52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Character

We all have many people in our family trees who have moral and ethical qualities. These qualities give them character. We also have several people in our trees that I would define as “characters.” In other words, people who don’t fit into the norms of society. I don’t know what kind of character Colby Smith possessed. He lived and died so long ago it is hard to determine. But I have a hunch he was an upstanding man with a little bit of the “character” in him.


Colby Smith, his daughter Alma standing, and his third wife Nancy.

Colby was born in Kentucky about 1820 to Garland and Harriett (Stokes) Smith. ¹ He married Eliza Ann Armstrong on 9 Jul 1839 in Caldwell County, Kentucky. They parented Elizabeth Ellen Smith, the great-grandmother of my husband, and five other children. The couple later moved to Sangamon County, Illinois. 

Unfortunately, Eliza Ann died about 1855. The following year he married Melvina A. Thompson. They became parents of six more children. Eventually, the Smiths moved to Fort Scott, Bourbon County, Kansas.

For most of his life, Colby was a farmer. Then, in 1880, he joined the ranks of the unemployed. ² Five years later, Colby was a teamster. ³ According to the webpage of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, “in a teamster’s life, work was scarce, jobs were insecure and poverty was commonplace. In 1900, the typical teamster worked 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week for an average wage of $2 per day. A teamster was expected not only to haul his load but to also assume liability for bad accounts and lost or damaged merchandise. The work left teamsters assuming all of the risks with little chance for reward.” ⁴ There is no doubt, in 1885, Colby would have made less and worked the same number of hours.

The mettle of a man can often be judged by how willing they are to stand up to wrong. Mrs. Louise Martz, a blind woman, owned a dwelling on 621 Margrave Street in Fort Scott. In 1887, she rented the premises to a man named James H. Hartsock, a carpenter. When Hartsock did not pay his rent, she hired Colby to drive her to the house and notify Hartsock he was to vacate the premises. Colby barely had time to speak before Hartsock grabbed him by the neck and threw him from the elevated porch breaking two of Colby’s ribs. Hartsock tried to get at Colby but, his wife and son held him back. Colby was helped into his wagon and taken home.

The next day, a warrant to arrest Hartsock was issued. When the sheriff went to arrest him, Hartsock could not be found. His family didn’t know of his whereabouts, and if they did, they weren’t telling. Two weeks later, he was arrested by Officer Hewitt and placed in the county jail. He was charged with assault and battery. 

On 28 Jun 1887, the Fort Scott Daily Monitor reported: Since James Hartsock tried to limit the existence of Mr. Colby Smith, the driver of the transfer wagon, some few weeks ago, he has succeeded in eluding officers by remaining away from home and taking up his residence with the wood ticks and the frogs. Circus day he came out of his hiding and opened up business near the grounds. His merchandise consisted of soaps and whisky. Officer Mapes heard of it, and a state warrant was secured by Constable Hewitt and both officers made good time to where Hartsock was running a booming trade. They squatted down in the tall grass and thick weeds and as Hartsock came up the path crooning an old-time hymn, and counting his fingers the dollars he was going to rake in during the day on soap, and especially the whisky, Hewitt and Mapes erected themselves in front of him and exclaimed: “Mr. Hartsock, you’re our meat.” Hartsock said it looked that way to him and he lamb-like followed them to jail. 

On 7 Jul 1887, the Fort Scott Daily Monitor reported: James Hartsock was not found guilty of “mellowing” Colby Smith with his “dooks.” The jury could not see what right Mr. Smith had to enter Mr. Hartsock’s castle and confront him in a manner to provoke him to lay Mr. Smith out. Mr. H. feels elated and Mr. S. submits undemonstrably to the decision.

Melvina died in 1886. Otherwise, she may have counseled Colby not to take the job. He was sixty-seven when he encountered James Hartsock. Yes, Mrs. Martz hired him to do a job. I’m sure he took on the task to help a poor blind woman get the rent owed for her property. James Hartsock was obviously a deadbeat. From his actions, we can deduce he was also a bully. Colby stood up to him. Unfortunately, Colby more than met his match.

On 4 Oct 1888, Colby married his third wife, thirty-four-year-old Nancy J. Conard Speare. In 1898, when he was seventy-eight, the Fort Scott Daily Monitor reported that Colby had an accident. The newspaper reported, Colby Smith an old man who hauls coal and lives at 613 Scott Avenue, was badly injured at Wall and Margrave streets yesterday afternoon while watering his horses. While he was in the act of getting into his wagon the horses started to run and ran into the fence, throwing the old man head foremost to the sidewalk, badly bruising his hip and injuring his back. The wheels of the wagon passed over him. He was rendered unconscious for a while but upon being removed to his home soon recovered. It is fortunate that the accident was not more serious. ⁵

Colby Smith died two years later. His obituary ran in The Fort Scott Monitor on 22 Sep 1900.⁶ His obituary somewhat confirms my suspicion that Colby was a “character.” His obituary read: Colby Smith, who has been a familiar character on the streets of Ft. Scott since 1872, died at 9 o’clock this morning at his home at 613 Scott Avenue, where he has lived all the years of his residence here. The cause of death was natural decay and confinement caused by the fracture of his hip about two years ago. He was 80 years old.

Mr. Smith had been for many years a marketer of coal and become known in all parts of town. He was a native of Kentucky, but in 1866 he came to Bourbon County and located in Franklin township. Six years later he moved to Fort Scott. He is survived by one son, Joseph, now of Memphis, and three daughters, namely Mrs. W. D. Pope, living a few miles northeast; Miss Smith of Vernon County, and Mrs. Long of Washington State. The funeral will be held from the residence at 2 o’clock tomorrow.”

Whether or not our ancestors have characters to admire or are “characters,” they add spice to our genealogical history.

Colby Smith is my husband’s great-great-grandfather. 

¹1850 U.S. census, Sangamon, Illinois, population schedule, p. 127B, dwelling 22, family 22, Household of Coallby Smith; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Sep 2013); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll M432_127. 

² 1880 U.S. census, Bourbon County, Kansas, population schedule, Fort Scott, enumeration district (ED) 026, p. 202C, Image 0408, dwelling 55, family 79, Household of Colby Smith; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Sep 2013); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 373

³ Kansas, population schedule, Fort Scott Kansas, p. 16, dwelling 1885 Census, Roll KS1885_9, line 9, Household of Colby Smith; digital images, Ancestry.com, Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925 (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Sep 2013); citing Kansas State Historical Society.

⁴ The Early Years, https://teamster.org/about/teamster-history/the-early-years/

The Fort Scott Daily Monitor, 1 Sep 1898, p. 3, col. 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 9 Jun 2019). 

Note: The story of Colby’s encounter with James Hartsock came from articles that appeared in The Fort Scott Daily Monitor and are housed in the website, Newspapers.com.