Antioch Cemetery gravestones, Ralls County, Missouri, tell of Smith family loves and losses

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

In the Autumn of 1906, while Abner S. Smith was serving as Justice of the Peace in Marion, County, Mo., Hannibal enacted a cigarette law. Michael Chios, operating a fruit stand at 212 (later numbered 1714) Market St., was the first merchant to face charges of violating that law. He was charged with selling cigarettes to boys under the age of 18.

The Chios store was located directly opposite of the West School, and it was a convenience for school boys to purchase their smokes at the Chios store.

Communication could have been a variable in Chios’ arrest; he was an Italian by birth, and didn’t speak English.

None the less, Silas T. Gregory of 2118 St. Mary’s Avenue filed a complaint, and after the arrest by Constable George W. Munson, Chios was called before Judge Abner S. Smith, (1200 Broadway) where the Italian merchant entered a plea of not guilty.

There was an obvious campaign going on at the time regarding cigarettes.

On June 20, 1906, the Palmyra Spectator reported that the CB&Q Railroad was on the look out for smokers in their employ.

“The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company had announced that every employee found smoking cigarettes the company will no longer give him employment; they have ascertained to their satisfaction that the cigarette fiend cannot, or does not, perform his duties as does the other fellow.”

In addition, on July 11, 1906, the Palmyra Spectator issued an ominous warning to boys who were tempted to take up the habit of smoking:

“A word to you, sonny - you little twelve or thirteen year old boy who is smoking cigarettes on the sly. What do you want to be when you grow up - a stalwart, healthy, vigorous, broad shouldered man, or a little, puny, measly, no account, weak minded dude? If you want to be a man, strong like a man, with hair on your face, brains in your head and muscles in your limbs, you must cut out the cigarette. If you want to be … despised by the girls, and held in contempt by the fellows, keep right on smoking and end your days in the insane asylum.”

Justice of the Peace

Abner S. Smith was a key component in Hannibal’s law enforcement during the first decade of the 20th Century. From about 1902 until the decade’s end, Judge Smith served as an elected Justice of the Peace. That role is presumably compared to the present Municipal Court system of government. Minor infractions were taken up by a Justice of the Peace, while more serious crimes were dealt with in the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas.

Smith was about 53 years of age when he first served Marion County as judge, and it was a position he worked hard to obtain. As a farmer of land located just across the Ralls County line near Mount Olivet Cemetery, he had to prove his residence in Marion County before his name could be put onto the ballot.

He succeeded, and won election repeatedly for nearly a decade.

‘Marrying justice’

During that time, he earned the reputation as one of Hannibal’s “marrying justices.

“Hardly a day passes but he ties the connubial knot for one or more couples,” the Palmyra Spectator reported on Jan. 22, 1908.

One marriage that he didn’t officiate at was his own, on Jan. 22, 1908. That morning, he and his intended bride, Ilasco school teacher Fannie Wickersham, took the train from Hannibal to Palmyra, obtained the necessary license, and at noon were pronounced man and wife by Rev. A.J. Thames.

The Palmyra Spectator reported: “The Judge kept his movement quiet and few people knew his pleasant mission to Palmyra until he had taken the evening’s train for home.”

For the next year or two, Abner and Fannie Smith lived at 1306 Hill St., in Hannibal. His office was a storefront in the W.J. Roth Block, which was located on the northwest corner of Broadway and North Maple. (The building has long since been demolished.)

Widower

Judge Smith, in actuality, was a widower of long duration. Smith first married Jenny Wickersham, the younger sister of Fannie, who before her marriage taught at Hannibal’s South School. Abner and Jenny were married in early January, 1895. Sadly, she died just two years later. The Wickersham women were the daughters of James Madison and Millicent Silver Wickersham of Ralls County. (Another sister, Miss Ethel M. Wickersham, was a teacher at Hannibal’s North School in 1909.)

Truck farming

Indications are, after his decade-long stint as Justice of the Peace, Judge Smith retired back to his farm on Fulton Avenue, just to the south of the city limits. The 1912 city directory describes him as a gardener.

A little more than a decade prior (Aug. 17, 1899) The Hannibal Post published a story about John Jenner, a gardener living on the “Wickersham place” near Mt. Olivet Cemetery in the same vicinity where the Smiths lived.

As a “truck farmer,” Jenner would have harvested produce from the fields and delivered them to customers in town, via a horse-drawn cart.

Early in the morning of Aug. 10, 1899, a strong storm passed through the Ralls/Marion County border south of Hannibal, creating lightning strikes of an unusual nature.

Jenner, still inside his house, experienced a strike that came in through a window, penetrating his body. He received blistering on his left shoulder and burns on his right hip. Glass panes were shattered within the house.

Shaken, but not seriously injured, Jenner preceded to town with his load of produce, stopping to tell a Hannibal post reporter of his ordeal.

Early settler

Abram S. Smith moved to Ralls County from Virginia in 1851 - when he was just a toddler - along with his parents, William J. Smith and Sarah Ann Elzea Smith.

In the years following the Civil War, Abram S. Smith and his future in-laws, the Wickershams, served as charter members of the Antioch Baptist Church, according to a history published in “Ralls County Missouri” by Howard.

While still a bachelor, Smith was elected to the Missouri legislature from Ralls County, serving in 1892-93. He sought public office on numerous occasions, and was long a dedicated member of the Democratic party. For a time during his life he was affiliated with the State Grange.

In the July 24, 1890 Marion County Herald, in affiliation with the Grange, Smith was described:

“Abner S. Smith, secretary of the State Grange, is a practical farmer and knows how to raise a crop of wheat as well as anyone. Because he wears good clothes and rides a fine horse is no indication that he is dude, not by any means. He owns a little farm in Ralls county, right among the Saverton hills and everything he plants or sows turns to gold or its equivalent.”

Family deaths

Jenny Wickersham Smith died Dec. 31, 1896, Antioch Cemetery.

Abner S. Smith died on his 84th birthday, in February 1931, Antioch Cemetery.

Frances “Fannie” Wickersham Smith died Dec 18, 1946, at the age of 84, Antioch Cemetery.

William E. Wickersham, brother of the Wickersham sisters, died Feb. 8, 1936, at the age of 77, Antioch Cemetery.

William J. Smith died Dec. 10, 1887, Antioch Cemetery.

Sarah Ann Elzea Smith died April 11, 1891, Antioch Cemetery.

Virgil E. Smith, son of A.S. and Virginia (Jenny) Smith, was born Dec. 26, 1896, and died Nov. 22, 1897. Antioch Cemetery.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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