Henry C. "Hank" Smith: a westering man



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Texas Tech University


Countless persons throughout history have made a mark, for better or worse, on the historical record and scholars and chroniclers have documented the successes or failures of the many prominent figures. But, there remain many persons of local, regional, or even national importance whose lives are obscure to the generations that follow them. Such is the case with Henry C. "Hank" Smith. To many. Smith could seem to be the embodiment of the American dream, an immigrant youth who left his home in Germany to seek a better life in America and, starting with little means, combined skill and luck to become a successful entrepreneur. Through various business opportunities he acquired not only a degree of wealth but also recognition and respect from his peers as a merchant, freighter, stock raiser, and prominent regional and civic booster. Although he was a pioneer settler on Texas' South Plains, his life and exploits were generally unknown outside of his contemporaries, close friends, and family.

Hank Smith's Cross B Ranch in Blanco Canyon was centered one mile northeast of Mount Blanco, ten miles north of present day Crosbyton. But Hank Smith never intended to become a rancher. Born in Bavaria, he left Germany when he was only fourteen and traveled to Ohio to live with a sister. He then left Ohio after less than two years to seek better opportunity in the American West. In the course of his westering life, he worked as a teamster on the Santa Fe Trail, searched for gold on Arizona and New Mexico, served in both the Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War, and operated a freighting business in El Paso. In 1872 he left El Paso and eventually settled near Fort Griffin, Texas. While in Fort Griffin he married Elizabeth Boyle and opened the Occidental Hotel. Eventually, after foreclosing on a debt, he moved to Blanco Canyon and became a stock raiser.

The overarching theme of this biography will be contained within Smith's business activities and how his entrepreneurial nature became the driving force behind his movement west and the basis of his life. Smith's movement into the American West represented a model that was typical of many western migrants, a blueprint of entrepreneurship and settlement that was much more pervasive than the popular conception of a frontier pioneer experience. Smith saw little opportunity in Ohio and the Midwest and left in search of economic gain. In this regard. Smith's significance extends far beyond his life in Crosbyton County, an importance that makes him one of the prototypical economically driven, “westering" men.