James Frank Smith, seventh child and second son of Stephen Shields Smith and Matilda Lucille Bower of Ashland County, Ohio, was born September 2, 1877, near Pontiac, Illinois. In 1885, he came to Comanche County with his family from Hayesville, Ohio. They settled in Valley township, near the Cimarron River.
J. Frank was an industrous and active person. Herding cattle along the Cimarron with his sisters was an almost daily chore that he never seemed to tire of. Their Mother assigned them scriptures and poetry to memorize everyday. She had been a schoolteacher in Ohio. Her sister Ruth became an expert in riding a horse bareback, standing up and swinging a lariat. One day she roped a mountain lion that was stalking their herd.
In the spring of 1891, a neighbor stopped by the Smith's around noon and mentioned that another neighbor, the Shermans, had been seen around midnite on Bluff Creek, floating downstream on their roof of their house. The Smith's found the Shermans caught on some debris where the Bluff Creek empties into the Cimarron River. J. Frank was sent into the water with a rope around his waist and leading a horse in order to help the Joe Shermans from their raft in the water. It took several entries into the murky and swirling water to rescue this cold and very uncomfortable family of eleven. Six were children, all under the age of 6, and a grandmother over eighty. The family was taken to the Stephen Smith and A. H. Baker homes for food and dry clothing. The community was so enraged at this man named Jeffreys, who didn't get help for the Shermans sooner, he finally left the country.
When Stephen and Matilda moved on to Oklahoma, J. Frank, Ethel, Hester and Blanche stayed in this county. They had a cow, a calf, a team of horses, a colt, wagon and their personal possessions. With the assistance of Jake Younkers, J. Frank managed to sustain the family by helping care for the livestock, hauling ice, salt and breaking sod. Later, they moved to Coldwater. He was janitor for the Methodist and Presbysterian churches and took turns ringing the bells at the churches every Sunday.
He became good friends with the Tandy and Frank Emerson familes. After the Tandy house burned, resulting in the death of Mr. and Mrs. Tandy, Enid and James came to make their home with the Smiths, until they were old enough to establish their own homes. Winnie Lou has expressed the loving concern our father extended to her, as she was recovering from her burns. J. Frank came and sang songs, recited poems and rocked her after his day in the field. Mrs. Frank Emerson was an Aunt to the Tandy children and took care of the girls.
While breaking sod and working on the farm for Harry Allderice, on what is now the Mabel Robinson place north of Coldwater, J. Frank purchased land from F. A. McKinney and started improving his own land.
J. Frank was always proud of the part he played in grading roads in the county and on the road to Kinsley that the Cannonball Green Stage used. The Kiowa County History book has his life story in Kiowa County.
By the Family of J. Frank Smith
Comanche County History, page 683, published by the Comanche County Historical Society, Coldwater, Kansas, 1981.
COMANCHE COUNTY'S GREATEST FLOOD The Western Star, May 23, 1891.
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