Smith, Margaret Lee English [Maggie] (1895–1965)

By: Bill Wright

Type: Biography

Published: August 3, 2021

Updated: August 3, 2021


Margaret Lee “Maggie” English Smith, entrepreneur, midwife, and folk healer, was born on June 5, 1895, to John Placeed English and Martha Angeline (Boatright) English on a remote ranch near Carrizo Springs, a community founded by her great-grandfather, Levi English. Her father was a rancher and raised cattle throughout Southwest and West Texas. When Maggie was a child, the family moved from Carrizo Springs to the Big Bend where she grew up in the rough country south of Sierra Blanca. She rode with her father to buy cattle for the ranch and learned the work of cowboys and ranching life in the dry Chihuahuan Desert. On May 6, 1916, Maggie English married cowboy Robert Daniel Hay in Van Horn, Texas. They had a son, Robert Jr., who was born shortly before his father’s death from brucellosis.

On September 16, 1922, Maggie married Henry Baylor Smith in Uvalde. They had sons Walter and Henry Jr. and daughters Madge and Lelia, and the 1930 census recorded the family as living in Kinney County, where Smith was a rancher. By 1940 the family lived in Uvalde, and Maggie’s occupation listed on the federal census was “Floor woman” in the “WPA Sewing Room.” The family settled in the frontier trading post at Hot Springs in southern Brewster County in 1943. Established in 1909, the trading post and cabins around the hot springs were the former enterprise of J. O. Langford and later, in 1944, included in Big Bend National Park. 

When Baylor Smith passed away in 1944, Maggie continued to run the store at Hot Springs. Even though she purchased a house as a permanent residence in Alpine in 1949, she maintained a strong presence in the Big Bend region and operated mercantiles at various locations for the rest of her life. She established stores in San Vicente, Texas; Boquillas, Mexico; Quebec, Texas; Terlingua, Texas; and Study Butte, Texas. Reportedly, she also dealt in the illegal trade of candelilla wax to augment her income. During that time, stories about her various activities helped establish Maggie’s reputation as a healer, midwife, banker, postmistress, wax trader, and general minister to the needs of the largely Hispanic population in the area—both on the area ranches of the Texas Big Bend and in Mexico. Local tradition held that she nursed sick babies and drew poison from rattlesnake-bitten legs.

In April 1965 Maggie, with a severe pain in her stomach, returned from her business in Study Butte to her home in Alpine, Texas. On April 8, 1965, Maggie Lee English Smith died at Brewster County Memorial Hospital in Alpine. According to her death certificate, she died from “Gangrene…of Ascending Colon” due to a blood clot from a previous surgery. She was buried in Elm Grove Cemetery in Alpine.

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“Margaret Lee ‘Maggie’ English Smith,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/51775788/margaret-lee-smith), accessed July 25, 2021. Elton Miles, More Tales of the Big Bend (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). Maggie Smith, Interview by two unidentified interviewers, ca. 1963, transcribed by Doug Hay, April 1998, Big Bend National Park Oral History Project, Copy in Special Collections, Sul Ross State University Library Alpine, Texas. Bill Wright, The Whole Damn Cheese: Maggie Smith, Border Legend (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2018).

Categories:

  • Business
  • Health and Medicine
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • Southwest Texas

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

Bill Wright, “Smith, Margaret Lee English [Maggie],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 26, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/smith-margaret-lee-english-maggie.

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August 3, 2021
August 3, 2021

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