Tuesday, May 2, 2006

My favorite snake oil salesman





Sometimes you find a really interesting person with a peculiar occupation in your ancestry. I have a snake oil salesman in mine, named Devier J. Smith. He looks like Mr. Confidence in 1884, doesn't he?

So how do I know he is a snake oil salesman? Because he advertised it, and I found the ad in the treasures in my mother's closet. I don't know the time frame, but I'm guessing 1885 to 1890.




What else do I know about DJ Smith? Again, the family records, the census and a family Bible and letters provide much of the information:

DEVIER J.2 SMITH (RANSLOW1) was born 7 May 1839 in Henderson, Jefferson, NY (Bible), and died 1 May 1894 in McCook, Red Willow, NE (Bible). He married ABIGAIL VAUX 4 April 1861 in Rolling Prairie, Dodge, WI (Bible), daughter of SAMUEL VAUX and MARY UNDERHILL. She was born 28 October 1844 in prob. Aurora, Erie, NY (Bible), and died 11 September 1931 in San Diego, San Diego, CA (CA DI).

Devier James Smith was born in New York, and moved with his family about 1843 to Dodge County, Wisconsin where he married Abigail Vaux. The available private records indicate they lived in Dodge County, Wisconsin until about 1868, when they moved to Bedford County, Iowa. In about 1875 the family moved to Andrew County, Missouri, and then to Concordia, Cloud County, Kansas by 1876. A biography of D.J. Smith in a newspaper (the Plain Dealer in Wano, Kansas, no date available) says he was a farmer and hotel-keeper in Wisconsin, a farmer and in the livery business in Iowa and Missouri, and handled cattle in Missouri.

In the 1880 US census, there are two entries for this family. The D.J. Smith family was listed in Shannon township, Pottawatomie County, Kansas. The household included D.J. (age 41, born NY, no occupation, father and mother born NY), wife Abba A. (age 37, born NY, keeping house, father born England, mother born NY), son David D. (age 16, born WI, father and mother born NY), daughter Mami (age 14, born WI, father and mother born NY), E. Kearnes (age 21, born IA) and brother-in-law Jos. P. Vaux (age 35, born NY, father born England, mother born NY). The full record can be found on FHL Microfilm 1,254,393, page 243D. Abagail A. Smith headed a family listed in Blue Rapids township, Marshall County, Kansas. The household included Abagail A. (age 36, born NY, keeps house, father born England, mother born NY), daughter Della (age 18, born WI, at home, father and mother born NY), daughter Mary A. (age 14, born WI, father and mother born NY), father Samuel Vaux (age 65, born England, without occupation, father and mother born England), mother Mary A. Vaux (age 65, born NY, without occupation, father born VT, mother born NH) and niece Orpha Woodward (age 17, born WI, at home, father born VT, mother born NY). The full census record can be found in FHL Microfilm 1,254,388, page 205C.

On April 1, 1885, they bought a farm from John Dunbar in McCook, Red Willow County, Nebraska. They built a barn and started the Blue Front livery stable which was run by son David Devier Smith.

On April 27, 1885, Devier J. Smith went up the Republican River valley with Mr. Dunbar and located the land he owned near Wano, Cheyenne, Kansas. He started building on the land on May 8, 1885, and resided permanently there on November 5 on a place called Spring Ranch. He and the two children had about 70 acres of breaking sod done, and about $4,000 of improvements were made. They grew apples and all sorts of small fruits. At one point in his career, D.J. Smith sold hair tonic for $2 a bottle (see the advertisement below). As part of his livery business, D.J. Smith patented a harness rack on 1 December 1885 while in Wano. The newspaper article notes that DJ was noted for his thrift and common sense.

A family Bible entry reads:

"Spring Ranch, Cheyenne Co, Kans. I wrote the Marriages, Births and Deaths of our Little Daughter & son this 10th day of Nov 1889. This is the Sabath, I have written a letter to my Dear Wife in National City California a Daughter and son-in-law there with a Granson and Son and Daughter and Daughter-in-law in McCook Nebraska. Myself on the Ranch alone. have read a number of Chapters in this good book today it does my Heart good to read the Holy Bible. May we all praise the Lord forever is my prayer, Devier J. Smith".

Several personal letters tell of their life in 1890, including selling Spring Ranch. Devier died in 1894 in McCook, Red Willow, Nebraska.

Abigail (Vaux) Smith came to California after her daughter's first child was born, and may have not returned to her husband. She lived with her daughter Della in 1903 in San Diego. She lived in Los Angeles, California in 1920 when her son David died, and came to San Diego and lived with her daughter Della before her death in 1931.

Thank goodness that Devier wrote the names and marriages of his children in the Bible - they are the only record I have of the names and dates.

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