Posted By: Linda Danielson (email)
Date: 1/20/2012 at 10:54:01
Iowa City Press-Citizen, Iowa City, Iowa, March 2, 1950 -- page 4
A FACT A DAY ABOUT IOWA CITY
BOB SMYTH, PIONEER
One of the numerous Johnson county pioneer farmers who "began life", in the sense of starting his bread-wining career, practically penniless, and whose ladder to the top rung of success was clambered through honest toil and conservative thrift, was a true son of the Emerald Isle.
Reference is to Robert Smyth, who was born 126 years ago, in County Down, Ireland, almost in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains, a county famous for its fine fabrics, strong horses, and mineral springs, among a host of other exports; and whose shores are kissed by the Irish Sea.
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Smyth, who were Methodist septuagenarians, when they passed away long years ago. Reared on the parental farm, and educated in the best schools available, all things considered, he left the land of his birth in 1850, when 27 years old.
Typical of his time, the ocean steamer, whereon he sailed the bounding blue Atlantic gave him no 6-day voyage. It was nearer to six weeks.
He first resided in Ohio, but came to the Hawkeye domain when it was newly a member of the sisterhood of states, arriving in 1852. After two years residence near Fort Madison, he removed from Lee county to Johnson.
Here he duly located on a Big Grove farm, which he purchased with the small savings he had accumulated through industry, after his earlier dollarlessness. There he converted an unimproved tract into a good farm, the harbinger of his ultimate ownership of nearly 300 acres of high-class acreage.
When he started on the way to his acquisition of a modest fortune, he was surrounded by few neighbors and many wild animals. Wolves were many, to represent potential perils.
Indians were not of the "warpath" kind, but were not brothers of the young Irishman, and were likewise potential foes, until time and good relations assured the pioneer of safety.
His experiences were those of the true Iowa pioneer, in a way, although of course, the farmers of the first lustrum of the 1850's were not as far from modernity as those of the settlers who faced the trials and tribulations of the county's first comers, in the late '30's and early '40's.
A good hunter, he proved his nimrodic skill, by using his gun to secure venison and other wild food. Deer were exceptionally plentiful.
His first prairie-breaking experiences here were behind a 30-inch plow. He was one of the first men of his time to break ground for the mid-century pioneers of Johnson county.
Likewise, he followed the trade of the world's most famous rail-splitter, although he did not enter the realm of politics or statesmanship, with the presidency in view.
For that matter, neither did Abraham Lincoln, despite the American tradition that any poor boy, rail-splitter or farmhand may become president. To all overtures to enter the political arena, Mr. Smyth's slogan, in reply, was always the same: "No, thank you. You run for office. I'm a farmer."
As to his labors in the "primeval forests", countless fences of indeterminate length (if "laid end to end") were built from the trees hewed by "Bob" Smyth, and the rails he split, nearly a century ago.
To procure his first farm land, above noted, Mr. Smyth worked on farms by the month, and the limited income he thereby secured minus his modes living expenses, covered the cost of the land - $2.75 and acre. There came a day when such land was marketable with the decimal point removed.
His modern home (built in 1890) was one of the finest in Big Grove township. Mr. Smyth wed Miss Elizabeth Robacher, who came to America when a girl, from her native land, Germany. Twelve children were born to the couple, seven daughters and five sons.
Mrs. Smyth's parents, in their earlier years, were Presbyterians. While Robert Smyth's success was not political or professional, it was typical of the best traditions in America, in respect to selfmade men. -- J.E.R.
Johnson Biographies maintained by Cindy Booth Maher.
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