biography from Portrait & Biographical Album of Mahaska Co., Iowa, 1887
HON. WILLIAM T. SMITH, attorney at law and Postmaster at Oskaloosa, is a man well and favorably known, not only throughout Mahaska County, but throughout the State. He is a native of Pennsylvania, born May 28, 1824, and is the son of Christopher S. and Margaret (Thompson) Smith, the father a native of Delaware and the mother of Pennsylvania. While yet a lad the family moved to Ohio, locating first at Dayton, and moving thence to Xenia. His father had been in fair circumstances while in Pennsylvania, but lost heavily in assisting others. During his boyhood days young Smith attended the select school of Thomas Steele several years, working in the summer on a farm or in town, as he could find work to do. At the age of sixteen he commenced teaching a district school, and continued teaching, mostly in winter, and attending school or reading law in the summer, until July 31, 1847, when, on examination by the Supreme Court of Ohio, at Defiance, he was admitted to practice as an attorney and counselor at law in any of the courts of that State. On the 18th day of September, 1847, with but $35 in his pocket, with but few clothes, and not supposing that he knew a single individual in Iowa, our subject started for the Hawkeye State. Descending the Ohio, thence up the Mississippi to Burlington, he was there, on motion of J. C. Hall, admitted to the Iowa bar. During the following winter, he taught a term of school near Fairfield, and in the spring of 1848 came to Mahaska County, locating at Oskaloosa, where, on the 10th of March, he formed a law partnership with W. H. Seevers. As neither of these gentlemen had law books or money, Mr. Smith went to Burlington and purchased $100 worth of books from J. Fox Abrams on time, after making a plain statement of his financial condition, prospects, etc. He was forced in the same way to secure credit for his board bill. But brighter days were ahead. At the annual election in August, 1848, Mr. Smith was elected County Prosecuting Attorney, which office he filled for two years. During the summer of 1849 Mr. Smith visited Ohio, and while there was united in marriage, on the 29th day of June, with Miss Magdalene Shannon, of Greene County, that State. This was a fortunate step, Mrs. Smith being to him truly a helpmeet. Eight children have been born to them, five of whom died in infancy. The living are Laura M., wife of Byron V. Seevers; Omer C., who married Miss Lizzie Cutts, Dec. 31, 1885, and Lua L. On the dissolution of the partnership with Judge Seevers, May 17, 1852, Mr. Smith associated with Judge Loughridge in legal practice. This partnership closed within one year, when Mr. Smith and M. T. Williams formed a partnership in the law and real-estate business, to which was added banking, the firm of Smith & Williams opening the first bank in Oskaloosa, March 1, 1855. This partnership continued until Jan. 1, 1857, when Mr. Smith became sole proprietor of the bank, and continued business, under the style of William T. Smith & Co. From this time, for about ten years, Mr. S. was one of the leading bankers of Central Iowa. In 1858 the State Bank of Iowa was organized, and Mr. Smith was elected Vice President of the same, and as such was Chairman of the executive committee of which Hon. S. J. Kirkwood, afterward Iowa's War Governor, and Hon. Hiram Price, subsequently a Member of Congress were the other members. When the Oskaloosa branch of the State Bank was organized, Mr. Smith was its first Cashier, and subsequently President of the same, controlling a majority of the stock. This bank, in 1864, was changed to the National State Bank of Oskaloosa, of which Mr. Smith was President until he sold his stock in consequence of poor health, resulting from overwork. While in active practice as an attorney Mr. Smith acquired quite a reputation in the line of mercantile collections, then a very considerable and profitable business in Iowa. To avoid the throwing away of business of this kind, which frequently offered itself, Mr. Smith became a member of the firm of Smith, Rice & Myers, the latter gentlemen attending to the collection business. The firm was dissolved April 1, 1859, Gen. E. W. Price buying out the business. In the spring of 1856 the Iowa Insurance Company was organized, and Mr. Smith was elected its President, which position he held during the existence of the company. In every railroad project in Mahaska County he has taken an active interest, giving of his time and means to secure their location here. For two years he was President of the Central Iowa, and to his efforts the success of the work is greatly due. The cause of public education has found in William T. Smith a true friend. For years a member of the School Board, and as its President several terms, he rendered valuable aid in setting in motion those things that have greatly advanced the educational interests of Oskaloosa. Many improvements in buildings and methods of school work were made at his suggestion. He was a large subscriber to the Oskaloosa College, and in the contest made for securing its location at Oskaloosa by the church controlling it, took an active part, and was the author of the proposition made in the convention securing such location. As a land-owner, agriculturist and citizen, Mr. Smith has taken great interest in Mahaska County fairs, having been intimately connected with every association of the kind from the first inception to the present time, as exhibitor, contributor, stoek. holder, Director and President. He was also Chairman of the Finance Committee of the State Agricultural Society for some years, and by his wise financiering and counsels contributed much to its welfare. In January, 1888, he was elected President of the State Agricultural Society by an unanimous vote, and re-elected in 1884 and 1885. While in this position, he was not a mere figure head, as is so often the case with those occupying similar positions, but was an ardent and an enthusiastic worker, and during his administration the society had a veritable boom, the annual fairs proving a grand success. On one day of the fair held in 1883 there were 60,000 people upon the ground, and during the week the fair receipts amounted to over $43,000. Mr. Smith was one of the first to advocate a permanent home for the society, and while others had but little faith in the success of the undertaking, he went before the Legislature at its session in the winter of 1883-84 and secured an appropriation of $50,000 to purchase and fit up permanent fair grounds. From the citizens of that city and from the railroad companies operating lines to the place, he secured subscriptions amounting to $56,000. With this 260 acres of land were purchased, which have been fitted up in the best manner for the society's use. Politically Mr. Smith has always been a Democrat, and notwithstanding he lives in a city in which a large majority was opposed to him politically, he has been four times elected to the office of Mayor, three times without opposition. He was the first Mayor of the city, elected in 1853. He was again elected in 1856, 1857 and 1872. This is evidence that he was held in high esteem by those who knew him best, and shows, too, that the people of Oskaloosa appreciated his worth as a citizen, one willing to do all in his power to advance the interests of the city. At the outbreak of the war for the Union, Mr. Smith believing that the South should seek redress and assert its rights under the Constitution and in the Union, was among the first at a public meeting held in Union Hall, in Oskaloosa, to Announce himself in favor of coercion, and was active in all movements in Mahaska County on the side of the Union. That his efforts were appreciated by one man outside of Mahaska County, will be seen by the letter which follows. In 1870, much against his will, Mr. Smith was made a candidate for Congress in the old Fourth District, of which Mahaska County then formed a part. The nomination was unanimously made, and although the district was overwhelmingly Republican, the race was made. To set at rest any charges that might be made by the opposition of his loyalty to the Union in the time of its darkest trials, Mr. Smith wrote a letter to ex-Gov. Kirkwood, Iowa's War Governor, asking him to state what he knew of his actions in that period. The following was the Governor's reply: IOWA CITY, Aug. 20, 1870. WILLIAM T. SMITH, Esq., Oskaloosa, Iowa: Dear Sir: - Your letter of the 25th inst., asking me for a statement relative to your course during the late war between the United States and the so-called Southern Confederacy, so far as the same came under my observation, during my term of office as Governor, has just been received, and I very cheerfully comply with your request. It is well known to some, but may not be known to all the people of our State, that those who were charged with the duty of placing in the field the troops called for from this State, labored under very serious embarrassments during the first few months of the war. There was not any difficulty in raising the men. They came by thousands when only hundreds were called for. The difficulty was in raising money to organize them and put them in the field. The United States could not then furnish the money, and there was not any money in the State Treasury. At the extra session (May, 1861), our State Legislature authorized the issuance and sale of the bonds of the State, and several weeks must necessarily elapse before tbe bonds could be prepared and offered for sale in the way provided by law. In the meantime more troops were called for and more money was needed for their organization. The validity of the bonds of the State was attacked both in our own State and in New York, on the grounds that the Legislature had not the power to authorize their issue, thus injuring their credit and of course lessening the chances of their sale. In this emergency an appeal was made to certain Citizens of the State who had or could control money, amongst others, you. That appeal was promptly responded to by you and by others. You at once took my personal draft for about $5,000, and advanced me the money. You, also, at my suggestion, advanced about $2,000 to other persons to meet the expenses of organizing certain troops, and afterward took about6 $18,000 of our State bonds at the highest price at which any of them were sold, and when they were wholly unsaleable in New York. In short, you were one of a few men through whose liberality and patriotism the State was enabled, in the early part of the war, to achieve for itself at home its reputation of "always ready," which throughout the war it so well maintained at home and in the field, and during my term of office I believed and acted upon my belief, that you steadily maintained throughout the war the stand you took at its commencement. You and I belong to different political parties, but I must wholly lose my self-respect before I can, for political or any other consideration, refuse to do justice to one who encouraged and aided me at a time of public peril, when I so much needed encouragement and aid. Very respectfully, S. J. KIRKWOOD. Notwithstanding Judge Loughridge had been elected over John P. Irish, two years previously, by a majority of 7,300, Mr. Walden's majority was reduced to 4,122, another evidence of the popularity of the subject of this sketch. For many years Mr. Smith, in addition to his other labors, carried on an extensive farm, giving his attention more especially to stock-raising. At present he is doing but little in this direction. Having lived to see his party once more come into power, he has received the appointment of Postmaster of Oskaloosa, and is at present giving his personal attention to the duties of that office. That he will make a popular officer is unquestioned. He has heretofore been tried by the city of his choice and never found wanting. This appointment came to him unsolicited, and was brought about in a peculiar manner. When President Cleveland came into office, it was desired by many that the new Commissioner of Agriculture should be a Western man. Mr. Smith, who was then a member and President of the State Board of Agriculture of Iowa, proposed to the Board that it recommend Hon. D. W. Smith, of Illinois, for that position. This the Board declined to do, stating it had a man in view from its own State in the person of William T. Smith, of Oskaloosa, whom it proposed to recommend for the position. Mr. Smith urged them not to do so, assuring them that he did not desire the office, but while temporarily called from the room, the Board passed a very flattering resolution urging his nomination by President Cleveland. The following is the resolution: Resolved, That we, the Board of Directors of the Iowa State Agricultural Society, believe that the man to fill the office of Commissioner of Agriculture should be selected from the great West, and as no State stands higher in intelligent, broad and practical agriculture than Iowa, we are of opinion that the coming administration could do no better than to come to our State to select the man to fill that office, and we most cheerfully and unanimously recommend Hon. William T. Smith, of Oskaloosa, as a suitable gentleman for that position. Mr. Smith is a man of large and varied experience in the practical affairs of life, and no man is better acquainted with the wants of the great agricultural nation than he. He has been a resident of the State a third of a century, and has been largely interested and engaged in developing its various resources. His methodical way in doing business, learned from some years of experience in the banking business in the earlier years of the State; his efficient work in securing to this part of the State its present large railroad facilities; his great aid rendered to the coal interests; his intimate knowledge of the farm and stock interest, in which he has been engaged many years, and which has been demonstrated in the improvement in the different kinds of live stock which he has from time to time owned and introduced, all point to and assure his capacity for the position at the head of this leading industry of the nation. In addition, the people of this State have not been slow to recognize his worth, as he was retained eight years as Chairman of the Finance Committee of this Board, afterward, during some years a leading and influential Director, and is now serving his third term as President, to which office he was elected three several times without a dissenting vote, and under his administration our society has made greater progress than at any period in its history, and assured a position superior to that of any State Agricultural Society in the Union. Being thus strongly backed, by the State Board, and with other recommendations, Mr. Smith went to Washington, where his case was laid before the President by the Iowa Democratic delegation in Congress, and others. There is but little doubt that the President had fully made up his mind to give him the appointment, but through the persistent urging of Senators Vest and Cockerill, of Missouri, he changed his mind and gave it to one of their constituents. If Iowa had had one Democratic Senator, Mr. Smith would have secured the position. Some months after this there were several applicants for the Oskaloosa post-office, their claims being strongly urged by friends. The President was at a loss to know whom to appoint, not caring to offend friends of either applicant, whose claims seemed to be equally balanced. In his dilemma he said to one of the Iowa Members of Congress: "Where is that man Smith, who was so higbly recommended for Commissioner of Agriculture? He is from Oskaloosa, is he not?" When assured that he was, he said, "I will appoint him," and the appointment was made, as much to the surprise of Mr. Smith as any one else, as he had never thought of the position. William T. Smith is a man of sanguine temperament, is strong in his likes and dislikes, warm in his friendship, one ever ready to lend a helping hand to those in distress, and help them to help themselves. Esteemed alike by; political friends and foes, he will ever continue to enjoy their friendship and confidence. The world is better that such men live in and wield an influence in all its affairs. The publishers are well pleased to present the portrait of Mr. Smith to the readers of this ALBUM, knowing that it will be appreciated by one and all, and that no one is more entitled to the honor of representation in its pages.
Portrait & Biographical Album of Mahaska Co., Iowa, 1887
Mahaska County, Iowa Genealogy