In researching my third great-grandparents, John Bird and Tabitha Taylor, it seems that they were pursuing the post-revolutionary dream and moving west to the new frontier. Okay, here’s the data: John Bird - born in South Carolina on March 30, 1780; Tabitha Taylor - born in North Carolina on October 1, 1795; married in Tennessee on April 14, 1812. John fought in the War of 1812. The John Bird family moved to Illinois before the birth of my second great-grandfather, William, who was born in 1820. Trivia fact – Illinois became a state in 1818. They owned land, had a horse mill, and raised ten children.
Nancy, Betsie, Minerva, Rhoda and our William, five of John and Tabitha’s children, were comfortable staying in Illinois. Thomas, Annis Mariah, Spicie, Isaac, and Susan traveled to the new frontier, Texas. Family tradition tells that they moved to build railroads. Census records from 1870 reveal their occupations as farmers.
John and Corrine Afton have documented a Texas historical marker commemorating John James Smith. John was the eldest son of Minerva Bird Smith, making him a grandchild of John and Tabitha. The inscription on the marker states:
John James Smith
(March 24, 1822 - April 22, 1924)
Illinois native John James Smith came to Texas shortly before enlisting for service in the Mexican War, 1846-48. He later served as a Texas Ranger, helping protect frontier areas from attacks by hostile Indians. During the Civil War Smith joined the Confederate Army and served for four years. Following his discharge from the military, he served as City Marshall of Greenville, Texas, for two years. Smith moved to Kimble County in 1881, where he was a farmer and a respected citizen. He lived at his nearby farm home until his death at the age of 102.
After reading this in The Bird’s and Related Families by Angie Bird, I wanted to know more about our cousin. On Ancestry.com I found an article that had been scanned from The Star-Telegram dated November 26, 1921. This is my condensed revision of the biography.
Mr. Smith, a man weighing in at 236 pounds and standing six feet and three inches tall, developed a reputation of being a fighter during his railroad working days. Apparently there were many “watering holes” along the construction route of the Illinois Central Railroad. Well, there is always one drunk in the bar who thinks he is tough and decides to pick a fight with the biggest man around. John James Smith was the biggest man around and was not going to back from a fight. Eventually, since no one could best him one-on-one, he was jumped by a group of “drunken Irishmen”. John had a small pewter knife that he used to defend himself. Then (in my word) “opened up his can of whoop ass and put the hurt on ‘em.” He didn’t have many more confrontations during his time in Illinois. After the railroad was completed John worked as a brakeman on the section from Cairo to Ashley. Cairo (KAY-roh) is at the southern tip of the state where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet.
John followed relatives to Texas. This biography makes no mention of him serving during the Mexican War. It does tell of his service with the Texas Rangers, where he “chased marauding bands of Indians.” When war broke out he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served in Steven’s regiment of the Texas Cavalry. After the war he took a post as the City Marshall of Greenville, Texas. He proudly served and protected the citizens of Greenville for two years.
John left Hunt County heading west in a prairie schooner, settling in the less populated Kimble County. The author says that he was married three times and had thirteen children. Both the historical marker and the article point out that he was well respected in the community, saying he was a “man of his word.” It appears that his fighting reputation followed him throughout his life, because the author closes with these remarks, “most men chose to be his friend and never fight him a second time” and after he would “thrash a man then make him come into his house, eat a meal, and smoke a pipe.” This remarkable man, our cousin, lived to be 102 years old.