Biography of Joseph R. Smith

Joseph R. Smith. The record of continuous service in the office of probate judge in Kansas is held by Joseph B. Smith, of Iola. The people of Allen County first elected Mr. Smith to handle the delicate responsibilities of the probate office in 1894. The term is for two years. Every succeeding two years the people have had an opportunity to express their judgment of Judge Smith’s administration, and every time, apparently regardless of political party fortunes or other considerations, his ability and varied qualifications have received the stamp of approval and in 1916 he was re-elected for the eleventh consecutive term.

Judge Smith had known Kansas more or less intimately for nearly half a century, and had been a permanent resident of the state for thirty-seven years. His is an interesting family record. He was born in Springfield in Sangamon County, Illinois, November 1, 1853. His father was a prominent man in that section of Illinois and filled offices under the great Abraham Lincoln, whom he knew personally. This branch of the Smith family came out of England and were early settlers in Virginia. Judge Smith’s grandfather was George M. Smith, who was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, April 23, 1785. When he was a child his parents took him into Henry County, Kentucky. In Shelby County of that state on August 14, 1810, he married Matilda Dowdall, who was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, February 18, 1793. When she was two years of age her mother died, and her Grandfather Holmes then removed to Shelby County, Kentucky, taking Matilda and her sister and brother along. After their marriage George M. Smith and wife lived several years in Henry County, Kentucky, and while there four children were born to them. In 1824 they removed north of the Ohio River to the vicinity of Vernon in Jennings County, Indiana. Another child was born while they lived there. Afterward they returned to Henry County, Kentucky, where still another child was added to their family, and in March, 1834, they arrived in Sangamon County, Illinois, at what is now Island Grove. George M. Smith spent the rest of his years there and died before the birth of Judge Smith. He was a farmer, and during the War of 1812 had fought on the American side. His wife died in Sangamon County in 1880. They became the parents of eight children. A brief record of them is as follows: Jacob H., born December 23, 1815, and married, December 19, 1838, to Joanna Higgins; John W., referred to below; Elsie A., born December 30, 1821, married Stephen Butler; Thomas D., born August 24, 1823, was married January 1, 1851, to Julia A. Maxwell; Mary F., born April 24, 1825, married December 21, 1847, Owen T. McCormick; Martha M., born December 24, 1827, married April 12, 1849, John Foutch; Harriet O., born September 19, 1830, married Addison Gibson; George W., born May 10, 1833, married Fannie King.

John W. Smith, father of Judge Smith, was born in Henry County, Kentucky, July 10, 1818, and was about sixteen years of age when his parents removed to Sangamon County, Illinois. He grew up and married there, had the training of a farmer, and though a number of years were spent in public office he followed trading and stock raising as a regular business. He was one of the commissioners appointed by act of the Legislature to superintend the erection of the state capitol building at Springfield. Under Lincoln he was appointed collector of internal revenue for the Eighth District, and during the war also served as a recruiting or enrolling officer. Another position he filled during the war was as sheriff of Sangamon County. In 1871-2 he was mayor of Springfield. He later became warden of the state penitentiary, and while filling that office was killed by a railway accident near Joliet, Illinois, August 19, 1873. He grew up in a political atmosphere that made him a whig, but he early identified himself with the fortunes of the great Illinois statesman and was a loyal Lincoln republican. He belonged to the Baptist Church and was affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. On June 1, 1845, he married Ann E. Fox, who was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1829. She died at Springfield, Illinois, in 1871. Of their children the oldest was Amanda O., who died at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1890, the wife of George W. Parish, who now lives in Chicago and is a salesman for a wholesale grocery company. Mary M., the second in age, is the wife of Phillip G. Thomas, a retired manufacturer living at Quincy, Illinois. The third in age is Judge Joseph B. Smith, of Iola. William A. is a farmer at Chandler, Oklahoma. Carrie M. married L. C. Thomas, a farmer in Allen County, Kansas.

Judge Smith grew up in Sangamon County, Illinois, attended the public schools there, graduating from the Springfield High School in 1873. Several years before that, in 1869, he had come out to Kansas on business for his father and spent a season in Allen County handling stock. At the time he was only sixteen years of age. After finishing his high school course, his father having died about that time, he became self supporting as clerk in a dry goods store at Quincy, Illinois. He worked there six years, and in 1879 came out to Kansas to make it his permanent home. Judge Smith was engaged in farming near. Humboldt until 1893, and during the following year handled and fed stock with headquarters in Humboldt. He was called from these business activities to his present office, and had since allowed no important interest to interfere with the efficient work of the probate office. On being elected to the office he removed to Iola in 1894. Judge Smith is a republican, is a past noble grand of Iola Lodge, No. 21, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, also belongs to the Encampment order, and is a member of Humboldt Camp, No. 987, of the Modern Woodmen of America, and to Iola Council, No. 73, of the Knights and Ladies of Security.

On November 23, 1882, in Allen County, Kansas, Judge Smith married Miss Ida G. Cloos, daughter of Hiram and A. Z. (Keeney) Cloos. Her mother resided with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and her father, who was a carpenter, is deceased. Judge and Mrs. Smith are the parents of five children. Helen L. finished her education in the University of Kansas and is now a teacher in the Iola High School. Fred W., a graduate of the Iola High School and a resident of that city, is a traveling salesman representing a St. Louis house of men’s furnishing goods. L. Margaret still lives at home and she nearly finished her senior year in the high school. Anna B. is a graduate of the Iola High School, took advanced courses in the University of Chicago, and is now a teacher in Allen County. Paul K., the youngest of the family, is still a student, being a junior of the local high school.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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