Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Race of Extraordinary Goodness

Bombast was unusual, as my mother's people passed family lore to me. Body language behind assertion – that James Monroe Leer, Sr. (1841-1894) "was the largest dealer of Jennys and Jacks in the Mississippi Valley" – cast dignity. It was a grand statement … offered in a staid yet impressive manner.

Illustriousness lingered, whenever I imagined this maternal great-grandfather (right).

My immediate question was, "What's a Jenny?"

Properly called a 'jennet,' it's a female donkey. A 'jack' is its gender counterpart: think 'jackass.'

I was, at that young age, astounded to learn donkeys and horses will interbreed. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey – a jack – and a female horse. This presents a wise market niche: mules are nearly always infertile. Jacks must be trained to breed outside their species, however. Breeders receive credit in trade journals because theirs is not a passive practice: let's just say much is involved beyond mate selection.

Leer, born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, opted out of his father's agrarianism. "In his youth, he took mules South and sold them to the cotton growers," a cousin relayed. He emerged from Civil War (in which he was not known to serve1) as a cattle broker. His father, farmer David Leer, Jr. (1803-1885) likely experienced the vicissitudes of war: David valued his real estate at $34,000 when  in 1860 – sons James Monroe and Charles Carrol Leer (1835-1922) yet remained in a household he kept with his wife of thirty years, the former Charlotte Corday Kenney (1809-1897). Another $9,000 were accorded to David's personal estate. Ten years later he appeared in reduced circumstances, claiming $25,000 and $5,000 respectively in the 1870 census.

Bulletin 176 of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Experiment Station appeared in 1913. It is replete with ancestral lines … for jacks and jennets. Just as my grandmother and her sisters forged membership with Daughters of the Ameri-can Revolution, Daughters of Colonial Wars and the like, Hooper and Anderson gave lineage to ‘Jack Stock of Kentucky.’ They depict a King of Spain’s gift of a jennet to George Washington, and confer that Lafayette “sent him a jack from France.” And, sure enough, Washington’s correspondence confirms Charles III of Spain shipped a pair of jacks (and a Spanish keeper) to honor him, c1784. “I have likewise a Jack & two Jennets from Malta, of a very good size, which the Marquis de la Fayette sent to me,” penned the retired General while occupied at Mount Vernon. “From these, all together, I hope to secure a race of extraordinary goodness, which will stock the Country.”  

Anderson (who taught eugenics at Kentucky Wesleyan College) and Professor Hooper (in the newly-formed American Genetics Association) followed on in the next paragraph: “It appears that a Mr. Leer was in the employ of General Washington at this time and, on a visit to his relatives in Bourbon County, Kentucky, he told of Washington's jack stock and mules. Soon after this, a small jack was secured and brought to Bourbon County, Kentucky. It attracted no little attention and comment. The story is told in this county that the people went miles just to look at the little fellow.”2

Tobias Lear (1762-1816) did serve as Washington’s personal secretary … from c1786 until the President’s 1799 death. Lear descended from a long line of New Hampshire Yankee namesakes, however. He’s unlikely related to German or Flemish ‘Lier’ ancestors in my line, arriving at Maryland a decade before revolution.

Hooper and Anderson anchor many Kentucky ancestral lines on ‘Imported (or Imp.) Mammoth,’ a “very large jack” brought overseas in a hammock from a place unidentified. His South Carolina-to-Kentucky journey, c1840, required six months. In what must have been part spectacle, the prodigious beast was walked but short distances and permitted to rest each day. Eventually and near the date of it, Imp. Mammoth reached James Monroe Leer's place of birth. The academics asserted “Henry Leer, of Bourbon County, bred a jennet to him and called the jack foal ‘Buena Vista.’ This proved to be a very large animal and at this time would be considered a rough jack, but in 1853 Mr. Leer sold him … for the sum of $3000.”

This is almost assuredly reference to Henry Leer (1797-1871), brother to David and uncle to James Monroe and Charles Carrol. Anderson and Hooper carried on in Bulletin 212 (1917): “Henry Leer, of Bourbon County, breeder of Buena Vista, imported a jack that had a far-reaching influence in molding the breed. The name of this animal was Imp. Napoleon, and thru his son, Leer's Napoleon, he proved to be a sire of most beneficial influence on the early stock of that county.” Reference among breeders became plural: “The Leers also imported two other valuable jacks: Moro Castle and Alvarado. No description has been left of these two animals but both appear in the ancestry of good strains of the present day.” Moro Castle fetched $5,000 from a Tennessean … “a record price for a jack” at that unspecified date.

It’s not insignificant business. “From these few jacks which have been named, sprang the great jack stock which has made Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and to a lesser extent, Indiana and Illinois famous as mule producing states.” Perhaps on firmer, factual footing, the academics attested “Had Imp. Mammoth sired only one son … Maringo Mammoth … he would have justified all the confidence placed in him by Messrs. Everette and Young in bringing him at a great cost to Kentucky.” The scientists estimated one Maringo Mammoth bloodline alone “was worth $100,000 to Tennessee,” in terms of stud fees generated and livestock produced.

The Leers, as breeders and boosters, played no insignificant part in this vocation. 'Dr. Hartman' (right) was "one of the most noted jacks in the Cook herd" at Lexington, Kentucky, according to The Southern Planter. Chicago's Mayor Fred A. Busse (1866-1914), while in office in 1909, bought the six-year-old. He planned his own breeding program, employing the jack chosen Reserve Champion at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. "While the price paid is not made public, it is known that he sold for more money than any jack has brought Kentucky for fifteen years," when Monroe Leer was most prominent as a market-defining stockman.

The chart below depicts Dr. Hartman's lineage.3 I've boxed antecedents with which Leer family breeders were known to be affiliated. Their influence extended for generations. Allow three years, minimum, for a jack to reach breeding age; they can remain fertile for decades.

Perhaps David settled legacies on his two sons after the war. In one of two land deals the brothers were known to have engaged in, in the summer of 1866, Monroe and about-to-be-married brother Charles 'C. C.' Leer purchased the Major Hibler Farm. The partners promptly resold fifty of the 250 acres … and covered their purchase price.

Observations by "Monroe Leer, a promising young trader," circulated. Return from Demopolis, Alabama, "where he had sold 300 mules at handsome profits," was reprinted in Raleigh, North Carolina in March, 1867: "He reports the trade as having been active, but declining somewhat."

“Cattle men are shipping but few East,” a Louisville paper acknowledged in the fall. “We also observed some superior free martins, sold by Monroe Leer, being shipped on Monday last.” I'd not heard of such a creature: a freemartin is an infertile, female heifer. It offers no reproductive value. If you understand how masculinized cows could be deemed 'superior,' please leave a comment below.

Leer, still in his twenties, was often willing to appear knowledgeable in his trade. The interestingly named Weekly Caucasian in Lexington, Missouri carried his report of an 1869 venture to New Orleans. He'd sold forty head of "medium stock" for $185, and reported "a reasonable market" in The South. We can justifiably associate Leer with Mississippi riverboats.

By 1870, Monroe and Charles were sharing a household, quite likely the Hibler place. Charles valued his estates - combined - at $8,500: his younger brother had apparently begun outpacing him. His estates amounted to $12,500; real estate alone (which included livestock) was enumerated at $9,000.

An 1893 account (left) relays economics of animal husbandry. Language is attributed to 'J. M. Leer, of Paris, Kentucky' … locale of the state's oldest, continuously operated Thoroughbred breeding farm. “In years past, when horses became so low [in value] that it did not pay to raise them in Kentucky, all mares were turned to the jack,” declared Leer. "Mule raising was the order of the day; in a few years, horses became very scarce, and mules not numerous because they do not reproduce." Mares were not delivering horse stock.

The breeder is keenly aware of long-term, economic trade-offs. In commentary no doubt meant to draw attention to his offer of twenty-one Kentucky Mam-moth Jacks, Leer advocates “Now is a good time to commence breeding to jacks, which virtually means stop raising horses, and thus raise their price …” Does he encourage Indiana competition in mule breeding? It seems contrary to self-interest.

Perhaps Leer could afford to be magnanimous. Accounts a decade earlier reported "the principal jack man of Bourbon" selling dozens of animals, some fetching more than a thousand dollars. When offering five jacks in 1884 (right), Leer boasted "They are of the best breeding, descending from Napoleon, Buena Vista and Imp. Mammoth." Leer's reputation had been established: "Mr. Leer has long been known as one of the most reliable breeders of jack stock in Kentucky," trumpeted a Kansas newspaper in 1886.

In 1887, two years after his father's death, Leer began purveying in earnest: a Delaware buyer spent $700 on one beast. Reporting in both Kentucky and Texas describe, in their own ways, "one of the finest car loads ever shipped from Paris pens to Fort Worth." Fourteen jacks accrued him $10,000. His days of wandering southern byways had passed: Leer offered a catalogue of bred stallions and jacks.

"J. Monroe Leer, of Glenwater Stock Farm … is one of the largest jack handlers in America," advanced the Courier-Journal, from Louisville, Kentucky in 1888. He'd spent $8,000 on a buying trip into Tennessee. (The same page reports an Ohio real estate investor had just disappeared in that state: "He had a large amount of money on his person, foul play is suspected.") Leer's twenty-two acquisitions were to have descended from "old Buena Vista stock, their dams from Napoleon." Glenwater, which may have been a name he gave his father's 400-acre farm upon inheriting it, reportedly contained-ninety nine head, perhaps in jacks alone.

“Stand upon the crest of the ridge anywhere upon the farm and cast your eye north, east or west, and somewhere in the shade of a locust bush or maple tree you will see one of these shaggy haired lovers,” wrote a “Kentucky newspaper man, detailed to write up the Monroe Leer jackass stock farm” in 1889. The account, which included an up close and personal experience of “the emperor of jackasses, the great ‘Napoleon of Glenwater,'” was reprinted in Missouri. It’s an extraordinary word picture (right): it conveyed a clear sense of the braying cacophony surrounding Leer and his family. Dolefulness permeated the work: “Pulsatory poems … touch the heart of the listener with a strange, half melancholy flavor of hope deferred.” Death came as relief in a pair of allegorical allusions. Perhaps a demise is inadvertently foreshadowed. 

Though breeding vigorously, and buying a herd of Cotswold sheep, Leer seemed to liquidate jacks in the next two years. A Kansas buyer spent $1200 for one. A Californian payed $900 each for a jennet and jack. The Climax in nearby Madison County reported (April, 1890) that Leer sold forty-two jacks  at an average exceeding $700 apiece – in two weeks. Likely based on self-report, the paper declared he'd accrued $66,875 in the previous six months.

That's a tidy sum to put away. Commodities worth $67k in 1890 might today be valued at $1,860,000.

It's a convenient amount.

Leer had married Amelia Turner (1852-1915) at Madison County, Kentucky in 1874. At the cusp of the 'Gay Nineties,' she – and five surviving of nine children that had then been born to the couple  filled a five-room cottage on their Glenwater Stock Farm in Bourbon County. In November, 1889 – for $61,000 – Leer purchased an estate almost adjoining the Hibler place, and within sight of Glenwater. 
[See A Basket Filled with Tears and Flowers for more on Amelia.]

The name 'New Forest' rang with enchantment whenever my grandmother spoke of her Old Kentucky Home. Loura Kittrel (Leer) Early (1891-1984) would be born there twenty months after the purchase.

“The farm is watered by ponds and never-failing springs, has plenty of timber of the best quality; there are two orchards on the farm; both contain the best varieties of fruit, cherries, plums, apricots, etc., also a fine vineyard," read an 1882 Horace Miller (1831-1903) biography. Leer would supplant Miller as New Forest's "owner and proprietor" seven years later. Amelia must have been delighted. "The residence is a large, two-story brick, with basement of nine rooms; above contains eight large rooms, besides halls, attics, and double porches on the rear; [the structure] has a double parlor with folding doors; the wood work is of solid cherry, all of which was grown on the farm; the yard contains about ten acres, filled with evergreen and forest trees of all kinds; its long winding avenues and drives are lined with trees and shrubs, forming a compact arbor overhead, giving the place a picturesque and romantic appearance.”

The stock farm served its proprietor well. "Its location is 2½ miles from Paris, on the Maysville and Lexington Pike. The Maysville and Lexington [Railroad] runs within 200 yards of his yard gate, where there is a station named ‘New Forest,’ in honor of the farm, which contains 610 acres of choice land, handsomely located, and nearly in a square, in plain sight of Paris …” A rail siding would have facilitated shipping carloads of mules. I will attend presently to some irony contained in that.

An 1877 map (below) shows New Forest, the Pike, and M&L rail line:

Brother Charles' home can be identified on what is today Mitchell's Run, proximate to a Maysville and Lexington Pike Toll House. The Leer home on the Jackstown Pike – kept by David, 'Cordee' and their Black, inter-generational domestic servant and farmhand (Rachel and son Shadford Bates) – is also indicated. 

The selling spree continued at least through 1891. "Monroe Leer, our noted dealer in jack stock, sold to Mr. Monroe, of Monroe City, Monroe County, Mo., the yearling Jack Monroe, for $1,500, the highest price ever paid for a yearling," bragged the Kentuckian-Citizen, ninety days after Leer secured New Forest.

Sales in 1891 include nine jacks, a jennet, and a gelding and stallion sired by Almont (above), the 'Great Sire of Trotters,' at Lexington, Kentucky … for $12,000 in April. In September, Leer collected about $10,000 for a dozen jacks, a pair of horses and two of Charles Leer's colts, all disposed of in Missouri. At close of the year, Leer was offering – as far away as Kansas – seventy-seven jacks "of extra bone, muscle and vigor," and "some high bred trotting stallions."

Contemporary authors contend "The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, perhaps along with the protectionist McKinley Tariff of 1890, has been partially blamed," for a financial crisis which swept into the United States from Europe three years later.

Financial collapse at the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in January, 1893 focused people’s minds on market instability. A string of failures continued, with the Erie Railroad going under in July, Northern Pacific in August, Union Pacific in October and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in December. In all, perhaps 30% of the nation’s railways went into receiver-ship that year. Creditors lost confidence in lenders that had financed railroads. At least five hundred banks foundered, initially suspect for funding shaky enterprises, and then – in a panic – as investors watched logging, mining and livestock transport slow to a crawl. In his lifetime, Leer had seen locomotion replace brute animals in haulage and tilling. In the end, collapse of speculation in that supplanting industry did him in.

That, and bad weather.

Drought-stricken Toronto, 1893.
"Farm products shared in the universal depression," declared Kentucky historian Smith, in what he two years later described as "what will be known in the future as the great panic of 1893." Drought struck the planet. "Although the yields were comparatively small, prices were the lowest ever before reached," Smith reported … on Kentucky crops, specifically. "The prices of wheat fell below forty and fifty cents on the farms, according to distances from market; other grain and products shared in the decline." Demand for mules fell away as millions of unemployed laborers became itinerant.
[I Cannot Enjoy Reading Bad News describes another victim of the Panic of '93.]

Kentucky Advocate editors made 'personal mention' in January, 1894: “Mr. Monroe Leer, a prominent stock man of Bourbon county, is attending the Fox & Co. sale to-day” at Danville, Kentucky. The presence of a monied man likely buoyed hopes for a good auction. Depression lingered, however: "Prices do not compare with last year," came report from the annual jack sale. "Money matters considered," values were described as "fairly good." Leer purchased 'Jim Lane' for $375.

Hard money grew scarce. European banks hoarded American gold. Relays Smith, "The demand for [paper] currency fell off until money soon became a drug in the market." And Leer apparently had creditors. From October through December, 1894, in several publications (left), Leer offered two carloads of extra-fine jacks.

Seventy years later, I heard murmured observation that 'Uncle Charlie' "held notes" to his younger brother. And that he had been unable to cover his IOUs.

On Christmas Eve 1894, a short paragraph in an evening newspaper at Maysville, Kentucky reported J. Monroe Leer's death. In that enumeration of his survivors, "a wife, four daughters and three sons," was correct, perhaps we can trust as accurate that he "died Saturday morning after a brief illness." Leer was described as "a prominent and wealthy stock man of Bourbon County."4

James Monroe Leer succumbed - mysteriously - at age fifty-three. My grandmother … and her sisters … were known to contend, "If you can't say something nice about your family, it's best not to say anything at all." Cause of death was murmured as 'Papa's Condition' and, for some time prior, the children had been encouraged not to invade on Mr. Leer's tranquility.
(Read Finding Everett, for more on whispered family lore.)

Cure for Papa's Condition may have centered on opiates. Dr. Bell's opium-based 'Anti-Pain' (right) was likely introduced at Paducah, Kentucky in 1890. It was just one of many such serums available to the afflicted.

Almost as if hurried into type, the Louisville Courier-Journal tucked mention of Leer at the bottom of page seven. Beneath "Sudden Death at Paris" were thirty words. In conclusion: "Mr. Leer was probably the most extensive importer and breeder of jacks in the United States." Certainly a sphere of influence beyond the Mississippi Valley.

I'll leave it to another post, to describe widow Amelia's travails with New Forest. She traded the property with William W. Massie (1820-1906) in 1897.

A photographic record was made in 1905: T. W. Allen, of Paris, as a novice, won Honorable Mention in Kodak’s national competition that year … for "Driveway at New Forest, Bourbon Co., Ky..' Undoubtedly from that outing, I provide (below) an image of the home the Leers occupied for eight, bustling years.

'Munroe' and Charles Leer registered for the draft in July, 1863. With a Provost Marshal in the Union Army.

Anderson and Hooper relied on Charles Carrol Leer as a source. Though fully six years older than brother James Monroe, ‘Uncle Charlie’ outlived him by 28 ½ years. On Imported Mammoth in Bulletin 176, the authors declare “We have been able to find only one man, Mr. C. C. Leer, who saw this great old jack. He says he was fully 16 hands high and wonderfully well made for his day and time.” Charles’ son Courtland Ewing Leer (1871-1956) would, in 1904 offer ‘Napoleon Jack,’ a “direct descendant of Old Napoleon." He declaimed antecedents had "been in our family for eighty years.” He no doubt referenced Imp. Napoleon, imported by his Great-uncle Henry Leer.

Note replication of 'Alverado' in the chart (in one instance as 'Imp. Alverado'). According to Kilgore (1858), “From Mammoth has descended Buena Vista, one of his best sons and the largest jack in America.” The indicated animal, sired by 'Patterson's Napoleon,' bears the name … but was not bred by Henry Leer. Deft breeding undoubtedly added value to genetic strains. There was merit in attending to ancestry. Naming was often intended to indicate heritage and, at times, the breeder. By the 20th century, stock associations registered births and set about protecting against misattribution. Even following introduction, names recycled furiously: historians added appellation, 'Old Buena Vista,' 'Buena Vista, Jr.' and the like. I found examples of Missouri jacks including the preface "Leer's …" Bourbon County Leers' reputation extended that far; though I am unsure whether any had responsibility for those animals' bloodlines. 'Duke of Glenwater,' foaled there in 1887, plays on Monroe Leer's brand.

Kentucky livestock naming conventions at times hint at the same whimsicality I found in titles to colonial Maryland land parcels. (See Good Luck If It Hits.) Some animals' names are so unusual, there's almost certainly a backstory in their selection. Particularly in early days, name choices often commended owners' values … or places, events and personages they admired.

In a way evoking herd instincts, both Charles Carrol, and James Monroe at New Forest, died within a mile of their place of birth. The sense of not straying went back generations. The brothers’ grandfather, David Leer, Sr. (baptized as ‘Lier,’ c1769-1852) built identical houses on Jackstown Pike for four sons … David, Jr. included. The ‘D. Lear’ home place, which Monroe likely later ran as Glenwater Stock Farm, is indicated on the 1877 map above. It sits on land Heinrich Lier (c1720-1802) settled by 1785. “On the east side of the Stoner [Creek], one of the earliest settlers was Henry Leer …” who was grandfather to David, Jr. and the Henry Leer referenced above. According to Perrin (1882), Heinrich (as Henry) "settled among the very earliest, locating on the land now owned by his grandson, David Leer … it having been in the family ever since its original purchase.” My maternal grandmother was delivered within sight of a holding that her foreign-born, great-great grandfather pioneered.

Bold face indicates the author's ancestors.