intriguing family mystery spanning more than 135 years is told by three tombstones
lying behind a rusting iron fence in a small East
Each of the tombstones provides cryptic inscriptions
that, when linked together in time, offer glimpses of three tragedies that stalked
the family of Robert and Sarah Smith in 1869 and 1872.
On January 21, 1869,
the Smiths’ twenty-three-year-old son, Robert Emmett, was buried in Laurel Hill
Cemetery near Coldspring
in San Jacinto County, His time-weathered tombstone tells a tale of a probable
murder: “In memory of my beloved son, Robert E. Smith, born December 24, 1846.
Assassinated in cold blood...”
Smith’s body, pierced by gunshots, was found
lying by the front gate of his family’s plantation home near the Trinity River.
His head rested on the removed saddle of his prize horse, Black Prince.
On June 3, less than five months after young Robert’s death, his father died,
leading the remaining family members to erect a monument with a poignant inscription
beginning with four words: “He never smiled again,” adding that Smith died “of
grief and broken spirits.”
Not far from her father’s grave, seventeen-year-old
Edith Smith was buried on May 18, 1872--some three years after the untimely deaths
of her brother and father. Her inscription, penned by a grieving mother, is perhaps
the most intriguing of the three tombstones: “Erected in memory of my darling
child, Edith...died a victim to an experiment of surgery by Dr. Warren Stone Sr.,
of New Orleans...”
Robert Smith’s murder, if it was such, was never solved.
Because the body was carefully placed at the family’s gate, with the head resting
on the saddle, the death may have been an accident by an unknown friend.
the same time, there are few clues to the tragic death of Edith Smith.
mother carried any explanation to her grave, which also lies in Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Sarah Carson Smith died at Shepherd,
near Coldspring, on February
in 1812 at Barnwell District, South Carolina, Robert Smith and his cousin, John
Stephen Smith, were among many Southerners attracted by the prospect of free or
cheap land in the new Republic of Texas in the 1840s.
Robert soon acquired
about 3,000 acres in the James Rankin Survey on the west side of Trinity River
in 1845 at a sheriff’s sale on the steps of the Polk
County courthouse at Livingston.
the Civil War, Robert Emmett, his brother John William (Billam), and five of his
cousins--Quishenbury William Smith, Robert Eason Smith, James Otis Smith, John
William (Big Hoss) Smith, and Edwin Eason Smith--succumbed to the lure of “fighting
All of the young Smith men returned from the war except
John William (Big Hoss), who died at the Battle of Chickamauga.
1869--four months after his return from the war--Robert Smith was lying in an
East Texas grave, his murder never
20, 2006 Column, updated August 19, 2012
Bob Bowman's East Texas
column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
Topics: Small Town Sagas | Texas Cemeteries