Coho Smith, merchant, freighter, carpenter, gunsmith, and teacher, was born John Jeremiah Smith on December 4, 1826, in Pennsylvania. He was the son of James Smith, a merchant and immigrant from Rotterdam, Holland, and Elizabeth Stanford. In 1835 at the age of nine, he moved with his parents to Carroll County, Missouri, near the Missouri River. Not long after their arrival, James Smith drowned in the Missouri River, and Elizabeth married H. M. Wallace, a Mormon and follower of Joseph Smith, who had declared the Second Coming would occur in the adjacent Jackson County, Missouri. Wallace already had one wife.
Shortly after his father’s death, young John Smith, who spoke only Dutch, was boarded out as an apprentice to a cabinet maker to learn the trade and the English language. Smith, a self-educated man, went on to learn Spanish, German, Comanche, and a limited amount of French. About this time, he met the colorful fur traders Thomas “Pegleg” Smith, who became a chief of the Shoshone, and Jim Beckwourth, who became a chief of the Crow.
In 1842 Smith, at the age of sixteen, first came to Texas and stayed for a short time. He returned in late 1843 or early 1844 to what is now Dallas. He assisted John Neely Bryan, the father of Dallas, in laying out the original township and built the surveying instruments from materials he had at hand. Smith, along with Tom Helm, Tom McLain, Jim Druse, James Hoggard, and William Hoggard, helped construct the first Dallas house, a log cabin, for Neely along the banks of the Trinity River.
In 1845 Smith moved to Coahuila, Mexico, and spent time at Rancho Nuevo as well as Santa Rosa, what is now the municipality of Múzquiz, where he was adopted by a well-to-do Mexican family. At one time (ca. 1846–47), he ran contraband tobacco into Mexico. He was captured and jailed in Ciénegas, Coahuila, Mexico, but he escaped. Comanches were conducting raids in the area of Santa Rosa, and Smith was captured during one of them in early 1848. He was wounded by a lance in his left knee which left him lame for the rest of his life and from which he gained the Spanish name Cojo (Anglicized to “Coho”) which means “lame.” He remained captive for a year and traveled from northern Mexico to near present-day Lampasas, Texas, before his escape.
According to a biographical account by Smith’s granddaughter, Iva Roe Logan, he returned to Missouri after his years in Mexico and married Nancy Haney. The 1850 census for Carroll County, Missouri, lists “Jeremiah” Smith (age 24) with his wife Nancy (of Kentucky), and six-month-old daughter Missouri (born in Missouri) in the household. Smith’s profession was listed as “painter,” but he also tried his hand at farming. Smith, however, soon departed for California and was gold hunting in Oregon in 1852. Most likely, he periodically returned to his Missouri home.
The sedentary life was not to Smith’s liking; he traveled back to Texas probably by the late 1850s. According to an account by Coho Smith, in the late 1850s he was back in Tennessee where, by chance through an acquaintance, he met filibuster William Walker, who had organized several private military campaigns in Mexico and Central America. Walker was looking for someone he could trust to carry dispatches to Cuba and Central America to further his military activities. Smith agreed to be the courier. However, when he arrived in Honduras and discovered that Walker had been executed, he burned all the correspondence and made his way back to Texas.
At some point, Smith joined the Texas Rangers and served in Capt. N. H. Darnell’s Company, Middleton T. Johnson’s Regiment. He was honorably discharged on August 10, 1860. Smith appeared on the 1860 federal census in Dallas County with Nancy and their children; he was identified as a “gunsmith.” All five children, ranging in age from twelve to two, were born in Missouri. About this time, he and Nancy parted ways, and she returned to Missouri with the children.
Coho Smith moved to northeast Parker County where he married Nancy Jane Hoggard on September 3, 1861. He referred to her as “Jane” throughout their marriage. They had eight children.
In late 1861 or early 1862, he was called to the home of William Parker in Birdville, Texas, to translate for former Comanche captive Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker (who later became chief of the Comanches). Smith recalled that she conspired to escape and promised him status and wives to realize her purpose.
The settled life never appealed to Coho, and during the Civil War he left his home for Mexico where, as he had done in years past, he clerked in dry goods stores on both sides of the Texas-Mexican border and had a reputation as a trusted middleman. He sent goods to his wife and her mother, along with powder and armaments to his relatives and neighbors. At some point during the war, Smith was appointed as a Confederate agent to freight cotton and other goods from San Antonio to Mexico.
Coho Smith finally settled near Azle, Texas, on the Parker County side. He took the area’s first log cabin school, known as the “Picket School,” as his home and was a teacher and instructed students in drawing, reading, and writing. Smith built a rock fort near the home and eventually returned to the furniture and gunsmith businesses. Throughout his life, he had kept a journal of his travels, and he also included drawings of his various adventures, which he eventually compiled into a book that he called Cohographs. Later in life, Smith also wrote his reminiscences in articles published in such periodicals as the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Register.
Coho Smith died at his home in Azle on January 19, 1914. He and his second wife, Jane, are buried at Ash Creek Cemetery in Azle. In 1986 a Texas Historical Marker commemorating the Coho and Nancy Jane Smith farmstead was erected at the site near the banks of Ash Creek on the eighteenth hole of the Cross Timbers Golf Course.