Smith, Henry Clay (1836–1912)

By: William M. Pearce

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 30, 2016

Henry Clay (Hank) Smith, pioneer settler and rancher, was born Heinrich Schmitt, the eleventh child of Johann George and Margaret (Herrman) Schmitt, in Rossbrunn, Bavaria, on August 15, 1836. His father died when Henry was twelve, and in 1851 Henry and two older sisters immigrated to America. For a brief period he lived with an older sister in Peru, Ohio. He rejected opportunities for a formal education, served briefly as a sailor on Lake Erie, then turned westward and traveled down the Santa Fe Trail with a wagon train in 1854. He returned to Westport (now Kansas City), where he joined a surveying party that worked along the Missouri River in 1855–56. At some unknown time he adopted the American form of his name, to which he added Clay in the belief that everyone in his new homeland had a middle name. Smith drove a team of bulls to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in 1857 and later that year went to San Bernardino, California. He subsequently worked as a prospector, cowboy, interpreter, and Indian fighter. He joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and saw service in New Mexico Territory. After the war Smith worked as a government contractor at El Paso and Fort Quitman before becoming a freighter between San Antonio and Fort Griffin. He soon settled at the latter post after obtaining a contract to supply the army with hay and wood. He married Elizabeth Boyle, a woman of Scottish birth, at Fort Griffin on May 19, 1874; six children were born to the couple. After managing the Occidental Hotel in the town below Fort Griffin for four years, the Smiths moved to a cattle ranch in Blanco Canyon in northern Crosby County. The ranch had just been established when the original owner fled to escape his creditors. Smith, to whom the owner was heavily indebted, acquired the ranch in partial payment and was forced to move there because of the financial loss he had suffered. When the Smiths arrived at their new home, the Rock House, in November 1878, the family became the first permanent settlers in the county. Smith operated a store from his new home, ran cattle and sheep, and experimented with growing many different kinds of crops. He was an active participant in the organization of Crosby County in 1886 and served as its first tax collector and later as county commissioner. In 1910 Smith suffered a mild stroke. He died on May 19, 1912, and was buried in Emma Cemetery, near the center of Crosby County. Elizabeth Smith, who served as postmistress from 1879 to 1916 and whose hospitality to cowboys and travelers was legendary, died on June 5, 1925.

Hattie M. Anderson, "Mining and Indian Fighting in Arizona and New Mexico, 1858–1861: Memoirs of Hank Smith," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 1 (1928). W. Hubert Curry, Sun Rising on the West: The Saga of Henry Clay and Elizabeth Smith (Crosbyton, Texas: Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum, 1979). John R. Hutto, "Mrs. Elizabeth (Aunt Hank) Smith," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 15 (1939).

  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers
  • Ranching and Cowboys

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

William M. Pearce, “Smith, Henry Clay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

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April 30, 2016