Today’s Wyo Whiskers feature was a jack of all trades, working as postmaster, newspaper editor, photographer, trapper, musician and even city marshal.
George H. Smith’s life was destined to be an adventure. He was born in a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in November 1863 to an Englishman and his wife. By age 10, he was a naturalized citizen of the United States. He picked up a talent for photography somewhere along the road and by the early 1890s he had made his way to Lander, Wyoming. In Lander, he met his wife, Hattie Mitchel, and the two were married in 1894. The couple tried their luck in Chicago for a short time, but by December 1897, they were on the trail back to Lander, dead broke and with an infant. They arrived in Glenrock on the 6th with only $1.00 and a played out team to their names.
In an effort to provide for his family, Smith began hunting coyotes with one trap, his rifle and a hatchet. At the time, a little money could be made selling furs to manufacturers back east. “Good coyote hides sold at from 15 cents to $1.00 each.” From time to time, the county or local ranchers would offer a bounty on the animals if they were particularly overrun. Coyotes and wolves would harass and sometimes kill livestock. Every other day “Coyote” Smith would walk his trap line, harvesting coyotes, wolves, skunks, bobcats and muskrats as well as deer, antelope, grouse and rabbits to keep his family fed. It turned out he had quite the talent for it and hides began piling up in front of the family’s rented cabin. Between the summer garden, a few head of livestock and the abundant game, the family thrived.
Only a couple years after they arrived, the Smiths were able to purchase a small ranch on Deer Creek, nine miles outside of Glenrock. At the end of the winter, the log cabin would be covered with hides waiting to be sent east. Smith also developed a skill for taxidermy and mounted many trophies for hunters in the area. Mrs. Smith, a good shot herself, would make rugs to sell out of bobcat and coyote hides with the heads attached.
Around 1914, the family built a frame house beside their log cabin but they didn’t move into it for several years. Instead, it was here that they held regular country dances. According to their daughter, Hattie:
“Ranchers, town people and people from the Parkerton oil fields would come by horseback, wagons and cars and stay all night dancing square dances, two steps, waltzes, and fox trots to the music provided by the Smith family. Dad as the main musician, playing the violin, my brother Muriel and I playing the piano, and Ira playing the banjo and calling the square dances. Mama provided her popular midnight supper at fifty cents a plate. She would have roast beef; or family and visitors would go fishing and they would have a fish supper. There were pies and cakes, too. The men, only, were charged a dollar admission to the dance. Fifty to seventy-five people would come and dance until dawn.” — Pages from Converse County’s Past p.549
Still smitten by photography, Smith opened a small studio on 4th Street in Glenrock. His daughter, Hattie, helped in the studio developing negatives. Smith traveled around Wyoming as much as he could with his camera, but also captured much of Converse County’s history. Oil field gushers were a favorite of his and he would often run out to the oil fields to photograph them.
In addition to his ranch, trapping and photography, Smith worked odd jobs as opportunities presented themselves. During World War I and through prohibition, Smith worked as Glenrock’s town marshal. For a time, he was postmaster. He also tried his hand as newspaper editor. During the war, the family sold and traded their abundant milk, eggs and vegetables in Glenrock and in the neighboring oil fields.
“Coyote” Smith passed away days after his 71st birthday. He was laid to rest on the ranch beside his wife and a daughter. Of the four surviving Smith children, Harry and Ira stayed in Converse County. Murriel moved to Denver and Hattie to California.