Deaf Smith’s burial site is an intriguing mystery
By DENISE ADAMS
The Fort Bend Herald
RICHMOND, Texas (AP) For amateur sleuths, there’s nothing like a good “whodunit” to start the creative juices flowing. The popularity of television shows like “CSI” and “24” bear witness to America’s love of a good mystery.
In Fort Bend County, there’s an intriguing mystery surrounding a famous Texas hero, and the answer is waiting to be discovered.
Where is Erastus “Deaf” Smith buried?
Smith was one of Sam Houston’s most trusted scouts and a respected war hero. Later in life, Smith retired to Richmond and died here. But his final resting place remains a mystery.
Most local historians have theories about where this legendary Texan is buried. Claire Rogers, education coordinator at the Fort Bend Museum, said she tells visitors Smith was buried on the plains of Richmond, a safe bet since much of the town was an open field in 1837.
Located on the corner of Sixth and Houston streets in downtown Richmond is a Texas historical marker, noting the site as Smith’s resting place. There is also a white granite marker, inscribed with Smith’s birth and death.
Historical documents on file with the Texas Historical Commission state Smith died in the home of his friend Randal Jones.
According to the Historical Commission, Smith was “buried in the Calvary Churchyard,” Houston at Sixth Street, and the grave is now unidentified. However, their records state the congregation built its first church building in 1859, 22 years after Smith died.
And so the mystery continues.
The Moore family owned the property where the museum is now located.
Richmond Mayor Hilmar Moore said his father, John M. Moore Jr., always believed he’d found Smith’s remains as a young boy. Moore remembers his father talking about the day he and his brothers thought they’d found the coffin of the Texas scout.
The elder Moore and his brothers decided to dig a swimming pool on the family property. The boys dug a deep hole when they hit something wooden. When their mother discovered what the boys were doing, the elder Moore said they all got a good spanking.
But my father was convinced that Smith was buried in that vicinity on one of those corners, said Hilmar Moore.
Engineer and historian Franklin Schodek said when the city was first platted in 1837, city plots had a 70-foot right of way. With thoroughfares 20 to 30 feet wide, some of the property in the city could have been taken for sidewalks, and perhaps Smith’s final resting place was inadvertently covered up. Most of the streets at that time were often no more than wagon ruts.
Bob Crosser is chairman of the Cemetery Committee for the Fort Bend County Historical Commission, and historical documents at the commission’s office include a 1936 article in the “Foster’s Follies,” published by Foster’s Print Shop in Beaumont. The article notes the exact spot where the remains of Deaf Smith are buried is unknown. The article says Thomas J. Smith (no relation) helped bury Smith; and many years later, he believed the burial spot was in the southeast corner of the yard fence where Calvary Episcopal Church was built.
A rock was placed by the Daughters of the Republic near the Calvary Church site, but it was later removed and placed in Morton Cemetery near the grave of Gen. Mirabeau Lamar. Another marker honoring Smith is located at the Fort Bend County Courthouse, but evidence does not point to Smith being buried there, either.
Currently, a plain stone marker and Texas Historical marker in the southeast corner near the Long-Smith Cottage on the corner of Sixth and Houston streets are believed to be somewhat near his final resting place, but no physical evidence has been found that Smith is actually buried there.
Cross said he talked with a man, Calvin Landers, who was a Houston Light and Power employee. He told Crosser the story about a crew digging a water line on Sixth Street back in the 1940s that came across a casket in the street.
“The foreman told them to leave the wooden box alone and cover it up,” said Crosser. “That would have you thinking he was buried on the west side of Sixth Street.”
Another clue that convinces Crosser about Smith’s burial location is a penciled-in notation on an 1844 map of the city of Richmond.
Crosser does not know who made the addition to the map as they were not protected for years, but someone penciled in a rectangular box on the southeast corner of Plat 90 and wrote “grave.”
In order to verify Smith is buried in that location, the Archaeological Commission would have to request and receive permits from state and professional archaeologists. Crosser hopes if the city ever performs street work in that area, they allow the commission to explore the site.
The only other way to locate items underneath the ground without disturbing the sidewalk or existing homes, said Crosser, would be ground penetrating radar, although the only definitive answer would come from digging up the site.
Virginia Scarborough, who has written and co-authored books on the history of Richmond and is an expert on cemeteries and burial places in the area, said sleuths should probably search for a box buried vertically, not horizontally.
According to folklore, Smith said when he died he wanted to be buried head first.
“He said he wanted to go out the way he came down, so he would be buried head down in the grave,” she said with a chuckle.
So the question lingers – where is Deaf Smith buried?
It appears the man known as the Texas Spy is having the last laugh.