January 5, 2011

Young Soapy Smith, the hunter

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As  young boys growing up in post war Georgia in the late 1860s, early 1870s, Jefferson Randolph Smith II and his cousin, Edwin, loved to hunt. On one expedition, with their parents blessing, they traveled  nearly 240 miles between their home in Coweta County to the coastal shipping town of Brunswick, where they came very close to becoming sailors on an outgoing ship. 

Edwin Bobo Smith was eighteen months older than his Cousin Jeff. The boys were double first cousins as their fathers were brothers and their mothers were sisters. Cousin Ed’s family lived “within a stone’s throw” of Cousin Jeff’s. Growing up together, the boys referred to one another as “brother.” In their youth, they planned to stay together for the rest of their lives. Here is how Edwin characterized his boyhood relationship with Jeff:

There was a natural affinity besides the tie of close blood relationship, and the inseparable companionship endured for many years. Our ages were nearly the same but his superior daring and adventurous spirit made me a satellite. Hunting and fishing were mutual passions, and we quickly learned to handle guns expertly, ruthlessly decimating the small game in our area. One winter, after agreeing that we were weary of this petty sport of quail and squirrel slaughter, we got a reluctant assent of our elders to go on an extended trip for the bagging of bigger stuff. We headed for the big pinelands of the coastal region south of Savannah, and we got there partly by rail and partly afoot, helped occasionally by riding in the wagon of a friendly farmer. Our minds were set on bringing down the red deer and maybe a bear in the cane breaks, to say nothing of the waterfowl along the streams. The expedition was a triumph and we wrote home of getting seven good-sized bucks, quite a few wild turkeys and no end of marsh hens, but the score took in no bear. On Saint Simon Island we encountered a novelty, something utterly unexpected from which we were enabled to make money; from a native who got a living that way we learned to be trappers of mink that abound along the reedy shores of that beautiful domain. The skins brought a dollar apiece in the Savannah market and we were in the fair way to become capitalists when a peremptory message summoned the young trappers home. It was a bitter pill to go back when fortune was smiling and Jeff, surveying the fleet of sailing ships that came from all ports of the world into the harbor at Brunswick for lumber and resin and turpentine, said,

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“Let’s go away on one of them, Ed, and see the world.” He must have read my thoughts for the same notion had been fluttering through my mind. Landlubbers as we were we had been mingling with the captains and crews of full-rigged ships, barques and schooners from distant ports and the master of one seeing our quickness to learn the ways of vessels and celerity in skinning up the rope ladders offered to let us work our passage with him to Buenos Aires. If I had only said the word, away we would have sailed on the next tide, but the vision of a sad mother interposed and so the dreams of a pair of embryo sea rovers were frustrated as one wouldn’t embark without the other. I have often speculated whether our whole lives would not have been altered had we made that voyage; if we might not have become wedded to the deep and sailed the seven seas to the end of our days.

As it was, we went home, entirely by rail this time by virtue of our mink-gained coin, and though we didn’t know what halos were, they had accrued to us as the home folks turned out to hear the wondrous details of the intrepid explorers’ exploits in far off spaces. As a consequence, the explorers felt their importance considerably, and as traveled men deemed themselves much superior to the juveniles who had never crossed the county boundaries. It is true they had been away only six weeks, but it seemed six years so much had happened….
Alias Soapy Smith, pp. 24-25

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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story about the boyhood adventure of Jeff and his cousin Edwin.
    Reminds me a bit of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. :)


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