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SMITH, WILFORD BASCOM

SMITH, WILFORD BASCOM (1884–1939). Wilford Bascom (Pitchfork) Smith, magazine editor and orator, son of Morgan Allen and Sarah (Martin) Smith, was born near Thackerville, Oklahoma, on March 17, 1884. His father, an itinerant Methodist minister, was a socialist who wrote columns for the Hallettsville Rebel and for The Pitchfork. Smith grew up in Garland and other North Texas towns where his father ministered. He graduated from East Texas Normal College (now East Texas State University) at Commerce in 1902 and taught public school for three terms. Smith started a weekly newspaper, the Enloe Ensign, but it quickly failed. After traveling as a book salesman he worked for a law firm in Kansas City, Missouri. He was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1905, the year he married Blanche Le Seur, a widow with a daughter. In January 1907 Smith published the first issue of Plain Talk, a muckraking monthly modeled on the Iconoclast of William Cowper Brann. By July, Smith's criticism of local issues caused Kansas City officials to suppress Plain Talk. He changed the name of his magazine to The Pitchfork, but his incendiary rhetoric and radical views on such issues as race relations provoked further suppression and public burnings of his magazine. Smith moved to Dallas and continued to publish The Pitchfork there, starting in October 1908 and continuing until his death in 1939. In 1910 he became an ardent socialist, but by 1914 he had renounced socialism in favor of the single-tax theories of Henry George, convinced that private ownership of large tracts of land contributed to poverty. He was a lifelong champion of social justice and spoke up for the rights of working people against the alleged tyranny of government or the wealthy few. Smith supported prison reform and opposed prohibition.

As an editor and a popular public speaker, Pitchfork Smith led many reform campaigns against those he considered medical, commercial, or religious frauds and hypocrites. he spoke on various public occasions, often for the Fraternal Order of Elks, of which he was an enthusiastic member. In 1918 he sued the Dallas Morning News for two cents for suppression of news. In 1928 Smith was arrested for disturbance of public worship when he broke up a rally led by the controversial Fort Worth preacher J. Frank Norris. In his own courtroom defense Smith did not deny his action but declared himself innocent because the Norris meeting was not religious and went against constitutional values. The jury acquitted him in three minutes. Smith died on July 10, 1939, in Dallas and was buried at Grove Hill Cemetery. At his funeral, a friend delivered an address Smith had previously given on the immortality of the soul. Someone else read the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. The headline on his Dallas Morning News obituary read: "Death Wins Argument With Pitchfork Smith."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

William W. Baxley, Pitchfork Smith: Texas Liberal (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1944). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

James McEnteer

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

James McEnteer, "SMITH, WILFORD BASCOM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsm46), accessed April 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.