John Leakey... The Founder
John Leakey was born in Tennessee in 1824 and came to Texas in 1847 as he traveled to East Texas with Newman Patterson whom he had met while working his masonry trade in Alabama. They traveled to the home of the Patterson Family who were then in Henderson County. John Leakey and Nancy Ann Patterson, (Newman’s sister) fell in love and were married shortly thereafter. Their first child, born in Smith County was named William but did not survive infancy.
The Patterson Family (with the young Leakey family in tow), migrated to and built homes six or seven miles below the present day town of Sabinal in 1852, forming what was known as the Patterson Settlement. On the constant trail of Indians, possibly as early as 1853 John Leakey passed through the Frio Canyon and spotted a site he loved and would eventually return to.
The Leakey’s had a second child named Newman McCollum (after his maternal great grandfather), his family called him Mack. By 1855 the couple was still living and farming in the Patterson Settlement. John was working as a rancher-farmer, making shingles by hand, and fighting drought. The year of 1855 was dry, and irrigation efforts were underway when a ruckus with neighbors over the irrigation left two men dead and John Leakey seriously wounded. John would move his family into the Frio Canyon in 1856. The young couple carved a life for themselves, their children and their descendants from the beautiful land of flowing waters with much sacrifice and hardship.
Nancy Leakey had been reared in the Southern slave owner tradition, yet she had been taught to work. She and John made a decision not to have slaves and they reared their considerable family with their own two hands. Nancy Leakey had a gun and could use it, John worked on building their home, providing sustenance for his family and building his cypress shingle business, when he was not otherwise employed in the constant battle between the white and red man.
The original two room structure of cypress plank he built for his family was raided by Indians twice before it was completed. It is said John Leakey survived a 100-foot fall from a cliff escaping
from Indians by grabbing a green cedar branch and riding it to the ground. J H Thompson once said, “It’s a wonder the whole Leakey family wasn’t killed by the Indians. They were about the only family up there for some time. But they knew everything there was to know about living in the woods and outwitting the Indians. Those boys and girls knew all about riding and roping and they could take care of themselves.“
John never left his family alone. He made arrangements for someone to stay with them or took them to stay at the Patterson Settlement when he had to be away from home. Frequently when the family returned home they would be greeted by an explosion of feathers from the ripped up mattresses and carnage of the pillaging Indians. It is said that John Leakey would always say in this moment, “Nancy, we’ll have to go to San Antonio to get ticking for more feather beds.” Somehow, I can picture this fierce man, (infamous for his 13 prominent scars, the result of gunshot, arrow, and knife wounds), looking fondly at the wife he loved like this particular incident was an every day occurrence. (You know how men do…when they inherently know you are going to be upset-and try to head it off at the pass…that kind of look.) John Leakey would years later tell his namesake grandson that she had always been a beautiful girl!
A larger house was eventually built (to accommodate a growing family) from the lumber of the now successful sawmill of John Leakey and when rumors of Indians came most families came to the Leakey home ‘till the “all clear” was sounded. The visiting preachers were welcomed and housed at the home of John and Nancy Leakey and services would take place in their home. John and Nancy wanted their children to be educated so before a free school was available he built a school for the children of the community. John is reputed to this day to have been the a hospitable man, welcoming everyone and no one who ever came to his door-left in need, if it was in his power to help them.
John Leakey swore…loudly and prodigiously, but never gambled. He liked a “snort” now and then but could not abide a dishonest man. The town, situated on the Bandera-Edwards County line, was laid out in 1833 and named in honor of the resourceful pioneer who donated land for the plaza (Courthouse Square), a church, school, and cemetery. In the 1850s and 1860s, contact with Indians was commonplace, but any lingering Indian communities had been driven from the area by the 1880s.
The Canyon communities honored John and Nancy Leakey on John’s 67th birthday, June 5, 1890 with a huge celebration in appreciation of their sacrifice in the early development of this country. To quote the Historical Marker that today sits on the Courthouse lawn that he donated to posterity, “A successful businessman, Indian fighter and pioneer, John Leakey's contributions and leadership were vital to the early growth of this area. “
Information for this article was given by Leakey Descendants and researched, compiled and written by Elaine Padgett Carnegie.