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Below is a family biography included in Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Clark County, Arkansas published by Goodspeed Publishing Company in 1890. These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary. Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more. There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.
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James A. Smith. On the evening of January 11, 1889, death clipped the cord and released from its tenement of clay the soul of one of Arkansas' most enterprising and useful citizens. James Allen Smith, whose name appears above, was a native of Ireland, born January 12, 1847. His father was a prominent resident of that country, having charge of the freight department of the Port of Belfast. The subject of this sketch was the eldest of seven children. His early education was intended to prepare him for the priesthood, but this idea not being congenial to his restless and ambitious nature, at the age of fourteen (as near as can be ascertained) he severed the ties that bound him to family, friends, home and his native land, to seek in other climes a home and a vocation more in accord with his inclination. For several years after leaving home he traveled through England, Scotland and France, working at whatever he could find to do. These countries proving too restricted for his expanding ideas, his ambition inspired with in him a desire to go to America. He landed at Castle Garden about 1867, a stranger in a strange land, without money, station, or even a friend to aid or advise him. He entered upon the battle of life with only the weapons with which nature had endowed him. For several years after landing in America but little is known of his history, and his battles in life were without material results. He worked at various occupations and places, but mainly on railroads in different parts of the United States. In the summer of 1873 he came to Clark County, Ark., as a laborer, aiding in the construction of the Iron Mountain Railroad. Here he met and formed the acquaintance of Miss Mary A. Norman [see sketch of W. P. and E. S. Norman]; their acquaintance soon ripened into love, and on the 23d of November, 1873, they were married at her father's residence, at or near where is now located the town of Smithton, a thriving little village named in honor of Mr. Smith. This union proved to be the tidal wave that drifted him ashore and placed him securely on terra firma, beyond the surging billows of adversity, by which he had been so rudely tossed during his past life. There is a time, we know not when, a point we know not where, that marks the destiny of man, to glory or despair. A brighter prospect now dawned upon his brilliant intellect, and he awoke as from a dream to a fuller sense of the designs and responsibilities of life. Finding himself the head of a family, with no means of support save his own strong arms and indomitable will, with twenty years of his life behind him, without beneficial results (so far as is known), save the dearly bought lesson of experience, he began to cast about him for something to do. We are left to imagination as regards his thoughts and feelings as he stood beneath the lofty pines, contemplating with amazement the enormous wealth that lay hid in the immense oak and pine forests that surrounded him. His quick and penetrating mind soon conceived the idea of turning the valuable timber into money. Having no means with which to gratify his ambition to begin business on a larger scale, his first enterprise in that direction was getting staves on the Little Missouri River. In this he was successful, and it was at this (so far as is known) that he made his first clear earnings. Possessed of an indomitable will and determination, supplemented by good sound business judgment, difficulties succumbed before him like the trees of the forest to the ax of the woodsman. Stimulated by his success in the stave business, he redoubled his energies, and began operations on a larger scale, taking contracts for getting cross ties, cord wood and other railroad timber. The beginning of 1879 found him possessed of sufficient means to embark in the mercantile business, which he did in a small way at Gurdon, continuing his contracts with the railroads for crops ties, cord wood, etc. In 1883 he went into the mill and lumber business at Smithton, in partnership with B. F. Van Dorn, an experienced mill-man, and in 1884 transferred his mercantile business to Smithton, where it was continued until his death, and is now being continued by the Smithton Lumber Company. As the timber adjacent to his mill diminished, he began the construction of a railroad for the purpose of keeping up the supply of saw logs. A few years found the railroad so extended that a stock company was organized and a charter obtained, in which Mr. Smith owned a controlling interest, and the road, under his personal supervision, was extended to Okolona, a small business town fifteen miles distant. By the time the timber was exhausted on this part of the road, he had extended it in another direction eight or ten miles, to an extensive pine forest, which promises an abundant supply of saw logs for many years. This road had just been completed when he was stricken down with congestion of the lungs, brought on, as is supposed, by excessive labor and exposure, only surviving one week from the time he was taken ill. In 1886 he bought out his partner in the mill and lumber business, and ran it alone until March, 1888, when the Smithton Lumber Company was organized, in which he also owned a controlling interest. He was, in the true sense of the term, a business man, conducting his interests on strictly business principles. By nature he was kind and obliging, but never let favoritism interfere with his duty and obligations to others. So prompt was he in all his engagements, and so reliable in all his business transactions, that he had the entire confidence of the business men within the limits of his acquaintance, and his credit was almost without limit. So successful and so universal was the confidence in his judgment and business qualifications, that no one who knew him doubted his ability to accomplish whatever he undertook to do. He kept his own councils, did his own thinking, and acted on his own judgment, often surprising those with whom he was most intimately connected in business with his bold and daring ventures. His heart and hand were full of charity for the needy, and it was liberally, though quietly, bestowed on those he considered worthy. He had acquired a large fortune for one of his age and opportunities, and had, at his death, prospects of a very bright future. It was often said that be was a man of luck, but his friends were of the opinion that his success can more truthfully be attributed to a sound, farseeing business judgment, backed by an indomitable will. His life is too full of incidents to go into details; it would fill a volume. We must be content to say that in the death of James A. Smith, Arkansas lost one of her most enterprising and useful citizens, Clark County her greatest hope for future development, this community its brightest luminary, the afflicted and needy a kind and obliging friend, and the family sustained an irreparable loss. Religiously he was a Catholic, and during his life many times expressed the desire that his children should become Catholics, and Mrs. Smith is following out his desire in that respect. He was a member of the I. O. O. F. and K. of H., and politically was a Democrat. During the strike on the railroad he received the appointment of deputy marshal, which commission he held at his death. His children are Margaret Atwood, Rose Agnes, Ada May and James N. Edna B. and Edward died in infancy. Mrs. Smith is now the president of the Smithton Lumber Company and the Southwestern Arkansas & Indian Territory Railroad, and is a practical, business-like woman.
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This family biography is one of 99 biographies included in Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Clark County, Arkansas published in 1890. For the complete description, click here: Clark County, Arkansas History, Genealogy, and Maps
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