Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Smith homecoming at Salem

Charles E. Smith's tombstone, restored to an upright position by Bill and Hazel Smith, who left the wild roses there as well.

I’m not given to fancies, but couldn’t help but envision Josiah and Sarah (Pitts) Smith standing by imperceptibly out at Salem Cemetery last week with gratified looks on their faces as their great-grandson, William B. Smith, labored for at least a day and a half to restore order to their burial place.

Bill and Hazel Smith.

Bill and his wife, Hazel, had driven to Iowa from their home on Vashon Island, just north of Tacoma, Washington, specifically for this purpose --- visiting relatives on the way to and from, taking a side trip into Putnam County, Missouri, to research Hazel’s family and eventually ending up this week in Gillette, Wyoming, for Hazel’s class reunion.

The spruce in question before the Smiths gave it a haircut.

The major problem out at Salem was a large blue spruce planted perhaps 50 or 60 years ago (we don’t know by whom) on the Smith lot (No. 50 in Salem’s southeast corner). It’s entirely possible a Smith family member placed it there to mark otherwise unmarked graves. Or some of the Johnstons, a family buried just to the west in Lot No. 49, may have strayed into Smith territory, planting the tree to shade their own lot.

The spruce trimmed to allow access to gravesites.

It is a lovely tree now, but blue spruces can cause trouble if not placed carefully and pruned appropriately. The spruce on the Smith lot now is very large, its boughs swept the ground in a wide radius obscuring everything beneath and those boughs, moving in the wind, probably were responsible for breaking the tombstone of little Charles E. Smith, who died 11 September 1878 aged 9 months and 19 days, off near its base and pushing it onto its back, allowing it to sink gradually into the earth.

Charles E. (Elmer) Smith was the 12th of Josiah and Sarah’s children and his grave was the only one marked on the lot, which also is the resting place of Josiah and Sarah, their daughter, Mary Ellen (Smith) Widaman/Dixon, and probably another son, William.

I sometimes call Salem “my” cemetery, since I intend eventually to spend a great deal of time there --- although in a somewhat altered state --- and so had known for years that some of the Smiths were buried in Lot No. 50, but it was not until several years ago when I met Roberta Tuller of Encino, California, a great-great-grandchild of Josiah and Sarah, that I learned who they were and something of their stories.

Roberta had begun pulling together distant and widely scattered Smith and Fox cousins, including Bill and Hazel and many others, in an effort to acquire, organize and delve more deeply into the histories of these families. Bill had been researching the family for many years, shared his wealth of information with Roberta, and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a lot about the family from their collaborative effort. So credit for the genealogical information here belongs to Roberta and Bill.

Josiah Smith was a native Tennesseean, born there about 1825. He married Sarah Pitts (born 30 April 1826 at Blountville, Sullivan County, Tennessee) on 15 October 1846 at Blountville. The first seven of their 13 children were born in Meigs County, Tennessee. Those children were Elizabeth Jane (m. Andrew M. Frank), Allison Woodrow (m. Sarah M. Souders), Nancy Ann (m. Robert Lee Wilson), Mary Ellen (m. Charles F. Widaman,George W. Dixon), David H (m. Oraline), Josiah Allen (m. Eliza Fox; the great-grandparents of Bill and great-great-grandparents of Roberta) and John.

Josiah enlisted for service in the Mexican War on 7 November 1847, when he was 23, at Knoxville, Tennesse, and served in Co. C, 5th Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, until honorably discharged 20 July 1848 at Memphis.

At the outset of the Civil War, he enlisted 1 November 1861 in the Confederate 5th Cavalry at Decatur, Tennessee. Taken prisoner twice during the ensuing years, he finally swore allegiance to the Union on 26 September 1864 and was paroled upon his pledge not to return south of the Ohio River.

It probably was soon after this that he wrote to Sarah, instructing her to sell all the family had left in Tennessee and bring the family north to the vicinity of Peoria, Illinois, where he had established a home for them. She did exactly that, and two more children were born to Josiah and Sarah while living in Illinois. Those children were George Washington Smith (m. Rosa Estella Arnold) and William.

During the late 1860s, Josiah and Sarah and their children came west to Benton Township, Lucas County, where they were living as neighbors to my Myers and Redlingshafer families when the 1870 census was taken.

Four more children were born to them in Lucas County: Ida Belle (m. Charles W. Hoops), Sarah Catherine (m. John A. Hoops), Charles Elmer and Cora Edna (m. Frank B. Downard).

Charles Elmer may have been the first of the Smith family to die in Lucas County (on 11 September 1878), and Lot 50 at Salem may have been purchased for his burial. There’s probably no way of proving this, since I haven’t been able to locate the deed to the cemetery lot. But since his parents took such care in marking his grave, I think they would have showed equal care had either of the other two “missing” boys, John and William, died in Lucas County prior to Charles.

By the time the 1880 census was taken, the Smith family had moved a few miles west into Warren Township and was living near Derby when disaster, in the form of typhoid, struck. Josiah died 16 September 1880 of that disease and was returned to Salem for burial beside Charles. Family stories suggest that son William also may have died of typhoid that fall, and if so he would have been buried at Salem, too.

Josiah’s death would have been devastating both emotionally and financially to his large family, now left without a provider. That loss probably explains in part at least why his family scattered so widely during the years that followed.

Sarah (Pitts) Smith died 31 years later, on 5 August 1911, at the home of her daughter, Cora (Smith) Downard, in Russell, and was buried by Josiah at Salem.

Daughter Mary Ellen died 13 January 1949 and chose to be buried at Salem beside her parents (her first husband, Charles F. Widaman, had died 31 August 1894 in a gold mine collapse in the West; and her second husband, George W. Dixon, who died 12 January 1945, was buried with his family in Russell).

Mary Ellen’s burial would have been the last made on the Smith lot at Salem.

As I said, these graves are unmarked. I suspect that Josiah, Sarah and perhaps William were buried just north of Charles, under the spreading boughs of that old spruce, and Ellen, perhaps, on the north end of the lot. But these things are very difficult to determine.

Visiting with Bill and Hazel in Chariton on Sunday afternoon, Hazel recalled that friends and relatives in Washington had remarked that returning to Iowa to repair a tombstone seemed to them just a little “crazy,” and that she wasn’t too sure about the idea herself.

Once at Salem last Wednesday and Thursday, Bill located the tombstone, proceeded to trim the spruce to a reasonable height off the ground, removed brush that had grown up in it, bought cement, poured a new base and finally restored Charles E. Smith’s tombstone to an upright position.

I’m not sure what those folks out in Washington think, but Hazel is now a full-fledged believer and so am I. What a wonderful thing to do.

After Bill and Hazel had driven off into the sunset Sunday, headed for Des Moines and then to Wyoming, I drove out to Salem and was struck afresh by what a lovely and peaceful place it is.

Hazel had remarked about the “the prettiest sunrise I’ve ever seen” early one morning out there among the graves of Bill's family and had noticed the wild roses flourishing in the fencerows.

Sunday evening, as the sun was setting in the west, some of those roses --- picked by Bill and Hazel and placed at Charles's grave, still were fresh.

The sunset view from Salem Cemetery.


Anonymous said...

I was born Diane Widaman to Harold Widaman and Erla Powell. I am married to a Gary Myers.
Clarence Widaman was my grandfather.

Anonymous said...

To: Frank Myers and Roberta Tuller

By accident I discoverd this saga
of Josiah and Sarah Smith, our Great Grand Parents, on Facebook, posted there by Frank with detailed contributions by Roberta, in 2005.

We are grateful for the expansion
of our family heiritage, and hope
that others will follow on.

Our salute to two superior
historians, Frank and Roberta.

Bill and Hazel Smith