Erastus “Deaf” Smith was born 1787 in New York. Although his loyalties were apparently divided at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, when a Mexican sentry refused to allow him to enter San Antonio to visit his family, Smith joined Stephen F. Austin’s army, which was then besieging the town. On October 15, Charles Bellinger Stewart wrote to Austin that Smith had learned that the troops of Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos were “disaffected to the cause which they are serving”. Stewart assured Austin that he knew Smith well and found him to be “perfectly disinterested” and trustworthy “to any extent his abilities and infirmity may warrant”. After reporting to Richard R. Royall, president of the council at San Felipe, who found him to be “very importantly usefull”, Smith returned to Austin’s army and took part in the battle of Concepción on October 28, 1835. He was responsible for the discovery of the Mexican supply train involved in the Grass Fight. During the Siege of Béxar, Smith guided Col. Francis Johnson’s men into the town. On December 8 he was wounded on top of the Veramendi Palace at almost the same moment that Benjamin R. Milam was killed at its door. Smith, whom Governor Henry Smith called “well known to the army for his vigilance and meritorious acts”, remained with the army despite his severe wounds, “as his services as a spy cannot well be dispensed with”.
He served as a messenger for William B. Travis, who considered him “‘the Bravest of the Brave’ in the cause of Texas”. Smith carried Travis’s letter from the Alamo on February 15, 1836. On March 13 Gen. Sam Houston dispatched Smith and Henry Karnes back to San Antonio to learn the status of the Alamo garrison. “If living”, Houston reported to Thomas Jefferson Rusk, Smith would return with “the truth and all important news”. Smith returned with Susanna W. and Angelina E. Dickinson. Houston first assigned Smith to the cavalry but later placed him in charge of recruits with the rank of captain. During the San Jacinto campaign he captured a Mexican courier bearing important dispatches to Antonio López de Santa Anna, and on April 21, 1836, Smith and Houston requisitioned “one or more axes”, with which Houston ordered Smith to destroy Vince’s Bridge, reportedly to prevent the retreat of the Mexican army. Smith accomplished the mission and reported to Houston before the battle of San Jacinto.
It was to Smith that Houston entrusted Santa Anna’s order to Gen. Vicente Filisola to evacuate Texas. After San Jacinto, General Rusk continued to send Smith out as a scout, and after having been absent from the army for the first two weeks of July he was incorrectly reported as captured by the Mexicans. He resigned his commission in the army but raised and commanded a company of Texas Rangers that on February 17, 1837, defeated a band of Mexicans at Laredo. Soon thereafter he resigned from ranger service and moved to Richmond.
He died in Richmond at the home of Randal Jones on November 30, 1837. On hearing of his death, Sam Houston wrote to Anna Raguet, “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!” A monument in Smith’s honor, paid for by the Forty-first Legislature, was unveiled at his grave in Richmond on January 25, 1931. Smith was the father-in-law of Hendrick Arnold, a free black who served in his spy company. Deaf Smith County is named in his honor.