High achievers among early pioneers
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 2:59 AM
Memorial Day brings to mind visits to the cemeteries and remembrances of those long gone. If we were to compile a list of high achievers amongst our earliest pioneers, Dryden and Elizabeth Ann Smith would certainly be named. The Smith residence, a two-story frame house south of the city cemetery on territorial road, was occupied by Smith and his family from the 1860s through the last descendant, a granddaughter, Frances Smith, who was a school teacher and at one time on the faculty of the State Normal School in Winona. Dryden Smith came from a line of fascinating adventurers. His father, John Smith, accompanied Louis & Clark's expedition as far as Iowa; then being a military man, he was involved in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He helped build forts at Rock Island and Peoria, later taking up farming "in the Mississippi bottoms" in Illinois. Dryden joined his father in the practice of farming, obtaining a passable education at the area schools. In 1842 he helped a neighbor who had a contract to furnish beef to the garrisons at Forts Crawford and Snelling. They drove a herd of cattle from near St. Louis to Prairie du Chien, and during the trip he saw much of the wild but beautiful country in the Midwest. He began the study of law in 1848, and in 1849 was married to Elizabeth Ann Hines.
A portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Dryden Smith, from the 1912 Fillmore County history.
Dryden's health became poor, and by 1852 he traveled north to find country with less fever and ague (malaria), visiting Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Smith moved his family to Decorah, Iowa, in 1853, and was admitted to the bar and began his practice of law, also operating a land business. It was 1860 when he came to Spring Valley to settle, a place where he had directed many land seekers when he was in the business. The Fillmore County Bar Assoc. was constituted in 1860, and Dryden Smith is listed among the founders. The amusing entry in the 1912 county history had this to say: "At an early day there were few conventionalities or forms to be observed in handling cases in court, and the pleadings were usually of a motley variety, a mixture of logic, of traditional law nomenclature, usually with considerable common sense laced with more or less frontier slang." We trust they did good work at administering justice to our citizens.
Always a Republican at heart and by vote, Dryden had strongly supported William Seward for president instead of Abraham Lincoln. When he heard of Grant's nomination for president in 1868, he left the Republican Party for all time, and devoted his time to law practice and farming. He was judge of probate court in Fillmore County from 1863 to 1870, and maintained a fine law library. His son, Edward, remembered his father as a teacher and lawyer, with an excellent home library, there being none in school. The children attended Spring Valley schools, and their father "examined our studies and drilled us every night!" Judge Dryden Smith died at his home in 1899.
His wife, Elizabeth, was a "direct descendant of revolutionary stock," the families moving after the Revolutionary War from Maryland to Ohio, then on to the frontier." She was a thrifty homemaker, raising a family of ten children on their bountiful farm place. She prepared their meals, watched over them in sickness and health, and was their moral, religious and intellectual educator. One son was killed by a kick from a family horse, but the other nine grew to maturity. Elizabeth was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church here in Spring Valley, and loved the sanctuary with its beautiful windows. She was still attending church until the week before she died.
It is quite remarkable that their five daughters all became teachers, and were educators in the school systems of Fillmore County. They were: Mary E. Meighen (mother of Judge J.F.D. Meighen of Albert Lea), Fanny Kelly (once taught eighth grade in Spring Valley), Florence Nash (mother of Jay Nash, local restaurant owner), Josie Granahan and Ada. The women mostly taught in frame school buildings, heated by wood stoves, with no water other than what was carried by school children from neighboring wells or springs. Such was the challenging life of those early teachers, and yet they provided education for men and women who went on to their chosen careers.
Sons were listed as Hamilton, Virgil, Edward and Milton. Edward had a notable career, serving as state representative for two terms, a state senator from Hennepin County for 12 years, lieutenant governor for two years, and an important figure in the Republican Party both state and national.
Yes, high achievers, but perhaps no more so than all the other pioneer families who went about their busy lives, working at their chosen professions and raising fine families. We might say the same of our fellow citizens today - God bless 'em all! Remember our veterans, especially, on this coming weekend, and fly the flag if you have one.