Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


William H. Smith, one of the early settlers of Des Moines county, and now a venerable citizen of almost eighty years, was born in Green county, Illinois, Jan. 20, 1826, his parents being Jeremiah Smith, Jr., and Ellen M. (Potts) Smith. The father was born in Pickaway county, Ohio, and became a resident of Illinois at an early day in its development, settling in Green county, where he purchased a tract of land and engaged in farming. For a short time he was also engaged in merchandizing at Whitehall, Green county, and he remained a resident of Illinois until 1833, when he came to Burlington. There he followed mercantile pursuits, being what was then known as an Indian trader. He bought their furs, which they brought in from a broad extent of territory, selling them goods in return. He was located on Front Street, a little north of Columbia, at the time of his coming there being only one other store in the place. He was well acquainted with Black Hawk and all the other noted Indians, and entertained Black Hawk and his wife many times. He also had a strong influence with the Indians — more than any other man who ever lived about here.

Later, as the Indian trade diminished, and the country became settled, he continued as a general merchant. As government contractor he built the grist-mill for the Indians south of Agency City. He also purchased a farm two miles west of the city, giving a part of his time to its cultivation and improvement. He had three hundred acres of land, the greater part of which he had purchased and built a house on before moving to Burlington. Later he put a part of it under cultivation. He made all the improvements upon that property, and it was his home up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1852, when he was fifty years of age. General farming, stock-raising, and general merchandizing claimed his time and energies, and he was known as a most enterprising, reliable, and successful business man.

His political allegiance was given to the Democracy and, well fitted for leadership, he was several times elected to the State Legislature. He served as a member of the Legislature when its sessions were held at Green Bay, Wis., traveling by land and camping out on the trip. The country was not settled, at that time Iowa being a part of Wisconsin Territory. He was also a member of the House after Iowa became a State, and he erected a building in Burlington in which the sessions of the Legislature were held for some time. This building, which stood beside his store, was destroyed by fire during the first session of the Legislature.

He was a man of superior individuality, firm in his convictions, and of strong purposes, and he left his impress for good upon the legislation of the State and its development along other lines. At the time of the Black Hawk war he joined the army, serving until the close of hostilities. A part of his farm is comprised in what is now known as Smith's addition to the city of Burlington, and part of which is still owned by William H. Smith. His wife, who was born in Ohio, became a resident of Illinois at a very early day, and was there married. She was a devoted member of the Methodist church, and departed this life about 1885. In their family were eight children, of whom seven are yet living, namely: William H.; George F., deceased; Samuel; Etna, the widow of William Mast; Amelia, the widow of A. T. Hay; Iowa J.; Lycurgus; and Adna, who resides in Burlington. The four eldest were born in Illinois, and the others in Burlington, Iowa J. Smith was said to be the first white child born in the territory of Iowa, after which it was given its name.

William H. Smith was a lad of seven years when, in the fall of 1833, he came with his parents to Iowa. He acquired his education in the common schools of Burlington, and worked upon the home farm when not busy with his text-books. After completing his education, his entire attention was given to the labors of field and meadow, and he remained at home until thirty years of age, when he took charge of his father's farm near Burlington. He also engaged in the manufacture of brick in the city for several years, and a year prior to his father's death he, with his father, purchased a farm in Jackson township, comprising six hundred and forty acres of land. He placed all of the improvements here, and made it a splendid property, and a part of it is now owned by his brother Samuel. William H. Smith, however, cultivated the land for about ten years, and then went to Idaho, where he engaged in mining for four years. He was one of the first miners in Boise county, and his venture there proved successful. He left Burlington in May, 1862, and drove a mule team through, they being three months on the journey from Council Bluffs to Powder River, on the eastern boundary of Oregon, the first mining camp they came to, and then was in the rush to Boise county, Idaho, where he obtained good placer diggings, and remained till 1865. He returned to Burlington by way of the isthmus, where he followed the trade of carpentering, and also gave a part of his time to the cultivation and development of the farm, which is now owned by his brother Samuel. Mr. Smith is the owner of a number of dwellings and other property in Burlington, which he rents, and receives therefrom a good income; but for the past decade he has lived with his brother on the farm, and his attention is largely given to its improvement. He is also extensively engaged in the production of honey, giving much study and attention to the modern methods of handling bees.

In his political views William H. Smith is a Republican, and for several years he has held the office of justice of the peace, being the present incumbent in that position. He is a member of the Methodist church, having filled different offices, and has led an upright, honorable life, commending him to the confidence and goodwill of those with whom he has been associated.

Samuel Smith was born at Whitehall, Ill., and when a year old came to Iowa, since which time he has lived in Des Moines county, acquiring his education in the schools of Burlington. He has always been a farmer, devoting his time and attention to agricultural pursuits throughout his entire life. He purchased his present farm in Jackson township from his brother William, and here he has since lived.

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