Biographical Sketch of the Life of John Gibbs Smith by a brother, Ralph Gibbs Smith
Contributor: trishkovach Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
John Gibbs Smith, second son and third child of Hyrum Fisher Smith and Annie Maria Gibbs was born in Brigham City, Box Elder County, Utah, September l, 1883.
He was born in the old rock house of his maternal grandparents, John Gibbs and Mary Catherine Langton, his family then consisting of father, mother a brother Hyrum Gibbs, and sister Mary Helen, living on a ranch in Portage, Box Elder County Utah at the time. And as the town of Portage was near the home of his mother's parents. She went home to have her third child. He was named for his two grandfathers, John Smith and John Gibbs.
The old rock house, as we now call it, was built by his grandfather Gibbs in about 1858, still stands and is currently owned and lived in by a member of the Gibbs family, Elmer (Finn) Gibbs and family.
John's parents had moved to Portage from South Jordan in Salt Lake County, Utah where his father was engaged in ranching. The ranch in Portage was much larger and offered greater opportunity for cattle raising, a venture father Smith was about to engage in. The cattle business was a partnership affair. The name of the partner is not now known. The business seemed to be going well until father Smith came upon his partner out on the range putting the "S" brand on some neighbor's calves. On asking the partner why he was doing this?, the man said, "How can you succeed in this business unless you put your brand on every calf you can find?" Father Smith replied, "Well sir, this ends our partnership." And he did just that. Not too long there after the Smith family moved to Hoytsville, Summit County, Utah. This must have been about 1887 or 1888, as the family record shows the first child born in Hoytsville was Evaline on February 3, 1889.
The ranch in Hoytsville was not much more than a farm, consisting of only 28 acres. It had been given to the two orphaned sons of Hyrum Smith, the martyred Patriarch. They were Patriarch John Smith and Joseph Fielding Smithy, who was at that time a member of the Quorum of Twelve. John bought out Joseph F. and received the deed to the 28 acres on which father Smith lived, worked and raised his family for nearly fourteen years.
Prior to leaving Portage, another child was born to the Smith's Her name was Gertrude, born April 16, 1886. Three more children were born in Hoytsville; Wilford Gibbs, September 9, 1891, Ruby, February 11, 1895, and Ralph Gibbs, October 17,899. Three of the children, Mary Helen, Wilford and Ruby, died in Hoytsville and were buried there.
It was in Hoytsville that John spent most of his growing up years. It was here that he went to the little one room school house with one teacher. It was here that he learned to read and write. The ranch in Hoytsville had a small, but nice house on it. The boy's room however, was papered with newspapers, (The Deseret News Weekly) and mother Smith says that the boys learned their letters reading the printed pages upside down or not.
In Hoytsvile, the Smith's engaged in raising alfalfa, grain, potatoes, and other garden vegetables that would grow in the area, but father Smith spent most of his effort raising cattle and fine horses. He was known to favor the Morgan horse. He was an excellent horseman and good veterinarian. He was much in demand by his neighbors as a trainer and breeder and owned the best stallions. He told the writer that if ever he needed a horse to go to almost anyone in Summit County, tell them who he was. and that they owed his father a horse.
Father Smith owned some of the first purebred Jersey cows in the county and had a fine dairy herd, but at this time these cows had been imported from warmer climates and they had a bad time surviving the cold winters of Summit County, so the Smith's lost heavily in this venture. Mother Smith said to her husband one day, "Hyrum, if you would put your money, time and efforts on Herefords, you would do much better."
Now, back to John Gibbs Smith.....John was a fine, well-built boy, blonde of hair and fair of complexion, with English brown eyes. He was a tow head as a baby, but his hair darkened some as he grew older. He was a rugged individualist and adventurer, always interested in what was going on just over the hill. He liked to play practical jokes on the family and his friends, and yet he was of a quiet disposition. As a mature man he stood about six feet, two inches, tall and weighed about 185 pounds, very well proportioned...a rather handsome man to behold.
The little one room school house in Hoytville was about a mile down the road to the north of the farm. In the summers it was no problem for the children to walk to school, but in winters, it was a very different story,
for heavy snows and extremely cold weather was the rule, so father Smith rigged up a "cutter" sleigh, large enough to hold all the children. It was drawn by one very steady and trusted horse. The children piled in and drove the sleigh to the school house, then turned the sleigh around, slapped the horse on the rump and he carried the empty sleigh back to the farm where father Smith was waiting.
John loved to fist fight; not that he was a bully in any sense of the word, but he would not take any "guff" from anyone. He seemed to be absolutely fearless and dead sure of his own ability to come out a winner. His reputation spread throughout the countryside and his friends delighted in prodding him into many fistic battles, and the reports were that he won all of them.
One evening mother Smith on calling the family to supper said, "Where is your brother John?" The answer finally came from one of the children that some boy from over the mountain, probably near the town of Morgan sent word that he could whip John Smith, so John rode his horse over to find out how good the boy was. Later on that night, John came riding home, nose and face bloody and bruised. He said he had to prove that he was the best fighter, which apparently he was. John's fistic reputation followed him to Provo where the family later moved. His sister Evaline says that many times when they were dancing at the old Mozart dance hall John would suddenly disappear, and when he came back, his clothes disheveled, face bruised, his shirt bloody, and when questioned, he would say, "Some fellow said he could whip me." John was always the winner.
A few stories told by the family about John's pranks begin with the one in Hoytsville. For years there had been an old story that two prospectors from the gold fields of California were returning to their homes in the East and had been killed by highwaymen somewhere in Hoytsville or vicinity. To all indications, it was supposed to be close to the house where the family lived. Before the men were killed, they were supposed to have buried their gold cache, and for years local people had been digging to find it. Father Smith was one of them. Sister Evaline said there were holes most everywhere, One day father Smith had been digging near the rear of the house and had quite a hole dug when mother Smith called him in to supper. Dad Smith washed up and went in. Then John slipped out of the house and took the cast iron top to an old stove reservoir and buried it in the bottom of the hole, covering it lightly with dirt. After supper dad Smith picked up his tools and proceeded to dig again. With the first swing of the pick he struck the old piece of iron, went as white as a sheet, exclaiming, "I've found it!" On pulling out the old chunk of iron he realized what had happened. John was standing by laughing. Dad Smith got out of the hole and took out through the fields after John, and on catching him, gave him quite a licking. This ended dad Smith's digging for the buried treasure.
While John was not considered the best of students, his sister Evaline says of him, "He was just naturally intelligent. Knowledge came easy without much study. He was often caught by the teacher with his book upside down, but on being given a question, was able to give a more satisfactory answer than most of the other students."
John's formal education was limited. He finished the available schooling at Hoytsville and attended the B.Y. Academy for one quarter. He didn't get along well with teachers. While attending the B.Y. Academy, he and a pal by the name of Cluff, got into an argument with Professor George H. Brimhall. The argument turned into a scuffle, and the two boys threw Professor Brimhall down the stairs, and as a result were expelled. This ended John's schooling.
John was a good worker and hard worker at whatever job he was doing. He was a great help to his father on the farm, but he was an adventurous spirit and just had to see for himself what was going on elsewhere. When he was about 12 or 14 years old, he asked father Smith for a quarter or half dollar; said there was a circus in Park City, and he would like to see it. He was given a half dollar, got on his horse, and rode from the farm over to Park City where he spent the day and his money. On returning home,
he was asked what interested him most. He remarked that a Chinaman, with slanted eyes and a long hair was the most interesting thing he had seen.
At age 16, John took a job with the railroad company, who were then making a road and laying track for the railroad down Parley's Canyon into Salt Lake City. From this time on, mother Smith said she seldom knew just where John was and what he was doing.
In 1901 the family moved to Provo, Utah County. The reason for the move was because the farm in Hoytsville, on which the family had lived for so many years, still belonged to grandfather Smith. Now he had a younger son Joseph (Jode) who was to be married to a Hoytsville girl by the name of Alice Streets, and for a wedding present, grandfather Smith was to give the young couple half the Hoytsville farm. This displeased mother Smith very much, for she realized that it would be next to impossible
to make a living off half the farm, and the worst half at that, so she proceeded to pack all the family belongings into a wagon and persuaded her husband to drive them to Provo where son Hyrum was attending Brigham Young Academy. He was living at the time withy Aunt Martha Ann Smith Harris, a sister of Joseph F. Smith.
In Provo, the family firstlived in part of a house owned by Ernest Dixon. It was located in the Third Ward. The writer, then only two years old, can faintly remember this move and the Dixon place.
John, at this time, was working at whatever job he could find, and in Provo then, as now, jobs were hard to come by, due to so many students willing to work for so little. So John went to Bingham Canyon, Mercer, Opher, and where he could find work. He did not like working in the mines, so he went to work for the railroad again; this time on its line across Nevada. He was on this job when the San Francisco earthquake occurred. He and his pals quit their jobs and tried to get to San Francisco, but were turned back, as no one was permitted to go into the California quake area unless absolutely necessary.
John returned to Provo after completing his work in the mines, railroad, and other sundry jobs. Now back home with the family, he began working for the Telluride Power Co. as a lineman. This work he must have enjoyed very much.
Father Smith was not entirely happy, for he longed for the chance to return to ranch life; a life he enjoyed much more than life in the city, but this he never again accomplished. In Provo, father Smith worked at most any job he could find. he worked for Jesse Knight in the Knight Woolen Mills, N.G. Blumenthal Plumbing Col, at various carpenter and building jobs, driving teams for various construction companies, and finally as an attendant at the Utah State Hospital, where he worked until the time of his death in 1923....always looking for a small farm or ranch somewhere.
At about age nineteen, John met a girl at the old Mozart dance hall in Provo. Her name was Sofia Robey, She was dark-eyed and beautiful, and John became quite infatuated with her. They married quickly, and after a very few months, John discovered she was pregnant by another man. John and Sofia, at the pleading of her mother, lived as man and wife until the child was born, at which time they were divorced. The child, a boy, retained the name Sidney Smith and lived and worked in Salt Lake City. At one time, he came to see John while he was a desk sergeant on the Salt Lake Police Force; called him father, at which John said to him, "I'm not your father. You go and ask your mother to tell you the name of your real father." It is not known if she ever did. This Sidney Smith was reared a Catholic, and his death notice appeared in the Salt Lake newspapers a few years ago.
John continued to work for the Telluride Co., which later was taken over by the Utah Power and Light Co. John was a good and capable electrician, always experimenting with electrical gadgets. He finally made a small electric space heater, possibly one of the first. He should have patented it. It was about 8x10 inches by 4 inches thick, made of asbestos covered sheet metal with copper coils, which he made himself, running vertically up both sides of an in glass divider.
This was about 1908. The writer remembers well seeing his brother plug it into the light socket in his bedroom on a small table beside the bed, and lay in bed and enjoy its warmth and glow. It really worked.
When the family first moved to Provo, as has been stated, they lived in two different rented houses. Finally they bought a story and a half adobe house on a large lot, 6 rods wide by 12 rods deep, from a man by the name of Andrew Sward. This house was located at 256 West Third South Street, in what was then Provo 2nd ward, later becoming the 6th ward. The property was purchased by Grandfather Smith and deeded to father Smith, perhaps as payment for father Smith's portion of the Hoytsville farm. This old adobe was large and comfortable with lots of rooms, but it was old and badly in need of repair. It was later torn down and a new eight room modern, brick house was built just west of the old adobe on the same lot. John did much of the work on the new house, and as has been said, he was a good workman, as were Hyrum and father Smith. They could do most any job well.
It was during this period when the family was enjoying the new home that another daughter was born, Annie Ruth, Aug 8,1902. Perhaps she may have been born in the old adobe house, because the new one was not completed until about 1903. The girls, Evaline and Gertrude, were working; Evaline at the Startup Candy Co., and Gertrude for the then Independent Telephone Co, as an operator.
John was enjoying his work and quite contented. He went to the ward dances and the Mozart dance hall; was active in his religious duties, and all was going well for him. It was at this time he met Hannah Johnson, a tall, stately and very beautiful girl, slender and very attractive. She was the daughter of J.P. R. Johnson, a well known and respected citizen of the community. Hannah had very large expressive eyes, dark hair and a very deep, mellow voice. She sang in the Sixth Ward choir. The writer remembers seeing her and John dancing together in the recreation hall of the Sixth Ward Church, which was right next door to the house where the Smith family lived. John and Hannah danced beautifully together. They were both good dancers and very graceful. John and Hannah were married May 10, 1909.
John was still working for the power company as a lineman. One day a house was to be moved along the Provo streets, and John was one of the crew that was to disconnect the power lines and raise the lines to the house, so they could be moved under. John was at the top of the pole and as his assistants signaled that the power was off, he took hold of the wires to raise them, but the power was still on and the current went through his body. Fortunately, he had not fastened his climbing belt around the pole, and as the electric charge went through his body. it knocked him out but did not kill him. His grip on the pole loosened, and he fell to the ground. His fellow workers revived him and he was taken to the hospital. After a few days he was back on the job.
On October 10, 1910, a lovely daughter was born to John and Hannah. She was named Naomi. Sweet and lovable Hannah died after childbirth, about a month later, November, 1910. Her death brought sorrow and deep mourning to the family, for they all loved her very dearly. Mother Smith was a practical nurse and had taken care of dozens of such cases. She attended Hannah at the time Naomi was born, and her report was that the attending doctor was careless in his handling the case which brought about Hannah's death.
John remained in Provo until 1912, when he married again. This time to Aretta Elvira Francum of Payson, Utah. This was March 12, 1912, in the Salt Lake L.D.S, Temple. After spending a short time in Provo, they moved to Los Angeles, California. Prior to leaving Provo, John had arranged to leave the daughter Naomi, with her mother's three unmarried sisters; Ellen, Etta and Inger Johnson; her Aunt Etta being her guardian. These sisters were extremely good to Naomi, schooling her and caring for her every need. She was indeed a beautiful and lovable girl, very much like her mother Hannah. Naomi married Warren L. Beardall of Springville, Utah, and for years theye made t
heir home in Mapleton, Utah.
When John took up residence in Los Angeles, he worked for the California Edison Company as a lineman and general electrician. While walking down the streets of Los Angeles one day, he was approached by a recruiter for the Los Angeles Police Department. The man said he was attracted to John because of his build and apparent fine, physical condition. The Los Angeles Police force needed just such a man. He asked John, "Would you want to take the exam? It is believed he passed, but declined the job as he was very well satisfied with his present one.
About 1914, John, Aretta and their three children, twin girls, Marie and Myrle, and son Marcus F., returned to Utah and finally settled in Salt Lake City; living at first in a house on North Second West. In looking for employment, John was reminded of the offer of the Los Angeles Police Department, so he applied for a job at the Salt Lake City Police Department. He passed the examination, and on May 24, he was appointed a 3rd grade patrolman. He walked a downtown beat for several years. He was a good, fearless and respected officer. John bought a small frame home at 421 Herbert Avenue, where he lived until about 1932. He then purchased a much finer and larger brick home at 1612 Princeton Avenue on Salt Lake's east bench. Here he lived until his retirement from the police force in 1936.
John had a very interesting and colorful life while serving as a law enforcement officer. The writer remembers well several articles that appeared in the Salt Lake newspapers about his activities. One was about the Physical Fitness Program the department had been using to train the officers. It was considered so effective that a newspaper report ran something like this: "Officer John G. Smith persued on foot a prisoner that had escaped from another police officer in the downtown Salt Lake area. Smith chased the escaping man for three blocks and captured him. The prisoner was completely out of breath while officer Smith was breathing easily."
Another episode in John's police career went like this...A call came to the police station reporting that a gunman had shot and killed someone in the downtown apartment house area and was on the run. The report called for the riot squad to go after the man, who it was said, was in the area of 6th east and lst South. John, who was a member of this squad, and in uniform, appeared on the scene with four or five other officers. Their car pulled up in front of the apartment house where the killer was reported hiding, and as the car stopped, the gunman opened fire on them from the rear of the driveway. He didn't hit any of them however, so a debate ensued as to who was to go in after the man. None of the officers were anxious to do so. Finally, John said, "Well, I'll go!" The officers said, "Oh, don't go Smith. You're a married man, but John went anyway. He entered the nearest apartment house through the front entrance, walked down the hall, and out on the step of the rear door. It was nighttime and dark. Just of John stepped out the door, the outside light shown on his badge and the gunman opened fire, hitting John in the fleshy part of the thigh, near the groin, going clear through, but missing the bone. John had his revolver drawn, and though he could not see the man, he shot at where he had seen the flash of the man's gun. John heard a groan and than another shot. The gunman had puta his revolver in his mouth and finished the job.
As the remainder of the squad came running back to the rear of the apartment house, they found the man dead, with a bullet wound in the chest and the self-inflicted one in his head, John walked back to the car dripping blood at every step. He spent several weeks recuperating from the bullet wound, but returned to work in good condition.
Another incident that happened while John was a plain-clothes detective attached to the anti-vice squad was when a man called "The Pig", a meat cutter in a Salt Lake market, became crazed with alcohol or drugs, killed another man in a local beer parlor, and was on the run. John learned through several known "stoolies" that "The Pig" was known to hang out in a beer parlor on Beck Street in North Salt Lake, so John went early that evening to the place and hid himself behind the piano, where he waited for the killer to come in, which he did very shortly. John stopped from behind the piano and made the arrest, just as another detective came in the door. Between the two, they took the killer to jail.
Just cracking down killers and law breakers of all descriptions was not all there was to being a police officer. One had to appear in court hour after hour, and day after day, as a witness, and to sign complaints against offenders. This was a continual strain on he heart and nerves of an individual, and the writer feels certain this contributed to John's heart ailment and brought his early death.
John was a good police officer, respected by his superiors, his fellow officers, as well as the bootleggers and law breakers who were many at that time in Salt Lake. Trying to enforce the prohibition laws and still keep the citizens protected and happy was a thankless job.
John was fearless and rugged in his work. To his foe and those who broke the law, he was ruthless, yet he was kind, generous and lovable to his family and friends.
His mother said of him, "I always worried about him. As a young man I seldom knew just where he was, but if I needed him he was there with help or money when necessary.
John was an excellent card player, and considered lucky at the gambling tables, (this he learned while he worked at the mines and railroad camps) and the story goes that when mother Smith was ill and needed money for an operation or doctor bills, John, on learning of his mother's need, would take off for Bingham Canyon and bring his winnings home to his mother.
Though not considered a very religious man, John was an ordained elder, and as a young man was quite active. He attended church quite regularly while in Los Angeles, as well as the wards in Salt Lake. He was particularly thrilled when his son Mark was called to serve as a missionary to South Africa; perhaps much more religious than given credit.
John Gibbs Smith enjoyed life and living it. His experiences were many, He never shirked at any assignment. He worked hard and played equally as hard. He loved his family and visited them frequently. To the writer of this life sketch, he was more like a father than a brother.
As to John's hobbies.. he seemed most interested in the subject of Astronomy. He loved to study the heavens and knew the stars by name. The planets and the universe intrigued him. He read all the books he could find on the subject and whenever possible, he would go to various observatories to look at the heavens through the powerful telescopes. He never seemed to get quite satisfied with what he saw.
John was an excellent craftsman. He had a complete workshop in the basement of his home on Princeton Avenue in Salt Lake and he was always tinkering with electrical gadgets. He was a good horseman; loved horse races, visited the various racetracks whenever he could; more to watch the horses run than to gamble. Like his fathers before him, he could build most anything; carpenter, electrician, plumber, brick mason... you name it... he could do it well. John loved to garden and always had a beautiful flower garden. He liked roses best of all. In his back yard of the home at 421 Herbert Avenue in Salt Lake, he even had a flock of laying hens. He liked to experiment with fruit trees, budding and grafting various kinds of fruits on one tree. On his lot at his home in Pasadena, California, he grew a vegetable garden, flowers of all kinds, a fig, avocado, orange and lemon tree; always experimenting, always trying for the unusual and impossible.
To sum up the latest years of his life, let us say...he joined the Salt Lake Police Force May 14, 1914, was promoted to Desk Sergeant on September 1, 1920, Captain in 1931, and retired from the force in March, 1936. Before his retirement he took the examination for Inspector of Police and passed with highest grades, but due to his recurring heart ailment, he declined the appointment, and the inspector's job went to the next highest applicant, Captain Otis Record.
Soon after his retirement, due to his heart condition, he moved to Pasadena, California, where he hoped the lower altitude would be better for his health. He bought a beautiful home at 616 North Sierra Madre Boulevard, where he lived until his death, September 28, 1948. He had been visiting his family in Salt Lake, and on returning to California, died at the home of his wife's sister in Payson, Utah.