Erastus "Deaf" Smith did not see his hearing loss as an impediment, but as a way to allow him to avoid distractions while working as a spy and scout during the Texas Revolution. As the chief scout under General Sam Houston, Smith left an enduring legacy from his role in helping Texas achieve independence. The name of the modern-day Texas panhandle county Deaf Smith stands as one acknowledgement of Smith's contributions.
Born on April 19, 1787, in Dutchess County, New York, Smith was the son of Chilaib and Mary Smith. As a baby, Smith suffered from an illness that left him with severe, although not complete, hearing loss. In 1798 he moved with his family to Natchez, Mississippi, where he lived for the next several years. Smith made his first brief visit to Texas in 1817, settling in the San Antonio area about four years later. He married Mexican widow Guadalupe Ruiz Durán shortly after moving to Texas; the couple went on to have four children.
Smith settled in the new DeWitt's colony near what is now Gonzales, Texas, in 1825, while his family remained in San Antonio. Over the next several years, Smith made a living as a hunter, trader, and guide. Although he met several Texans who later spearheaded the Texas Revolution, Smith--who had become a Mexican citizen upon his marriage and even managed to learn Spanish--had little interest in Texan independence during this period. When tensions between Texans and their Mexican rulers rose during the 1830s, Smith strove to maintain neutrality due to his Mexican ties. However, after a Mexican sentry refused him entry to San Antonio and even threatened him with physical harm on a visit to his family in 1835, Smith decided to support the Texan cause.
Smith joined the Texan army, serving as a scout under General Stephen Austin, and participated in the battle of Concepción in October of 1835. While scouting around San Antonio, in November of that year he came upon the Mexican pack train that gave rise to the famed Grass Fight. After Smith reported his discovery of the supply train, Texan forces attacked, hoping to seize money or other valuables meant for the Mexican army--only to discover that the pack animals they had captured carried only grass to feed that army's animals. Smith led Texan troops into San Antonio during the following month's into San Antonio during the following month's siege of Bexar, suffering a battle injury that kept him off the front lines for some time.
Returning to service during the winter of 1836, Smith served as a messenger under William Travis, who sent Smith from the Alamo with a letter pleading for help for the beleaguered garrison. He soon encountered General Sam Houston and his army; Houston sent Smith and another messenger to discover the fate of the Alamo, and Smith returned with survivors Susanna and Angelina Dickinson. The following April, Smith participated in the strategy that led to a sweeping Texan victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. On orders from Houston, he and a few others destroyed the only ready exit from the battlefield, Vince's Bridge, helping the army capture Mexican General Santa Anna following a brief and decisive fight. Smith then carried Santa Anna's message to fellow Mexican General Filisola ordering him to cease his advance and return to Mexico.
After the revolution wound down, Smith became the leader of a company of Texas rangers, and in that capacity led them to victory over a larger Mexican force near Laredo in February of 1837. Shortly after this battle, Smith led the rangers and settled in Richmond, Texas. He died there on November 30, 1837, as the result of some form of lung disease. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Houston eulogized Smith in a letter by writing, "My Friend Deaf Smith, and my stay in darkest hour, Is no more!!! A man, more brave, and honest never, lived. His soul is with God, but his fame and his family, must command the care of His Country!" In 1840 the short-lived Republic of Texas acknowledged Smith by placing his portrait on its five-dollar bill. In 1931 the state legislature sponsored a monument that was built at his grave in Richmond.
"Erastus Smith." Gale Biography in Context. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Biography in Context. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.