· John LaFayette “Fay” Smith (1852-1926)
Julia Whiteside, 59, is at Smith’s Flower Shop, 414 North Main Street, Hutchinson, Kansas. She strikes up a conversation with Harry “says it with flowers” Smith, son of the late Fay Smith, a well-known city and county leader. It’s Tuesday, October 11, 1927.
“I saw your gorgeous window display and just had to come in to smell the fragrances,” said Julia Whiteside to Harry and Hilda Smith, local florists and owner-operators of Smith’s Flower Shop.
Harry, with a freshly cut red rose on display in his suitcoat’s button-hole, asked, “How are you, Mrs. Whiteside?”
“Worn out from Houston’s 81st birthday celebrations,” replied Julia, “but these flowers will rejuvenate me.”
“I hope Ada and Houston, Jr. are well,” commented Hilda.
“Yes, they’re fine,” answered Julia, “thanks for asking.”
Julia studied the colorful chrysanthemums, leaned over, closed her eyes, and inhaled the tantalizing aroma. “You sure look like your father,” she said. “Has it been a year now, since his passing?”
“Lost him a year ago last month,” said Harry. “Miss him every day.”
“Fay was a remarkable man,” said Julia. “Reno County was lucky to have him. He was a man of strong purpose and untiring energy.”
“Thank you, Julia,” said Harry.
“Houston knew him better than me,” said Julia. “He still tells me about Fay’s parents—your grandparents—dying when Fay was fourteen years old, about Fay living with an older brother for a time, and then, when he was twenty, following his pioneer spirit to go west.”
“I used to get tired of hearing dad tell the same stories over and over again,” said Harry, “but if he was alive now, I’d welcome him reliving his trip from Independence to Reno County with a newly purchased yoke of oxen.”
“How’s your mother and Susie getting along in sunny California?” asked Julia.
“They relish the weather,” said Harry.
“Mom was more than a wife and mother. She still recalls her work renting out rooms, and especially her time helping people with their aches and pains by offering them cure baths.
“Do you remember her involvement in the late 1890s of promoting and giving baths for health? I was about ten years old. The compound vapor fuming and liniment bathing was advertised as a cure for rheumatism, asthma, eczema, and nervous troubles. Mom would ask people, ‘Why go to Hot Springs for your rheumatism? Why go to Colorado for your asthma? You can save money right here in Hutchinson. It’s cheaper than a physician.’”
As Julia arranged her fresh chrysanthemums on the dining room table, she said to Houston, “Harry says his mother and sister are doing well in California.”
“Will Alice and Susie be visiting anytime soon?” asked Houston.
“Harry didn’t say,” replied Julia. “Hilda was awfully quiet, but she asked about you.”
“Fay was a change from the earlier sheriffs,” began Houston. “The others; Collins, Hartford, Hedrick, and Jordan; they were all Civil War veterans, members of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), but by the end of the war, Fay was still too young to even be a patrol guard.
“Another thing about Fay, back in Iowa, he had gone to college at Clinton. He and I had that in common, a formal education.
“But, like the others who served as sheriff, he was a pioneer. At Independence, Kansas, he purchased a yoke of oxen which he drove over the prairie until he arrived here and decided to locate, taking up a claim.”
Julia considered telling her husband that she had already heard that story many, many times. Then she remembered her mother’s advice. ‘If you find a man that talks, don’t discourage him, for that way you’ll know what he’s thinking.’
“The country was sparsely settled, there being no railroad nearer than Newton,” continued Houston, “and the buffaloes were so abundant they could always be seen in droves on the prairie, and their meat was very plentiful.
“After Fay built a sod house, he began the task of breaking the open prairie with his team of oxen and planting some corn, but his main source of revenue was derived from buffalo hides and bones.
“After losing his crops of corn and wheat in 1874 and 1876, he welcomed the invitation by Sheriff John Hedrick to become his deputy sheriff. Fay moved to town and rented out his land. This allowed him to become engaged in political circles, being elected sheriff twice, first taking office in 1884.
“I believe Fay was the first and only sheriff to be elected as a bachelor but who got married once he was sheriff. He must have taken the advice of another top lawman, ‘If you want to run a jail right, get a wife.’ Now, I’m not saying that was his priority when he and Alice Lewis of Troy Township were wed.”
“I understand, Houston,” replied Julia. “If you want to be successful in life, find the right woman.” Then she winked and grinned.
Houston smiled at his wife and nodded. “Thanks for all your support for so many years. How long has it been?”
“Thirty-eight years,” replied Julia, “but who’s counting?”
“Where was I?” asked Houston. “But Fay was more than a constable and sheriff. His honorable career as a public servant continued while serving as clerk of the district court for four years and as a county commissioner for eight years.
“Knowing Fay was once a sheriff of our county, I heard a boy ask him one time if he’d ever been shot. Fay replied that he’d never been shot, but he could sure recall the most unbearable pain he had ever felt in his life. It was then that Fay recalled the morning he slipped on some ice on his way to the Popular Café. He and his family were living in rooms over the Star clothing store. He had just reached the sidewalk when the accident occurred.
“Fay said the pain he felt was unimaginable and he welcomed the chloroform the doctor gave him during the examination. The doctor concluded that Fay had broken his hip.”
“Houston,” said Julia, “Would you help me in the kitchen? You can tell me all about Fay while you peel potatoes for dinner.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.