Gunn Paper details Smith clan legacy, more

by Christopher C. Evans

Hood County News – September 17, 2002

The plain, brown envelope looked mildly suspicious to me as I pulled it from the mailbox, even moreso after I noticed the words “Tom Gunn Enterprises” atop an Arlington return address.

Enclosed was a copy of some delightful and important family research completed in 1986 by erstwhile Cresson resident Thomas Herbert “Tom” Gunn, the much-decorated pilot in World War I, Korea and Vietnam part of whose military exploits were chronicled here last month.

Gunn’s 29-page work is that of a fine writer with an eye for an offbeat or otherwise amusing aside. Though the Cresson part of the paper begins with the arrival of Thomas Beauregard Smith in Texas in 1892, Gunn’s aforementioned wry side surfaces much earlier, while he is relating the names and ages of the children of his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Hunter “Captain Jack” Smith.

In so doing, Gunn notes that “The family Bible alluded to in the Introduction lists a George W. Smith who `was borned 6 day of July 1839.’ Since Mariah [Captain Jack’s first wife] died in 1938 and Captain Jack didn’t remarry until 2/10/42, that entry remains unexplained.”

Ahem. And shall remain forever so.

As for Thomas B. “Tom” Smith’s coming to Cresson, even the succession of events that followed show a man of considerable regimen: “Tom Smith came to Texas to settle in 1892, bought his first piece of land in 1893, sent for his bride-to-be (Mary Maldonna “Mallie” Cate), and married her about January 1894,” Gunn reports. “It is believed he sold his land in Parker County, moved to Cresson in Johnson County, and began to amass an impressive landholding.”

Originally, according to Gunn’s research, Tom B. Smith and wife lived in a wagon, probably not a Conestoga-styled wagon, near what is today the Ernest Teich homesite northeast of Cresson. Sometime later, the Smiths bought a house owned by a Morris family. Still later, they occupied the large Teich house that today is a little more than mile east of the Ernest Teich place.

Of course, the non-living Smiths most older Cressonians recall today are Tom and Mallie’s nine children: Thomas Herbert, George Hobert, James Hubert, Kittye Jemima, Lee Hibert, Samuel Halbert, Ann Victoria, Hilbert Edward and Beryl Beauregard, whose shortest-to-tallest photograph with their parents appeared in this space some months ago.

“Herbert” Smith, the eldest of the seven sons and the man in charge of the family after 1915, when Tom B. Smith died, was unquestionably one of Cresson’s most important entrepreneurs and interesting characters. He was responsible for building not only the big Teich house now on Johnson County Road 917 northeast of Cresson, but as well as the Miles-Lupton house that introduces visitors to Cresson as they come in on highway 377 from Fort Worth. He also constructed the small rock house on County Road 917 that was where he lived when he died.

Herbert Smith, besides taking care of his mother until her death in 1957, headed a large farm operation that included, during harvest time, a cook shack for the workers. The tallest and according to some the stoutest of the Smith boys, Herbert also was known for playing Santa Claus at Christmastime.

Gunn notes that of the eight Smith siblings who married, none of those marriages ended in disunion: “Back in them thar days, whether a marriage was good or not so good, one `stuck it out’.”

Gunn also makes it clear that although six of the seven Smith boys had names that began with `H’ — Herbert, Hobert, Hubert, Hibert, Halbert and Hilbert — only Herbert, Hobert, Hubert and Halbert went by those names. Lee Hibert went by Lee and Hilbert Edward came to be known as “Boss” or “Smitty.”

Included in Gunn’s research, in fact, is how Hilbert came to be known as “Boss”.

“(Tom Smith) believed in the work ethic, and he believed in leading by example,” writes Gunn. “He worked hard! Many farmers, when it was `too wet to plow,’ would head for town and a domino game.

“Not Tom Smith, he would put his boys in the barn husking and shelling corn, cleaning stables or any task which could be performed in rainy weather.

“He assigned chores like a Marine drill sergeant. As the youngest, Beryl, was still in diapers, he would take his six oldest boys to the field and assign tasks to the five older ones. As the youngest there, Hilbert, who was barely out of diapers, was given no chore, one of the boys asked what was Hilbert supposed to do, and their papa said, `He can be boss.’ Most people today call him `Boss’.”

Tom and Mallie Smith also passed on a purity of thought that translated into purity of language. Herbert, for instance, “would blush and substitute the word `donkey’,” when asked to read a scripture passage at church that included the word “ass” to denote the braying beast of burden.

Though all the Smith children bore the marks of a proper and righteous upbringing, Gunn does not make them out to be perfect.

“Although I loved my mother, her sister, and all of her brothers, I believe I had more empathy for Hobert than my other uncles, as he, too, was second-born,” wrote Gunn, adding that second-borns often have a rebellious streak.

Hobert once, Gunn relates, had a white filly named Dollie. “According to all, she was a beauty. Papa was in town, so Hobert saddled Dollie and took a ride. Upon their return to the home place, he instructed a younger brother, Lee, to unsaddle Dollie. Lee said he would not.

“Hobert repeated his demand. Again, Lee refused, whereupon Hobert grabbed Lee by a strap of his overalls (Lee was seven years younger), dragged him to the blacksmith shop, forced his head on the anvil, raised a six-pound sledge hammer over his head and asked Lee to if he were going to unsaddle Dollie.

“Lee agreed to do so,” Gunn reports.

Of fairly intensely personal interest to me in Gunn’s paper are the facts that Mannassas Smith Brothers, mother of my grandfather, Thomas Lawrence Brothers, was Thomas Beauregaurd Smith’s sister, something that rather knocked me out of my chair. Never did my parents or grandparents tell me of this tie to the Smith family.

Further, Gunn recounts an interview with my grandfather in which the latter describes attending the wedding of Thomas B. Smith and Mary Maldonna “Mallie” (also called Pitts) Cate Smith, “when he was three years of age,” which would put the wedding — Gunn isn’t sure of the exact date — sometime in 1994.

And though Thomas B. “Tom” Smith would die at age 50, he had accrued a considerable amount of land before succumbing to pneumonia in 1915.

According to tax receipts cited in Gunn’s work, Smith’s holdings grew from a mere 53 Parker County acres in 1893 to 2,046 acres at his death.

At Tom Smith’s funeral in 1915, Ross Moore, an early Cresson settler, said in the presence of Kittye Smith Gunn that “If Tom Smith has gone to Heaven, I don’t want to go there, for he will already have bought all the land!”

”My mother literally worshiped her `papa’ and, being only 14 years of age, took umbrage at this comment, not realizing that it was meant as a tribute,” Tom Gunn observes in his research.

It should also be noted that when the nation needed an airfield upon which to train pilots during World War I, Thomas Beauregard Smith donated land for the airfield. It was from that airfield that internationally known dancer Vernon Castle, who had volunteered during the war and eventually came back to train pilots, took off on the flight in which Castle and a student pilot were killed.

Tom and Mallie Smith’s greater legacy, Gunn writes, was perhaps their progeny, not just land.

”Tom Smith was a moralist and a strict disciplinarian,” Gunn writes. “He was well liked and certainly respected by the people of Cresson and apparently the surrounding areas. He deeded the Methodist parsonage to the Central Texas Conference on Oct. 19, 1914…Having been close to all seven sons, I can testify they practiced a courtliness that has virtually disappeared in today’s society. When they entered a room, they removed their hats if they were wearing one. If a female (always presumed to be a lady) entered a room, they stood immediately and remained standing until the lady was seated. When a guest departed their home, they went to their carriage/car and remained there until the guests were en route, waving a friendly goodbye…It is impossible for me to be objective here, but I believe Mallie did a fantastic job as a mother – and probably as a wife.”

Another note of personal interest to me came from an interview with my grandfather, T.L. “Lawrence” Brothers, who died in 1988.

”He was an inveterate pipe smoker, as am I,” Gunn recalled. “Savoring the tobacco aroma from my pipe, he related how his visit to a doctor ended his pipe smoking.

”He was 93 at the time when the doctor advised him `If you want to live a long life, you’d better stop smoking.’ He lived almost four more years.”

Concerning the evils of tobacco, Gunn recalled how his grandmother, Mallie Smith, was a “refined snuff dipper, the neatest I ever saw.”

”Her spittoon was an empty #2 can concealed in a small paper bag, and her brush was a kitchen match chewed to the proper texture.”

As for his great-grandma, Jemima Womack Smith, Gunn never met her but he did meet Thomas Hunter Smith, his great-great-grandpa and a Civil War Veteran, who lived until 1927.

The meeting occurred in Cresson when Gunn was a small boy, probably in 1927.

It would be Thomas H. Smith’s second and last visit to Texas.

”He brought with him a valise full of Confederate money; its disappearance remains unexplained,” writes Gunn. “He also brought a few twists of tobacco and the pipe which his (deceased) wife, Jemima, had smoked.

”I remember the money, I’m confident the tobacco disintegrated, but I have the pipe.”

SIDETRACKS: Gunn says he did not, as was reported here last month, “stick his head out a side window” of what remained of the World War II bomber he adroitly and miraculously brought safely to earth April 19, 1944, near Kassel, Germany. Further, he said that the Good Conduct Medal he received came during a time when he was an enlisted man, not an officer. Officers, it seems, didn’t get Good Conduct Medals…Upcoming Cresson-area meetings and events include the Cresson Community Organization board at 7 p.m. Thursday Sept. 19, Cresson City Council at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 24, Cresson Homecoming Sunday Oct. 13 and the Cresson Fall Festival Saturday Oct. 26. Flu shots will be available from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesay Oct. 9 at the historic Cresson School…The City of Cresson’s building moratorium is not in place yet but should be soon, according to Mayor John Carroll, who took off work in order to participate in a Sept. 11 commemoration at the Cresson School Wednesday. Other Cresson participants in the program included Cresson Church of Christ minister Don Carlile and First Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Clark Frailey. Sept. 11 observances were also held at local churches.

YE OLDE CABOOSE: The 1964 book Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand by Ross Phares contains several supposedly true tales about the then-ongoing feud between frontier Baptists and Methodists over “dunking,” as Methodists called baptism. One is about one “elderly Methodist sister” who “had the shock of her religious life when her daughter joined the Baptist church.” Explaining this “act of treason” on the part of her daughter, the woman complained to her neighbors that the daughter had “left the Army of the Lord and joined the Navy.”