Leasel B Harris

Leasel B. Harris

Background

        Leasle B. Harris was reportedly born in Macon, Georgia in 1825. He was the son of Walter Harris and Barbara Thomas. He said he came to Texas at the age of 6. He became a successful cattleman and banker. He married Martha Isabell McKenzie by whom he had eight children. His nickname was "Bobo". That could have been his middle name. "Leasle" could be French, as could "Beaubeau".
        After Leasel Harris' father died, his mother married Michael Gillen. Harris testified in the papers of the Texas Supreme Court that "about the year A.D. 1830 or 1831, the said Michel Gillon being then the husband of the said Barbara Gillon, who beforehand had been the widow of Walter Harris, emigrated from the United States ... to ... Texas", to DeWitt’s Colony. Gillen received a league of land as a colonist, and sold his land to Simeon Bateman about 1835.
        Harris' court testimony says that Michael Gillen deserted his wife and children, going to Louisiana where he died in 1837.
        Barbara Gillen reportedly ran an inn at Gonzales during the 1830’s. Family tradition reported “that Elijah Votaw was at the sacking and burning of Goliad by Santa Anna’s Army in March, 1836, when he came to the aid of a woman with two small children who were fleeing the town with a few possessions. Elijah succeded in helping them to safety.” The town was almost certainly Gonzales, not Goliad. Santa Anna never reached Goliad in 1836. Barbara Gillan lived at Gonzales.
        Votaw probably encountered the women and children as they fled the approaching Mexican army with the other settlers of Gonzales County in the Runaway Scrape. Leasle was about eleven years old. His grandmother is mentioned in the story, and was probably Barbara’s mother. They saw Santa Anna after his capture. Votaw let Barbara ride behind him. On October 26, 1837, Elijah Votaw and Barbara Gillen were married in Washington County, Texas.
        In a suit before the Texas Supreme Court in 1855, Leasle Harris claimed that Gillen “left his family in 1835 or 1836 and went to Louisiana and died there in 1837, leaving a widow in Texas who died in 1848. She had previously intermarried and had living children by each of her husbands, including 2 children by Votaw her third husband, at the time of her death.
        

Supreme Court Case

            “In 1846 she and the children settled on the upper half of the Gillon league and in 1853 [Harris] brought suit to have the sale to Bateman set aside based on the grounds of its being in violation of an express prohibition of law; secondly, it was in fraud of the wife’s rights; and third, it was tainted with lesion.”
    The Supreme Court ruled against Harris. The case demonstrates that Leasle Harris was the son of Barbara who was married to Michael Gillen and to Elijah Votaw. It also explains what happened to Gillen, i.e. he went to Louisiana and was reported, by Leasle Harris at least, as having died. He apparently married in Louisiana and raised another family before he did die.

Military service

    Allen Erwin wrote that “at eighteen, young Harris joined the Texas Rangers and fought with Taylor’s army at Monterrey. As early as 1850, he turned to the cattle business and drove his first herd to Abilene in 1867.” (See The Southwest of John H. Slaughter)
    In 1850, Leasle Harris was living in Caldwell County, Texas. His household included Eveline “Gilleland”, who was 16. Leasle was named her legal guardian in 1852. Harris must have taken that step before filing the suit to reclaim the Gillen land. By then, their mother, Barbara, had died. As a minor, Eveline required a guardian to protect her interest in the land. The court papers imply that Eveline was a child of the marriage between Barbara and Michael Gillen. No more is known about Eveline.
    The census of 1850 also shows William, age 11 and Thomas F. age 8 in Leasle’s household. That description fits Barbara and Elijah Votaw’s sons. They would have been Leasle’s half brothers, probably being “mothered” by their half sister Eveline. Elijah is shown in the household of Thomas Hardeman, where William was also enumerated but Thomas was not listed. William became a famous cattleman. Thomas died in the Civil War at the battle of New Hope Church in Georgia.

Marriage

    Leasle Harris married Martha Isabell McKenzie on June 18, 1851, in San Antonio, at the home of her aunt and uncle, Martha Ann and Roderick Toliver Higginbotham. Roderick T. Higginbotham was the owner of considerable land in Bexar County as well as a mill on the San Antonio River. The mill was serving settlers below Seguin as early as 1844. The “works” of that mill were bought by Roderick from the estate of James Bowie after Bowie died at the Alamo in 1836.The Higgenbotham and McKenzie families had come to Texas in 1839.

Land and Cattle

    Higginbotham sold Leasle Harris and Leasle’s brother-in-law, Thomas McKenzie, “the choice half” of a league of land on the east side of Rio Frio in August 1855. The land was at the Old upper Rio Grande Crossing, about 55 miles from San Antinio.
    Higginbotham sold Leasle Harris and Leasle’s brother-in-law, Thomas McKenzie, “the choice half” of a league of land on the east side of Rio Frio in August 1855. The land was at the Old upper Rio Grande Crossing, about 55 miles from San Antinio.
    According to Allen Erwin in The Southwest of John Horton Slaughter, “By 1871 his was one of the largest herds belonging to any individual owner in that great cattle state. His main ranch was about fifty miles below San Antonio on the colorful old Laredo Road. His books show at San Angelo a calf branding of 28,500 and total cattle of 150,000.”
    Shortly after Harris' daughter, Adeline, married John Slaughter, Harris and Slaughter became partners in the cattle business. In 1873, the two men took a reputed 65,000-head herd and trailed to Abilene. (Erwin p 91 citing James H. Cook, Fifty Years on the Old Frontier p. 175)
    Lease Harris' half brother, William "Billy" Votaw got his start in the cattle business with the gift of a brand worth $10,000 from Lease Harris, about the time Votaw married Mary Slaughter (1875).

Farther West

    The Harris family left the Atascosa/Frio County area for Coke County about 1877. Leasel Harris and his son-in-law, Billy Childress, bought land in Coke County in 1877. Harris still had the La Conias Creek ranch in Atascosa County.
    Leasel Harris organized the Concho National Bank of San Angelo and was its first president. He built the San Angelo Hotel in 1884, which was destroyed by fire in 1904. Harris and his son-in-law R. E. Cartledge established the Robert Lee community in Coke County.
        While ranching in Coke County, Harris was one of the first to fence his pastures. Other cattlemen resented the practice and cut his fences, burning fence posts and causing much destruction. Harris eventually prevailed.
        Harris was a well known cattleman on the trails to Kansas beef markets. He is credited with opening one particular trail called by his name.

Family

    Leasel Harris and Martha Isabell McKenzie had eight children:
1)Eliza Adeline m. 4 Aug 1871 John H. Slaughter
2)Walter Clifton b 1854 m. 1884
3)Mary E "Molly" b 1856 m. 1875 Billy Childress d 31 Oct 1936
4)Clara b 1858
5)William Wayne
6)Nancy Isabelle m. 1882 Eugene Cartledge d after 1950
7)Frank L. b. 7 June 1865 m. 1888 Lula ? d. 25 May 1837
8)Ralph Henry b. May 1868 m. abt 1903 He became the first city treasurer of San Angelo, Texas.

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