Biography of William Christee Smyser

William Christee Smyser, who died at Sterling, Kansas, August 9, 1917, had been for thirty-five years a resident of that section of the state. Few men have assumed and carried out to such a successful conclusion the larger responsibilities of business affairs. One of the outstanding characteristics of big business men is a quiet efficiency of performance that handles a great volume of work with a notable absence of noise and confusion. This quiet efficiency was a mark of Mr. Smyser’s entire career. Under his direction large affairs were transacted and things got themselves done in the form of concrete results, but in such a way as to attract little notice to the source of the power and energy.

The foundation of his business success was laid during his connection with the broom corn industry of Western Kansas. For a number of years he was one of the most extensive dealers in this crop, buying in carload lots. After he gave this up he concentrated all his time upon the buying and feeding of sheep, and was undoubtedly one of the biggest producers of mutton and wool in the State of Kansas. He amassed a large property in farm land and always lived in close touch with the soil. He was a student of farming from its scientific as well as practical point of view. He knew and understood soils, and seldom made an error in adapting his crops and his business to the variations of soil and climate.

William Christie Smyser was born at Milford, Ohio, September 5, 1839, and at the time of his death his age was seventy-seven years, eleven months, four days. He was a son of Abram and Susan Smyser. The early part of his life was spent in his native county and he completed his education by graduating from the Milford Seminary. Mr. Smyser was descended from one of the oldest German families of noble descent, who flourished among the Silesian knighthood. In the twelfth century they called and signed themselves “The Schmeissers of Ehrenprrisburg,” and this family bore the coat of arms of their knightly kinsfolk, carrying the date 1128 A. D.

Of Mr. Smyser’s life in Kansas the Sterling Bulletin had this to say: “Mr. Smyser came to Sterling with his family in 1882 and since that time had made his home here. He was well known all over the state and was the largest sheep feeder in Kansas. He fed from 15,000 to 20,000 sheep a year. He was a good business man, not only being a success in a business way but also was noted for his honesty and business integrity. He was naturally of a retired, quiet disposition, never caring to have any public demonstration made concerning his affairs. He was a very generous man, but gave in such a quiet way that but few people really knew of his generosity. Courteous, pleasant and cheerful he made many friends. He liked young people and kept in close touch with them and their interests. He was devoted to his family and with his sons he was an intimate companion, and enjoyed their society and company always, even to the exclusion of older friends. He led a straightforward, upright life. He had been a member of the Congregational church for years. He was a great Bible student and derived much comfort and help from reading the scriptures. Few men were more optimistic in their nature, few men more kind and thoughtful in their homes, and few will be more missed from a home than Mr. Smyser.”

He was an active member of Sterling Lodge No. 171, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and some of his brother Masons acted as pall bearers at his funeral. Earlier in life he had also been identified with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias. In politics he was a democrat by principle, often aided the party, and at the same time was independent in supporting various candidates, an instance of which is that he cast a vote for the republican governor, Capper.

In his will Mr. Smyser left his entire estate to his wife as executrix. She had been his constant helpmate and companion for nearly half a century.

It was in Shelby County, Ohio, October 28, 1868, that William C. Smyser and Miss Lavinia J. Brown were united in the ties that endured for nearly fifty years.

Mrs. Smyser was born at Piqua, Ohio, of an old and prominent family of that state. Her first American ancestor was Thomas Brown, who immigrated from Wales and settled in Virginia. He took part as a soldier in the Revolutionary war. Mrs. Smyser’s grandfather, Joseph Brown, a son of Thomas, the Revolutionary patriot, was born in 1761. He added to the military record of the family by service in the War of 1812. For this service the Government gave him a land grant, and that grant was placed in Missouri, and the City of Carrollton had since been built on the land. Joseph Brown was a pioneer settler in Southern Ohio, locating in Clermont County, where he spent his last years and where he died in 1851.

The father of Mrs. Smyser was John Brown, who was born in Clermont County, Ohio, in 1806, when that region was all a wilderness. Right after his marriage he moved north to Piqua and located in the big woods, where he cleared up a farm. He settled on that farm in 1828 and now, after a lapse of nearly ninety years, the old homestead of 160 acres is owned by his son, John P. He was a very prominent man at Piqua in Miami County, where he helped establish the first bank, but his home and chief interests were in the adjoining County of Shelby, where his success as a farmer made him the wealthiest man of the county at one time. In the pioneer days one of the neighbors of the Brown family was the famous Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, who lived on a farm adjoining the Brown homestead on the south. John Brown became identified with the republican party upon its organization and was a very active churchman of the Christian denomination. He died in Shelby County, Ohio, in 1879, at the age of seventy-one.

John Brown married Mary Fitzwater. She was born in Clermont County, Ohio, June 27, 1809, and died at Piqua December 31, 1889. Of their six children Mrs. Smyser was the eighth. Maria, the oldest, died at Piqua, wife of James Wise, a farmer, also deceased. Elizabeth, living at Windsor, Illinois, is the widow of John Smyser, who died at Windsor in 1880, and was a brother of the late William C. Smyser. Mary Ann, the next older sister of Mrs. Smyser, died at Piqua, wife of John W. Widney, a farmer, now deceased. John P. had already been mentioned as the owner of the old homestead. The youngest child is Ward Brown, who owned some of his father’s original land holdings in Ohio.

Mrs. Smyser grew up and was educated in the public schools at Piqua, and came to Kansas with her husband in 1882. She had identified herself with the social and public life of Sterling in many ways. She is an active member of the Congregational Church and through her ancestry is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her relationship with early colonial families is a most interesting one. Her great-grandmother, Mary Ball, was a first cousin and a bosom friend of the mother of Gen. George Washington. Thus Mrs. Smyser is entitled to the Ball coat of arms. She had been very active in the Daughters and in 1905, while regent for twelve years of the Kansas Chapter, the first marker for the Santa Fe Trail was placed in position by the chapter. Later she assisted in placing and selecting the granite markers for the trail throughout the state. She is treasurer of the Pawnee Rock Association, and Governor Hoch commissioned her to erect the monument at Pawnee Rock and she was largely instrumental in raising the funds for the purchase of that monument. She is still treasurer of the association. Mrs. Smyser is past worthy matron of Sterling Chapter No. 47, Order of Eastern Star, is president of the Home Culture Club, the oldest woman’s club in Sterling; and is a member of the P. E. O. Sisterhood.

Mr. and Mrs. Smyser had three children, two sons and one daughter. The oldest is Dr. Harley Brown Smyser, who was born October 21, 1869. He attended the high school and studied dentistry, passing the examination before the State Board of Dental Surgery. He now resided at Wichita, where he had an office and also other offices in Hutchinson, Pratt and Kinsley. He is married and his two children are Bessie Lucile and Paul Ward. Mary Alberta, the only daughter, born May 1, 1871, is a graduate of Bethany College at Topeka and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was organizer of Sterling Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and is ex-regent of Urbana Chapter of Urbana, Ohio, where she occupies a prominent position in social and club life. She married C. F. Johnson and they live at Urbans, Ohio, where Mr. Johnson is a manufacturer of tin products used by railroads and also of halters and similar wares. The younger son, John Ward, born August 26, 1874, graduated from the Western Dental College of Kansas in 1899, but had never followed that professional career, giving all his time and attention to the sheep feeding business. His own farm of 320 acres is a mile and a half east of Sterling, and he is also manager of the large estate of his father, comprising 1,280 acres. The family also rent 160 acres, a tract of land which had been used by them for twenty-five years and which they have never been able to buy. J. Ward Smyser maintains the sheep feeding business on the same scale as his father conducted it, and every year from 15,000 to 20,000 sheep are pastured and fed on the Smyser ranch. J. Ward Smyser is a democrat, an active supporter of the Congregational Church, and is affiliated with Sterling Lodge No. 171, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. In 1915, at Sterling, he married Miss May Hughes, who was born at Sterling.


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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