|Slavery in the United States||American West||Civil Rights Movement|
Thomas Smith was born in New York City on 12th June, 1840. As a young man he was a middleweight professional boxer and later joined the city police force. After being involved in the accidental killing of a 14-year-old boy, Smith turned against the use of guns and left his job as a lawman.
Smith found work with the Union Pacific railroad in Wyoming before becoming a teamster at Bear City River. He was soon using his boxing skills and his growing reputation as a tough man led and in 1868 he was appointed as the city's law officer. He also held a similar post at Greeley, Colorado, before becoming marshal of Abilene in June, 1870.
Smith was paid a salary of $150 a month plus 2$ for each conviction of persons arrested. Smith tried very hard to enforce the regulation that people should not carry guns within the city. Although he carried a gun for emergencies, Smith attempted to maintain the law with his fists. The decision to ban guns was unpopular with some members of the community and during the next few months he survived two assassination attempts. As a result of his ability to maintain law and order, Smith was also appointed under sheriff of Texas.
On 2nd November 1870, Smith was sent to a small settlement 10 miles from Abilene to arrest Andrew McConnell, a man charged with murder of John Shea, a local farmer. The local newspaper, the Abilene Chronicle, explained what happened after Smith arrived at the home of McConnell: "Officer Smith informed McConnell of his official character and that he had a warrant for his arrest, whereupon McConnell shot Smith through the right lung; Smith also fired, wounding McConnell; the two being close together grappled; Smith, although mortally wounded, was getting the better of McConnell, when Miles struck him on the head with a gun, felling him senseless to the ground, and seizing an ax chopped Smith's head nearly from his body."
Moses Miles and Andrew McConnell were captured soon after and in March, 1871, both men were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to long terms in prison. As the Abilene Chronicle pointed out: "McConnell was sentenced to twelve and Miles to sixteen years confinement in the penitentiary... Twelve and sixteen years in the penitentiary seem long periods, but the condemned ought to be thankful that they get off with even such sentences. Never during their natural lives can they atone for their great crime."
(1) Republican Valley Empire (2nd August, 1870)
Under Sheriff Tom Smith, of Dickinson county, called on us on Monday. He had just returned from Brownsville, Nebraska, whither he had been in pursuit of Buckskin Bill, who stole horses at Abilene not long ago, an account of which we published. Bill had sold some of the stock at Pawnee City, and they attempted to prevent the sheriff from getting the property by telling him he had better get out, or he soon would have nothing to go out on. He does not speak in very favorable terms of Pawnee City - thinks that a man who has anything loose about him had better give the town a wide berth. The sheriff captured nearly all the stock. Foster, Bill's accomplice, was in jail at Nebraska City, having shot a colored man in a fracas. The sheriff says that he was aided by the officers and people of St. Joe, Atchison and Marysville. Bill was safely lodged in jail at Brownsville. He has a father there who is a prominent citizen and a worthy man, and who feels keenly the bad conduct of his son.
(2) Abilene Chronicle (8th September, 1870)
For some time past a set of prostitutes have occupied several shanties, about a mile north-west of town. On last Monday or Tuesday Deputy Sheriff Smith served a notice on the vile characters, ordering them to close their dens - or suffer the consequences. They were convinced beyond all question that an outraged community would no longer tolerate their vile business, and on yesterday, Wednesday, morning the crew took the cars for Baxter Springs and Wichita. We are told that there is not a house of ill fame in Abilene or vicinity - a fact, we are informed, which can hardly be said in favor of any other town on the Kansas Pacific Railway. The respectable citizens of Abilene may well feel proud of the order and quietness now prevailing in the town. Let the dens of infamy be kept out, the laws enforced and violators punished, and no good citizen will ask more. Chief of Police, T. J. Smith and his assistants, and C. C. Kuney, deserve the thanks of the people for the faithful and prompt manner in which they have discharged their official duties. A grateful community will not forget the services of such efficient officers.
(3) Abilene Chronicle (27th October, 1870)
We regret to learn that a fatal affray took place on last Sunday afternoon, near Chapman Creek, between two neighbors named John Shea and Andrew McConnell. The facts as related to us are substantially as follows: It seems that McConnell had been out with his gun hunting deer, on his return he found Shea driving a lot of cattle across his land. Some words passed between them, when Shea drew a revolver and snapped it twice at McConnell who stood leaning on his gun, and being on his own land. As Shea was cocking his pistol for the third time, McConnell drew up his gun and shot Shea through the heart, killing him instantly. McConnell went for a Doctor, and afterwards gave himself up, and had an examination before Mr. Davidson on last Tuesday, when a neighbor of both men, Mr. Miles, testified substantially to the above facts, and McConnell was discharged - the act having been done in self-defence. Shea leaves a widow and three children.
(4) Abilene Chronicle (3rd November, 1870)
Last week we chronicled a terrible affair, which occurred on Chapman Creek, resulting in the death of John Shea at the hands of Andrew McConnell. McConnell gave himself up, and upon the testimony of a man named Miles was released. Miles swearing that the act was done in self-defence. But it afterward appeared to some of the neighbors, from unmistakable circumstances, that Shea was not the aggressor, and a warrant was issued for the re-arrest of McConnell. On Wednesday of this week officers T. J. Smith, and J. H. McDonald, went out to McConnell's dugout to arrest him. Upon reaching the dugout they found McConnell and Miles. Officer Smith informed McConnell of his official character and that he had a warrant for his arrest, whereupon McConnell shot Smith through the right lung; Smith also fired, wounding McConnell; the two being close together grappled; Smith, although mortally wounded, was getting the better of McConnell, when Miles struck him on the head with a gun, felling him senseless to the ground, and seizing an ax chopped Smith's head nearly from his body.
At this stage of the tragedy officer McDonald returned to this place for assistance. A posse was raised, and repaired to the scene of the murder, but McConnell and Miles had fled, and up to this morning had not been arrested. They were both wounded, and it is reported were in Junction City last evening. It is hoped that they will be speedily arrested. We give the above named particulars as we gather them from reports current in town.
The body of Mr. Smith was brought to this place last evening, and will be buried at 10 o'clock tomorrow. The sad event has cast a gloom over our town. Our citizens had learned to respect Mr. Smith as an officer who never shrank from the performance of his duty. He was a stranger to fear, and yet in the private walks of life a most diffident man. He came to this place last spring, when lawlessness was controlling the town. He was at once employed as chief of police, and soon order and quiet took the place of the wild shouts and pistol shots of ruffians who for two years had kept orderly citizens in dread for their lives. Abilene owes a debt of gratitude to the memory of Thomas James Smith, which can never be paid. Although our people will never again permit the lawlessness which existed prior to his coming to the town, yet it will be a long time before his equal will be found in all the essentials required to make a model police officer.
Sacred be the memory of our departed friend and green be the turf that grows upon his grave. In years to come there will be those who will look back to the days when it required brave hearts and strong hands to put down barbarism in this new country and among the names of the bravest and the truest none will be more gratefully remembered than that of Thomas James Smith, the faithful officer and true friend of Abilene.
(5) Abilene Chronicle (17th November, 1870)
State of Kansas vs. Andrew McConnell and Moses Miles, charged with murder in first degree. One day and a halt was consumed in trying to impannel a jury. Three special venues were exhausted without securing the requisite number of jurors. A change of venue to Riley county was finally granted by the court, and the prisoners conveyed to the Manhattan jail to await trial at the March term of District court for that county.
(6) Abilene Chronicle (23rd March, 1871)
We learn the following particulars, relating to the trial at Manhattan of Miles and McConnell, for the murder of Marshal T. J. Smith. We are told by one of the attorneys that the evidence went to show that the officers in attempting to arrest the accused produced no warrant or authority; that the prisoners were in dread of a mob; that after they had Smith in their power - the officer whom he went to assist having fled - they brutally chopped him up with an axe. This fact alone caused the conviction of the prisoners McConnell was sentenced to twelve and Miles to sixteen years confinement in the penitentiary. Thus ends one of the most horrible tragedies that has ever occurred in the State. When first arrested the prisoners were willing to plead guilty of murder in the second degree, which would have sent them to the penitentiary for life - but the prosecuting attorney would not permit such a plea, because public sentiment, at the time demanded the hanging of the prisoners. Twelve and sixteen years in the penitentiary seem long periods, but the condemned ought to be thankful that they get off with even such sentences. Never during their natural lives can they atone for their great crime.