Volume 3, Number 8
Though one of the smallest counties in the state in point of population Taney County boasts of three surviving veterans of the war of 1847-48 between the U.S. and Mexico. They are Capt. James R. Van Zandt, who lives near Kirbyville; David Smithson, who lives three miles from Forsyth on Swan Creek, and Joseph W. Estep, who lives near Bradleyville.
Though the combined ages of the trio of grizzled war veterans totals 261 years, all are hale and heary in their old age and are still more or less actively engaged at farming. Capt Van Zandt is the dean of them all being 90 years old. Smithson is 89 years old, and Estep is 82. All served in the division of the invading army commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott, though they were in different companies. Estep is the only one of the number not present at the fall of the City of Mexico, illness having prevented his being one of the conquerors who marched into the Mexican capital.
All were eager for the march of the United States troops into the City of Mexico when the recent crisis between the two countries caused the landing of an army of occupation at Vera Cruz, but now that mediation is resorted to they hope for a peaceful settlement of the imbroglio. Though they receive their newspapers two days after their issue, owning to lack of transportation facilities in Taney County, yet each is following the proceedings of the Niagra Falls Conference as they did the developments that led them to enlist in the service of their country sixty-seven years ago.
The most interesting war record of the three veterans is held by Capt. Van Zandt. He enlisted for the Mexican War in Hamilton County, Tenn., joining a company of the Fourth Regiment of Volunteers under Capt. Lawson L. Guthrie. He served through the war and was present at the capture of the City of Mexico. He returned to Tennessee after the war, but shortly afterward moved to Webster County, Missouri.
At the outbreak of the Civil War he organized a company of men and marched them to Springfield, whence they were mustered into the Union Army as Company K, Twenty-fourth Missouri Volunteers. He was made captain of the company. His company saw service in the battles of Wilson Creek and Pea Ridge and took part in a number of other engagements in Southwest Missouri and Arkansas. He served thoughout this war, also, and for sometime had charge of the pontoon work for ferrying troops across streams in this part of the country. The biggest bridge of this character he erected across White River at Batesville, Ark.
Capt. Van Zandt has lived in Taney County thirty-six years. He represented the county in the Thirty-second General Assembly. He was the father of twelve children, eight of whom are living. He is 72 years older than his youngest daughter. He has ceased to do much of the heavy work of his farm, but still takes care of two teams of horses and a cow, besides tending to thirty stands of bees. To show his neighbors that he is young, despite his four score and ten years, he dug and walled up an outside cellar on his farm last summer, doing all the work himself.
David Smithson was born in Warren County, Tenn., May 28, 1825, and spent his boyhood there. At the breaking out of the war he enlisted in Company F, Third Regiment, United States Volunteer Infantry, under Capt. Monroe Savage. His company went by boat down the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans and from there to Vera Cruz. He was with the army in Mexico eleven months. For several weeks he lay ill at Vera Cruz from an attack of typhoid fever, which prevented him taking part in a number of engagements leading up to the capture of the city of Mexico. However, he recovered in time to accompany General Scott's army into the Mexican Capital.
After the war he returned to Tennessee, where he lived until 1876, when he migrated to Taney County, Missouri. Though 89 years old he sits on the front porch of his home and easily distinguishes friends and neighbors who travel up and down the Swan Creek road, 200 yards from the house. Smithson was the
father of eight children, six of whom are living. Among these
are Mrs. J.H. Parrish of Forsyth; John Smithson, who lives near Forsyth; W.
C. Smithson of Keokuk Falls, OK.; and Mrs. Zane Reynolds, who lives in Texas.
Joseph W. Estep, besides serving through the Mexican War, fought in a number of important battles of the Civil War. He was born in Scott County, Virginia, April 5, 1832.
He was brought to St. Louis when six years old and bound out. After four years he ran away and was taken in by a farmer who lived in Madison County, Illinois, with whom he lived until the declaration of the war against Mexico. He joined an independent company of 125 cavalrymen, captained by Joseph Little. Each of the men furnished his own horse and volunteered for five years. They were to get $20 per month and a bounty of 120 acres of land at the end of the war. He was then 16 years old.
When the company reached New Orleans, Estep and several of his comrades became ill from measles and were left behind. Upon their recovery they crossed the gulf to Vera Cruz in a sailing boat, the trip requiring twenty-one days. Scott already had marched into the City of Mexico and the war was nearing its close. He and his companions were ordered to Rio Frio, which is about halfway between Vera Cruz and the capital, their work being to guard the mail carriers between the two. When not guarding the carriers they were in the mountains rounding up Mexican cattle, which were used for feeding the infantry stationed in Rio Frio. It was the poorest beef one ever saw, Estep says in telling of the soldier's efforts to supply themselves with fresh meat.
"One of the most amusing experiences of our campaign," says Estep today, "happened when one of the American soldiers was caught by a Mexican with a lariat. He was William Chester and was strolling near the outskirts of the camp when the sulking Mexican cavalryman lassoed him. Such yelling on the part of Chester, you never heard equaled. We could see the Mexican dragging the helpless soldier down the road at break neck speed in the directions of the mountains. Some of our horses were already saddled and we gave pursuit at once. We were soon within shooting distance and the guerilla's flight was cut short in quick time. Chester was rescued unharmed, except for a few bruises, and he was thankful that the lariat caught him around the body instead of around the neck."
Estep saw two years' service in the Civil War, being a member of the Twenty-sixth Missouri Infantry. He was in the battles of Island No. 10, Corinth, Iuka, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Vicksburg.
Estep has lived in Taney County forty years. Nine of his children are living, four being dead. He is proud of his forty grandchildren and his forty-six great-grandchildren. One of his great-grandchildren was married recently. Estep believes he is the youngest Mexican War survivor. He attended a reunion of the Mexican veterans at Fort Worth, Texas in 1902. There were seventy present and Estep was the youngest of all.
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