Will the Real Tecumseh Smith Please Step Forward
A History of Pony, Montana’s name-sake
Since Pony was first settled, numerous articles have been written about how the Town of Pony got its name. Almost all the articles claim a miner, Tecumseh Smith, with a nickname of Pony due to his diminutive size, found gold in a tributary to North Willow Creek circa 1867. This tributary is now called Pony Creek, the first settlement being called Pony Gulch, and the subsequent adjacent town site being named Pony.
The dates slightly differ in articles but most center around the time of 1866 – 1868 for his discovery of gold and that by 1870, the mining camp of Pony Gulch and all traces of Tecumseh Smith were gone. All accounts agree that his nickname was Pony and that is how the town of Pony got its name.
So, who was Tecumseh Smith, and – like “Cotton Eyed Joe” – where did he come from and where did he go? Most folklore says that he was placer mining in Alder Gulch and, then headed northeast until he got to the Pony area. He was in the Pony area for a couple years and, then never heard from again.
Using some of todays’ technology, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could find out more about Tecumseh Smith. To date all I’ve found is folklore and no solid evidence that a Tecumseh Smith ever existed in Montana during that time frame.
His name was a mystery after he left and was argued about into the early 1900s with one person saying his name was Tecumseh Smith, another saying it was the other way around – Smith Tecumseh, and another saying it was McCumpsey. All agreed that the diminutive wanderer went by the nickname of ‘Pony’.
In the early 1920s, Katharine O. Adkins (Mrs. Henry A. Adkins), who was the Historian for the Pony Women’s Club wrote the following in the article noted below:
EARLY HISTORY OF PONY, MONTANA COMPILED FOR
THE PONY WOMEN’S CLUB
MRS. W. HENRY ATKINS
“Smith McCumpsey found gold in a gulch in 1866 or ‘67 and his placer ground was referred to by his mining associates as ‘Pony’s Gulch’. History does not record from whence he came nor whither he went but his friendly nickname ‘Pony’, adopted for the entire camp, stands as a monument to his having passed this way.”
Using modern technology, I can now say I know whence Smith McComsey came and whither he went:
Smith McComsey (sometimes spell McCumsey) was born in Ohio on Oct. 27, 1843 to Henry G McComsey, his father, and Mary Evaline (Ross) McComsey, his mother. He had three brothers and two sisters.
Smith fought in the Civil War. He was a private in Company H of the 15th Regiment of the Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He was listed on his military record as a farmer, when he enlisted at the age of 18 on Nov. 22, 1861, mustered on Dec. 13, 1861, and was discharged for disability on Dec. 20, 1862 in Yokena, Mississippi. His military record shows him at 5 foot 2-1/2 inches so hence, his diminutive size from where his nickname ‘Pony’ was derived.
The 15th Regiment was at Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862 as well as the battle of Corinth on Oct. 5-12, 1862, so Smith probably saw action at both those battles.
The last 40 days that Smith was in the service, he had sores on both legs inhibiting him of walking and preventing him of performing his soldier duties, so he received a disability discharge at Yokena near Corinth.
The doctor’s report on his discharge thought his condition was inherited, which could have contributed to his small size.
Accounts from Ancestry.com are a little vague but state that a Smith McComsey, who fought in the Civil War, went to Montana. After Smith left Pony, he traveled to the Boise area, where he was listed as being a placer miner on the 1870 census record.
Smith McComsey eventually settled in Utah, where he resided at 134 North 6 West in Salt Lake City for close to 60 years and worked as a carpenter. He married Amanda Eliza Hatfield on Dec. 26, 1872, and they had four daughters: Mary Evaline who was born on May 19, 1875 and died Dec. 12, 1878 at the age of three; Eliza Amanda, living less than a year, born and died in 1879; Ida May who was born on March 12, 1880 and died April 22, 1966; and Alice Lily who was born on October 13, 1882 and died March 12, 1965. Neither surviving daughters married, so that ends the line. There’s an empty lot at 134 North 6 West today.
Smith’s wife Amanda died on August 20, 1912 of a ruptured appendicitis, and Smith died on December 23, 1929 of old age at 86 years old.