This month I’m going to get personal. Rather than talk about the Old West, I’d like to share some facts about me and my dad’s family. Daddy hailed from Denison, Texas, the birth place of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He came from a big family. His parents had at least thirteen children. Can you imagine birthing that many babies, let alone raising them? Not me! But times were different then. Families needed to be large to work their land, and to ensure some offspring would survive into adulthood. Several of my dad’s siblings didn’t.
Nevertheless, I have relatives all over Texas and the South, but I knew next to nothing about them until a few years ago because I grew up in Minnesota, my mother’s home state. My dad traveled a great deal in his youth, especially across the western states. He met my mom in San Francisco, where I was born, but we moved to Minnesota when I was not quite four to be near Mama’s family.
We did visit Grandma Horner (Horner is my maiden name) once when I was about six or seven, but sadly I don’t remember her. That’s Grandma in the photo with my dad behind her and me next to my half-brother Ronnie, who I barely knew. He was adopted by my Uncle Walter and Aunt Jewel after Daddy’s first marriage broke up. (He was a traveling salesman back then and couldn’t care for Ronnie.)
Growing up in the north, I always saw myself as a Yankee even though I knew Daddy came from the south. Even after my husband and I and our two children moved to Texas in the 1980s, thanks to a company job transfer, I considered myself a transplanted northerner. I still do, to be honest, but I can no longer ignore my southern roots.
When I started researching my dad’s ancestors on a whim back in 2009, I wasn’t prepared for some surprising revelations. For one thing, I learned my gr grandfather, James Knox Polk (JKP) Leggett, fought for the Confederacy. He enlisted in 1862 in Bienville Parish, LA, joining the 28th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry (Gray’s). I eventually received photocopies of his enlistment packet(s) thanks to a Georgia cousin who accessed them on footnote.com. See, I told yuh, relatives all over the south! Sorry the image is so hard to read. It’s very faded.
Another shocking tidbit I unearthed: JKP and his wife Mary were almost certainly first cousins. But I think I’d better back up here. You see, JKP was the son of John D. Leggett, who migrated west from Randolf County, GA, in the late 1840s. He and his family are listed on the 1850 census from Barbour County, Alabama. By 1860, John D. shows up in Bienville Parish, LA. At the Dallas Public Library, I discovered a parish map showing his parcel of land. Boy, was that exciting!
Meanwhile, John D’s younger brother, Wiley S. Leggett, had become a preacher back in Georgia. He migrated west to Louisiana around the same time as his brother, turning up on the 1860 census from Bossier Parish, LA, where he founded more than one church. Wiley had a daughter named Mary, born in 1848, in GA. She, I believe, was my great grandmother Mary. Gr Granny had Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neuromuscular disorder that runs in my dad’s family. He had it, his mother had it, and her mother, Mary Leggett had it. (So do I and my daughter.) It’s a known fact that Rev. Wiley S. Leggett’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Gertrude Leggett, also had CMT. Like Mary, she has living descendants who inherited the disorder. For me, that clinches my belief that Mary and Elizabeth were sisters who inherited the faulty CMT gene from one of their parents and that Mary and JKP were indeed first cousins.
Marion inviting a British officer to share his meal (from Wikipedia Commons)
A third astonishing suspicion: Jeremiah Leggett, father of John D. and Wiley S. Leggett, may have fought in the Revolutionary War under the command of Colonel Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Do you remember reading about him in history class? Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot is loosely based upon Col. Marion. The Swamp Fox and his men fought the British in South Carolina, and there happens to be a Jeremiah Leggett listed in A Roster of Patriots Who Served with Francis Marion by John M. Gregg. A few years after the war, my gr gr gr granddad Jeremiah shows up in records from the northern part of Georgia, which was being settled (the indigenous Cherokees would say invaded) by whites from the Carolinas and Virginia. See how I came by my suspicion? Just wish I could prove it.
Getting back to Mary and JKP Leggett, they wed on October 15, 1865, only a few months after the Civil War ended – in Bossier Parish, LA. I wonder if Rev. Wiley S. Leggett conducted the ceremony.
Eventually, Mary and JKP moved to Van Zandt County,Texas, where they raised their family. My Grandma Bessie Mae was the ninth of their eleven children. JKP died in 1888 in the state hospital in Terrell, Koffman County, TX. Mary remarried, had another son and lived to the venerable age of ninety-one. She spent her last few years with my grandparents in Denison. A cousin of mine, the daughter of my dad’s oldest brother, told me her father recalled his Granny Mary sitting and rocking the little ones (my dad possibly among them.) He also said she had long dark braids and looked like a squaw. His word, not mine. She was either half Cherokee or half Choctaw, depending upon which family story I choose to believe.
It’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves from ancestry research. For sure, those southern roots of mine go deep, deeper than I ever would have guessed.
If you’re in the mood for western romance with a touch of the Irish, or a photo illustrated memoir about cats, kids and life with a disability, I invite you to stop by my Amazon author page for a complete list of my books. My novels are also available for Nook on Barnes & Noble.