Biographical Sketch of Dr. W. J. S. Smith
December 2, 1857 – May 25, 1952
Wiley Jones Sorella Smith was born on December 2, 1857 to Thomas G. and Sydney Z. Smith in Hunt, Texas. He was the oldest of seven children, four boys and three girls. His childhood was interrupted at age 4 by the Civil War (1861-1865). When his father left, unable to care for him during his time on the battlefield, his mother moved back home to live with his grandfather in Campbell, Texas. Though it was a large 600 acre farm he lived in poverty basically because Union soldiers consistently destroyed crops and stole cattle and horses.
When his father returned from the war and began teaching school in a log cabin one room school house, Wiley got his first chance at learning to read. By the time he was 16 he knew he wanted to become a doctor.
He studied under an experienced doctor in Texas as was the custom and law, though he began his practice in 1883 in Miller County, Arkansas with Dr. J. M. Johns. (He is listed as physician in the American Medical Directory Volume I published in 1906, and officially received his Texas Medical License in 1908.)
In 1887 Dr. Smith married Theresa B. Hunt. He was 29; Theresa was 18. The union brought forth 4 sons and one daughter. In 1907 Theresa died after 20 years of happy marriage. Some 4 years later, 1911, Dr. Smith married Nancy Davis. They had no children but adopted an infant whose mother had died during child birth.
This was a time of change in required education for medical practice throughout the United States, and though Dr. Smith could have practiced legally with his previous credentials, he chose to pursue additional education. Dr. Smith’s family helped him financially and he went to medical school in St. Louis. He graduated from Barnes Medical School in 1905 at age 49.
When he first moved to Miller County Arkansas, (1883) until his death he had practiced many long, strenuous years. In all that time he dedicated his life to the people he served. He delivered approximately 5000 babies, many named after him, and lost only 8 mothers. His fee was $10 in the early years. Toward the end it had risen to $25. He fixed broken bones, stayed with children through high fever and pneumonia, listened to family problems and often left with only vegetables for payment. Dr. Smith divided his practice into 3 times periods: “the horse and saddle days, the horse and buggy days and his automobile days.”* He told of many serious and laughable stories in each of these periods in his jovial way, yet he was serious when he spoke of “his love for little children and his reverence for women as mothers”.**–”He was too busy living his religion to take time to profess it—Faith, hope, charity, service to his neighbors, kindness and tolerance toward all—no one is his enemy, no one speaks other than praise of him”.***
Always interested in education, Dr. and Mrs. Nancy Smith donated money and physical labor toward the local school when it burned. This happened twice and they were one of the first to offer assistance.
On May 25, 1952 Dr. Smith died at 90 years of age. He had braved storms, floods and almost impossible roads to answer calls— serving and loving his people. His practice of medicine spanned nearly 70 years (1883-1952) in Miller County Arkansas. He is buried at the Fouke Cemetery.
*Texarkana Gazette, June 29, 1947
Betty L. Battenfield January 2020