County Connections: Sixth-generation farmer's family has a Confederate veteran to thank for its start in agriculture

03/28/2017 06:46 PM

WARSAW — Skip Smith has seen a lot in his 69 years, most of which have been spent on the grounds he and his family still farm to this day.

Smith partners with his brother, Joe Smith, and works alongside his sons and grandsons, farming roughly 1,500 acres — mostly soy and corn — plus nearly 100 heads of cattle.

“I like to tell people in my own career when I was a kid, we were still using horses out here on the farm, and I know how to harness a horse,” Skip Smith said in a recent interview at his home near Warsaw. “I know how to hitch a team. I’ve worked horses a little bit, and I’m not going to tell anybody I’ve spent hours and hours staring at a horse’s butt, but I have done it.

“And here in a couple or three weeks I’ll be climbing into a climate-controlled tractor with an air ride seat, power steering, automatic transmission and a freakin’ GPS telling me how to run the rows.”

Smith is a sixth-generation Gallatin County resident, and his family has farmed part of the land where Smith lives since 1866, when his great-great-grandfather started as a tenet farmer.

His great-great-grandfather, an officer in the Union army, had a Confederate veteran to thank for that after saving his life in a drunken dust-up in town that had already turned bloody.

The steamship carrying the mishmash group of Civil War veterans shortly after the war’s end stopped in Gallatin County, and some of the crew took the opportunity to have some whiskey, Smith said. Union veterans outnumbered Confederates three-to-one, and some Confederates wound up losing their lives in the ensuing fight.

Some Union veterans, as Smith’s great-grandmother put it, were set to toss one Confederate “under the paddle wheel” until his great-great-grandfather and others in the Kentucky contingency stopped them with pistols drawn.

“Perry (the Confederate veteran) remembered this and actually helped my great-great-grandfather get a job with his friend out here as a tenet, and then later on loaned the sons the money to buy the farm,” Smith said. “Originally it was about 650 acres.”

Smith also serves as the head of the county’s planning commission, helping set the community’s development trajectory.

People like Smith stay in Gallatin County because of the jobs available there, particularly at area steel factories.

“The growth in industry here has allowed people the option of coming back home,” he said.

Smith is something of a rarity in a time when farmland is often parceled out to the highest bidder.

One factor that Smith says has affected the local real estate market in Gallatin County: the sale of farmland to build the Kentucky Speedway, driving up prices and causing some farmers to reconsider their holdings.

Whether his descendants will continue farming the land he calls home after he’s gone is hard to predict.

He and his brother, who keeps the farm machinery humming, are hanging on, and Smith says he doesn’t intend to retire, only to slow down.

“This whole county, where there were once a lot of farmers making their living on the farm, there’s only six or eight full-time farmers left in the county,” he said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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