SMITH, Alexander (1836-1927)
Posted By: Karon Velau (email)
Date: 9/6/2020 at 23:49:04
Rev. Alexander Ewing Smith
(October 19, 1836 - August 17, 1927)
Ida County Pioneer, Ida Grove, Iowa, Wed., Feb 11, 1925, p.1&3
Came to Northwest Iowa When Indians Were Thick
Rev. Alexander Ewing Smith of Ida Grove could make a very interesting contribution to the history of northwester Iowa, if he would write a narrative of his early experience in Woodbury and Ida County in the days before the railroads came and when the Indian was as common as flivers nowadays. This grand old man of Iowa Presbyterian was born October 19,1836 on a farm near Bloomfield, Jefferson County, Ohio, and was named after his maternal grandfather Alexander Ewing, a scotchman. Rev. Mr. Smith is therefore in his 89th year. When he was a year old, his father moved upon a farm two miles west of Warsaw in Coshocton County, Ohio. When the boy was ten, his mother died and three years later the father followed her, his death being due to typhoid fever. Commencing at 14 years of age, young Smith worked on a farm, hiring out for two summers of seven months each, for which work he received $8.00 a month. In the winter he went to a log school and thus he worked himself through the elementary branches. Two or three years later he started into the little academy at West Bedford, the same county, where he received a terms instruction, then went out and taught some more. In 1856 he entered Oberlin college for a years work then went to the academy at West Carlisle, not far from his home. Next he attended Vermillion Institute an old institution at Hayesville in Ashland County. In 1861, he entered Washington College (now Washington & Jefferson University) at Washington PA. He graduated in 1863 and then entered Western Theological Seminary at Allegheny, PA where he completed the course in 1866.
About this time, the claims of the West were brought to his attention and he was urged to go to Sioux City, Iowa, to preach, the town being a place of 500-600 people, straggling over the hills. He accepted the invitation and came west the same year. The new minister made the acquaintance of a certain elder in his church and learned the charms of his niece, a certain Miss Jennie C. Dougall, who lived back in New York State. The young people began corresponding and before long the minister decided that he needed the help of a wife in his work on the frontier. Late in the fall of 1867 he went back East to be married.At that time, the nearest railroad was at Missouri Valley, although work of extending the Sioux City & Pacific northward from that point had to take the stage. The equipage, drawn by four horses, was picking its way through the hills in the present outskirts of Sioux City when the steeds took fright and suddenly bolted down the steep road. The driver jumped for the brake, but missed it and it pitched from the reeling coach. The horses ran until the stage came to a stop lying on its side against the bank. Mr. Smith says the passengers were rough characters and in the scramble for safety, from the upturned door of the stage, the other fellows used him as a stepping stone and jumped to safety, leaving him to get out last. The injured driver was carried in a blanket to the nearest cabin.
Rev. & Mrs. Smith and Miss Dougall were married at her home in Ft. Edward, NY on January 2,1868 and soon returned to Sioux City. By this time the railway had been extended as far North as Salix, 24 miles from Sioux City and the rest of the way still had to be made by stage. A few months later, Mrs. Smith stood at her back door and saw the first train near Sioux City. Indians were plentiful in those days, most Winnebagoes who visited the settlements in great numbers. They were afraid of the warlike Sioux, however, and whenever a party of the Sioux came to town the Winnebagoes vanished from the streets like magic and remained in hiding until the Sioux had departed. Mrs. Smith says that the Indians used to walk boldly into the houses and would steal anything they could lay their hands upon. Wearing their noiseless moccasins, they would slip into a house and the owner would be unaware of their presence until he turned around and confronted them. To prevent these intruder from coming in unannounced, Mrs. Smith soon got to locking her door, while engaged in household chores. Rev. Mr. Smith had many experiences of an exciting nature. He preached over a radius of five of six miles from Sioux City and frequently held services at Dakota City, NE. On one occasion he started across the frozen Missouri River. The trail led across the ice at one point above the town, but Mr. Smith in his ignorance did not know this and drove his pony straight over the ice to the westward. In the middle, he encountered a freshly frozen place, where the ice was clear and glass-like and the pony lost its footing and began to slide down river, being driven by the heavy wind. Here and there were thinly frozen riffles and Mrs. Smith expected every moment to get a ducking, but finally he and his steed drifted to shore. Then they found that the banks were very steep and couldn’t be climbed, but the minister would not go back over the ice and kept on searching until finally he found a place to get up. Then , in a little while, in the timber, he met a large band of Indians and they eyed him and his pony and he concluded that there was nothing after all to prevent them from taking the animal, especially as it bore an Indian brand. Finally, one of the stuck out his hand and said, “How, How” and Smith knew that he was not to be molested. While living at Sioux City, the Smiths saw the total eclipse of the sun in 1869.
They left Sioux City February 14,1870 and went back to Warrensburg, NY, in the Adirondacks, five miles from Lake George. They lived there 6 years, then moved to Oneida County for a period of 2 years. Finally the urge of the west began to grow upon Rev. & Mrs. Smith and he prepared a return. He landed in Ida Grove in January 1878, a few months after the first train had been run into the town. His wife followed him in March. there were no houses to be had in the now thriving little town, and so Mr. Smith made preparations to build a new home of his own, on the site where he still resides. He built a large share of this dwelling himself and was four years completing it. As soon as the first part of the house was done and two rooms had been enclosed he sent for his wife.
Rev. Mr. Smith assisted in building the Presbyterian Church in Ida Grove and was its pastor for ten years. Subsequently he served three year as synodical missionary in northwest Iowa. He preached about a ear in Lanney’s Hall in Ida Grove and frequently served the Battle Creek congregation which at that time was worship in a school house, a short distance west of that town. It was his custom to walk to Battle Creek in the afternoon and walk back at nigh along the railway tracks. Many times, he was followed at a distance by timber wolves and he remembers one occasion when they seemed particularly hungry and bold and fairly snapped at his heels. he took off his big fur cap and flourishing it in their direction causing them to stop momentarily, but when ever he turned around they moved up closer and closer again, “I began to fear that I would never get back to Ida Grove that night and it was a great relief when I finally saw the houses of the town,” he says. Rev. Mr. Smith has married over 250 couples in Ida Grove and in many families he has officiated at two generations of weddings. For many years he kept a record book containing the names of all the blushing couples whom he had spliced and a glance at its pages would reveal the names of many a staid citizen and matron of today.
He was principal of the Ida Grove public schools in 18777 and 1878. Rev. & Mrs. Smith have one son, W.A. Smith of Omaha, and one grandson, who is now a student at Shattuck Military School at Fairbault, MN. In 1917 Mr. Smith met with an accident and it was feared for several weeks that he would never walk again. He was standing at the Ida Grove railway station and at this time, a bunch of volunteer soldiers were encamped here. Two of them were racing the platform and were coming so fast that they were unable to stop, when Mr. Smith appeared in their path. One young man stepped upon his ankle and dragged him eight or ten feet, before coming to a stop. The ankle bone was broken and for nearly town months Mr. Smith was confined to his bed. However, He made a good recovery and is now able to mow his lawn and make his garden, although his limb will always be stiff. Rev. & Mrs. Smith takes great pride in his large lawn and garden, where he has spent a great deal of time every season and he fully expects to conduct it again this year. “I can’t get along without work” or “I wouldn’t feel good” is his simple explanation how he has been able to carry on for almost twenty years beyond the Scriptural allotment.
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