The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 485
overshadowed. William T. Sadler may not be a major player in Texas history, but
this book shows that he should not be forgotten.
Santa Fe, New Mexico JOHNNY D. BOGGS
Frontier Swashbuckler: The Life and Legend of John Smith T. By Dick Steward.
(Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000. Pp. x+263. Preface, introduc-
tion, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8262-1248-4. $34.95, cloth.)
Dick Steward takes on a difficult challenge in this book-to recreate the life of
John Smith T, a Missouri settler of the early 18oos, who left behind precious lit-
tle in the way of personal papers. Through painstaking research, Steward con-
vinces us that Smith T is worth knowing. Though obscure today, he was notori-
ous in his own time as a land speculator, cutthroat businessman, and filibuster.
Born in Tennessee about 1770, John Smith seems to have added the letter "T"
to his name both in honor of his native state and as a mark of distinction.
Indeed, he devoted much of his adulthood to reaping the wealth of western
lands through shrewdness, bluster, and violence. There was a thin line between
Smith T, the Southern gentleman and duelist, and Smith T, the occasionally
Participating in the Yazoo land speculations of the 1790s, Smith T later
turned to developing Missouri's rich lead deposits. Steward's book is revealing
about the struggle among principal "Anglo" settlers over contested land titles in
the period following the Louisiana Purchase. Making use of county court
records and extensive manuscript sources, the author closely examines the feud
between Smith T and Moses Austin. Success in such battles depended not only
on the hiring of armed guns, but also on building effective political and person-
al ties with various territorial officials,judges, and influential citizens.
Like many of his competitors, Smith T learned to maneuver in the "gray area"
between the rule of law and the use of private force (p. 19). Steward offers some
keen insights into a frontier society, whose white settlers often exemplified "the
dialectic of barbarity and civilization" (p. 2o). His writing is occasionally marred,
however, by outmoded cliches. For example, he writes that one particular region
"swarmed with hostile Indians" (p. 14). This remark is made without adequate
explanation of the background to native-settler conflict.
A participant in the Burr conspiracy, Smith T had a definite urge to test
Spain's control of its North American borderlands. In 18o9, he sponsored an
illicit trading venture to New Mexico, which resulted in the capture of his associ-
ates, including his brother, by Spanish troops. Steward examines-and then
finally casts doubt-on a legend that Smith T journeyed to Chihuahua in order
to rescue the prisoners.
Unfortunately, the author makes a number of misstatements and errors while
discussing Smith T's role in Texas filibustering during the period 1812-1814.
Jose Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara is labeled a "self-styled" patriot-a description
that hardly recognizes his dedication to Mexican independence (p. 132).
Steward incorrectly refers to the "neutral zone" as lying west of Sabine (p. 145).
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page .
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/553/ocr/: accessed January 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.