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Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 2. Biographies
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
Samuel Leeper Harris was born in Chariton county, May 22, 1833, and was a son of John and Rachel Harris, who were natives of Virginia and Kentucky and became early settlers of Chariton ton county. After the death of his parents Samuel Leeper Harris, then a lad of six years, was brought to Livingston county by a cousin John Leeper, and was reared near Springhill by Mr. Leeper and his wife, Mrs. Amanda Leeper. Mr. Harris remained with them until the spring of 1949, when gold was discovered in California. John Leeper was among the first in his part of the state to organize a party and start on the perilous journey across the plains. Mr. Harris, against the advice of both Mr. and Mrs. Leeper, insisted on making the trip. They eventually decided to let him go and he proved to be a great help to the party and in after years such a man as Joseph Custer often remarked that he was one of the best plainsmen with whom he (Custer) was ever associated and that there was never a man who accepted the duties assigned to him with better grace or who performed them any better than this sturdy lad of sixteen.
It was late in November, 1849, when the Leeper party arrived in California and Mr. Harris went to work in the mines, but he had only gotten well started when he had the misfortune to have his thumb shattered by a premature blast. He was sent to Sacramento for medical attention and remained at that place, employed in different ways, until 1852, when he sailed for home, making the trip by way of the Panama route. The vessel on which he embarked in order to reach New Orleans encountered a terrible storm and was drifted onto the island of Jamaica, so that the journey was delayed for some time. Eventually, however, Mr. Harris reached New Orleans and went from there up the Mississippi river to St. Louis and on to Chillicothe having spent eleven months upon the journey. He began clerking in a general mercantile store at Springhill and thence went to Chillicothe, where he became associated in business with the late James C. Minteer. Not long afterward he was elected sheriff of Livingston county and that he was capable, resourceful and faithful in the discharge of his official duties was evident in the fact that he was again and again reelected to that office.
In 1863 Mr. Harris made another trip across the plains to Montana and once more in 1865, on which occasion he was accompanied by his family. He was elected captain of the party on that occasion -- a train consisting of more than one hundred wagons drawn mostly by oxen. They left Chillicothe in May and arrived at Willow Creek in September. There Mr. Harris remained until 1866, when he returned to Chillicothe, traveling by boat from Fort Benton, Montana, to St. Joseph, Missouri. He remained in Chillicothe until 1889, when he again went to Montana but in March, 1893, returned and here his death occurred in August, 1898.
On the 6th of December, 1860 Mr. Harris was united in marriage to Miss Rachel June Wilson, of Chillicothe, who survives him. In their family were five children: Charles Scott, who is chief clerk on the cotton docks for the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway at Galveston, Texas; Samuel Wilson, who is practicing dentistry in Dallas, Texas; Robert Lee, who died in infancy; Fred Henry, who is associated with the Bazel J. Meek Land Company of Chillicothe; and William, who died in infancy.
Samuel Leeper Harris was often spoken of as a man who was a friend to everybody and he certainly proved the truth of the Emerson philosophy that "the way to win a friend is to be one." He possessed a rare nature, was generous to a fault and never failed to assist the poor and needy if it lay within his power to do so. Many a man living in the county today has been befriended by him and gladly acknowledges his indebtedness to Mr. Harris and pays him the tribute of saying that the world is better because of his having lived. On attaining his majority, in 1854, he became a Mason, the degrees being conferred upon him at Springhill, Missouri. He afterward attained the Knight Templar degree and held every office including that of eminent commander in Paschal Commandery. His death was sincerely and deeply regretted by his many friends who were attached to him by ties of affection, good-will and esteem, formed in the course of his upright, honorable, active and useful life. He was a lifelong member of the Christian church and took a helpful interest in its work, gave liberally to its support and did everything in his power to promote its influence. In every phase of life Samuel Leeper Harris gained the respect and regard of those with whom was associated, whether as a boy in crossing the plains, as a man in his later business associations or in his connections in the church, in Masonry and in social and home circles. He was indeed one of nature's noblemen.