Smithwick, Noah (1808–1899)

By: Margaret S. Henson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 19, 2019

Noah Smithwick, pioneer blacksmith, miller, and memoirist, son of Edward Smithwick, was born on January 1, 1808, in Martin County, North Carolina. The family moved to Robertson County, Tennessee, in 1814 where Noah received his education. Hearing glowing reports about Texas, nineteen-year-old Noah left his blacksmith job in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky, in 1827 and traveled by flatboat to New Orleans and schooner to Matagorda Bay. He worked as an itinerant smith before settling in San Felipe. On July 9, 1830, he applied for a league of land in Stephen F. Austin's colony, saying he had immigrated from Tennessee in 1827, was twenty-two years old, and a gunsmith, but he sold his headright before locating it. A friend, Hiram Friley from Gonzales, sought refuge in San Felipe after killing the alcalde. San Felipe authorities ordered him chained with leg irons, but Smithwick provided a file and a gun so he might escape. Tracked down, Friley was shot, and Smithwick's gun implicated him. The authorities tried him, declared him "a bad citizen," and on December 7, 1830, banished him from Austin's colony and Texas, providing an escort to the Sabine.

Smithwick returned to Matagorda in the fall of 1835, after four years in the Redlands of East Texas and Louisiana. He arrived at Gonzales the day after the battle and remained to repair guns. Joining the volunteers marching towards Bexar, Smithwick took part in the battle of Concepción, but like others discouraged by the indecisive command and without winter clothing, he abandoned the siege and went to Bastrop, where he had friends. In January 1836 he joined Capt. John Jackson Tumlinson, Jr.,'s newly formed ranger company to defend the Bastrop area from roving bands of Indians. During the Runaway Scrape Bastrop residents fled eastward, while Smithwick and others prepared to guard the river crossing and herd cattle eastward. They gradually retreated southeastward searching for the army, and arrived at San Jacinto after the battle. In May Gen. Thomas J. Rusk ordered gunsmiths to follow the Texas army from the battleground to Victoria. Smithwick did not pursue the Mexican army south of the Rio Grande. Smithwick returned to Bastrop to work as a smith and serve in the volunteer ranger corps from the fall of 1836 through 1838. Understanding Spanish, he occasionally served as interpreter-agent with Plains Indians seeking treaties and trading posts.

In 1839 Smithwick married Thurza N. Blakey, the daughter of widow Nancy Blakey and the widow of Richard Duty, who had lived in the Bastrop community since 1832. They settled on her late husband's property in Webber's Prairie in southeastern Travis County; by 1850 they moved to Brushy Creek in Williamson County, where Smithwick ran livestock. Unable to earn money in the pastoral setting, in the early 1850s Smithwick applied for a job in Burnet County as armorer at Fort Croghan (present Burnet), where he worked for awhile, perhaps until it closed in 1853. That year he paid $5,000 for the nearby saw and grist mill built by the Mormons in 1850. He and his nephew and partner, John R. Hubbard, sold their interest in 1857–58. Smithwick began a new mill on 320 acres he bought ten miles east of Marble Falls in the Hickory Creek settlement. A Unionist in sympathy in 1861, Smithwick received threats and decided to abandon Texas. He sold his property and left his nephew at the mill. Secessionists later murdered Hubbard and threw his body into a waterhole. Smithwick and a number of friends left Burnet County on April 14, 1861, in wagons for southern California. By 1870 he and his wife and four children, ages 19–29, were living in Kern County, formerly part of Tulare County. During the last two years of his life, he joined the Texas State Historical Association and contributed an article to the Quarterly (vol II, 174–76, October 1898). He gradually lost his eyesight but dictated his memoirs to his daughter, Mrs. Anna (Nanna) Smithwick Donaldson. After his death in Santa Ana, California, on October 21, 1899, she polished the manuscript and had it published by Karl H. P. N. Gammel in Austin, Texas, in 1900 as The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days.

Eugene C. Barker, ed., "Minutes of the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin, 1828–1832," 12 parts, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21–24 (January 1918-October 1920). Darrell Debo, Burnet County History (2 vols., Burnet, Texas: Eakin, 1979). Kenneth Kesselus, History of Bastrop County, Texas, Before Statehood (Austin: Jenkins, 1986). Noah Smithwick, The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days (Austin: Gammel, 1900; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983). Gifford E. White, 1830 Citizens of Texas (Austin: Eakin, 1983). Gifford E. White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966; 2d ed., Vol. 2 of 1840 Citizens of Texas, Austin, 1984).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Margaret S. Henson, “Smithwick, Noah,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 19, 2019