days customer-eager automobile dealerships or stores don’t seem to be able to
do much better than hiring an Elvis impersonator or pretending to be going out
of business in their efforts to draw traffic and booster their bottom line. Well,
giant rubber gorillas may help.
But back in the summer of 1928, someone
who handled advertising for the Sanger Brothers Department Store in Dallas
did some thinking outside the box long before the expression got invented. Shoot,
Texas didn’t even have big box stores in those days. To attract shoppers to their
big downtown store, Sanger Brothers would have on hand for meeting and greeting
customers a man who as a youth had been captured by Comanches.
its 200,000th resident by then, with highrises and all the amenitities of the
big city that it was, Jazz Age Big D was a long way removed from the days when
a full fall moon portended bloody Indian raids. But more than a half-century since
the last Comanche hostilities in Texas, some oldtimers
still lived who remembered when health and property could not be taken for granted
on the frontier.
of those men was Jefferson Davis Smith, who in 1871 as a boy of six had been captured
by Comanches along with his nine-year-old brother Clinton Lafayette Smith while
they were out herding sheep for their father near San
Now, in a scene neither he nor his captors would have envisioned
even with the help of a little for-spirtual-use-only peyote, Smith sat on the
seventh floor of the Sanger Brothers main store surrounded by a collection of
Comanche artifacts and ready to chat up shoppers drawn to the location by his
well-advertised presense along with two other old timers.
Dallas store was of course a valued
advertising customer of the city’s daily newspapers, which likely explains why
the Dallas Times-Herald sent a reporter by the store to interview Smith.
“They had tried it before, but we had always got away,” he said of his kidnapping,
“only this time they surprised us.”
As the newspaper reported: “Then came
six years of strange life for the little boy. They [the Indians] caught a wild
tied the youngster on his back to see how game he was. When he had fasted for
three days, they threw him raw meat, still warm from the scarcely dead animal.”
Smith said he
had never forgotten “the cries of the buffalo
who was as frightened as he was” when the Comanches used it for their entertainment
before killing it.
Continuing his account, Smith told the much younger
reporter that he and his brother had been separated by the Indians. After nearly
six years, the Comanches traded him to a band of Lipan Apaches for an old roan.
“I didn’t like the value they put on me,” he said all those years later.
his time with the Indians, he said, exposure to the Texas sun turned him nearly
as dark as the Comanches and he learned to speak their language while his English
Shortly after the Indians captured the boys, a party of Texas
Rangers and armed volunteers trailed the raiders as far as the vicinity of Fort
Concho at present San
Angelo, but the Comanches successfully eluded the would-be rescuers.
Henry Smith, the father of the boys, offered a $1,000 reward for either of his
their eventual return to their families both boys went on to colorful careers
as traildrivers and ranchers. In 1927, Frontier Times magazine publisher J. Marvin
Hunter told their story in a somewhat sensationalized book that sold well and
has since become a collector’s item. The publicity the book generated is likely
what inspired the Sangers advertising scheme. Doubtless, Sanger Brothers sold
his book as well as any other merchandise they could to the crowd Smith drew to
The Times-Herald story concluded: “The three oldtimers [the
other two men had not been a part of Smith’s adventure], visiting Dallas
for the Sangers sale, are glad to tell anybody interested about the old days when
living in Texas was more exciting and not so safe
as it is today.”
Clint Smith lived until Sept. 10, 1932 and his younger
brother Jeff made it to April 21, 1940. The older brother is buried at Rocksprings,
while Jeff was laid to rest at the Coker Methodist Cemetery in San
Cox - September 20, 2012 column
Topics: Columns | People
| Texas | Texas Town