One guy carried what would become perhaps Minnesota’s best-known name — the original Hubert Horatio Humphrey. The other, Leland P. Smith, has been all but lost to the obscurity that comes from such a common last name.
Both born in the 1840s, there’s no evidence they ever met. But they’ve been neighbors for nearly 100 years now at Minneapolis’ Lakewood Cemetery.
“Mr. Humphrey’s grave more or less overlooks Mr. Smith’s,” said Bob Hatlestad, who’s worked at the cemetery for nearly 30 years. “You could probably throw a baseball from one grave to the other.”
Humphrey and Smith are just two of roughly 22,000 Minnesotans who volunteered to join the military in the early 1860s. And they’re two of nearly 700 Civil War-era soldiers buried at the cemetery founded in 1871 on the southeastern shore of Lake Calhoun.
The first Hubert H. Humphrey was former Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s great-uncle. He was born in Huntington, Ohio, and moved with his family to the Minnesota Territory in the 1850s. The first Hubert’s father, Harry, married a woman named Electa. He’s buried in Lakewood’s Section 4 — just south of his son in Section 2 and Leland Smith in Section 3.
Census records from 1860 show Hubert the first living in the Rice County burg of Webster 35 miles south of Minneapolis. He enlisted in Company D of Minnesota’s 11th Regiment Infantry in August 1864, along with his older brother, Louis S. Humphrey.
Described as a 5-foot-7 farmer with a fair complexion, blue eyes and dark hair, Hubert Humphrey struck a handsome pose for an early photograph. His service wasn’t exactly heroic.
A couple of months after his appointment as a sergeant, he and his brother were listed as absent with sickness for November 1864 at an Army hospital in Gallatin, Tenn. Their regiment mostly guarded a stretch of railroad near Nashville, fending off Confederate guerrillas. They weren’t engaged in major warfare, but could hear the cannon fire at the Battle of Nashville, one of the last Civil War clashes.
A year after he enlisted, Hubert was back home, working as a merchant in Minneapolis after the war. His stories must have impressed younger brother John, who named his son Hubert Horatio, who later became the mayor of Minneapolis, a U.S. senator and vice president. HHH the second’s son, Hubert III, served as attorney general for 16 years.
“I’m not sure how far back the HHH name goes,” said Hubert Humphrey IV, who’s known by the nickname, Buck — his grandmother Muriel’s maiden name.
When a friend sent Buck a photo of the original HHH from the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn., “You can imagine that I found it very interesting that, in fact, my Great Grandpa (Senator Humphrey’s dad) was not the first HHH, but was actually named after his uncle who served in the Minnesota 11th.”
In the case of Leland P. Smith, Hubert’s Lakewood neighbor, the eureka moment came at an estate sale. A reader of this column was browsing through a closet filled with framed art when he found Smith’s “Soldiers Certificate” — a fancy document that included a photo of Smith later in life. Knowing the framed certificate would be trashed if unsold, the reader from Eden Prairie plunked down $100.
“This was a one-of-a-kind piece with some human (if not monetary) value,” he said in an e-mail, asking to remain anonymous. “I didn’t want it tossed. In my hands was the remnant of a human lifetime, and seemingly quite an interesting one. I was curious.”
So he learned that Smith was born in Michigan on June 25, 1845. His family moved to Rock Island, Ill., and then to what became Scott County, Minnesota. He enlisted, at 17, in Company K of Minnesota’s Sixth Regiment on July 21, 1862.
“He was a patriotic youth and all his sympathy was with the preservation of the integrity of the Union,” according to a 1912 book on St. Paul history.
Smith enlisted two years before Humphrey and just a month before the U.S.-Dakota War erupted on the Western plains. Faint handwriting on Smith’s certificate says he was a “company fifer” who took part in the battles of Birch Coulee and Wood Lake during the bloody, six-week war in 1862 — likely playing a vital communication role with his fife.
Records show Smith’s regiment was sent to Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama after the U.S.-Dakota War. It’s unclear how much action Smith saw, but he was “discharged for disability” on Feb. 3, 1865.
After the war, Smith went to Washington, where he studied the ministry and was ordained by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Listing “Belle Plain[e]” as his hometown on his soldiers certificate, Smith’s itinerant spiritual work took him to Brooklyn Center, Redwood Falls, Hutchinson, Clearwater, Red Wing and Hopkins. He eventually settled near the State Capitol and served as chaplain at the Minnesota Soldiers’ Home in Minneapolis.
“A venerable and highly esteemed citizen of St. Paul,” historian Henry Anson Castle said in 1912, “his character and personality have made him a beloved pastor and friend.”
Smith married Eva Bell in 1870 in Faribault. They raised four children. By the time he died in 1918 at 73, Humphrey had already been in the ground for six years — buried just across a cemetery road. Humphrey died at 68 in 1912 — leaving behind his wife, Rosie, and an alliterative name that would echo down through Minnesota history.
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book “Frozen in History” at startribune.com/ebooks.