving it for a better residence. Later Esau Smith took a pre-emption on section 28 and moved to it a small frame house for which he had traded a horse. In this building the family lived about five years. On account of some irregularity or misunderstanding as to the proving up Esau Smith lost this pre-emption, and the family then went back to a sod house erected on the homestead. There they continued to live until 1889. For a time after this Esau Smith lived in a rented house, and then bought the north half of section 14. He placed on that a house which he had purchased in Burdett, and in that home the family lived some ten years. Esau Smith finally built a six-room, comfortable house upon his home place, also a barn 32 by 40 feet, and granaries with storage capacity for 4,000 bushels.
Had there not been a "family cow" the Smith family in the early days might have been unable to endure all the privations and struggles of existence in Western Kansas and this history could not have been written. Esau Smith had brought with him from Illinois a colt, and that was traded for a cow or two, which in turn became the nucleus for a herd of cattle. The women of the household converted the milk into butter, and though butter sold for a very low price per pound it was exchanged for the groceries which enabled the family to live. There was usually plenty of grass and rough feed, but of more profitable crops the Smith family had little experience in early years. Esau Smith tried raising wheat, sowing small patches, but after failing to secure even his seed he abandoned the industry. In the early '90s he tried again the wheat business, secured a crop, and from that time forward better and more crops came, though occasionally there was a severe shortage. Even in seasons of abundance wheat sold very low, and for a number of years the price ranged about 60 cents a bushel.
Esau Smith in time was one of the chief growers of the wheat staple in his section of the county. In one year he had a crop that averaged over thirty bushels to the acre. After that harvest, owing to lack of sufficient granary room, the wheat was piled in great heaps on the ground.
In addition to the three quarter sections he secured from the government Esau Smith bought twelve quarter sections, had it all fenced, and about 1,200 acres under cultivation. He was always a successful grower of rough feed, and occasionally secured a good crop of Indian corn. Broom corn was one of the favorite sod crops, and while that furnished plenty of work the crop could not always be sold on profitable terms. In time he had his cattle and horses well graded, and carried on his farming on the mixed plan.
For all his practical accomplishments and success Esau Smith was a man without special educational advantages. He had attended school but little, though he learned to read and write his name. In after life he realized the need of better education and always encouraged his children to attend school. He helped support good schools in Pawnee County, and was a member of the board of district No. 18. He also served as road boss of his district. Politically he was a republican.
William Edward Smith was born in Greene County, Illinois, June 2, 1872, and was about five years of age when the family located in Pawnee County. His education was acquired in the home district school No. 18. Until twenty-two he remained at home, and then started out working as a farm laborer. Thus by the sweat of his brow he earned enough money to buy a team and then became a renter. For twelve years he continued in this way as a bachelor and was rated as a successful young man before he married. Those who knew him in those days said he worked "night and day," and apparently everything he touched seemed to grow and prosper under his hands. He accumulated a large number of cattle and horses, and was early in the field to acquire some of the lands in this region. He homesteaded where he now lives, the southeast quarter of section 34, township 22, range 20. His first purchase of land was made in 1900, when he paid $400 for the northeast quarter of section 34, township 22, range 18. In 1905 he bought for $1,000 a quarter of section 28, and subsequently paid $500 for the southwest quarter of section 34. On his homestead he first built a frame house 12 by 16 feet. That was the rather humble abode in which he and his bride started housekeeping, and they lived there until a new and modern home was erected in 1913. This is an eight room house with basement, and is thoroughly modern in every respect, being lighted by an acetylene plant.
Mr. Smith is one of the few farmers in Pawnee County to have an independent farm elevator. This elevator, erected in 1914, has a capacity for 25,000 bushels of grain, and some of his heaviest crops would almost fill it. The biggest crop he has had in recent years was 15,000 bushels, of which 14,000 bushels were wheat. In his experience, he has sold wheat at 45 cents a bushel, but in the recent time of high prices has secured $2.50 a bushel. Since 1908 Mr. Smith has been operating a threshing outfit over a large scope of country in Pawnee and Edwards counties.
He takes pride in his community and has always shown a willingness to bear his part in public affairs and those movements which require co-operation. For twenty-one years he has served as clerk of school district No. 18, where he got his own education when a boy. He has also been clerk of the township and township treasurer. Politically he is a republican and cast his first presidential vote for William McKinley in 1896.
In Edwards County, Kansas, March 12, 1912, Mr. Smith married Miss Nellie Dillinger, daughter of Isaac and Ollie (Wright) Dillinger. Her father came to Kansas from Missouri and located near Belpre, where Mrs. Smith was born. The children of Isaac Dillinger and wife were: William, who lives in Seward County, Kansas; Ida, wife of Tom Denison, of Guymon, Oklahoma; Jacy, who married Vernie Trexler, of Bucklin, Kansas; and Mrs. Smith, who was born June 10, 1893. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a young family of four children, named Clinton, Clayton, Glen and Leroy.
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.
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