No matter one thinks of William T. Leeper (good or bad) there is no denying that he played a pivotal role in the development of Wayne County, Missouri, during the years following the Civil War.
One of the towns Leeper was instrumental in founding was Mill Spring on the Black River. The Legends of America website published a feature article on Mill Spring which states:
“Mill Spring, Missouri, located along the Black River in Wayne County, in the southeast portion of the state got its start as a railroad and logging town.
One of the first residents in the area was Captain William T. Leeper, who would become one of the most prominent men of Wayne County. Raised in Tennessee, he moved to the area in 1857 and purchased 225 acres of land. The next year, he was elected county surveyor, a position he held until the Civil War broke out. He then organized Company D, Twelfth Regiment, of the Missouri State Militia, of which he became captain.
After he returned from the war, he represented Wayne County in the State Legislature, during which time he influenced the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railway to extend their line through Piedmont to Mill Spring and then to Williamsville, rather than the original planned route through Patterson and Greenville. As an incentive, he donated a right-of-way through his land and even though this route required a cut through two mountains, the railroad agreed.”
It was during this time of railroad expansion that Mill Spring saw a large influx of workers who were traveling with the railroad. It is also this time that a bar room brawl ended in murder in this Wayne County hamlet.
The event was described in the Sunday March 4, 1888 issue of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat which reported the following: