By all accounts William T. Leeper was an ambitious man. Through my research a picture begins to form of him. He was a man who desired to be a man of means, someone of prominence, of importance, a man of authority. In this picture are shadows of darkness, which if examined closely, reveal a man who was willing to do anything to achieve these goals. He was a driven man who chased his dreams with reckless abandon.
The official narrative for Leeper can be found in “Wayne County Place Names 1928-1945” archived at the Missouri State Historical Society which states:
“Colonel William T. Leeper moved to Wayne County in 1857 and purchased 225 acres of land. In 1858 he was elected County Surveyor and served until the beginning of the Civil War. He organized Company D. of the Twelfth Regiment of Missouri Militia and was made captain.”
That is a sanitized summary of the man. In a previous post I quoted a story from the Wayne County Historical Society about Leeper which states:
“History has not ignored Leeper’s methods or actions. In an account published in the Wayne County Journal Banner and shared on the Wayne County Historical Society’s social media page on August 1, 2018 , Captain William Leeper’s actions while he was in the 12’th Missouri Militia Cavalry (the 3’rd’s predecessor ) so much so that Leeper is labeled the “Chief Jayhawker” himself.
“Captain Leeper, I have no doubt, is wishing to merit and obtain a higher command than he now holds”. This was sent from Greenville and dated February 27, 1862, eleven days after the [Greenville] raid. A telegraph to General Gray at Pilot Knob was sent from Patterson soon thereafter. It read; “I have ordered Captain Leeper of CO B to Pilot Knob. Keep him and learn him to be a soldier”. One historian previously wrote about Leeper: “Captain Leeper’s methods of ferreting out and interrogating men to determine their loyalties were direct and brutal. He was known to shoot anything that moved and burn anything that would light. In February 1863 (almost exactly a year since the Greenville raid), Leeper and the 12th Missouri Militia participated in what was called by some “The Battle of Mingo Swamp” and by others as the “Mingo Swamp Massacre.” The McGee boys had just left the confederate army and returned home; ironically, to protect their home from Captain Leeper’s reign of terror. The McGee’s and their friends, the Cato’s sat unarmed at their camp at the McGee home when they were set upon in the early hours of February 4, 1863 by Captain Leeper and his “militia”. All 29 men were mercilessly gunned down in a barrage of gunfire. Captain Leeper’s report differs somewhat in that he reports “engaging a Union camp” on this date”.
This account of Leeper is significant as it details his brutality (calling him the “Chief Jayhawker”) but also his gaffs. In this account , a quote of one of Leeper’s after action reports calls attention to Leeper referring to a Confederate camp as a “Union” camp.
Another instance can be found in Ivan McKee’s book “Lost Family, Lost Cause” which states:
“Some of the letters he wrote seem almost pathetic and his hatred must have bordered on the ruminations of a paranoid mind. An example: He had seen a report of a black Union group of soldiers in the general area. He wrote that he would like to see southern chivalry subdued by the African, and continued on that he would like to make a “flank” movement with black soldiers . The term, flank movement, as he used it showed unfortunately he had little or no concept of what a flank movement is in military tactics.”
Another , more humorous account of William T. Leeper’s gaffs , or Leeperisms (as I call them) can be found in the Wednesday February 28, 1872 , Lexington Intelligencer newspaper (which also shows how others viewed him), when Leeper was a Missouri State Representative.
The paper states that Leeper moved to amend everything and would move to amend the decalogue were it introduced in the House and that:
“The business of the House in particular would be greatly facilitated, if not improved, were some three or four [representatives] at home or bereft of speech.”
All of which prove that while that while William T. Leeper was willing to go to most any lengths to achieve success and become a man of means he was unable to achieve what he most wanted from many of his contemporaries, which was respect.