Ernest Smelcer was born in or near Crocker, Pulaski County, Missouri, on December 15, 1903, to James Benjamin Smelcer and Sarah Elizabeth (McMillian) Smelcer.  He was the youngest of nine children.  Ernest attended school at the Brown School House in Hancock, Missouri.  Family recollections and legends recount his proficiency at playing the fiddle, how he wrecked his car while dating the Brown School House teacher (supposedly he was forbidden to drive afterwards for a short time), his fascination with a new pinball machine while visiting his niece and her family, his love of baseball, his gardening prowess, his participation in intense games of Pinochle, his tendency to hand roll his own cigarettes, as well as his ability on multiple occasions to find several four leaf clovers while simply taking a casual stroll through the yard.

A String of Tragedies

Ernest Bill Smelcer Ernest experienced one tragedy after another that surely had a profound impact on his life.  At the age of six, Ernest’s brother, Roy, succumbed to sickness, and this was followed shortly by his brother Tom’s death from tuberculosis when Ernest was 10 years old.  When Ernest was 13 years old, his father died of nephritis, leaving his mother to watch over Ernest and his remaining six siblings.

On November 4, 1928, unthinkable tragedy struck again.  Ernest, age 24, was hunting with 55-year-old Edmond Owen Denton in Miller County, Missouri, when he accidentally shot and killed the married father of three.  The coroner’s inquest ruled the incident an accident.  Stories passed down in the family recall Ernest being so distraught that he considered suicide.  His mother is said to have confiscated his pistol for a time, fearing that he might bring harm to himself.

Death Certificate of Edmond Denton
Death Certificate of Edmond Owen Denton, who was accidentally shot and killed while hunting with Ernest Smelcer on November 4, 1928.

Ernest never committed suicide, but he never married nor did he move away from the home he shared with his mother until her death, with various siblings on and off again during their twilight years, and with his sister, Emma, until his passing in 1991.  On January 15, 1991, my grandfather, Cyrus James Smelcer, was giving Ernest Smelcer a shave and a haircut at his home.  Having remarked to my grandfather earlier that day how he was weary and ready to die, Ernest called out to his sister Emma, suffered a cardiac incident, and died there in his home soon after my grandfather left for the day.  He was 87 years old.

Fondly Remembered

Known to later generations of the family as “Uncle Bill,” Ernest was remembered as a kind man of many talents who overcame tragedy time and time again to live a long and cherished life.

Ernest Smelcer is buried in Crocker Memorial Cemetery in Crocker, Missouri.


Col. Randal A. Burd, Jr., PDC has over 18 years of experience doing genealogical and historical research. He is a Past Commander of the Department of Missouri, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, former Chapter President of the Ozarks Patriots Chapter, Missouri Society, Sons of the American Revolution, a lifetime member of the Pulaski County (Missouri) Historical Society, a Kentucky Colonel, and a freelance writer for Follow him on Twitter @colonelrandal.

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