Charles Nutter Smith:
A Community Leader
by Penny Clark
Former Archivist/Museum Curator
Sam Houston Regional Library & Research Center
Charles Nutter Smith was a dynamic individual who made Liberty County a better place to live. He took an active role in education, the legal system, the Baptist church, and fraternal organizations.
Smith, who was born in Hockley in 1859, faced many difficulties in life, but triumphed over his problems. He was perhaps inspired by his parents, Parker and Effie Smith, who migrated from Indiana to Texas. At Galveston the boat that had brought them to the Lone Star State burned, destroying all of their possessions. Parker Smith persevered, working in the banking and railroad industries. He later moved to Navasota where he was a pork packer.
The elder Smith furnished supplies to the Confederacy before his death during the early part of the Civil War. Sadly, Effie Smith died in 1869 leaving young Charles an orphan at the age of ten. He was raised at the Bay Land Orphans Home in Harris County. Smith, however, apparently never let his status as an orphan bar him from achieving. He earned a scholarship to Sam Houston State Normal School (Sam Houston State University) and graduated in 1881.
Smith put his education from the teachers college to good use, devoting the next twenty years of his life to education in East Texas. He had a broad range of experience including teaching at a one-room country school. He served as a principal at Cleveland and as superintendent of schools in Livingston. He helped establish new schools in Texas, including securing a county bond issue to build schools in Liberty County and building the Pine Grove School in Polk County. He served as president of the school board of Cleveland and in seven years the district paid off the school bonds in the community. He served as a member of the county board of school examiners for twelve years.
Charles Nutter Smith made a career change around the turn of the century. He studied law with Pearson, Weston, and Packer in Richmond, and was admitted to the bar at Cleveland, Texas in 1901. He had a general law practice in Cleveland for over twenty-five years. He was active in the legal community, belonging to the Liberty County and Texas State Bar Association.
He is perhaps best known for serving as Liberty County Judge from 1914 to 1920. The Liberty Vindicator wrote of Smith when he announced his candidacy for county judge: "Mr. Smith is perhaps as well-known to the people of Liberty County as any man in it. He has spent the better part of his life in the county and has grown gray from service for it. . . we can say truthfully that he has every qualification for the position to which he aspires." His chief ambition as county judge had been to get the county out of debt. He was able to accomplish this in only two years and maintained this status for the county until the end of his term in 1920. Smith apparently expected others to practice fiscal responsibility as he audited the books of many county officials.
Smith was also a businessman. He owned many acres of land in the county. Judge Smith organized and served as secretary and treasurer of the Proletarian Diamond Oil Association.
Charles Nutter Smith was a well-rounded individual. His community activities were not limited to education law and business, but also included political, civic, church, and fraternal work. He was active in the Democratic Party and worked hard for Prohibition. He organized and completed the first telephone exchange in Liberty County at Cleveland. In 1916 he organized the Liberty County Boys Pig Club. The club gave boys ages twelve to sixteen an opportunity to become livestock owners. Men in the community, including Smith, each provided the funds to purchase bred sows. Then boys ages twelve to sixteen were chosen to receive a pig. The boys pledged to take good care of their pig and repay the club the price of the pig in one year. The club hoped to not only help boys, but also to improve area agriculture.
Smith served as a Baptist Sunday school superintendent in Cleveland for thirty years. He helped establish Sunday schools throughout the county. Smith was affiliated with the Masonic fraternity, belonging to the Houston Chapter of the Royal Arch and the Rose Croix Chapter of the Scottish Rite. The Liberty Vindicator noted in 1916 that Smith had lived in the community a long time and his efforts have always been for the betterment of the people. "Judge Smith [was] a careful, well-versed lawyer and a thorough conservative business man, a simon pure democrat and a polished, cultured gentleman."
Smith was a family man. He married the former Margaret Capers in 1885. Like many people of that time they faced the death of two young children, Mabel and William. Later they had three more children, C. N. Smith, Jr., Donald Leslie Smith, and Lutie Smith Jaffrion, all of whom survived to adulthood. After his first wife died, he married Mollie Majnik, and they had one son, Robert Charles Smith.
Smiths success in life was no doubt due to a number of factors. One of his attributes was his sense of humor. When traveling from Tarkington Prairie to Cleveland, he heard his dogs barking and went to investigate. He found his dogs had a bear hemmed in and when the bear jumped at one of his dogs he took a shovel and clubbed the bear to death. He brought the bear with him to town in the hopes of making a tidy profit on the sale of the bear skin. Unfortunately, he had to pay two dollars to have the bear skinned and the carcass hauled into the woods, and was only able to sell the bearskin for one dollar and fifty cents. Although he lost money on the transaction, he enjoyed telling the story for years and said it was worth it just to remember it. He was a skilled orator, who a contemporary described as a speaker of great ability, with something to say and a convincing manner of saying it. He was also charitable, doing much pro bono or free legal work especially during the hard times of the Depression.
After a lifetime of achievement and service to his community, Smith died of pneumonia in 1945 at the age of eighty-five at the Cleveland hospital. He was buried in the Cleveland Cemetery. Charles R. Wharton, author of Texas Under Many Flags, characterized Smith as one of the most valuable men in Liberty County: "a leader in educational affairs, a business man in politics, [who worked] with other public spirited citizens to accomplish a progressive program for schools, good roads and other matters, and at the same time demand[ed] efficiency and economy in obtaining these objectives." Smith will be long remembered not only for his legal and community accomplishments, but also for his love of family. A grandson, Frank J. Joffrion, Jr. wrote of Smith: "On that glorious day when he met his Maker, [he] received an embracing and resounding, Well done-welcome home!"