Saturday, December 3, 2011

Smith Clan Reunion Calendar 2012

Hi folks,

The Smith Clan Reunion Calendar for 2012 is now posted here. Click on the Calendar photo to go to the individual months.

Please Help Identify this School

This is an old school house near Turner Bend in Franklin County, Arkansas. Do any of you know its history? This wonderful photograph was sent to me by a woman who is interested in knowing more about the building, whether it was once a Cass school, when it was built, when it was last used as a school, and what its use is now. I'm hoping someone out there is familiar with this lovely old building with its stone foundation and fence. Write me at if you can help.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Elias Russell in 1958 Article about Old Gold Mine.

Is There Gold Near Cass?

A long-ago search for hidden treasure in Franklin county was fruitless but gave rise to some questions still unanswered.
Only another prospector, with mining in his blood and money to invest in an abandoned mine, is all that is needed to start a new gold rush in the mountains near Cass.
Now a ghost town, Cass was a flourishing lumbering center when interest was aroused over a Spanish legend, near the turn of the century.

(Caption under Elias' photo reads: "Mr. Russell who protected Mexican Charley from the mob, was deputy sheriff 22 years. He once hauled nine men 17 miles in his wagon to jail and two others being sent to the penitentiary.)

According to the legend, Spaniards prospecting for gold during the Civil War feared bushwhackers and hid a large number of gold bars and a huge gold cross in a partitioned room underground, somewhere in the mountains. Strange markings high up on an overhanging ledge and a deposit of a peculiarly red earth underneath the ledge, were said to indicate the location.

Dr. Tobe Hill, then a practicing physician at Mulberry Station, now Mulberry, 30 miles south, became so interested in the legend that he quit his practice and devoted 20 years and a tidy fortune, searching for the gold.

Floyd Turner, 72, who was born and reared on 160 acres where the mining claim was staked, said his grandfather, George Turner, first owned the land. He went to war and never came back. Then his father George Washington Turner, bought the interests of the other heirs and sold the land to Dr. Hill for $750.

Dr. Hill visited mining centers in the West looking for someone who could read the strange markings and brought back a man, part Pueblo Indian and part Mexican, known as “Mexican Charley.” Charley said he could read the markings and locate the gold by a much worn blueprint he brought with him. He was placed in charge of the mining crew. When news about Mexican Charley and his blueprint spread, it became necessary to emply men with guns to keep the crowds of people back so he and the miners could work.

The country went wild with excitement when Mexican Charley announced he had located the cap rock, that it would be raised on a certain day and that everyone present could look down upon the gold. A hurried trip was made to Little Rock to arrange for delivery of the escheatage to the state and to obtain police protection in handling the gold.

When the day came to lift the cap rock, the cove was filled with an immense, expectant and excited throng that milled about for hours, waiting for Charley to appear. But Charley was not to be seen by them that day. Prewarned of the possible danger that might result from a deception, he remained in hiding. Before the day ended, it became necessary to give Charley official protection when the angry crowd began calling for him to mob him. He was given orders the following day to leave the country and never return.

Later, a man, Joseph Palmer, who said he could locate the gold by witching, came to the mine. To test Palmer’s powers, some coins were hidden, and he was asked to find them. His witching rod was a three-pronged peach tree switch. He slit each prong near the end and placed a silver coin in one slit, a gold coin in another and a copper coin in the third. He held the switch in his hand, with coins level, as he walked about the grounds. He finally found the coins but said the switch pulled harder toward the mine. He wanted to witch over the mine but was not permitted.

Dr. Hill paid big wages for laborers to work in the mine – as much as $5 a day in that time when wages were low – and kept six to 30 men working, eight hours every day, for many years. He died believing the buried treasure he had not found was still somewhere in the earth.

His Lonquil Mining Co., it was said, sold at least 232 shares of stock at prices ranging from $25 to $100 a share, to people in Ft. Smith and other towns in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. J. L. Henson and J. H. Johnson, both of Ft. Smith, were president and secretary of the company.

Following Dr. Hill’s death and the failure of the mining company, interest in the mine lulled for a time. But through the years an occasional prospector had drifted in and started operations again.

The last to own and operate the mine were G. W. Glaze and his wife, from Salt Lake City. He was a prospector and artist-sign painter. Both he and his wife mined for the gold. Mrs. Glaze died in their cabin near the mine, from a heart attack, about three years ago. Soon after her death, Mr. Glaze left as suddenly as he had appeared, apparently abandoning everything, and has not been heard from since.

Mrs. Sarah Arbuckle, a widow at Cass, who lived near the mine when her husband worked there has vivid recollections of the mining boom and events that took place. “I knew Marion Hammond, George Martin and John Morehead who dug for gold many years – until they died, also a man named Douglas who burned to death in a house near the mine, and Charley Austin who was accused of squandering some of the mining company’s money, pleaded insanity and still lives somewhere back in the mountain,” she said.

Mrs. Arbuckle owns a share of the mining stock. “But never got anything out of it,” she declared. Her idea about the whole thing is: “When interest in the legend ran high and they started mining ore was brought from Joplin, Mo, and hidden in the dirt. That fired the works.”

Elias Russell, still active at 85, has lived within three miles of the mine all his life. He hauled lumber from his sawmill to the mine and was deputy sheriff 22 years during the mining operation. It was Mr. Russell who protected Mexican Charley from the hands of the mob. “Interest in the mine was high here and everywhere then,” he said. “Women, as far away as Dallas, Tex. Sold their feather beds for money to buy the mining stock, and lots of people would buy it again if it got started again. I always thought the place was just an old Indian village site and what they found were Indian bones and trinkets.”

The mine is in a picturesque, timbered, rock-strewn cove, walled in by mountains. The cove is, roughly, a quarter of a mile long and 200 years wide, with overhanging ledges and perpendicular cliffs, 50 feet high in places, on either side. Sparkling Cove Creek cascades down a gulch between the mountains and flows into nearby Mulberry river.

Seven tunnels, on both the north and the south sides of the cove, large enough for the small donkey-drawn cars on which the dirt was hauled out over narrow gauge tracks, extend far back underground from the bases of the cliffs. Some of these tunnels are filled with muddy water, while others have become springs. One is 20 feet deep.

While the old mine is seldom talked about any more by anyone in the locality, certain questions lie dormant in the minds of many old-timers who witnessed or were a part of the prolonged search for the gold. The strange markings high up on the ledge, the witching rod that pulls toward the mine, (Mrs. Arbuckle said: “I saw it pulling”, Charley’s blueprint and the origin of the legend itself, have never been explained to their full satisfaction.

Many thanks to Robert Myers for providing this 1958 magazine article, written by Steele T. Kennedy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Today is the Big Day!

Today our Smith Clan is gathered over in Moffat County, Colorado, north and west of Maybell at a location best known as Bear Valley. Between approx. 1915 and 1923 several families of our relatives from Oklahoma and Texas homesteaded in that high, barren ground of northwestern Colorado but after a series of tragic deaths and failure to thrive in that remote and arid land the family packed up their homemade covered wagon and with the older children driving the cattle horseback set out to cross the Continental Divide in late fall of 1923. They all made it through the snow and cold to settle in Purcell, Colorado, now a prairie ghost town and never much more than that.

The survivors and descendants of that rugged band of pioneers are visiting the old homesteads and erecting signs with names and dates of the ones who lived and died there so that in years to come the grandchildren and great grandchildren will find it easy to locate those tracts of land in that uninhabited valley where dinosaurs once roamed. Yes, this land is just east of Dinosaur National Monument and south of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and adjacent to that infamous Browns Park, Colorado where outlaws once holed up from the law.

But most tourists who visit those three famous sites will never know of Bear Valley, also known as Bare Valley, and rightly so. It's off the beaten trail, privately owned land with unpaved roads and no trees in sight. But it means a great deal to those of us whose grandparents and great-grandparents took their hopes and dreams up there only to come away beaten and heartbroken after leaving three of their own buried at the little cemetery in Craig.

My thoughts are with you today, my Smith Clan relatives who made the big trek to Bear Valley today. May the good weather hold, your tires stay aired, and the click, click, click of cameras echo through the valley.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Those Damned Smiths!

On the surface there doesn't seem to be much similarity between my husband and me and our backgrounds. He's a Colorado boy, son of a farmer with roots firmly anchored in one place, eastern Colorado. I, on the other hand, grew up in Illinois and moved from place to place throughout my childhood, rarely attending the same school two years in a row. But we do have one interesting thing in common - both of us had mothers whose maiden name was Smith.

We have never found that we have a common ancestor in the Smith lines, so it's not like we're cousins. His Smiths are from Oklahoma and Texas whereas mine are from Illinois and Kentucky. But we have discovered that both of our Smith families were the objects of scorn and put-down by their spouses.

Bob grew up hearing his father cast aspersions on his wife's family, criticizing their lifestyle of coffee drinking, card playing, and cigarette smoking. Despite his dad's attitude, Bob says his experiences with the Smith clan were always happy times and that they were fun people to be with, loved to tell jokes and laughed a lot.

My dad was also critical of his Smith in-laws, finding fault with each and every one of them. I really think Dad's hostility stemmed from his jealousy of my mother's love for her Smith family. Dad made fun of the Smiths and made them the butt of his jokes, trying to elevate his own status in the process, but I know he loved them dearly, as did each of us four kids.

So we have a little private joke between us, Bob and I, a way of acknowledging the similarity in what we heard around the dinner table as we were growing up - "those damned Smiths!" says it all.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Everyone is invited to join with the friends and descendants of William Franklin Smith and John Alvin Smith on June 17, 18, 19 for the 2011 Smith Clan Reunion. We will headquarter in Vernal, Utah. This promises to be the best reunion yet.

Join us at 6 pm on Friday, June 17 for supper at the Golden Corral in Vernal, Utah.

Join us on Saturday morning, June 18 for a pilgrimage to the old Moffat County homesteads where we will erect historical marker signs.

Join us at 6 pm on Saturday evening, June 18 for supper at the Golden Corral back in Vernal, Utah.

Join us on Sunday morning, June 19 for a visit to the ancestral graves in Craig, CO and Steamboat Springs, CO.

If you need further information, please contact Mary Simms:

By phone at 803-996-3567

By email at

By snail mail at 431 Beechwoods Dr., Lexington SC 29072

Please RSVP and let us know when to expect you. We will leave the light on for you! (To enlarge Wanted poster below click on the image.)

-JUNE 17, 18, & 19, 2011-
The friends and descendants of William Franklin Smith and John Alvin Smith will gather on June 17, 18, and 19 for the 2011 Smith Clan Reunion. We will headquarter in Vernal, Utah.
DEDICATION - This reunion is dedicated to the memory of our most common ancestors: William Franklin Smith [1865-1921], his brother, John Alvin Smith [1868-1953], and their father, Alvin Smith [1827-1868]. Without Alvin, Frank, and John, none of us would be here today. Alvin was a Texas Ranger and died when on duty. Frank participated in the great OK Land Race in 1893. He and his brother, John, homesteaded near Noble, OK in the late 1800s. Frank later homesteaded near Weatherford, OK, Sentinel, OK, and in Moffat County, CO.
  • Friday evening, June 17, 6 pm - supper at the Golden Corral in Vernal, Utah
  • Saturyday morning, June 18 - pilgramage to the old Moffat County homesteads where we will erect historical maker signs.
  • June 18, Sunday morning - trip to Steamboat Springs to visit ancestral graves in Craig and Steamboat Springs, CO
  • June 19, Sunday, about noon - lunch at Wendy's in Steamboat Springs
  • June 19, Sunday afternoon - The Smith Clan Reunion will come to a close in Steamboat Springs, CO
Vernal Airport is recognized by most online travel agencies.
Transportation - fly into Vernal Airport and rent a car, or fly into Denver Airport and rent a car and drive to Vernal, UT; or, drive your own car.
Rental Cars are available at the Vernal Airport - best to reserve a vehicle in advance. There is an Enterprise franchise along with several other non-chain car rental companies.
Lodging - The most reasonable lodging found thus far was located online through at Travelodge. Motel 6 also has good rates and a good location. There are numerous other chain motels: Day's Inn, EconoLodge, Best Western, Roadway Inn, Super 8, and Holiday Inn plus many private motels.
Food - All meals are Dutch Treat.
Friday, June 17 at 6 PM - Supper at Golden Corral in Vernal, UT - located at 1096 West Highway 40.
Saturday, June 18 at 9 AM - Pack a bag lunch plus bottled water as we will be eating our noon meal at the old Moffat County homestead site. Meet in Golden Corral parking lot at 9 AM.
Saturday, June 18 at 7 PM - Supper at the Golden Corral in Vernal
Sunday, June 19 about noon - Lunch at Wendy's in Steamboat Springs - located at 225 Angler's Drive
There are numerous fast food franchises in Vernal: Taco Bell, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, Burger King, Arby's, KFC, Blimpie, and Subway.
Homestead Pilgramage - Saturday, June 18, we will convoy approximately 43 miles from Vernal to the Moffat County homestead sites. Leave Vernal at 9 AM and spend the day erecting historical markers and locating various homesteads. Return to Vernal for supper.
Tour Guides - On Saturday, we have two excellent tour guides to help us locate the homesteads - Doris Burton and Eldon White. Both grew up in this area and are familiar with the location and history of the homesteads.
Cemetery Guides - On Saturday, Wes & Jana Brosman will serve as tour guides at the Craig Cemetery, and Bill and Beth Reynolds will serve as tour guides at Steamboat Springs Cemetery.
Weather can be a bit fickle in this region in June. It may be cool and rainy or it may be hot and dry. Be prepared for about anything.
Clothing should be cool, casual, and comfortable. Blue jeans, slacks, shorts, T-shirts, polo shirts, sports shirts, etc. - whatever you prefer. There will be no need for fancy or formal clothing. Long trousers, a hat, and hiking shoes are suggested for the homestead pilgramage.
Clan History & Photos - There will be many opportunities to look at old family photos and hear tales of what life was like over 100 years ago. Those interested in the Smith Clan history will find a treasure trove of information available at the Reunion. If you have old family photos or know any old family legends, please bring them to the Clan Reunion and share them with others. Bring your cameras, tape recorders, old photos, and your memories - or just come and look, listen, learn, and enjoy yourself.
Arrival in Vernal: When you reach your motel or other overnight facilities in or near Vernal, please phone Nancy Miller at 513-702-2692 [cell] and let her know that you have arrived. We do not want anyone to get lost and fall through a crack in the floor during the Vernal Clan Reunion!
For Further Information, please feel free to contact Nancy or Mary. We would love to hear from you. Hope to see all of you in Vernal, UT on June 17, 18 & 19, 2011.
Please RSVP to Nancy or Mary so that we will be expecting you and have the red carpet rolled out! We will leave the light on for you!
Phone Mary at 803-996-3567 [home in SC] or
Email Mary at
Phone Nancy Miller at 513-7002-2692[cell phone]
PS - If you have difficulty printing this out, please let us know and we will be happy to send a paper copy to you!

Click here to see photos of the old Bear Valley homesteads from years past, and here for recent photos taken by Bill Reynolds.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Does Anybody Still Whittle?

Several of the Russell boys were excellent whittlers, maybe all of them. This story is about two of them, Doyle and Harold, and the wooden dancing girls they whittled during the cold Colorado winters, holed up in a small frame house on the prairie awaiting spring. I know about this because my husband Bob, Doyle's son and Harold's nephew, was a young boy in that house who witnessed the creation of these little wooden dolls and watched them dance on the handsaws held between the knees of the whittlers.

Doyle and Harold were competitive when they were whittling, each with his favorite knife kept sharp as a razor blade and as pointed as a needle. They selected their raw wood carefully, probably from a supply they brought to Colorado from the old home place in Arkansas. The dancing dolls are folk toys similar to jig dolls or limberjacks, whittled into separate pieces, arms and legs jointed with tiny metal pins, and a string attached to the top of the head. Positioned over a hand saw and held by the string, the dolls dance when the saw is thumped or vibrated.

The two dolls shown above were found in an old sewing box forty years or more after they were made, the only two still in our family. Doyle and Harold whittled more than a few of these dolls during the winters of 1945 and 1946 but that wasn't all they whittled. They made sets of tiny wooden scissors, all connected to one another, long chains, balls in baskets, and puzzles, many types of puzzles. They also made arrows inside bottles, like the ships made inside bottles, and arrows stuck through small holes in a different kind of wood, leaving one to wonder how it could possibly have been done. The photograph below is a cabin Doyle made with his son, Bob, and in front of that a team of oxen pulling a sled made of corn stalks.

There was a time when all farm boys had pocket knives and knew how to use them well. The same knife that a boy used to skin a rabbit would cut strings on hay bales and slice an apple. Whittling was a way to hone his skill with a knife and express his creative nature. Nowadays boys don't carry pocket knives, at least not to school. Whittling is another lost art.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bertie Lee Russell 1902 - 1981

Bertie Lee Russell was the first of twelve children born to Elias L. Russell and his wife Addie Jane Mahaffey Russell. Born at home in Cass, Arkansas on April 22, 1902, Bertie lived a long life, did some traveling, and had interesting jobs, but never married. By the time I came into the Russell family Bertie was a stern, seventy-year-old woman with a reputation for being eccentric, mean-spirited, and old-fashioned. I know the woman was a much more interesting and intelligent person than the caricature I have in my mind based on a few family tales.

Recently I came across a small, brown notebook that once was Bertie's. It was in my father-in-law's possession until he died, tucked away with his own diaries. Most of the entries in this little notebook, recorded by Bertie between the years 1919 and 1925, were the kind of ditties young people wrote in autograph books, like this one,

"Spell as you wish
Write as you will
Send me your photo
By the next mail
B. L. R."
"A rock of salt
A rick of wood
A kiss from you would
Do me good.

And there are a few gems in this little notebook too, glimpses into the private life of Bertie as a young woman. The photo I've included in the post is a scan of the last page in the notebook and tells a little of Bertie's love life. "4, 5, 6th of Aug, 1920. First time to go with Virgil Morgan of Mulberry, Ark.
Nov 11, 1923. first time to go with Rev John L. Isaacs lasted to Nov 20th 1925"

There are other entries about men she dated and a few about memorable events in and around Cass and Ozark, Arkansas such at this one:

"December 7, 1919 The school house at Cass burned Sunday morning at 4 o'clock, having had only one week of school. Much was the loss of books and lodge tools or emblems - had plenty of black boards and everything to promise a good school."

Bertie also recorded birthdates and marriage dates for her parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I know from reading some of her early entries that she was pals with her cousin Minnie Marie Mahaffey who was just two years older than she, which makes this entry especially poignant:

"Minnie Marie Mahaffey
Apr 30, 1900 - Dec 31, 1920
age 20 yrs & 8mo."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Elias and Addie Russell had daughters too

Elias Russell and his wife, Addie Jane Mahaffey Russell, had four daughters along with the eight sons shown in the stair-step photo in my last posting. The girls were Bertie Lee, born in 1902, Bonnie Sue in 1905, Nannie Elizabeth in 1908, and Nellie Mae, born in 1911. Recently I received an email from one of Bonnie Sue's great-granddaughters - what a wonderful surprise! I know so little of Bonnie Sue's life after she left home and married Robert Butner. I believe they moved to Tennessee where the Butner family was from to raise their two children. This granddaughter is hoping to find a relative who has a better copy of the family photograph I've posted here so that it can be reproduced and enlarged, suitable for framing and displaying on her wall. She has provided me with a little more information on her family than I previously had and has promised family photographs as soon as she gets her scanner fixed.
Amazingly all twelve of the children born to Elias and Addie Jane lived to adulthood and most had long, healthy lives. They were all delivered into this world by Elias' mother, Mariah Tennessee Turner Russell, or "Aunt Tenn" as she was known by many, a skilled mid-wife who was wise to the uses of herbal medicines and home remedies. She also chose the names for each of the twelve Russell children. My father-in-law, Doyle J. Russell (pictured above as the boy on the far right side in the photo), greatly admired and loved his Grandma Russell, especially the spunk and courage she showed in divorcing her husband of twenty-seven years for selling some of the land left to her by her own father, and doing so without her permission, even though this left her to bring up their twelve children without a father. At the time of her divorce the oldest child was twenty-six and the youngest was an infant, so the older children pitched in and helped their mother. Doyle felt as strongly about the love of land and the pride of land ownership as his grandmother did.