Deaf: Deaf Smith

Deaf Smith, The Texas Spy, History, Alamo, Captioning, CART, and Laney Fox

Deaf Smith, The Texas Spy, History, Alamo, Captioning, CART, and Laney Fox
By Monette Benoit

Copyright 2007 by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

I first learned about Deaf Smith in 1993 when I entered Deaf culture as a realtime court reporter, CARTing, captioning to large screens for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

I was stunned I did not know about this daring, bold hero of the Alamo. My Deaf friends simply shrugged, “It’s because you’re hearing.” As an educator, CART Captioner, and private tutor with strong roots within Texas, I immediately phoned my mother when I could to ask, “How did I miss that?”

Many people in Texas trace their family lines back to the Texas Revolution.

The Alamo (which means “cottonwood” in Spanish) was surrounded by General Santa Anna with 3,000 troops. Colonial Travis sent an appeal to help 188 patriots inside the fortress. Thirty-two men and boys from Gonzales, Texas, marched 90 miles, crossing Mexican Army lines to enter the besieged Alamo.

I am a descendant of a “Gonzales Fighter.”

Dolphin Ward Floyd left a nine-month pregnant wife and four-year old son – knowing he would not come back.

He was murdered within the Alamo on March 6, 1836, on his thirty-second birthday. Floyd County is named after his sacrifice; his widow received a land grant. My longhorn-ranching Gonzales, cousins Rufus and Raquet Floyd, shared facts, stories and lore that have passed from generations, as did my mother.

Yet I never knew about Deaf Smith until 1993.

As a court reporter, while providing CART (communication access realtime translation) at a Deaf banquet at the Lone Star Brewery, downtown San Antonio, with the sun setting, wind blowing, children playing cowboys and Indians (in full costume) around my one-legged large screen and my husband kneeling to hold that screen with two hands – there – I learned about a fearless Deaf soldier who crossed enemy lines to read lips changing history as we know it.

Erastus Smith was born in New York on April 19, 1787.

Born hearing, Smith became deaf as a child; later he was called Deaf Smith. In 1821, Deaf Smith moved near San Antonio. He married Mexican widow Guadalupe Ruiz Duran in 1822; they had four daughters.

Smith first joined Stephen F. Austin’s Texas Republican Army in Gonzales after a Mexican soldier denied Smith permission to visit his wife and family near the start of the Texas Revolution.

Smith used his deafness to gather intelligence as a courier and military spy. In October 1835, Smith was wounded in battle. General Sam Houston soon promoted Smith to captain.

The Texas army retreated with Santa Anna in pursuit after the 11-day Alamo battle. All the bodies at the Alamo were burned by Santa Anna’s 1,300 man-army. Three weeks later in Goliad, Santa Anna ordered the massacre of 300 prisoners from the Battle of Coleto Creek.

San Jacinto’s battle was forty-six days after the Alamo. (My dad took my mother to the San Jacinto battlefield on their first date. I still tease my mother, “And you went on a second date?”)

Deaf Smith, soldier, scout, guide, was instrumental in the defeat of Santa Anna and the Mexican Army when Deaf Smith informed General Houston about Vince’s Bridge – the path of retreat or support for both sides near San Jacinto. Smith was ordered to destroy Vince’s Bridge. The Mexican army, unable to retreat, was trapped after Vince’s Bridge burned. Houston led 800 volunteers against Santa Anna’s 1300-man Mexican Army.

Shouting “Remember The Alamo! Remember Goliad!” Texans killed 630 Mexican soldiers, captured Santa Anna and ended the war. Texas lost eight volunteers and was liberated from Mexico at San Jacinto, April 21, 1836. Texas won independence from Mexico to become an independent republic, October 22, 1836.

After the war, Deaf Smith remained active and led a company of Texas Rangers.

Mrs. Deaf Smith was profiled in my NCRA, National Court Reporters Association, JCR ‘Beyond The Comfort Zone’ column when Laney Fox-Smith wrote about her performance in the Ms. Deaf Texas pageant. Laney shares how she researched the role.

Laney Fox-Smith:

When I started thinking what to do for my talent for the 2001 Ms. Deaf Texas, I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t sing or dance! I wanted something special that was originally from Texas. I researched Deaf Culture to see if there was anything related to Texas. Then I came across Erastus “Deaf” Smith, a Deaf hero from Texas. While researching history for Erastus ‘Deaf’ Smith, I learned that a county in Texas is named after Deaf Smith.

As I studied history, I learned about Deaf Smith’s family. He married a Mexican widow, and they had four children. That was when I decided to dress as his wife with traditional Mexican clothing. I went downtown to San Antonio’s El Mercado and bought a green Mexican skirt and white top. My hair was braided so I looked like a Mexican woman from the 1800s! I had an excellent tutor, Brain Barwise, who helped me prepare my presentation in ASL, American Sign Language.

During Miss Deaf Texas for my talent, I performed a factual story, a poem I wrote, on how Deaf Smith was brave to infiltrate within the Mexican camp to determine military strategies and to help Texas win the battle. Deaf Smith had a keen sense of what was happening, so he was able to learn where the Mexicans were going to move next.

I learned that Deaf Smith became deaf after birth due to childhood disease. I became deaf around 9 months old. My parents think that it was due to a 103 degree fever; my father put me into a tub of ice to get my fever down. I am profoundly deaf; I wonder if I would have any hearing if he had not put me into the tub.

I learned Smith initially did not want to get involved with the wars; he didn’t want to pick sides. Unfortunately, he was forced to pick a side after the Mexicans refused to let him enter San Antonio to visit his wife and daughters. Then Smith joined forces with General Sam Houston.

Researching historical records, Deaf Smith seems to be a fair and neutral person. When I spoke to people originally from Mexico about the Texan Revolution, they tell me Texas was stolen from them. I can understand from their perspective; it was originally Mexico. I learned Deaf Smith was an excellent scout. He knew shortcuts, which later helped him to defeat the Mexican forces. He died November 30, 1837; his Richmond monument says “Deaf Smith, The Texas Spy.”

I think that once someone loses a sense, his other senses become stronger. Even though I do not hear well, I am able to see better in my peripheral vision and be more observant of my surroundings. Erastus Smith mastered lip reading in both English and Spanish. This is quite a feat! I am still learning to master English with lip-reading skills!

Many people aren’t aware that English has a lot of phonemes, which represents sound. A Lamar University professor stated English itself is 80 percent phonemical, which is very difficult on deaf people. We rely on content to see the difference between moat and boat, which looks identical on the lips. Many English words appear similar on the lips. I have heard that an effective lip-reader understands only 40 percent of what is said. I believe that statistic because if I had to rely on lip reading alone (without my hearing aid), I would be more lost.

It is really important for me to use my hearing aid to hear the difference between moat and boat. So, I was very impressed when I learned Deaf Smith lip-read two languages!

My husband is currently a Spanish instructor. When I have seen him speak Spanish, I am lost. I understand only basic Spanish words (hola, como estas? and muy bien). I have watched the actors and actresses in Spanish soap operas; their lips are moving so fast! It seems like Spanish is a fast language!

Erastus “Deaf” Smith is truly a chameleon to learn dual languages and to become a hero for the Deaf!

Monette adds: And for the hearing, too.

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26 Aug 2008