Joseph Blackston Leach (1856-1925)
by Shelby Leach (1894-1981)
I would like to begin the story of my father's life with the Pre-Civil War days.
Joseph Blackston (Note: sometimes spelled Blackstone) Leach was born February 2, 1856, the son of John and Susan Leach, who were married in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. Soon after their marriage they came to Missouri and settled near Harrisonville, about twenty miles south of Kansas City; their four sons were born there. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Grandfather enlisted in the Confederate Army from Missouri.
As their farm was located on the main-traveled road between Fort Scott, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, and also near the invisible line between the North and South, troubled and dangerous times came to the mother and her small sons. Grandmother's father became so concerned about them that he went after them and brought them back to Kentucky with him. After the war ended, Grandfather joined them in Kentucky and never returned to Missouri.
Father came to Texas in the early part of 1878 with an uncle, from his home near Beaver Dam, Kentucky. Nine years later he came to Hale County. He and his brother, Dee, owned a farm in Denton County, and also had a herd of cattle, which they brought with them. Father heard of a large pumpkin that was raised in Swisher County, and so started to move to Swisher County. Their younger brother, John, had come to Texas from Kentucky and made the move with them; a cousin also went with them, Byron Taylor, who was about fourteen. He was an orphan, and Father was his guardian.
One day while they were traveling, some Indians came by their camp and asked for some meat; Uncle John said, "Give them salty meat and they won't bother us anymore." He said he learned that while working on a railroad grade.
My Father told me that they came up on the Cap Rock on the fourth or fifth of July, and camped a few miles east of what is now South Plains. From there they went northwest to a large, deep lake, near the corner of Swisher County, where they made a permanent camp. As other lakes dried up, other cattle men came and camped at this lake. This lake was known as the "55" lake for a number of years, as that was the brand that the Leach brothers used. The cattle they brought from Denton County is the foundation stock of the Hereford cattle now owned by me and my sons, Joe and Paul, and we still use the "55" brand.
Father filed on a 160 acre homestead about six miles north of Plainview In the fall of 1887, he had a well drilled on the homestead, they struck water forty-seven feet and drilled the well to sixty. The Star windmill they put up at the well was the third windmill in Hale County.
There was a saying among the early settlers that the wind pumped the water and the cows cut the wood. When the well was finished, they moved their tent and stock to the homestead and began to build their sod house. They dug about two feet in the ground, and made a wall of sod about five feet high. The house was fourteen by twenty-eight feet, and had a sod chimney in the north end; a makeshift door was made by putting salt sacks on a frame made of poles.
They moved into the sod house in January 1888. Uncle Dee went to see about the cattle that afternoon. He came back and said, "We are going to have the worst storm of the season, I need some help to get the cattle in." They put the cattle in a trap, that had been made by building a fence on the south and west sides of the pasture. At that time the herd consisted of about sixty head.
My father said that was the worst storm that he had ever seen on the Plains; there was thunder, lightning, rain, sleet, snow, and a hard wind. Almost all of the cattle in this part of the country drifted with the storm and went south, below the Texas Pacific Railroad. The Leach Brothers only had one cow to drift away in the storm. The next spring, ranchers rounded up the cattle that had drifted away, someone saw a cow with the Leach brand and put her in the herd, and brought her back.
The Leach Brothers made occasional trips to the Tule Canyon where they would cut some cedars for posts and firewood. When Father got to the creek on his first trip to the canyon, he saw what looked like bear tracks, and in a short time he looked down the canyon and saw a black bear; but the bear disappeared in the cedars and that was the only bear that he ever saw in the canyon.
On one of Father's trips to the canyon to get wood, he bad cut short and loaded the wood and started home when a blizzard hit. In a short time, he met some men from Plainview with three or four wagons, who were coming after wood; they stopped and discussed what they should do. Father told them that he had wood and was going back to the canyon and stay until the storm was over, and invited them to go with him. They all went and found a place on the north side of the canyon where a rock extended a few feet from the wall of the canyon and high enough for them to go under the rock. They built a fire in front of the rock and stayed until the storm was over. One of the men had a Negro with him. The Negro's feet were so large that he couldn't get shoes for him, so his feet were wrapped in sacks, but they still got cold.
Father helped build the Amarillo Hotel in Amarillo, and also worked on the Hale County Court House in 1890; he worked on other buildings in Amarillo and built some homes in this area. Uncle John worked on ranches, including the Circle and X. I. T. Uncle Dee stayed at home and looked after things.
On March 30, 1892, Father married Pyrena Parks, she came with her parents to Hale County from Crawford, Texas, in July 1888. They settled on the Running Water Draw, about five miles west of Plainview. They were married in her parents home, and Father took his bride to the sod house, but by that time they had windows, a real door, a floor, and a partition. We are living at the same place now, but in quite a different house.
There was a salt lick near where Grandfather Parks lived. Antelopes would come there for salt, and Grandfather could go there early most any morning and kill an antelope for fresh meat.
When Father or his brothers went to Amarillo for supplies, they would also bring freight for merchants in Plainview. They would take two wagons trailed together and pulled by six horses or mules. The team next to the wagon was known as the wheel team, next was the swing team, and the team in front was called the leaders.
On November 16, 1893, Father and Byron Taylor started to Amarillo. A little north of Happy Hollow, a stage station about two miles northeast of Happy, at about sunset, Father had an accident which almost cost him his life. He stepped on the tongue of the moving wagon to mount the wheel mule. The mule began to pitch, and he fell and was pushed forward by the wheel axle. After the wagons passed over him, he could only move his left arm and hand, but by morning he could not do that. Two other men helped Byron put him in the wagon, and Byron brought him back to Tulia where they spent the rest of the night at Mr. Conner's. The next morning Byron brought the wagons and teams home and went back with a spring wagon and mattress to bring Father home.
Father sent word to Mother to ask Dr. Dye to come and see him at nine o'clock that night. Neighbor men came (two each night) to sit up with Father all winter, and were still coming when I was born, in the sod house, on March 29. My first remembrance of my Father was seeing him walk on crutches; he always dragged his right foot, and as his right hand was paralyzed, he learned to write with his left hand.
In 1898, Father was elected to the office of tax assessor of Hale County, and served two terms. By that time, he was able to travel in a buggy with a gentle horse. Father never kept an office in the courthouse, but went to Plainview and sat in his buggy, on what is now Broadway, and people would come to him there, so his buggy was really his office. It was necessary to make some trips over the County to complete his assessments. He would hire a boy to go with him to open the gates.
The tax rolls were completed here at home with some hired help and Mother's help. At that time, all the work was done without typewriters and adding machines.
Father would drive out quite often in his buggy to look after the cattle. He was a good judge of cattle and knew many of them individually. We also raised horses and mules, some were used for farm work and others were sold. At one time, before we used tractors, we had twenty-two head of work stock. Father knew the mules and their mothers, and the week that he died, he wanted me to work a certain young mule for the first time. We hitched the mule to a wagon, where he could see it from his bedroom window. He passed away on September 20, 1925, almost thirty-two years after his accident, which indirectly may have caused his death.
Source: Hale County History, Plainview, TX; Aug 1976, Vol 6, Issue 3.