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Washita County, Oklahoma

James W. Smith, an attorney-at-law, practicing at Cordell, Oklahoma, has a personal history, together with that of his immediate ancestry, well worth preserving an the pages of this work. He was barn in Boone county, Arkansas, June 24, 1855, and reared on a farm. Most of our best professional men have, at one time or another, lived an farms and labored in the free atmosphere of untrammeled nature. His elementary education was obtained in the district schools such as obtained in his section of the southland.

Before continuing further with his biography proper, the reader will be in farmed concerning his parentage, for every man owes much to the early training and character of his parents, with the environments of his first twenty years. He is the son of David and Ellen (Harris) Smith, bath born in Middle Tennessee, in which locality they were married and settled an a farm in Arkansas. He became prominent as a farmer and slaveholder. When the Civil war came an, his negroes stole his horses and joined the Union army. He was well-to-do when this conflict came upon the country. He entered the Confederate army, being assigned to the Tennessee and Mississippi department, in General Price's command a portion of the time, and was frequently detailed to other business, hence made many visits home, but continued in the cause until the war was ended. He saw much severe army hardship, but was fortunate in never being wounded or taken prisoner of war. He lost financially to a large amount, in slaves and other property. Politically, he was ever a radical Democrat and was posted regarding the history of his country and its people. From his boyhood he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and a man full of charitable deeds and kind acts. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity. His death occurred at Thorp Springs, Texas, in 1894, when he was aged seventy-four years. The mother, Ellen Smith, died in 1878. They were both members of' the same church at the time of their marriage. Their children were: George W., who died aged seventeen years; William J., a farmer; Mary M., Mrs. J. Armstrong; Dicy L., Mrs. Rev. Lazarus, a Methodist minister; Julia, Mrs. Bell Milum; John E., a farmer; James W., of this sketch; David, who died aged ten years; Alfred J., a farmer; Sterling P., who died aged twenty-two years; and Anna, who died aged four years.

James W. Smith decided on becoming a lawyer when seventeen years of age, and began reading with that end in view, and subsequently entered the office of Patterson & Crump, of Harrison, Arkansas. Later he engaged in school teaching, during which time he was his own instructor in the law. He thus continued for six years, and in 1879 was admitted to the bar by Judge James Berry of Bentonville, Ark, after which he taught school two years and, in 1881, went to Texas, locating at Stevensonville, Erath county, where he opened a law office and was later elected prosecuting attorney, filling the office acceptably and well for two years, He next moved to Wilbarger county, of the same state, and there resumed practice and was again elected as prosecuting attorney, which place he filled for eight years and, in 1897, went to Washita county, Oklahoma, locating at Cloud Chief, then the seat of justice of that county. He was soon employed by the town to defend the removal of the county seat, when a long, bitter fight ensued. During his term the county commissioners ordered an election three times on the removal question, but he succeeded in bringing a halt to the election each time, by the proceedings not being legal in form. After a three years struggle. he resigned his office and the counsel who followed him was not equal to the emergency and the election followed and by the people's voice Cordell was made the county seat and in 1900 the officers all moved to that point and established the new government for the seat of justice of Washita county. Four years later Cloud Chief renewed the fight and Cordell then employed Mr. Smith to do their fighting for them, and as far as he went with both sides, he won. The case was filed in the supreme court at Guthrie, and finally, by decision of the supreme court and by acts of Congress, Cordell was made permanent county seat.

When he moved to Cordell, he purchased lots which he has since greatly improved, and erected a fine residence and built a brick business house, on the second floor of which he has his law offices located. He stands at the head of the bar in Southwestern Oklahoma. At an early time in the history of Cordell there was not a town in the county that exceeded four hundred population. The nearest railway line was sixty miles distant from Cordell and people were forced to go for fuel to markets from sixty to one hundred miles, Then again came a struggle for a railroad at Cordell and every public-spirited citizen had his wits worked up to the utmost limit, in order to raise the required funds with which to secure the road, but they succeeded and since then the town has grown steadily, and now numbers about twenty-five hundred souls. It has become a good educational center, having two large graded schools and two academies. All changed is the scene-when the county seat fight was on, the few who resided there, were dwellers of dug-outs, and the first courts were held in rude shops. Now the commissioners are planning to erect a one hundred and fifty thousand dollar court house. When this is completed the contrast will be wonderful, since the days when court officers went from one town to another, and took their tents along with them.

Of Mr. Smith who has gone through all of these exciting, yet interesting experiences, it may be stated that he has always been a hard worker and close student and much credit should here be awarded him for his manly fight in securing both county seat and railway at Cordell, which place he has helped to build up, both with his brains and money. In his legal work, he has had many a hard fought battle filed in the courts where he has ever had his full share of both civil and criminal cases. In murder cases he has succeeded in not having a single man hanged. All this has been accomplished since he was twenty five years of age, at which time he left his father's home to seek a fortune and a place of honor among his fellow countrymen.

He was united happily in marriage to Miss Lissie De Shazo, of French descent, born in 1860, in Arkansas, a daughter of Benjamin F. and Nancy (Frasier) De Shazo. Her father was from Tennessee and the mother from Arkansas, in which state they were married. The father was a mechanic, which occupation he followed up to the Civil war, when he enlisted and went to the front. Once he was made a prisoner of war, served in prison a long time and upon being exchanged joined his old command and served on until the conflict had ended. He was a worthy member of the Masonic fraternity. Both he and his faithful companion died in Arkansas. Their children were as follows: Lissie, wife of Mr. Smith, of this biography; Alice, Mrs. S. B. Mitchell; W. W., a practical school teacher; Mattie, Mrs. B. Stroud; Jesse, a farmer; Effie, Mrs. Carl.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are the parents of these children: Ira J. born November, 1880; Ernest O., born September, 1884; Ralph D., born January, 1886. Mr. Smith and his estimable wife are both exemplary members of the Methodist Episcopal church.

Source: Hill, Luther. A History of the State of Oklahoma, Volume II. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1908, 528-530.

Contributed by Marti Graham, August 2003. Information posted as courtesy to researchers. The contributor is not related to nor researching any of the families mentioned.



 

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