Lois PRESTON & Clem SMEAD
By J a m e s G. C a r n
Williamsport, PA 2002
"Clem Smead --remember Clem? 'N his two lean houn's, remember them?"
Of course you don't. How could you? Clem died nearly a century ago.
But in the greater part of the 19th century--that is the 1800s--nearly everyone in western Bradford County knew him, or knew of him.
And the late Frank Adams Mitchell, who grew up in Troy, PA., and later moved to Chicago, remembered him and wrote the following poem about Smead in 1943.
Clem Smead--remember Clem?
'N his two lean houn's, remember them?
'S I look back now he takes his place
'Mongst th' common lot of th' human race:
But when I was ten or twelve, why he
Was th' greatest man I ever see.
'Y' know he lived up Porter Road
'Bout a mile 'n a half from where I growed.
An' I had to work like all get out,
But Clem, he managed t' live without,
An' hunted and trapped n' roamed carefree,
Th' indipendentest y' ever see.
His income, for he called it such,
Tho it never burdened him overmuch,
Was trappin' foxes, skunks n' minks
And it just sufficed t' buy him drinks,
While his wife, poor soul, worked her fingers bare
For food n' what clothes she could get t' wear.
I remember lots of times, when he,
Druv into town in th' summer, she
Would walk with two big pails brim full
O' berries t' sell, 'nd as a rule
She'd hoof it back, while he stayed down
'N got drunk as a fool at the bar in town.
But in them old days, when life's rough seams
Were shielded by boyhood's wondrous dreams,
Clem's faults 'n failin's we never knew,
For we saw the hunter 'n trapper true:
We envied his boots 'n buckskin vest
'N his frontier look of th' woolly west.
Poor, rough old Clem, as I look back now
Th' halo is gone from his bronzed old brow
An' th' zeal 'n th' zest 'n th' happy ways
Has gone with th' rest, like my boyhood days;
But my old heart hungers 'n grips with pain
To see with those eyes of youth again.
The accompanying photograph of Clem and two of the many hounds he owned throughout his lifetime, was taken in the Troy studio of F. M. Spencer, the village photographer, about 1890. Unfortunately, it was not taken in the wilds of Bradford County where Clem was most at home. But it's the only known photo of Clem and his descendants and local history buffs are grateful for that.
Clement F. Heverly's History and Geography of Bradford County Pennsylvania, 1615-1924, tells us that "Elihu Smead made a start at the foot of the mountain about 1801, but in 1802 purchased the improvement of Timothy Nichols within Troy borough and removed thereto."
It's believed Elihu married Eleanor Cronk, of New York State, but that has yet to be proven. He built a small log cabin in the area northwest of what is now Canton Street and Redington Avenue, Troy. It was at the base of the mountain alongside which ran a small stream, which early deeds for property that border it refer to as Smead Creek. Smead descendants also refer to it as such, but it appears nameless on the map of Troy in the Bradford County Atlas published in 1869 as well as present day maps on file at the Bradford County Court House.
In any event Elihu fathered several children, one of whom was Francis (Frank), who married Priscilla Wilson or Wilsey--her maiden name is in contention, too. To that union was born several children, one son being Clement, who was born in Troy on January 27, 1829--just 2 1/2 years after the death of Thomas Jefferson.
Clem didn't receive a formal education back in
those days, and neither did much of anyone else. Public schools were just
beginning and most children were then what we call "home schooled" today.
In many homes, the Bible was the only book the family owned or read. Children
pretty much learned what they needed to know from their parents, family
and friends and little more. But then they didn't need to know much more
to get by and make their way in the world in those bygone days. America
was largely agricultural and many lived the whole of their lives working
the family farm or starting one of their own.
|Clem grew to manhood in Troy and married Lois
Preston, daughter of Colburn and Sarah, known as Sally, WEBBER Preston.
To this union a daughter, Martha Helen, was born who married Charles D.
Kennedy, son of Chester and Electa EARLY Kennedy. Family genealogy
indicates that they also had a son, Frank, and a daughter, Ella, both who
died of diphtheria in childhood.
Census records indicate that Clem was a farmer
in Troy Township by 1860. That's true, but Clem was different from most
that pursued that avocation. You see Clem was a wanderer. He loved the
outdoors and a life of adventure. He did just what he had to do around
the place to make ends meet, and then went hunting. Don't get the wrong
impression; he was a good provider for his family, but he had other interests,
too, which lured him away from the farm with regularity.
[(East Troy News) Mrs. Lois Preston Smead died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Chas. Kennedy on Sunday morning after an illness of heart disease, aged 77 years. The funeral was held on Tuesday afternoon at 1 o’clock, Rev. Calvin of the Baptist church of Troy officiated. Burial was in Oak Hill cemetery. She is survived by the daughter above mentioned and one brother, Calvin Preston, of California. TGR 1912 ]
She went on to relate, "Clem would never fix anything. If a roof gave out on the house, he would move out into the rest of the house and let the rest fall down.
"Others took advantage of Clem because he drank so much and was an easy target."
She said, "Family history had it that Clem once won a considerable amount of gold coins in a poker game in Troy. He went home by way of walking over the hills and hid the money in a stone fencerow so his wife wouldn't know he was gambling. Someone followed him and stole the gold after he placed it in the fence row and left."
Mrs. Rathbun recalled, "Clem had a great garden and raised big potatoes. He almost shot Clarence Leonard, the constable, when they came to arrest him for something. Clem was hoeing his garden at the time."
As for Clem's wife, Mrs. Rathbun's grandmother, she said, "She had a wonderful disposition. I never saw her ruffled in my life."
The late Rush Gates of Troy, recalled in the 1970s: "I think it is true that Clem's mother was an Indian, what tribe she was from I do not know. Fred Kennedy was a fur buyer and I sold him many dollars worth of fur. He was very honest. He used to come to our place and stay all night in horse and buggy days. He mentioned once that his grandmother (Mrs. Smead) was an Indian." No one else in the line of descent ever heard this tale about there being Indian blood in the family, but it makes for good conversation.
Gates went on, "I do not remember Clem as I was too small, but my Grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, used to hunt with Clem a little.
"Clem carried a 3 barrel gun, a double barrel 10 gauge with a 44-40 rifle barrel between and below the other two. It weighted 12 pounds.
"As we lived about 1 mile east of Springfield, Clem arrived about 5 A.M., one morning to go fox hunting, having walked from Troy carrying his gun leading two fox hounds--about six or seven miles as the crow flies.
"On another occasion his dogs started a fox somewhere near Troy early in the morning. The fox left the vicinity with Clem following. He killed the fox about 4 P.M., near where Sullivan Monument is across the river from Wellsburg, N.Y.; about twenty or so miles from home. He got home the next day. He claimed if a foxhound could not follow a fox across bare frozen plowed fields the dog wasn't worth a nickel.
"I think he was quite a walker as I was told he offered to bet $50.00 he could beat the best horse in Troy from Troy to Harrisburg, about 150 miles."
In 1975, the late George V. Rockwell recalled that, "Some of the people in town did not use Clem just right. Clem was different than some." Rockwell also related that Clem had a kind side to him too, and ". . . took the barbs off the fence so they would not hurt his horses one time."
Some forty years ago, the late Ralph Ferry recalled, "that John Kenyon told him that his father would invite Clem in to meals when he came by. His mother was not in favor of the custom, as Clem usually smelled of skunk. (But) Clem always had good stories, without regard for small details like the truth."
Ralph Ferry further remembered: "When I was young, a hunter killed a panther on Armenia (mountain) and had it hung outside Carpenter & Pierce's Drug Store (Main and Canton Streets, Troy). One old fellow looked at the panther in great distain and said: 'Clem Smead killed one twice as big.'"
According to one newspaper account, "Clem's range of hunting was from Austinville to Leona and from Springfield to Troy which was quite a lot of territory in those days, afoot."
On more than one occasion, Clem was gone for days at a time. He was out in what poet Robert Service called "The Great Alone." He slept under the stars with only his hounds for company, a few bare necessities, beneath a canopy of towering pines through which the night wind howled and moaned. He was, by all accounts, a rugged individualist and a true outdoorsman.
Clem was the living embodiment of something within all of us that we would like to be: detached from the world with no time constraints, a free wheeling spirit that lived each day as aloof as could be. He wasn't tied down to appointments, a routine daily job full of stress and life's frustrations.
As the poem says, "He hunted and trapped and roamed carefree."
Clem was born and raised in a golden era of our country when there were virgin forests, plentiful game, little posted land or fenced-in areas. One could walk endlessly across miles of acreage and see nothing but God's unspoiled handiwork. Streams were clean and pure, roads were virtually non-existent, neighbors were few and often miles away, and all nature was in pristine condition. There were acres and acres of uninhabited mountain wilderness that never knew the sound of woodsman's axe or the meaning of the word "progress." Of course, all of that changed by the time Clem's life was complete.
"Poor, rough 'ol Clem" didn't have to worry about limits on the amount of game he could bag. There was no Pennsylvania Game Commission to set rules and monitor his activity until 1895, but by then Clem's life was drawing to a close.
In the course of his lifetime of nearly 81 years, the country's great expansion caused forests to be clear-cut in an unprecedented swath that felled millions of trees that were hundreds of years old. The lumbering era forever destroyed the wild American landscape, as the early pioneers knew it. By 1900 not only were the trees gone, but the native white tail deer in Pennsylvania were virtually nonexistent due to unregulated shooting and other factors. And industrial pollutants contaminated rivers and streams alike. Man had put his ugly mark upon the land with little consideration for the environment and left the terrain stripped for future generations to look at. But that's a whole other story.
According to his death certificate, Clem died at 11:45 P.M. on the night of November 29, 1908, at his home on Porter Road, Troy Township.
George V. Rockwell, of Troy, wrote me a letter in 1975 and recalled of Clem's death, "Mrs. Smead came over in the middle of the night and asked my father to take Clem down to the undertakers. My father did so in a platform wagon. I went along. I watered the horses while dad was inside. I was just 6 years old when Clem died. I never made out how dad did it alone."
With Clem's passing one of the most colorful figures ever to roam the hills, valleys and towns of Bradford County faded into history.
Clem was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery, Troy, on December 2. His wife outlived him another four years.
The last time I visited the spot on Porter Road where Clem lived, there was nothing left of the house but the forlorn-looking stone cellar walls, dozens of scattered, aging bricks, a rotting weather-beaten banister and the old rust-covered cast iron pump which was still standing in place since the days Clem inhabited the place. The years have swept away the home and nearly all trace that 'Ol Clem ever passed this way. Unfortunately, no one chronicled his many hunting adventures and other escapades in and around Troy.
So, why the interest in Clem Smead, you might ask? Well, as a young man back in the 1960s I became intensely interested in who my forebears were. As was a monthly custom, my parents, brother and I went to visit my widowed grandmother, Mrs. Zada E. Kennedy, one chilly Sunday afternoon in March 1967. She lived on East Main Street in Troy--some fifty miles from our Williamsport home. I asked her who her mother-in-laws' father was. She smiled, then laughed and said, "Why, that was 'ol Clem Smead." That set the wheels in motion to learn more about this character who was my great-great grandfather and I since learned the reason for my grandmother's light-hearted laughter.
Now you know the rest of the story.
Stephen Vincent Benet once wrote a verse I really love:
"When Daniel Boone goes by, at night,
The phantom deer arise,
And all lost, wild America
Is burning in their eyes."
Years ago the late Mrs. John N. Kenyon sent me an undated article from an unknown Bradford County newspaper, from which a few of the quotes in this article were taken, that dubbed Clem, "The Daniel Boone of Bradford County." Yeah, I guess he was, though not in the sense of fighting Indians and making a new frontier safe. But, rather in the sense of being just as much at ease in the wild as with being at home. For I can visualize him still walking the rugged hills that surround Troy, PA, with his shotgun slung over his shoulder, following the baying hounds, as the distant deer stand motionless gazing at him as he passes by in the pale moonlight. For all of us who love the outdoors our hearts truly "hunger and grip with pain," to paraphrase Mitchell's poem, and long to have seen colorful figures like Clem "And all lost, wild America," as Benet so aptly put it in words.
Jim Carn retired as Captain of Police
of the Williamsport Police Department in 1998 after 25 years of service
and now serves as a district justice in the City of Williamsport.
PRESTON - Mrs. Lois A. Smead - (1912) relict of Clement Smead, died December 15 at the home of her daughter, Mrs. [Martha] Chas. Kennedy in East Troy, aged 77 years. Her whole life has been spent in Troy Township. http://www.joycetice.com/obitcemb/oakhobitl.htm