(An excerpt from Tanker Jimmie Leach. In this brief segment Jimmie Leach describes his family back to his Confederate grandfather at Vicksburg and his Cherokee mother whose history is unfortunately lost. )
Vicksburg, April 16, 1863. Admiral David Porter’s Mississippi Squadron ironclads made their bold dash past the bluffs of Vicksburg dominating the Mississippi from the east. From these heights you can see the bend upriver as the Union ships came straight toward the Confederate Artillery; easy pickings for the River Batteries of Col. Edward Higgins; the 1st Louisiana Artillery, the 8th Louisiana Heavy Artillery, the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery and its three Tennessee Batteries under Col. A. Jackson. Nevertheless the squadron slipped south of the dominating batteries, thence to go ashore with thousands of Grant’s men in its campaign to encircle and capture Vicksburg from the rear. For nearly three months of siege and starvation, nearly thirty thousand Confederates withdrew further and further toward the river, came closer and closer to annihilation through lack of food and sustenance. On July 4, 1863, Lt. Gen. John C Pendleton surrendered his Army after gaining an important concession; parole for every one of his soldiers.
David Watts Leach, Sergeant of the Confederate 8th Louisiana Heavy Artillery, a native of the union mountains of western Virginia, was now a man free from the obligations of war, in fact, he was now forbidden to participate in the conflict. “Get lost, Reb,” the Union commanders said. “If we see you again there will be trouble.” So Sgt. Leach crossed the Mississippi River and walked west 200 miles across Louisiana to Texas. Just across the Texas line he stopped in a small settlement, Elysian Fields. He had been invited to Elysian Fields by an Army friend’s offer to stop by if he was in the area. He rapped at the door and Martha Elizabeth Fuhrr, dressed carefully in black, opened it. She was a widow now and had gotten the word her husband was dead while David Watts Leach was on the road to Texas. Martha Elizabeth Fuhrr was childless. She married David Watts Leach and she bore him five children, four sons and a daughter. David Watts and Martha Elizabeth waited before choosing David’s namesake. Their last son, born in 1879 became David Watts Leach, Jr.
David Watts Leach had been a carpenter and his sons Bruce and David Watts Leach, Jr. followed him into carpentry. Several of the young Leach’s bought land in that East Texas basin and soon were bathed in oil. David, however, brought very little out of the oil patch when he later moved to Houston with his family. When David arrived in Houston the City was nine years old. There was not a paved street in the city. Every two or three blocks a mule-driven trolley would move down to one end of the line and the driver would bring the mule around to the other end and go back. It was so muddy people walked on duck boards laid on the mud to reach the trolley. David Jr. graduated from Central High School in Houston. The three carpenters, David Watts Leach, David Jr. and Bruce Leach were ambitious and strong willed and believed in the inherent value of work. The three men started the Carpenters and Joiners of America local there in Houston, Local 219. David Jr. married Della Zorn soon after the turn of the 20th century. He fathered David Watts Leach III and then a daughter but his marriage foundered. He was single and out of contact with his children but working with his father and brother Bruce in Houston for a number of years.
In 1920 David Jr. was married again to Lena Ellen Curry. Lena, born in 1889, in Lampasas, Texas, northeast of Austin, had recently moved to Houston after an unhappy attempt at marriage in nearby Humble. After her wedding there to a young Catholic man, her husband’s mother interfered, rejecting her new daughter-in-law, ostensibly because she was not Catholic. The marriage was annulled. Lena’s family background is clouded by the loss of the family bible a century ago. But we know Lena was at least one-half Cherokee Indian whose ancestors had been driven west to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears.
The marriage of David Watts Leach Jr. and Lena Ellen Curry collapsed, too, and the couple divorced. Lena quickly married a lineman for the Houston Power and Light Company, James Herbert Shipps. James Herbert Shipps Jr. was born April 7, 1922.
Jimmie Leach says, “I was given Shipps name, James Herbert Shipps. Now momma had already left Dave and married Shipps, but apparently Shipps divorced her because she had me in the basket when she married him. So I was Dave Leach’s son that she was carrying. But momma had an insurance policy, Texas Prudential Insurance for $1000, James Herbert Shipps, Jr.”
“Dave took her right back when I was born," Jimmie said. “And they entered me in kindergarten as Jimmie Leach. When I was nine years old, dad, who drank heavily, showed his anger and momma said, ‘He’s not your daddy!’ But he was. Because I look like him, our hands are the same; we wear the same size shoe. He had a larger head than I; his hat would hit my ears. But David Watts Leach, Jr. and I look alike. And too many commonalities and he’s the only Daddy I knew and I didn’t want anything to do with Shipps, I never saw him in my life.”
Publication Granted by The Leach Family and Matthew Hermes PhD.