Glimpse of the Past: Thomas Slater Smith

Thomas Slater Smith...Hillsboro's Political Giant at the Dawn of the 20th Century

The Reporter...Hillsboro, Texas...Thursday, August 7, 2014...Page 6B

Since the 1880’s, Hillsboro has been known for producing cotton, cattle, and politicians. Recent history touts the political fame and accomplishments of the likes of State Senator, Texas Secretary of State and Attorney General Crawford Martin; State Comptroller and Texas Lt. Governor Bob Bullock; Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Calvert; Railroad Commissioner Olin Culberson; and Speaker of the House and Attorney General Robert Lee Bobbit.

Current residents of Hillsboro and Central Texas have lost sight of a once popular and significant political figure, Thomas Slater Smith. Smith’s restored home in Hillsboro’s Historic Residential District (315 Corsicana Street) stands as a daily reminder of a man whose legal career and elected service made him one of Hill County and Texas’ most powerful and influential statesmen. Thomas Slater Smith was born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi CSA Captain Thomas Burwell Smith. He was educated at Emory and Henry College in Mississippi where in 1878 he received a law degree. Upon graduation from law school he set up practice in Tupelo, Mississippi and served as Mayor of Tupelo until 1879-1881. In 1880 he Married Alice Markham, a native of Jasper County, Mississippi, and in August 1884 the young couple relocated to Hillsboro, Texas.

In Hillsboro Thomas S. Smith practiced law with Nelson Phillips, later to have a distinguished career as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Smith and Phillips had an upstairs office in the Farmers National Bank located on the NW corner of Elm and Covington Streets (100 West Elm). The building today is vacant and in need of restoration. This property later served as Hillsboro Cotton Exchange, The Westerner Store, and most recently, Mud and Muffins Coffee Shop. Smith and his wife Alice Markham Smith purchased a home in August 1887, and that property in the Hillsboro Historic Residential District is located at 315 Corsicana Street. This Victorian treasure was restored after a serious fire by current owners Santos and Lucy Ortiz, who live there with their children. The Ortiz family worked with the Hillsboro Historic Preservation Commission in researching the history of the home and on restoring the house to its historic appearance. 

Thomas Slater Smith launched his political career as Hill County Attorney, a Position he held for two terms (1887-1891). Smith represented Hill County in the Texas House of Representatives from 1893-1896 and was Speaker of the House in the 24th Legislative Session. He resigned his office in October 1896, and in that year served as a Democratic Elector for the State of Texas in the Presidential Election of 1896. 

In 1898 Smith successfully launched his first statewide race for Attorney General, and  he was re-elected in 1900. He died in Austin March 15, 1901 in his second term as Attorney General. He was a member of First Methodist Church of Hillsboro, and was active in the Masonic Lodge and Knights and Knights of Pythias. He died at age 44 in the prime of life, and newspaper accounts at the time of his death suggested he was in line for election as Governor of Texas. His beloved wife Alice had preceded him in death in December 1899, and T. S. Smith was buried by her side in the Old Hillsboro Cemetery.

Tradition suggests that Thomas Slater Smith was strong yet fair in his role as County Attorney, that he was decisive and progressive in his leadership as Speaker of the Texas House and that he was fearless and conscientious as Attorney General of Texas. Smith tackled head-on issues involving Standard Oil and Waters-Pierce Oil Company in a famous anti-trust case. At his death in 1901 the Navarro County Bar Association passed a resolution t  not that “in the death of our Attorney General, Thomas Slater Smith, the Bar of Texas has lost one of its ablest members. That the people of Texas have lost a noble and courageous officer, who was known and loved by his people for his many noble traits of character…”

CAPTION 1: Photo of Thomas Slater Smith Home at 315 Corsicana Street — Historic home built in 1885 and purchased in 1887 by Hillsboro attorney T.S. Smith. Property was willed to Smith's son, Garland Slater Smith. Home later owned by Zula Crow Liner who married local jeweler Garland Rhodes. House restored by current owners Santos and Lucy Ortiz.

CAPTION 2: Hon. Thomas Slater Smith (1856-1901), Hill County Attorney, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Attorney General of Texas

Thomas Slater Smith