August 24, 2011

Luther Martin Smith (1826-1879): Soapy Smith's successful uncle.

(Photo courtesy of Emory University)

In reading any biography on Soapy Smith you are sure to come across the statement that he was born into a family of influence and education. It is most likely true that had he asked any number of relatives to help him achieve an education he could have excelled in any field. His uncle, Luther Martin Smith, an attorney like Soapy's father, was a prime example.

Luther was born September 10, 1826 in Petersburg, Virginia. He attended Mount Pleasant in the Sixth district of Coweta County in 1845 through part of 1847. From there he attended Emory where he was one of the first two students in Coweta County, Georgia (where Soapy was born) to graduate college in 1848 with the highest honor of his class. He returned to Coweta and taught school there for a time.

Luther married Mary Elizabeth Greenwood on January 29, 1849 and they had five children.

He began teaching at Emory in 1852 and in 1867 he became the first Emory University (Georgia), graduate to preside over the college as President (1867-1871). and afterwards Chancellor of the Mississippi University.

In 1859, after ten years of marriage, his wife Mary died. Six years later, on May 16 1865, Luther, age 40, married Caroline "Callie" Lane, age 22. They had four children.

When Soapy's mother passed away in Round Rock, Texas Martin contacted the father (his brother), Jefferson Randolph Smith Sr. and begged him to send the children to him in Georgia. Soapy's father was an alcoholic and not successful as an attorney in Texas. A scan and the contents of the original letter can be viewed in the links at the bottom of this post.

Martin's new wife, Caroline died July 13, 1877 and Luther followed her in death two years later.

Emory University has a page devoted to Luther Martin Smith. Below is the text of that page.

First Emory Alumnus President
Luther M. Smith, Class of 1848
President 1867-71

Luther Smith was the first Emory graduate to preside over the college, and his presidency thus marked a kind of coming of age for the college. A native of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, he received the highest honor of his class when he graduated in 1848. After studying the law and practicing for a time, he accepted President Pierce's invitation to join the faculty in 1852 as tutor in languages. When he assumed the presidency in 1867, he followed the custom of his predecessors in the presidency by teaching literature, philosophy, and religion.

During his brief administration, Smith fostered a vigorous religious life on campus and strongly emphasized the "character-building" qualities of the college community. In general the college prospered under his care, with an average enrollment of more than two hundred. His concern for the financial condition of the college prompted a fund-raising drive, though it resulted in nothing like the $500,000 endowment he thought necessary. He was not averse to taking the trustees to task for what he thought of as too-small imagination and insufficient attention to the need for money. Proposing to begin building a large endowment, Smith curtly admonished the trustees, "The guardians of the institution should become familiar with the idea and promptly take the matter in hand." Perhaps because of such differences over finances, perhaps because of differences over the curriculum, which he wanted to expand and liberalize, in November 1871 the board voted him out of office and replaced him with Osborn L. Smith, the professor of Latin who was no family relation to Luther M.

Curiously, it was during Luther Smith's administration that the Board of Trustees first considered moving Emory College to Atlanta. At a meeting of the board in November 1867, the Rev. G. J. Pearce, a newly elected trustee, made the suggestion, which was quickly referred to committee and, a few days later, voted down, with the "deliberate judgment that the further consideration of the measure proposed is unadvisable."

Source: A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836. Gary S. Hauk, PhD

Luther Martin died July 4, 1879 in Fulton County, Georgia. It is unlikely that Luther learned much, if anything, about the criminal side of his nephew Jefferson Randolph Smith II, alias "Soapy."

Trivia: Emory University rents rooms to graduate students. One style of Apartment is named after Luther. Don't believe me? See HERE

April 3, 2010


August 24
1895: Three days of bullfighting opens in Gillette, Colorado in which Soapy obtains the rights to operate the gambling concession.

Jeff Smith



  1. Luther Martin Smith was my g-g-g-grandfather. I don't think that he died in Fulton County, Georgia as he is buried in Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama. This is the same town where my father was born. Do you have a source showing his death in Georgia? Also, I always thought he was born in Coweta County, Georgia.

    1. Hello, Wendy.

      It is a pleasure to meet you.

      Luther Martin Smith was born in 1826, at least 2 years before his father, Dr. Ira Ellis Smith, purchased land in the 1828 Georgia state lottery that would be decided as being inside the new county of Coweta.

      I believe my information on his death place is wrong. It is based on several family trees, none of which show any sources, which includes a tree showing that Luther Martin had died in Greensboro. At the time of my research I found more information that he had died in Fulton County and only the one mention of Greensboro. Normally, I would have all my sources right at the push of a button but last year I was forced to upgrade my Family Tree Maker to 2012 and in doing so the program lost over 800 names and a lot of my information. Basically, I am forced to start all over.

      I admit that my main focus is on Soapy Smith and can easily overlook facts that are staring me in the face. For instance, as I went through my files and blog I located the November 19, 1877 letter Luther sent to my great-great-grandfather, Jefferson Randolph Smith, Sr., asking him to send the children to him (Luther). Gee, where was the letter addressed from? Greensboro, Alabama. Considering that Luther died less than 2-years later, on July 4, 1879, it makes sense that he died, and was buried in Greensboro, Alabama. I will amend my family tree.

      Do you have anything you would like to share with the family? Photographs, letters, information, etc., I encourage you to do so.

      Jeff Smith

    2. Wendy
      You can see the letter Luther wrote at the following link:


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith