Bernard Smith a lifelong mapmaker - artist

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

W. Bernard Smith's family roots go deep into T16 R8W in Bienville Parish. Great-Great Grandfather John G. Smith came from Georgia and settled on the spot in the 1840s. This same half Section of land has been handed down through five successive generations of the Smith family line. Bernard and his wife Sue live on this land where he was born, in their home at the top of a hill. Surrounding acreage is a rare sight among the timberlands of North Louisiana in that a carpet of green grass flows over hills and valleys as far as the eye can see.

A visit with the Smiths is a rare journey back into history- Smith is approaching eighty-two, Sue is much younger. While he sorts through his mental images spanning eight decades, she pulls out old maps, historic church minutes, genealogical information relating to the family, from places where they are neatly filed. Wood burnings created by Bernard are arranged neatly alongside family pictures on the walls.

"I've drawn maps and other stuff all my life," Smith said. "I did my first wood burning for a neighbor who loved birds. I did a lot of those through the years. Transferring the old maps I found while perusing old records at the courthouse was natural since I've spent my life more or less surveying, mapping, and painting lines all over the darn world."

Smith has traveled widely on his journey over God's good earth. He kicked over the traces after he graduated from Jamestown High School at age sixteen. His Dad wanted him to stay around and work on the farm. "I told him I wasn't about to stay around here and raise cotton," he said. "I rode the train over to Shreveport with a friend whose Mama gave us a place to stay. The next day I went up to a geologist's office I had heard of, and Barrett Geophysical gave me my first job."

While many young men after graduating from high school during WWII had opted for military service, Bernard had not been old enough in 1942. He still wasn't old enough at age seventeen, in '43. His Mother had passed away during the preceding year, and young Smith enlisted in the military by forging his Mom's name on enlistment papers. "I left my first job after about a year and joined the Navy," he said.

"Eventually I wound up on an old destroyer that had been commissioned in 1920." The John D. Ford DD-228 had enjoyed almost two decades of service in the Far East prior to the outbreak of WW II. During the time of Smith's service she ranged the North and South Atlantic from New York and Charleston, South Carolina, escorting convoys going to England and Russia. While at Gibraltar on March 29 March, she was damaged in a collision with a British tanker. The ship was in New York Harbor at Pier 92 for repairs, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.

"They had assigned the ship's crew to different areas of responsibility while the ship was in port," Smith said. "I found myself in the post office sorting mail. The day our Commander in Chief died, all of the shipmates were assembled outside our quarters. I didn't know until later that we were in a selection process- duty assignments were made according to height. I was selected, then excused because I was working in the post office. When I learned that the men chosen were to take part in Roosevelt's funeral, I was somewhat relieved. The funeral lasted three days and it was cold with rain, ice, and snow."

"When I was discharged from the military," Smith continued, "I came home, married Janice, my childhood sweetheart, and went back to work for Barrett. We had to move around a lot, following the surveying crews and it became hard on my family. We hung with it about three years before I quit and came back to work with my Dad on the farm. He was still planting cotton and I started easing in some coastal Bermuda on plots here and there. I had added some cows and before long my Dad figured out what I was doing and he didn't like it much. He had spent a lot of his life getting rid of grass in his cotton and here I was planting fields of it."

"I went to work for Bodcaw in 1958. My family had settled in here where the children could go to school in one place, so I hired on for Bodcaw working under Floyd Perritt, a licensed surveyor. I was out most every day with the crews, mapping, painting land lines, and marking trees. I have worked all over Louisiana, East Texas, and Arkansas. We worked long hours, but I loved it. I'd come home after a day's work to plow and plant. I liked plowing at night."

"By 1985, Bodcaw had long since been bought out by International Paper and they offered early retirement to employees. Our children, Lynn, Donna, and Dixie were grown and off on their own. My health was good; I had things I wanted to do, so I retired to come home and raise cows."

Although Bernard Smith is quick to say that "I am not a licensed surveyor.", his credentials, gained through experience, are highly respected today. His first job where he traveled over East Texas assisting licensed surveyors running landlines and drawing maps forged his foundation in topography. The history of the land is forged into his brain through years of study and application of what he learned. He speaks an unfamiliar language to those not as learned as he--family is located "over in 17-4, or a town is in 15-8". He worries about benchmarks or monuments getting lost and knows where some can still be found. "Modern logging crews with their 'dozers' are destroying the corners," he said. "Old farmers used to take care of them."