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Willis S. Smith, M.D., one of the most prominent old settlers of Arkansas, was born in Todd County, Ky., near Elkton (then Logan County), August 10, 1810, the fifth of twelve children--nine sons and three daughters--born to Millington and Barbara (Barton) Smith, natives of Edgecombe County, N. C. They were married in Stewart County, Tenn., and in 1808 moved from Tennessee to Western Kentucky, the father being the first man to begin improvements in Russellville, Ky. In 1810, the same year the subject of this sketch was born, his parents moved back to Stewart County (where Fort Donelson now is), and in 1817 removed to Johnson County, Ill., where he and wife both died, the former in 1836 in his seventy-sixth year, and the latter in 1832 at the age of fifty-two years. They were both members of the Baptist Church for many years, and were zealous workers in the same. In politics his father was opposed to Gen. Jackson, as he thought he (Jackson) was too much of a fighting man and would ruin the country, but after the election he was convinced that Jackson was the right man in the right place. His father, Willis Smith, was a Revolutionary soldier, and was killed at Bunker Hill. He was a son of George Smith, a native of Ireland, who came to America and located in Edgecombe County, N.C., where he died. The maternal ancestors of our subject were also natives of Ireland.
At the age of twenty years the subject of this sketch was not able to write, and could barely read and spell, but beginning to see the value of an education he, in company with three neighbor boys, left home without means to work their way through college. They worked their way to Rockspring Theological Seminary, and afterward to Shurtliff College, at Upper Alton, built their own house and kept bachelors' hall, taking turns at cooking and doing the work, and in this way completed the course.
Our subject commenced a classical course, but soon after he had taken up this the college was moved to Alton, and he then embarked in teaching school at Rockspring, where he had also attended school, but learning through some of his pupils who lived in Clark County, Ark., of the desirability of Arkansas as a place of residence, he decided to come to this state.
Accordingly in July, 1832, he went to Cape Girardeau, Mo., and taught school for one term; then he took another school six miles north of Jackson, the county seat of Cape Girardeau County, and then April 2, 1833, started for Clark County, Ark., on horseback, in company with an older brother, arriving April 14, 1833, and for the next three months taught school on Okolona's present site, and after that taught a term of twelve months at Rome (or where that place now is).
He then turned his attention to agricultural pursuits. In 1835 he was elected sheriff of Clark County, and served in this capacity until July 3, 1844, when he resigned the office.
While serving as sheriff he had taken up the study of medicine under A. J. Smith, a younger brother, who had graduated at Louisville Medical College. In 1858 and 1859 he attended college at Memphis, where he graduated in March, 1859. He commenced to practice his profession in 1845, in Clark County, near where Rome now is.
In 1849 he moved to near Whelen, where he has since resided with the exception of the years 1855 to 1857 inclusive, when he resided at Mount Ida, Montgomery County. While a resident of this locality he was appointed probate judge of that county by Gov. Conway. He was engaged in the active practice of his profession until 1876, when he retired.
It had been his intention to retire from the practice of medicine years before this, but having so many friends and acquaintances it was entirely out of the question, and although practically retired now, still some of his old friends in this and surrounding counties call on him and ask for his professional aid.
Dr. Smith is the owner of the home plantation, consisting of 1,230 acres, known as Rawl's Hills Plantation, and ever since his arrival in this county has had farming done. During the late war he was a Union man first, last and always, but submitted to the laws of his country.
August 29, 1833, he married to Miss Margaret Janes, daughter of William Janes, Sr., born in Lawrence County, Ark., October 10, 1815. She died in this county February 19, 1855. To this marriage there were born eight children, two of whom are still living, viz.: William J. M.D. (is practicing medicine in Gum Springs, this county) and Willis ( a very successful farmer living in Rocky Comfort, Little River County, this State), James B. (died at Neosho after the battle of Oak Hill; he was a soldier under Capt. Flanagin in McIntosh's Volunteer Regiment; he was born February 3, 1843, and died September 21, 1861), Isaac I. (was born February 16, 1855, and was killed in this county June 29, 1873), Mary Ann (was born in July, 1845, married William Stone of this county, and died January 24, 1880), John Peck (was born January 25, 1850, was a teacher by occupation, and died in this county in 1887 in his thirty-seventh year), Margaret C. (was born September 24, 1847, was married to E. A. Jenkins of Clark County and died November 2, 1888).
July 1, 1855, the Doctor was again married, this time to Mrs. Martha Harris, daughter of Thomas Atkins, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and widow of Dr. William Harris, who died on Red River. She was born in Lawrence District, S.C., December 15, 1829.
By her first marriage she was the mother of two children, one being Alphonso Harris, M.D., of Prescott, Arks. By her last marriage she is the mother of seven children, all living, viz.: Millington Smith (M.D., located at Black Jack Grove, Tex.), Martha E. (wife of E. A. Sullivan, a farmer of this county), Laura (wife of William Edmonds, in the employ of the Whelen Lumber Company, and also a farmer), Henry C., a daughter (wife of Frederick H.S. McBride, a farmer, also in the employ of the Gurdon Lumber Company) and Daniel W., Adonis and Fannie (all attending Ouachita College).
Both Dr. and Mrs. Smith are members of the Baptist Church, as was the first Mrs. Smith. The Doctor has been a member since 1830, and organized the first Sunday-school. He was the first man to advocate temperance in the county. and has always taken an active interest in church affairs. He was the first president of the board of medical directors of Clark County. He is a Council Mason. Politically he is a constitutional and old line Whig. He was a Jackson man, casting his first vote for Gen. Jackson. After that he was a Whig, opposed to secession, and since the organization he has been a staunch Republican, voting that ticket in all national affairs, but in county politics he votes to the best interests of his county.