Sunday, September 20, 2015


Sarah Frances Buckhanan, my husband’s great-grandmother on his mother’s side, was born on January 1, 1864 in Bentonville, Benton County, Arkansas. What a frightening world surrounded her. The Civil War was waning but in northwestern Arkansas the Confederates, bushwackers, and Native Americans fought off Union troops who regularly ventured into Benton and Washington counties, engaging in bloody skirmishes, leaving behind bodies of locals and burnt remains of their homes. Arkansas, much like Missouri, was divided in its allegiance to either the Union or Confederate armies and fought the war internally for four long years, sacrificing thousands of men, more than a few women and children, and many buildings that housed county records, stores of food, and homes.

Sarah’s parents were John Littleton Trout Buckhanan and Elender Jane Keeling Buckhanan. Sarah was the fourth of five children born to Elender before her death at a young age, approximately thirty. Those records that were lost in the Civil War have made tracing Elender’s life a bit difficult but we believe she was born in Roane County, Tennessee between 1837 and 1838 and died between 1866 and 1870. Her burial place is unknown. She left behind five children, Mary Jane born in 1857, Margaret in 1859, John Montgomery (named after his paternal grandfather) in 1860, Sarah Frances in 1864, and George Thomas in 1866. It may well have been the birth of her last son, George, in Missouri that took the life of Elender, and perhaps her body rests there, but that is only a guess.

John Littleton Trout Buckhanan’s beginnings are not easily traced with at least one record showing him as having been born in Missouri, another Sadler, Texas, and most likely Madison County, Arkansas. His parents were John Montgomery Buckhanan and Catherine Airhart Buckhanan, both of Tennessee. Not long after his wife Elender died John L. T. married Margaret A. Copinger McGowan in St. Paul, Madison County, Arkansas. She became mother to his five children, brought to the family five children of her own from a previous marriage, and birthed three more, Harvey Henry in 1870, Hannah Tennessee in 1873, and Sherman in 1880.

In 1894, having lived in Texas for years, John was back in Madison County, Arkansas where he married his third wife, all Tennessee born. Her name was Mary Elizabeth Ferrell. On August 22, 1907, John died in Whitesboro, Grayson County, Texas at the age of seventy-three. Mary lived until May 9, 1934, and died in Gibtown, Jack County, Texas.

Back to little Sarah, known to her family as both Frances and Fannie, only a toddler when her mother died, life continued to be full of turmoil and upheaval.  At the time of the 1870 Federal Census her father’s occupation is farmer in Madison Co., Arkansas, with ten children in the household. Ten years later he is listed as a farmer in Grayson Co., Texas, with five children in the household. The Federal Census for 1890 was destroyed in a fire so we don’t know where the family was then. In 1900, John and his wife of six years, Mary Elizabeth, are living in Grayson Co, Texas with only their eighteen-year-old grandson Selmer, son of Margaret Buckhanan.

Meanwhile, Fannie married William Franklin Smith on December 24, 1887 in Grayson County, Texas when she was twenty-three. The fact Fannie didn’t marry at fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen like so many girls of the times was probably because she was needed at home to help with the younger children. Fannie’s granddaughter Rosa Ellen Fairchild Farrell wrote in her memoir this about her grandmother, “Frances Buchanan’s mother was taken from her small family while Frances was quite young. But, like the trooper she was, Frances took her mother’s place the best she could. She was a tall, slender girl with black hair, brown eyes, and high cheek bones like those of an Indian. Her mouth was set in a firm line. Because she was a cousin of Frank Smith, her ancestors were also Irish, English, and Indian. Her father was a soldier in the Civil War, later he was a cattle owner and rancher in Texas. As children, Frank and Frances were playmates; as older children, they were pals; as adults they were sweethearts. When the Buchanan children were old enough to get along without Frances, she and Frank were married.”

As Rosa Ellen mentioned, Fannie and Frank were cousins, but not quite first cousins. Frank Smith’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Buckhanan, was a sister to Fannie’s father, John Littleton Trout Buckhanan. I think that makes Fannie and Frank first cousins once removed. We’ve all heard the admonition “don’t marry your cousin.” In this case that advice should have been heeded for it seems the Buckhanans carry a gene for hearing loss, an unusual nerve deafness known as DFNA/DFNA1 hereditary hearing loss, which has continued to manifest itself in at least six subsequent generations of descendants.

Married in Grayson County Texas on Christmas Eve, 1887, Fannie and Frank moved on to Oklahoma where in 1893 they staked a homestead claim near Noble. By 1908 they sold out and followed the urging of a relative, R. E. Morris, to try their luck in the rugged mountains and valleys of Moffat County, Colorado. They packed up their meager belongings and with their family of five children moved to Bear Valley, north and west of Craig, Colorado where the railroad ended and some of their lives ended too.

I wish I could say Fannie’s life got better after her marriage and maybe for a little while it did. But when I look at the photos of the family with beautiful children who died soon after the photo was taken I see pain and hardship there. 

Their first born child, Thomas Alvin Smith, born in 1889, did live a good, long life, to age seventy-one, and he is my husband’s grandfather, my husband being Robert Doyle Russell.

The second born, William Lee, born in 1890 died within a year.(He in not in the photo to the left as he had already passed away.)

James Wesley Smith, born in 1894, was murdered at the young age of twenty-eight, the same day his father was also murdered, both over a dispute with a neighbor about a potato crop. More about that tragedy later in this story.

Their fourth son, Bennie H. was born in 1895 and died when he was eight.

Their fifth child was a daughter, Lillian Vernatta, born in 1897, lived to be seventy-four.

Ernest Franklin was born in 1902 and lived to be seventy-eight.

Rosa Jeanetta was born in 1905 and lived to be seventy-seven.

Ola Mae was born in 1906 and died three years later.

Julia Ellen was born in 1908 and lived to be seventy-five.

Of the nine babies she birthed, Fannie lost four of them, and she had a stroke at age forty-four, upon the birth of her last child, Julia. No wonder that final horrific blow to her well-being that came on October 5, 1921 when both her husband, William Franklin “Frank” Smith, and her son James Wesley “Jim” Smith were shot and killed not far from their home, sent Fannie into a tailspin, brought on another stroke and took the zest for living right out of her. She stayed in Bear Valley two more years after their deaths before she had enough money saved to retreat to the more civilized city of Oklahoma City where she lived with her daughter Lillie until the end of her life in April of 1937.

There was another tragedy in Bear Valley that affected Fannie and that was the death of her daughter-in-law, Nora Olive Jones Smith, the wife of Fannie and Frank’s oldest son, Tom.
Nora died in Craig, Colorado where she had gone to await the birth of her fourth child. Their daughter Jennie Frances Smith was born September 12, 1918 and six weeks later Nora succumbed to the virulent Flu Epidemic of 1918 that was sweeping the nation, indeed the world. Fannie and Frank took
newborn Jennie Frances, always called Frances by her family, into their home where she lived until at the age of three when her Grandpa Smith and Uncle Jim were killed. By that time Tom had remarried and Frances joined their household, not far from the home of her grandparents. Her grandmother, Fannie Smith, not only suffered the loss of her husband and son, but had to give up parenting her granddaughter and namesake, Frances Smith.

As for Fannie’s health at the time of her husband’s and son’s deaths, her granddaughter Rosa Ellen had this to say, “(Rosa Ellen has been describing the events of the day when her grandfather Frank and his son, Jim, were shot to death, from the perspective of her mother, Rosa Smith)……From her bed, Frank’s wife jumped! For days she had lain there recovering from a stroke. Her daughters tried to hold her back, but it was useless. The instinct of a wife and mother told her that Death had struck. Half way to the pasture she collapsed, from fatigue and another stroke. The girls ran to their mother and carried her to the house and put her to bed once more. Neighbor women came to help in every possible way, as soon as they heard of the tragedy. Hearts that are broken never completely heal. Mrs. Smith lay in bed for weeks, unable to move. Her thoughts were of the days she had known as Frank’s wife and Jim’s mother.”

Fannie and Frank’s older daughter Lillian Vernetta “Lillie” Smith Williams traveled from Oklahoma to Colorado to attend the funeral of her father and brother, and stayed awhile longer to care for her mother before returning to Oklahoma and her husband Floyd Williams. Nearly two years later Fannie told her family she could not spend another winter in Colorado so her newly married daughter Rosa and husband, Art Fairchild, drove Fannie and daughter Julie out of Bear Valley and down to Oklahoma City to live with Lillie. (One account says she took a train to Oklahoma.) The following year Tom Smith left the valley for good, ending the era of the Smith family in Moffat County (see for photos of that infamous trip across the Continental Divide)

Apparently Fannie’s health improved in Oklahoma for she traveled north in the summertime on several occasions to visit her family in Colorado. Frances Smith Russell wrote in her autobiography “From There to Here” about her grandmother “Grandma Smith would visit us during the summer.  She said she just couldn't take the summer heat in Oklahoma.  She divided her time between our house, and Daddy's sister Rosie, and brother Earnest.

Her visits were truly the happiest times of my life.  She still had a soft spot for me and could find a lot of little things to delight me.  She insisted on helping me with the dishes.  That was a real treat.  Since the older kids were kept busy in the fields, the washing and drying dishes was my job.  One summer while she was visiting, she and Ma pieced me a quilt top out of Mother's clothing.”

And later in her book Frances wrote this about her Grandmother Smith, “We went to Oklahoma to visit Grandma in August of 1936 (paraphrased). Grandma lived with Aunt Lillie and Uncle Floyd (Lillie’s second husband).  She had made her home with them ever since Grandpa and Uncle Jim were killed, and she moved back to Oklahoma.  She had two strokes and was partially paralyzed.  She was quite feeble and spent most of her time in her easy chair.”

And this, “In April 1937 Grandma Smith died.  I was so glad I had gone to see her the summer before.  She still lived with Aunt Lillie.”

Rosa Ellen wrote this of her Grandma Smith’s passing, “Mother went to Oklahoma at Thanksgiving (1936) to visit her sisters and brother, and her mother, who was ill. A few days after arriving at my aunt’s home in Oklahoma City, Jackie (Rosa Ellen’s half brother) became ill with diphtheria. Only because of the fine surgical care was he saved. When Mother returned to Pierce (Colorado) during the Christmas holidays, she was nearly sick because of the continuous care she had giving Jackie. In the spring a telegram came during dinnertime. Grandma had gone to join Grandpa and her three children in Heaven. This news was extremely hard for Mother to bear.”

One more firsthand source of information about Fannie’s later years comes from a letter written by Betty Jo Barton Gaston, the daughter of Fannie’s youngest child, Julia. The letter was addressed to Rosa Ellen Fairchild Farrell, Betty’s cousin…date of letter unknown. These are excerpts from that letter: “But let's back up a bit. Frank and Fannie had got land in Oklahoma, (the land run), up by Noble, OK. (April 2, 1889) While there they lost 3 children---they are buried there and that's where both Granny and Aunty are buried. (Granny is Fannie. Aunty is Frank and Sarah's daughter, Lillian). Those 3 children were Bennie, Lee, and an Ola. One of the boys was crippled somehow and in Granny's trunk of keepsakes was little shoe with a brace on it that he had worn.

“We loved for Granny to look through her trunk and tell us the stories of each thing in the trunk. She usually cried---and I could never figure out if seeing the things made her cry or if she had just got the blues real bad and then got out the stuff.

“One thing was a rock---not too big---and she said one of those boys who had died had been sitting in the yard crying, and when Pa came close he told Pa that he was mad at Ma. Then Frank told him: "Well, if I was you, then, I'd just kill her." So the little guy picked up this rock and went in and threw it at Granny. When she would tell that she would laugh and blow snuff all over us---if we didn't watch out!

I guess Mother (Julia) was born at Noble, and at that time, Aunty (Lillian) would have been 10 or 11. That's when Mother told me that Granny had the stroke (at the time of Julia’s birth). Aunty said after Granny had the stroke she had to start doing all the cooking, washing, and etc.

“Then they told me the family moved on to the Weatherford area, and that is where Aunty (Lillian) met and married Floyd Williams. Then from there they went to a ranch on White River. We visited the ranch site and the schoolhouse that was up then. From there they moved on to Moffat County where the guys were shot.

“Mother (Julia) told me that Granny explained to her that they couldn't stay another winter out there with no men---so they each packed a trunk and they rode the train back to Butler, Oklahoma, where Aunty and Uncle (Lillian & Floyd) lived. She never mentioned who paid for the rail tickets. She didn't mention Rosa coming with them. She did say that Granny told her that maybe they could go back when it was spring.

“When I was about 9 or 10 I had the mumps and Granny was at our house. She said "I'll sleep with Betty and take care of her. I've nursed mumps all my life and never had them, so guess I'm immune." But she sure WASN'T! In due time she did have the mumps and from then on her health went down and down. The strokes started coming back on her---
and she died the same spring that Tilford was born in 1937.

“Granny always lived with Aunty (Lillian) from the time they came from Colorado. She'd visit us once in a while, and I think she traveled to Colorado to see her other children a few times---but not very many times.

Sarah Frances Buckhanan Smith died in April 11, 1937 at the age of 73, and was buried in the Maguire-Fairview Cemetery near Noble, Oklahoma. She left many descendants, a proud family of Smiths who have thrived and multiplied - Fannie would be proud.

1) The name Buckhanan has been spelled various ways and today is usually spelled Buchanan.