On the site of what is now New Century AirCenter freed slave Isam Smith settled with the Jacob and Clara Victor family, who sat him free on April 18, 1856. Isam moved to Gardner in 1861 and married twice: Minnie and after she passed, Emma. He passed away in June 1990 and is buried in the Gardner Cemetery. Submitted photo
Special to The Gardner News
Isam Smith moved to the Kansas Territory with the Jacob Victor family when he was 26. Smith, died in 1900 and is buried in the Gardner Cemetery.
Isam was born into slavery in Mississippi on March 10, 1830.
The Victor family owned Isam when they moved from Kentucky to Weston, Mo. around 1855. Before leaving Weston to take claim in Kansas, the Victor family set Isam free on April 18, 1856, according to research conducted by Tressa Stone, Spring Hill.
Kansas was a free state, and Isam took the last name “Smith.” The meaning of his first name is “protection and security,” presumably given to him as a boy on a Mississippi plantation.
Isam moved with the Victor family to their new home in Kansas. On March 3, 1857, by a spring of water, Jacob and Clara Victor took claim along the old Santa Fe and Oregon Trail, six miles east of the trails’ divide. Their home was located on the site of the present day New Century AirCenter.
Jacob Victor hauled lumber from Jackson County, Mo., to build their home, which was known as “the largest house between Westport and Santa Fe.” The Victors eventually turned the house into a hotel, according to research by Virginia Armstrong Johnson, Gardner.
Isam eventually started a family of his own and moved into the town of Gardner. In 1861, Smith married a woman named Minnie.
Minnie, also a former slave, was born in 1839 in Mississippi, according to 1880 census records.
Minnie and Isam had two sons, Will and John, and four daughters, Ozale, Martha, Mary, and Florence.
Isam worked as a custodian at the Gardner School, and his home was just east of the school building. The Smiths were members of the Gardner First Baptist Church, and Isam sang in the choir, according to the late Laura Osborn Johnston.
After a long illness, Minnie died at the age of 50 on Oct. 15, 1889.
“A number of friends from Olathe” attended her funeral, according to her obituary printed in The Young Kansan Newspaper on Oct. 18, 1889. Her remains were laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the Gardner Cemetery.
A poem following her obituary was also printed in the newspaper, “Sweet freedom again, and rest at last. Banished all pain, now death has past.”
Isam remarried in 1890 at the age of 60.
His second wife, Emma, was born in Mississippi in August of 1859.
Emma was 31 at the time of their marriage, according to the 1900 census records.
Isam passed away at the age of 70 on June 5, 1900 after a two-week-long illness.
Funeral services were held at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Gardner. Rev. Fulkrod conducted the funeral.
Smith’s remains were “interred into the cemetery west of town.” according to his obituary, printed in the Gardner Gazette, June 7, 1900.
A line from Isam’s obituary read, “Although a negro, Isam commanded the respect of almost everyone in Gardner and will be greatly missed.”
According to Stone’s research, the Victor family spoke of Isam often and the respect the community had for him.
The stone marking Isam’s grave at the Gardner Cemetery incorrectly states the date of his death. His obituary, published on June 7, 1900, states that he died on June 5. However, according to his grave stone, he died on June 18.
Indeed, a grave error.
No records have been found that indicate what became of Isam Smith’s children or his second wife, Emma. However, both sons were said to be living in Kansas City at the time of their mother Minnie’s death in 1889.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 6, 2009 edition of The Gardner News.