Biography of James Noble Smith

James Noble Smith, now in his second term as sheriff of Harvey County, is a Kansan of thirty-five years residence and experience. He is a veteran railroader, having handled the throttle of an engine on the Santa Fe road for a score of years or more. He is a capable and trusted officer, and had long been a man of prominence in affairs at Newton and in Harvey County.

Mr. Smith was born at Union in Pike County, Indiana, September 22, 1859, and had an interesting family lineage. His great-grandfather was a Scotch Irishman who came to America and founded a pioneer home in the territory and state of Illinois. The sheriff’s grandfather was also named James Noble Smith and was a native of Illinois. He was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church and did that work in the days of the old time circuit rider. He was also a slave holder, but becoming convinced that the holding of slaves was a wrong, he freed his negroes long before the war. He died at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1857.

John W. Smith, father of James M., was born at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1818. He lived in that city until reaching manhood, and then moved to Evansville, Indiana. He was a carpenter by trade and his specialty was the building of winding stairs, a work that tests the highest skill of a wood worker. At Evansville he married and subsequently removed to Union, Indiana, where he followed his trade until 1861. In that year he enlisted in Company E of the Forty-second Indiana Infantry. He was chosen regimental color bearer, and carried the flag on many a hard fought battlefield of the South. He was in the battles of Shiloh, Lookkout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, the Wilderness and siege of Vicksburg, and was nine times wounded. At Chickamauga his right leg was shot off below the knee and the wound was so serious that he died soon after the battle and was buried on that great battleground. A comrade remembered his last words and transmitted them to his family. They were: “You can get my body but you cannot get my soul.” He was a very devout Christian and an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was also affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

In 1848 John W. Smith married Miss Sarah E. Sullivan. She was born at Vincennes, Indiana, March 1, 1830, daughter of William H. Sullivan, a hotel proprietor, and her death occurred at Dewey, Oklahoma, in 1907, she having survived her soldier husband more than forty years. Of her six children James N. was the next to the youngest. The oldest, Margaret Ellen, is the wife of George Armstrong, a general workman living in Los Angeles, California. William H. became a mine inspector and died at Winslow, Indiana, in June, 1884, the Odd Fellows Lodge having charge of his funeral. Mary Ann died at Newton, Kansas, unmarried in 1909. Edwin Howard, born at Evansville, Indiana, June 22, 1857, is present deputy sheriff of Harvey County under his brother. He is a member of Sequoyah Lodge No. 268, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Wann, Oklahoma, and is a member of Indian Consistory No. 2, of South McAlester, Oklahoma. Edwin H. Smith married in 1896, at Wichita, Kansas, Miss Catherine F. Pinkham, who died childless June 9, 1914. Robert Franklin, the youngest of the family, died at Ireland, Indiana, in 1879, at the age of eighteen.

James Noble Smith grew up in the country districts of Pike County, Indiana, attended the rural schools, and at the age of seventeen became self supporting. He worked on a farm until past twenty-one, and on August 8, 1882, arrived at Newton, Kansas. Here he did general work for eight months, and then entered the local shops of the Santa Fe Railroad. Two years later he was made locomotive fireman, served in that capacity 2½ years, and then secured his coveted advancement to the post of locomotive engineer, and he pulled trains out of Newton for the Santa Fe Company twenty years. It was on account of his health that he finally resigned from the service.

Mr. Smith was appointed under sheriff in 1910, while E. W. Slaymaker was sheriff. He served as deputy to Mr. Slaymaker four years and in 1914 was himself elected to the office of sheriff and re-elected in 1916. His qualifications for the office and his personal popularity were signally tested, since he was chosen on the democratic ticket in a county normally republican at every election. In 1914 he received 754 majority over his opponent, while in 1916 he had 1,891 votes to spare.

Sheriff Smith formerly owned a farm in Harvey County but sold that, and is the owner of two dwellings in the City of Newton. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, and his lodge associations are with Newton Lodge No. 100, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Newton Lodge No. 706, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Cecilian Lodge No. 223, Knights of Pythias, and Newton Camp of the Woodmen of the World.

On January 5, 1892, at Newton, Mr. Smith married Miss Dora W. French. They have a son and daughter, Emmett Merle and Gladys Esther. The daughter was born May 10, 1899, and graduated from the Newton High School in 1917. The son, who was born July 22, 1895, is a young man of great promise and of splendid talents. He graduated from Bethel College at Newton and afterwards took technical courses in Highland Park College at Des Moines, Iowa, where he prepared for the profession of mechanical draftsman and mechanical engineer. He graduated with honors from that institution after a three years course and is now in training for the aviation corps of the United States Army in a camp in Texas.

Mrs. Smith was born near Warrensburg, Missouri. Her father, W. K. French, who was born at Lena, Illinois, in 1842, and died at Topeka, Kansas, in November, 1913, spent his active life as a farmer. He was a son of Thomas French, who was born in 1817, and early in life acquired a pioneer homestead at Lena, Illinois, where he died in 1894. Thomas French married Mary Kirkpatrick, who was of Irish descent and was born in 1819 and died at the homestead at Lena, Illinois, in 1892. Two of their children are still living: Washington, whose home was on a farm in Northern Wisconsin when last heard from; and Lydia, wife of George Lauver, a retired farmer at Freeport, Illinois.

W. K. French grew up and married at Lena, Illinois, in 1868 moved to Missouri, and in the spring of 1871 arrived in Kansas, homesteading a quarter section of land near Peabody in Marion County. He lived on and developed that farm until he retired in 1886 and went to Newton. He also had an honorable military record, having enlisted in 1861 in the Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry and was in active service four years, until the close of the war. He fought in the battles of Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge, and was once taken prisoner, but soon exchanged. Politically he was a republican. W. K. French married Mary J. Aue, who was born at Akron, Ohio, in 1846, and died at Newton, Kansas, in November, 1914. Mrs. Smith was the third of their five children. The two oldest Mary and Olive, both died in early life, the latter at the age of five years. Cora died at the age of nine years. Mrs. Smith’s brother, Chester, the youngest of the family, is connected with Montgomery Ward & Company at Kansas City, Missouri.



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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