Pioneers of Ellis County
Contributed by Larry Amyett, Jr.
Hans Smith was born September 15, 1799 in Pennsylvania, county not known but possibly York, Adams or Franklin. Hans was Dutch. He moved to Kentucky when 19, became a schoolteacher, and met his future wife, Nancy Owens. Because her father didn't know Hans and had refused to allow the marriage, they eloped and were married in 1825.
Hans and Nancy moved to Missouri, first to Clay County, and later to Lincoln County. In Missouri he first entered politics - serving in the State Legislature for fourteen years as a Senator and at other times as a member of the Lower House. He was appointed Judge Advocate General of the Missouri Militia in 1837 and State Bank Examiner in 1840. Around 1840-42, Hans unsuccessfully ran, as a Democrat, for the United States Senate. His opponent was Thomas H. Benton, member of the Whig party. Not long after the loss, he moved to Arkansas. According to an account by Robert Smith, the move was because Hans had acquired a sizable estate and had suffered financially in an economic downturn during 1842. The true reason may never be known. Hans left Missouri for Arkansas with his wife, Nancy, and seven children: Robert, George W., Sidney (my ancestor), William, Leila, Nina, and Ann. Unfortunately, he also brought with him several African-Americans as slaves. There he again entered politics, serving four years in the State Senate. During that time he worked for the creation of a government body for Crawford County and lobbied Washington for the annexation of Texas into the Union.
The stay in Arkansas was tragic. Two daughters died, along with two African-American slaves, names unknown. Whether the deaths played a role in his decision to move again is another unanswered question. But in 1845, Hans set out to scout for a good place to settle in Texas. After deciding on a location near Waco, he returned to Arkansas, sold his farm,and with his family, set off for Texas. He crossed the Trinity River where he met John Neely Bryan who encouraged him to stay in his young settlement of Dallas. But Hans had his sights set further south so he pressed on. The trip was hard, as anyone who lives in Texas could imagine. The oxen were hot and covered in ticks. Several had died on the long journey. Finally, they crossed Red Oak Creek at what is now the Rutherford Crossing and camped. Both family and livestock were exhausted, and again, tragedy struck. Because the oxen had become overheated when they drank from the cool creek water, some died that night. In need of oxen to pull the caravan, Hans went on horseback to Louisiana to purchase some more. When he returned, he found the family had survived well. The soil was good for planting, there were several brooks and creeks full of clean fresh water, teeming with fish, and wildlife was abundant. Encouraged by his family, he settled just south of Red Oak Creek where he built his last residence.
Once again he would show that politics ran deep in his blood. In 1847, only one year after moving to Texas, Hans was elected to the Texas Legislature as a representative from Navarro County. Because of his prior work in politics, General Tarrant, a close friend, asked for his help in creating Ellis County. Hans rode on horseback to collect the necessary 100 signatures. Hans Smith made another contribution that would change the lives of Texans and maybe the very history of Texas. He brought cotton seed and set up the first cotton gin.
In 1852, while on a trip to Houston to purchase goods for his store, carrying $1000 of his own money and $500 belonging to his neighbors, he was murdered and robbed. His wife, son, Robert, and a slave named Jerry, went to Houston and brought him back to Palmer in a metal casket where he was laid to rest in what would someday be called Smith Cemetery.
[Source: All Roads Led to Texas by Birdie Farrar Wayne]
Smith Cemetery Historical Marker
Burial place of pioneers and generations of descendants; on a knoll that was in wilderness when cemetery was opened, but now overlooks nine urban areas. Founded by Nancy Owens Smith for her family and neighbors. First burial was her husband, Hans Smith (1799-1852), lawmaker in Missouri (1830-32, 1834-36) and Arkansas (1844-46), who moved here in 1846. He opened the area's first cotton gin, helped organize Ellis County (1850) and was robbed and murdered while buying goods in Houston for his store. The Smith Cemetery Association, organized in 1953, was chartered in 1955.
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