Erastus (Deaf) Smith was born in Duchess County, New York, on April 19, 1787, the son of Chilaib and Mary Smith. At the age of eleven or twelve he moved with his parents to Natchez, Mississippi Territory. A childhood disease caused him to lose his hearing. Smith first visited Texas in 1817 but did not remain long. He returned in 1821 and settled near San Antonio, where he married a Mexican widow, Guadalupe Ruiz Durán, in 1822. The couple had four children, three of whom, all daughters, survived to adulthood. In the fall of 1825 Smith and five other men settled on the claim of James Kerr, the surveyor for the new colony of Green DeWitt, about one mile west of the site of present Gonzales. This tiny community was the first in DeWitt's colony and one of the first American settlements west of the Colorado River. Although his loyalties were apparently divided at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, when a Mexican sentry refused to allow him to enter San Antonio to visit his family, Smith joined Stephen F. Austin's army, which was then besieging the town. On October 15 Charles Bellinger Stewart wrote to Austin that Smith had learned that the troops of Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos were "disaffected to the cause which they are serving." Stewart assured Austin that he knew Smith well and found him to be "perfectly disinterested" and trustworthy "to any extent his abilities and infirmity may warrant." After reporting to Richard R. Royall, president of the council at San Felipe, who found him to be "very importantly useful," Smith returned to Austin's army and took part in the battle of Concepción on October 28, 1835. He was responsible for the discovery of the Mexican supply train involved in the Grass Fight. During the siege of Bexar Smith guided Col. Francis Johnson's men into the town. On December 8 he was wounded on top of the Veramendi Palace (seeVERAMENDI, JUAN MARTÍN DE) at almost the same moment that Benjamin R. Milam was killed at its door. Smith, whom Governor Henry Smith called "well known to the army for his vigilance and meritorious acts," remained with the army despite his severe wounds, "as his services as a spy cannot well be dispensed with."
After regaining his health, Smith served as a messenger for William B. Travis, who considered him "`the Bravest of the Brave' in the cause of Texas." Smith carried Travis's letter from the Alamo on February 15, 1836. On March 13 Gen. Sam Houston dispatched Smith and Henry Karnes back to San Antonio to learn the status of the Alamo garrison. "If living," Houston reported to Thomas Jefferson Rusk, Smith would return with "the truth and all important news." Smith returned with Susanna W. and Angelina E. Dickinson. Houston first assigned Smith to the cavalry but later placed him in charge of recruits with the rank of captain. During the San Jacinto campaign he captured a Mexican courier bearing important dispatches to Antonio López de Santa Anna, and on April 21, 1836, Smith and Houston requisitioned "one or more axes," with which Houston ordered Smith to destroy Vince's Bridge, reportedly to prevent the retreat of the Mexican army. Smith accomplished the mission and reported to Houston before the battle of San Jacinto. It was to Smith that Houston entrusted Santa Anna's order to Gen. Vicente Filisola to evacuate Texas. After San Jacinto, General Rusk continued to send Smith out as a scout, and after having been absent from the army for the first two weeks of July he was incorrectly reported as captured by the Mexicans. During this period his family, rendered destitute by the war, was living in Columbia, where it apparently had some dealings with Santa Anna, who was then being held at the nearby port of Velasco. On November 11, 1836, the Texas Congress granted Smith the property of Ramón Músquiz on the northeast corner of San Antonio's Military Plaza as a reward for his military activities. Nevertheless, Smith and his family remained in Columbia. He resigned his commission in the army but raised and commanded a company of Texas Rangers that on February 17, 1837, defeated a band of Mexicans at Laredo. Soon thereafter he resigned from ranger service and moved to Richmond, where he died at the home of Randal Jones on November 30, 1837. On hearing of his death, Sam Houston wrote to Anna Raguet (see Anna W. Raguet Irion), "My Friend Deaf Smith, and my stay in darkest hour, Is no more!!! A man, more brave, and honestnever, lived. His soul is with God, but his fame and his family, must command the care of His Country!" A monument in Smith's honor, paid for by the Forty-first Legislature, was unveiled at his grave in Richmond on January 25, 1931. Smith was the father-in-law of Hendrick Arnold, a free black who served in his spy company. Deaf Smith County is named in his honor.
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John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). Texas State Gazette, June 12, 1852. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
“Smith, Erastus [Deaf],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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