Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Dode Smith, livestock drives and horse thievery

Back in 1884, Jonas "Dode" Smith --- one of the south of Iowa's most widely known livestock dealers and drovers --- was brought to trial in Chariton on what most figured was a trumped up charge of horse thievery, and acquitted. 

Jonas and his family had arrived at Hopeville in far southwest Clarke County during 1855 and soon established a stockyard encompassing, it has been reported, a square fenced block. His business involved buying livestock, primarily cattle and hogs, from farmers in a broad (and expanding as settlement spread) area of south and southwest Iowa, then driving the livestock to market once sufficient numbers had been accumulated.

Initially the first leg of the journey involved a trek to the Des Moines River in Van Buren County where stock could be loaded aboard flatboats for transportation downriver to the Mississippi. Later on, the railroad reached Ottumwa, and that became the destination. Finally, during 1867-68 the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was completed across the south of Iowa and shipping became a relatively simple matter. Those drives generally passed through Lucas County until the late 1860s, following some combination of the old Mormon Trail and the newer State Road.

Smith also was a self-trained veterinarian, specializing in horses, so his skills were in demand across the region.

The following report of Smith's trial was published in The Chariton Democrat-Leader of Dec. 3, 1884, and the reporter provided a little background on the region's livestock trade as part of his story:


"Dode" Smith of Clarke County was last week tried in our District Court, charged with horse stealing, and was most honorably acquitted. That he should have been indicted on such a charge was a surprise to all who knew him. He is one of the old-timers of southern central Iowa, and has always had the confidence of the people for financial integrity. He is a perfect representative of our old time drovers.

For years his business was buying and shipping stock, having to drive at first as far as Bentonport. In one drove, he drove over 3,100 head of hogs through Chariton and on to Bentonsport.

Before the railroad came among us, every man, woman and child on the road from Hopeville to the Des Moines River knew "Dode." He has been known to pay out in one day as much as $22,000 for stock. Everybody in the country who could spare a dollar would loan it to "Dode" to buy stock with, and he always proved faithful, prompt and just.

How such a man could go into the contemptible business of horse stealing always puzzled those who knew him well, and they could not believe there was any truth in the charge. He was ably prosecuted by the District Attorney, assisted by ex-Judge Henry of Mt. Ayr, and an especial effort was made to bring about his conviction.

There was no evidence against him, worthy of being called evidence, except that of a couple of penitentiary convicts who were mad at him because he had refused to furnish them bail. But the jury most righteously said, "before we convict such a man as old Dode of horse stealing, we want better evidence than that coming from penitentiary birds."

The trial was largely attended, and the universal judgment was, that the verdict was just and right. Mr. Smith was defended by Mr. Askren of Mt. Ayr, Mr. Goss of Osceola, and Mr. Mitchell of Chariton. 


Jonas returned to Hopeville and to his business after the trial, but after a few years his health began to fail and he died on Jan. 25, 1893, at the age of 63. Here's his obituary from The Osceola Sentinel of Feb. 2, 1893:

Jonas Smith died at Hopeville January 25th and 8:30 p.m. He had been ill a long time.

He was born in Ohio, May 23, 1829. He was married to Christianna Hindman December 4, 1850. To them were born two boys and three girls. One daughter, Jennie, died at Iowaville, and another, Rosella, was married in Hopeville, died, leaving a little daughter who has been cared for in her grandfather's home ever since. His wife, two sons and one daughter survive and mourn him as a kind husband and father.

The family moved to Doyle township in 1855 and have lived there ever since. One who knew him well writes and says, "He has ridden many miles over this country to give relief to sick and suffering horses; surely the dumb brutes have lost a friend."

He had many friends, being a man of positive character, and performing many kind actions impelled by a generous nature. He knew that death was at hand and called his children about him, requesting them to be good, and especially warned them against card playing.

He was a Mason of long standing, and the Order in Murray and Hopeville conducted his funeral. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Fred Sheldon, of Murray, to a very large crowd who attended the services and followed to the cemetery. it will be long ere "Dode Smith," as it was familiarly called, will be forgotten in that locality."

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