Ramsey County History – Fall 2008: “Pith Heart & Nerve, Truman M. Smith: From Banker to Market Gardener”

Barry L. & Joan Miller Cotter

Pith Heart & Nerve, Truman M. Smith: From Banker to Market Gardener
Authors: Barry L. & Joan Miller Cotter

According to the authors, Truman Smith did not give up in the face of a major economic collapse in 1857; instead he showed resilience and used “pith, heart, and nerve” to survive in frontier St. Paul. He came to the city in 1851 with little money but, in a few years, had opened a bank. His wife and child came a bit later from Wisconsin, traveling in a private carriage. Smith’s anguish when the economy crashed is shown through excerpts from his letters to family and friends. He frantically tried to find financial support from Eastern sources and had success for a time, but soon he was overextended. His bank failed, and he continued to struggle to keep their heavily mortgaged home on the crest of Dayton’s Bluff. Smith was able to keep the house for a time by putting its ownership in his wife’s name. Unfortunately, she died of tuberculosis in 1864, and the fight was over. His somewhat opulent lifestyle was reduced to a struggle to maintain subsistence. Smith then turned his horticultural hobby into a means of ongoing financial support. He grew splendid vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers and managed to make a decent, if not comfortable living.
PDF of Cotter article