Erastus "Deaf" Smith

 

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Erastus "Deaf" SmithErastus "Deaf" Smith, born an American (1787-1837), is one of the most remembered revolutionary heroes who fought for Texas’s independence. Being one of the first to join the Texas Republican Army in Gonzalez, his contributions as a spy, scout, and soldier would influence the Battle of Concepcion, the renowned Grass Fight, and the Battle of San Jacinto. He would also be the man who General Houston trusted to confirm the fall of the Alamo. Smith has been acclaimed as both the “eyes and ears” of the Texas Army. Unfortunately, for the man that proved to be two of Texas’s most vital organs, her eyes and ears, he was both going blind and deaf. Hence, history remembers Erastus by the name of “Deaf Smith.”

Deaf Smith is remembered as a man of few words, and one that kept cool in the presence of danger. He originally came to Texas in the year 1817 for health related issues, but would not make it his permanent residency until his second visit in 1821. During his first few years in Texas, Smith’s knowledge of the Anglo, Hispanic culture and the land that Texas possessed became immense. His well known scouting abilities caused the Texas Republic to greatly desire his service. This was because many of the men serving in the Texas Army were Americans that had no experience or understanding of Texas’s terrain. Although he was reluctant at first to choose sides and wished to remain neutral, he was quickly recruited into the Texas Army.

One of the first well known heroic stories of Smith was during the siege of San Antonio. The Texas Army was becoming weary and tired of waiting for their chance to take San Antonio—so tired of waiting for a battle that their numbers began to dwindle away. One group of scouts had been sent out to find the location of Mexican General Ugartachea. Unsuccessful, they returned back to the siege leaving Deaf Smith behind. A few hours later, Deaf Smith returned with news that he believed he might have spotted Ugartachea with a group or guards bringing funds for the Mexican Army. “Ugartachea!” was shouted throughout the camp. Although the party Smith spotted was really a group of soldiers sent out by General Cos to collect grass for his horses, Deaf Smiths report is what sparked the legendary Grass Fight. This battle would be one of the first leading to Texas’s occupation of San Antonio and the Alamo.

However, this was not the only misinterpretation made by Deaf Smith. Although he might have been the greatest spy in all of Texas, his disabilities sometime rendered his reports faulty. One such occasion happened while Houston and the army were camped at the Brazos bottom. Smith was sent, with the help of a young man, to try and spot the enemy. On their return, they reported a large number of the enemy marching in their direction. Soon, however, to Smiths embarrassment, the supposed Mexican army was reported to be a large number of Santa Anna’s cattle. Smith is reported to have been hurt by the boy after he had allowed him to make a fool of himself and stated that he should never assist him again. Although his accounts were not always correct, Smith was the discoverer and reporter of many of the most important events in the Texas Revolution—such as his conformation of the fall of the Alamo.

Although all of Smith’s major missions are recorded, along with all his reports, we rarely get a glimpse of what an average day in Deaf Smith’s position would have been like. One report that he gave to Houston, however, gives us some insight. It is said that Smith, being a man of few words that usually never complained, came to Houston greatly fatigued after one of his missions and asked to have a word with him. The spy stated "General, you are very kind to these Mexicans; I like kindness, but you are too kind—you won't allow me to kill any of them. If a man meets two of the enemy, and is not allowed to kill either, by the time he takes one and ties him, the other gets off so far, that it is very fatiguing on a horse to catch him; and I wish you would let me manage things in my own way." Houston politely told him to avoid cruelness, but in the future, to do what he believed necessary.

Although Deaf Smith is remembered as one of Texas’s greatest scouts and spies, he is most famously remembered for being a heroic soldier at the Battle of San Jacinto. After allowing him to choose a group of trustworthy men, Houston sent him to remove and burn Vince's Bridge. By doing this, he would block any further aid from reaching Santa Anna at the same time as removing the enemy’s only means of escape. Houston warned Smith however that, if he did not do this speedily, the field would be crimson before his return, or in other words, the battle would be over. Smith and his men, however, completed their mission and returned in time to take the field with Houston and the rest of the Texas Republican Army.

This Texas soldier, scout, and spy was buried in the Episcopal Churchyard were a grave marker reads “Deaf Smith, the Texas Spy.” In America, the name Erastus Smith was used in reference to a sick man who was likely to leave this world after accomplishing little, but in Texas, the name Deaf Smith would be used in reference to one of the most important men in the region. Deaf Smith’s story is just one of the accounts of thousands of Americans who left their home with little to gain much in Texas.

 

 

 

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