ROLL CALL OF TEXAS HEROES – ERASTUS (DEAF) SMITH (1787-1837)
When I was a boy growing up in the Texas Panhandle, Hereford was known nationally as “the town without a toothache” due to the nearly perfect natural fluoridation of the water supply. The fact that it was the county seat of Deaf Smith county was not of general interest. All we school kids knew of Deaf Smith was that he was the rough looking chap seated under the oak tree by the wounded Sam Houston at San Jacinto. The teachers could well have looked to the old timers in the community for the correct pronunciation of his name which was “Deef”, not deaf. The trite old colloquial phrase was that he was “deef in one ear and couldn’t hear out of the other”.
His story has all the twists and intrigues typical of the legendary heroes of the day. Perhaps he could have been billed as “the New Yorker at San Jacinto” since he was born in Duchess County\, New York on April 19,1787. When he was twelve his parents moved to Natchez in the Mississippi Territory where a childhood disease caused him to lose his hearing. After visiting Texas in 1817, he returned to stay in 1821. He settled near San Antonio and married a Mexican widow by the name of Guadalupe Duran with whom he had three daughters. In 1825 he and five other men settled in the Green DeWitt colony which was located about a mile from Gonzalez and was one of the earliest American settlements west of the Colorado. Life must have been good in those days of freedom and opportunity under the newly minted Mexican Constitution of 1824.
His loyalty to Mexico was broken at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution when a Mexican sentry refused to allow him to enter San Antonio to visit his family. He then joined Stephen F. Austin’s resistance forces He took part and was a principal in certain key events that were in the mainstream of the War of Texas Independence. He took part in the Battle of Conception on October 28,1835. He discoved the Mexican supply train that figured in the “Grass Fight”. His prominence increased when he guided Col Francis Johnson’s men into San Antonio during the siege of Bexar. On December 8, his path crossed that of fellow patriot Jim Bowie, in a manner of speaking, when he was wounded while fighting on the top of the Veramendi Palace, the residence of Bowie’s father in law, Governor Juan Martin de Veramendi. His wound occurred at almost the same time that Ben Milam was killed by a shot fired through the front door of this palace. Governor Henry Smith later said of Smith; “He was well known to the army for his vigilance and meritorious acts and his services as a spy cannot well be dispensed with”.
After regaining his health, he served as a messenger for William B. Travis who referred to him as “the bravest of the brave in the cause of Texas”. All Texans have heard of Travis’s famous “letter to the world” from the Alamo but there will be few who can tell you that it was Deaf Smith that carried it on that fateful day, February 15th, 1836. Houston sent Smith and Henry Karnes back to learn the status of the Alamo and he confidently told Thomas Rusk; “Smith will return with the truth about the garrison, if still living, and all important details”. Smith’s role in history was still far from done as it was he who escorted Susanna Dickenson and her daughter Angelina back to the safety of Houston’s camp.
During the San Jacinto campaign, he captured a Mexican courier bearing dispatches to Santa Anna and on April 21st, armed with axes, he demolished Vince’s Bridge over Buffalo Bayou assuring that only one army would leave the field of battle intact. After his capture, Santa Anna, to save his life, wrote a letter to Gen Vincente Filisola to evacuate Texas. Houston entrusted the delivery of Santa Anna’s letter to Filisola to Deaf Smith for delivery.
After the war was won, Smith’s service to Texas was still not done. He resigned his commission in the army and raised and commanded a company of Texas Rangers. On February 17, 1837 his company defeated a band of Mexicans at Laredo. After he resigned from the Rangers, he moved to Richmond where he died at the home of one Randal Jones on November 30, 1837. When he heard of his death, Sam Houston wrote to Anna Raquet; “My friend Deaf Smith , and my stay in my darkest hour, is no more!! A man more brave and honest never lived. His soul is with God but his fame and his family must command the care of His Country”.
A monument commissioned by the 41st legislature was unveiled to his memory on January 25, 1931 at his grave in Richmond. Deaf Smith County is named in his honor.
John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973).Texas State Gazette, June 12, 1852. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker,