Erastus “Deaf” Smith was born in New York in 1787. He immigrated to Mississippi Territory with his parents in 1798, and in 1821 came to Texas, then a part of Mexico, to remain permanently. His poor health improved in the new environment, but his hearing remained defective. In 1822 he married Guadalupe Ruiz de Duran, a widow with several children, and they subsequently had four children.
At the beginning of the Texas Revolution, Smith was neutral, but when Mexican soldiers barred him from his home and family in San Antonio, he felt compelled to join the Texas army. He was already well known as a scout, for which skill General Sam Houston welcomed him, and he immediately became prominent in the Texas forces. Because of his hearing impairment he was labeled with the nickname of “Deaf”, but the loss of hearing apparently sharpened his eyesight. His ability to follow a dim trail in prairie grass was so exceptional that anecdotes quote his superior officers as saying “As long as the sun is shining, Deaf Smith is as good as a bloodhound.” He fought in the battle of San Jacinto; on orders of General Houston, he cut down Vance’s bridge just before the Texans attacked the Mexicans.
The esteem in which Houston held him is reflected in his words on hearing of “Deaf” Smith’s death on November 30, 1837: “My friend, ‘Deaf’ Smith, and my stay in darkest hour, is no more. A man more brave and honest never lived.”
Our county was named after this Texas war hero when it was formed in 1890.
A formal portrait of Deaf Smith was painted in 1836 by a well-known artist, Jefferson Wright, commissioned by Sam Houston. The original oil painting hangs in the San Jacinto Museum of History. The Deaf Smith County Museum has in its collection a reproduction of that painting, along with a copy of the painting “The Surrender of Santa Anna” in which Deaf Smith is portrayed in buckskin clothing with his cupped hand behind his ear. The original oil painting hangs in the State Capitol Building in Austin. A bronze sculpture of the bust of Deaf Smith is displayed in the Deaf Smith County Courthouse on the second floor.
A biography was written in 1973 by author Cleburne Huston entitled DEAF SMITH Incredible Texas Spy. Another book was written by Faye Campbell Griffis in 1958 with the title The Nine Lives of Deaf Smith.