Letters Home: James Francis Smith, 1893-1918

Francis Smith wrote home to his mother in October 1918.  He wrote a casual, friendly letter and mentioned his desire to come home to see her.  He couldn’t come, he said, because of a restriction on train travel due to concerns over influenza.

The Skidmore News printed that letter, and the October 24, 1918 edition printed the heartbreaking follow-up:  James Francis Smith’s obituary.  One of Skidmore’s boys was taken by the war – in this case, by influenza in Camp Funston where he waited for orders to deploy.  It isn’t a letter home, strictly speaking, but we offer the obituary here in his memory.  From the October 24, 1918 Skidmore News, page 1:

James Francis Smith.

Last Thursday afternoon a message came over the wires telling of the first death in the number of soldier boys who have gone out from our midst to fight the country’s battles.  This message conveyed the sad intelligence to Mr. and Mrs. Sterling P. Smith that their son, James Francis, had passed away at one o’clock that day in the hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, of pneumonia which followed an attack of Spanish influenza.

Francis was born on the farm now owned by Oren Masters, February 21, 1893 and had reached the age of 25 years, 7 months and 28 days when he answered the final summons.

He spent his early boyhood near Skidmore, later going with the family to Broken Bow, Nebraska, where he resided on a farm until about three years ago when the family returned to this vicinity and resided on the Mrs. B. F. Bagby farm until the call of his country came and he enlisted in the service leaving Maryville April 2 of this year.  A greater part of the time since going to camp he has served as mounted police.

The body arrived in Skidmore on the Sunday afternoon train, accompanied by June Blagg, and was immediately taken to the family home where it remained until Monday morning at 10 o’clock, when it was taken to Maryville and laid away in St. Mary’s cemetery under military rites conducted by the following members of the Maryville Home Guard:  Sergt. I. E. Tullock, Solon Clark, Ellwood Barrett, Frank Schumacher, Edgar Rhodes, L. B. Tracy, W. F. Donahue, A. D. Strong, Harold Stafford and Lawrence Shanks.


Letters Home: Francis Smith

From the October 17, 1918 Skidmore News:

From Francis Smith.

Mrs. S. P. Smith, Skidmore, Mo.

Dear Mother: —

This is Saturday.  I have been in charge of quarters all day and will have to sit up tonight till taps.  We had inspection today and it was a stiff one.  Several of the boys got caught with dirty equipment.

I may get a job working around the office this winter hope I do, that would give me practice on the mill and a warm place when the snowballs are flying.

None of the boys can leave camp on a journey that has to be made on the train on account of the Spanish “Flu” as the boys call it or Spanish Endflew – endways.  Nobody here seems to be very much afraid of it so I guess it don’t amount to much more than a bad cold.

I hear the 89th division is on the firing line, that is the one Harvey Hughes and Reuben Hall are in.  I’ll bet they are having a pretty tough time of it, but they are sure showing the Germans up.  We meet boys who have just come into Funston and they ask, “How long have you been in this camp?”  I say six months and they roll their eyes and say, “Great God six months in this town.”  Some of them cannot get out of the habit of calling it a town.  I have seen Ralph Wright but the once since he came here, he is clear across the camp from me.  I got a Red Cross helmet and a pair of wristlets and nose towel today, the nose towel is nearly as large as a tea towel, I do not know whether it is for me or my horse.

We have six conscientious objectors in the guard house, all they do is eat and sleep; they even object to work.  The boys have a hard time to get them to exercise.

I heard that Dutch Beocking was coming home from France wounded.  Heard that he lost his eyesight.  That will be pretty hard on old Dutch.  But he has a good home to come back to, and his people will not suffer any from want of his labor and I suppose he will get his insurance anyhow.  But it will be an awful life for anyone to go through in darkness.  Some fo the Englishmen who come to this country who have been gassed and loose their sight regain it after a short stay.  I hope it will be that way with Old Dutch.

We are going to get gas drill next week but not in the gas pit, it will only be practice with the mask.

Well if the quarantine is lifted I think I may get a pass home after a while as leaving seems to be postponed for a time now.  I would like to pay you a visit before we leave camp.  I do not think we will leave the U.S. before spring, but if we did go to California I would be too far from home to come, as we do not get the one cent rate only on furloughs of more than five days duration.

Pvt. Jas. F. Smith, Troop A. 10th Military Police, Camp Funston, Kansas.