hope to be a very competent physician without a strong sense of curiosity coupled
with a power of observation as keen as the blade of his scapel.|
Smythe clearly had both abilities, as evidenced by an all-but-forgotten journal
he kept on a horseback expedition from East
Texas to the wild frontier of Palo Pinto County in May 1852. Later that summer,
the Leon Pioneer published his account.
While that early-day newspaper’s
subscribers doubtless enjoyed reading the doctor’s descriptions of the then-unsettled
Western edge of Texas, the issues containing his journal were in time buried under
the weight of subsequent issues and finally, by the passage of decade after decade.
The aptly named Leon County newspaper eventually ceased publication, but
fortunately, back copies ended up in the Texas State Library in Austin.
There, in the early 1940s, a writer from Dallas
named Donald Day rediscovered Dr. Smythe’s travelogue. Day had been doing research
for a novel, but when he started reading the doctor’s account, he realized it
needed to be available to other researchers.
Day and Southern Methodist
University professor Samuel Wood Geiser got the doctor’s journal published in
a magazine called Texas Geographic, a Lone Star state effort to produce something
equivalent to the National Geographic. The Texas publication did not make it past
1946, and once again, Smythe’s work sank into obscurity.
in Sumpter, Ala. in 1824, Smythe moved to Centerville
in Leon County immediately after finishing his medical training at the University
On May 3, 1852, Smythe joined a surveying party led by
John Patrick, a member of the Texas House of Representatives. In preparation for
the four-week adventure, the doctor bought “a Hickory Shirt, a Sombrero, a Stout
pair of Shoes, and a pair of Cordury Unmentionables” and equipped himself with
a blanket, a long rope, a tin cup and “a few medicines for accidents….”
riders covered 17 miles on their first day, making camp near a homestead the doctor
identifed as Eades’ “ranche.” What caught the doctor’s eye were the rancher’s
children, who “were living in a state of squalid wretchedness that would disgrace
Continuing, Smythe said, “The only sign of human habitation
in the place was a cow-pen, with a Pig sty in the corner, and on top of this,
with a tattered sheet for covering, these unfortunate children had to pass their
hours of sleep…”
Happily for that part of Texas,
though likely not so much for the kids, the man soon moved elsewhere. Or, as Smythe
put it, “This degraded wretch has since freed the country of his most abominable
example, by leaving, to avoid the just punishment that the outraged laws demanded.”
much past the Leon County line, the landscape began to change from rolling postoak-covered
hills to prairie. One plant that caught the doctor’s eye was mesquite, which he
The party spent their second night at the then-flourishing
town of Springfield,
at the time the seat of Limestone County. Spread out on the side of a hill serrated
by numerous gullies, the town wasn’t much to look at, though most of its buildings
and houses looked newly built or freshly painted and more were under construction.
What most impressed the doctor was the spring that furnished the town its name.
From Springfield (today only a cemetery proves its existence), the men
rode to Corsicana and then turned
west toward Fort Graham in Coryell County. The doctor said the military garrison
amounted to little more than a supply depot.
By this point, the landscape
had flattened and seemed to go on forever, a geographic feature that clearly caught
the doctor’s eye. What he beheld, a sight no longer common in Texas,
was an “undulating Prairie clothed with a luxurant coat of the most beautiful
verdure, and innumerable gaudy flowers sprinkling this grassy Sea as a painter
would a fairy Picture.”
about Dr. Smythe’s journal next week.
Mike Cox - October 9, 2013 column
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas
by Mike Cox - Order Here|