Links to Wayne Van Leer Information

Links to Children of Wayne Mary Mills Van Leer

Wayne Van Leer was born 6/24/1810 at Springton Forge, West Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was about 10 years old when his parents moved to Tennessee.

Tennessee Years

Only a few specific facts about Wayne Van Leer's life in Tennessee have been located. Some assumptions, however, can be made from circumstantial evidence:

1820's. Wayne probably spent most of his childhood in and around Cumberland Furnace. A few small private schools were set up by the parents in the early 1800's.  Tracy Academy, a classical school with a good reputation, held its first classes in Charlotte in 1820, and it is likely that he attended.  The board of Trustees included a couple of familiar names:  Richard C. Napier--Sister Hannah's father-in-law; William Stone--Sister Margaret's father-in-law.

1830's.  Anthony Van Leer was listed as a Nashville resident in the 1830 census.  His household included a male, between 20-30, which is probably Wayne; none of Anthony's sons lived past early childhood.

The 1830's were a long boom period for the iron industry.  It was during this period that Anthony built a showplace mansion in Nashville.  Painters and architects were brought over from Italy and France. 

Andrew Jackson was President between 1829-1837.  Nashville was a center of power and influence.  And Uncle Anthony was a leading Nashville citizen.

The last known contact with the Pennsylvania branch of the Van Leer family was in 1834.  Wayne's cousin, William Templin, son of Ann and John Templin, visited Uncle Anthony in Nashville.  William, a West Point cadet, contracted typhoid fever during the return trip.  He is buried at West Point.

Wayne probably spent some years living in Nashville, but his roots were in Dickson County.  The "Vanleer Papers" indicate that Wayne worked as a "joiner" (carpenter) at Cumberland Furnace.

Dickson County deed records show a land transfer on May 27, 1839, or 508 acres to W. Vanleer.

1840's.  Wayne didn't marry until 1842 at the age of 36 (born 1/16/1822 in Dickson County, TN).  His bride was Mary Elizabeth Mills, age 24.  Two children were born while the couple was still in Tennessee:

Fannin County, TX

According to the "Vanleer Papers," Wayne Van Leer moved his wife, 2 sons, and 12 slaves to Fannin County, TX in 1852--which was considered a golden land-of-opportunity in 1852. He purchased about 500 acres along Sloan's Creek (at right). Although the 1860 census gives his occupation as "planter," this amount of land would usually be called a "large farm."

The pecan trees in this area are native to the region.  According to the "Vanleer Papers," this particularly large variety of pecans grown in the Bonham area in the 1870's was known as the "Vanleer Pecan." The Fannin County Agent, however, stated in 1991 that this variety was not domesticated and the family name is no longer associated with the pecans.(A "Vanleer" pecan tree is pictured to left.) 

The Van Leers seem to have owned 12 to 20 slaves.   Among the "property" records on file at the Fannin County Court House is a bill-of-sale for at little girl named Sarah.  She was sold for $650 in October 1856.  In November 1856, the Van Leers purchased 260 acres of land for $650.   (Ref. 13: Copy of Bill-of-Sale)

Six more children were born in Texas:

View Photos of Wayne and Mary Van Leer and Their Children

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View Photo History of Missouri Guerrillas

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View map and directions to site of Van Leer homestead

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Civil War in North Texas

North Texas, at the edge of the frontier, was a combination of the Old South and the New West.  Resettled southern Indian tribes (Indian Territory) formed the northern border.  And still hostile Indian tribes inhabited the area to the west.

The early settlers had come predominantly from the upper south--Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia.  There were no large plantations, but many of the farmers owned several slaves.

Bonham, Fannin's county seat, served as headquarters for Brigadier General Henry McCulloch, Commander of the Northern Sub-District of Texas.

Quantrill's Raiders

Fannin also served as the winter headquarters for Quantrill's Raiders.  William Clarke Quantrill  [View Photo #1]  was a product of the Kansas-Missouri border wars of the 1850's.  His 10-man bandit unit grew to over 400 at its height in 1863.  Many of its recruits were idealistic young men from highly respectable Missouri families--such as the James Brothers (Frank and Jesse) and the Younger Brothers (James, John, and Cole)--who were to gain greater fame as post-Civil War bandits.

Quantrill was enlisted by Gen. Sterling Price, pre-war Governor of Missouri and Confederate Commander of the Army of the West, who may have given him a temporary field commission.  In the winter of 1861-2, Quantrill traveled to Richmond where he obtained a special commission from Jefferson Davis.  While there were several instances where the guerrillas worked under direct orders from the Confederate command (Generals Price, Shelby, and McCulloch)--the Missouri guerrillas were generally left unsupervised.

Quantrill's Raiders--like the Union Navy and Sherman's Army--adopted the "pirate's law of property."  Their men were entitled to keep part of the spoils of war--blurring the line between banditry and war making.

The Union Army did not recognize Quantrill's Raiders as being soldiers.  As "bandits," captured guerrillas were not held as prisoners of war but were summarily executed.

Knowing this fate, already desperate young men developed a unique bravado, swagger, and daring that--with the help of Hollywood--came to define the western hero.

Their uniform was a "guerrilla shirt," an open-front, homespun shirt with colorful embroidery or metal studs.  There were four large pockets for ammunition.  A wide-brimmed, slouch hat worn pinned up on one side gave the men a rakish appearance.  Each man carried a rifle on his saddle and numerous Colt revolvers were stuck in his belt.   [View Photo of Jesse James in Guerilla Attire - Photo #5.]

Historians believe that the guerrillas were actually more effective than they realized at the time.  A few hundred men were able to tie up more than 80,000 Union soldiers who were badly needed in the east.

Winter of 1863-4

As in previous winters, Quantrill's Raiders (now numbering about 100) camped outside Bonham during the winter of 1863-4.  One of Quantrill's lieutenants was James Simeon Whitsett, who--like many Missourians--had relatives in Fannin County.  "Uncle Simmie Whitsett" was a cousin of the Younger brothers.

Anthony Wayne Van Leer, barely 16 years old and two of his friends--James Haden "Uncle Hade" Whitsett (age 16) and William H. "White" Ragsdale (age 18) left Bonham with the guerrillas in the spring of 1864. 

For more information on Missouri battles and exploits of Anthony Wayne Van Leer of Texas.

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After the War

"If I owned both Texas and hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in hell."

                 - General Philip Sheridan, Union Commander in Texas, 1867


Lawlessness was rampant in North Texas during the Reconstruction years. Nearly 100 white men were killed during the continuing warfare in North Texas between 1866 and 1871.

There were three primary motives for the violence:

  1. Politics
  2. Racial Hatred
  3. Sport


"The Corners," a wild ticket located where four counties meet--Fannin, Grayson, Collin, and Hunt--became the hideout for desperados of many persuasions.  

The principal fugitives were ex-Confederates who claimed to have been driven to a life outside the law by the unfairness of military rule.  The gang leader was Bob Lee, a Captain in Forrest's Raiders.

Wildcat Thicket:  The strip of land in Fannin and Hunt lying just east of "The corners" was a solid mass of undergrowth--trees, briar brushes, thorn vines, and grass.

Wildcat Thicket had served as a bandit refuge during the War.  It's inhabitants included army deserts and draft evaders of both North and South.

Bob Lee built his hide-out of timber and black oilcloth in the densest part of the Wildcat Thicket.  It was closer to the ground than a regular army tent, making it necessary for Bob and his followers to crawl into the shelter.

Bob Lee was killed in 1869, but his followers continued the warfare until their principal nemesis--Lewis Peacock, head of the Union League, was killed in June 1871.  By then, more political power had shifted back to the native ex-Confederates.  His assassin was not pursued or even questioned.  His followers left the county.  Peace was restored, if not justice.


In addition to the Ku Klux Klan--a paramilitary force openly connected with the Democratic Party--the Freedmen were subjected to frequent mob violence and random abuse by the many desperados in the region.

A Freedmen Bureau official stated, "Negroes are frequently beaten unmercifully and shot down like wild beasts, without any provocation." Reasons given for over 1,000 Negro murders in Texas between 1865-68 included:

The Freedmen were violently harassed by both the Union League paramilitary unit of the Republican Party and the Ku Klux Klan representing the Democratic Party.

[Quotes from Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, by T. R. Fehrenback, Colliers Books, New York, 1985.]


"Gunslingers" originated in reconstruction-era Texas; cowboys spread the culture along the western cattle trails.

John Wesley Hardin of Fannin County was one of the most notorious of this breed.  He was involved in at least six "quick draw" shoot-outs.  But most of his 40 victims were unarmed Mexicans and blacks.

15-year-old Hardin committed his first murder in Fannin County in 1866.  Reason: a Negro shook a stick at him.

When in Fannin County, Hardin hid out with Bob Lee's gang, which included his cousin Semp Dixon--another noted desperado.


The Civil War had already created a boom and inflation in the North.  The Republican-controlled reconstruction governments in the South, then, gave the Northern capitalists the power they needed to fuel over-expansion financed by speculative credit.

The result was a severe depression between 1872-77--referred to as "the great depression" until 1930's surpassed it in depth.  The depression hit the South the hardest.  The price of cotton fell 50% between 1872 and 1877.

There was nearly a 100% turnover in land ownership in Texas and the rest of the South between 1865 and 1877--with three factors contributing to the Southerner's plight:

  1. Loss of the Civil War.
  2. Reconstruction policies--especially extension of services financed solely by taxes on land.
  3. Economic depression.  Between 1871 and 1877, the price of cotton fell by nearly 50 percent--to 8 cents a pound.

The Van Leers survived by selling parts of their land and mortgaging property:


Van Leers owned 447 acres of land.
1869 104 acres were sold.
1873 80 acres were mortgaged at 25% interest
1874 314 acres were mortgaged.  Oldest son required to co-sign.
1875 97.5 acres sold.
1877 All land sold for $3456.

The Van Leer farm was sold to the Fannin County Commission March 28, 1877.  The property was used as the County Pauper's Farm for over 60 years. 

West Texas

Texas differed from the rest of the Confederate states in one basic respect: Texas was only partially settled.  On the positive side, there was still public land to be settled.   By 1877, this unsettled land had been cleared of bandits, assorted desperados, and Comanches.

It was the availability of this unsettled land that saved the Van Leers from falling into the tenant class during this period of history.

After selling the property in 1877, Wayne and Mary Van Leer moved to Stephens County with their 5 younger children.  The oldest son, Anthony Wayne, had died a few months before the move of consumption.  Isaac Guilford had married the year before to Flora Austin; he, his wife, and new-born infant remained in Fannin County until the following spring, farming 87 acres given to them by Isaac's father-in-law David Brice Austin

Wayne Van Leer died in 1881 at age 71.  He was buried at Macedonia Cemetery near his farm in Stephens County.

It is believed that his wife, Mary Mills Van Leer, died in 1890 and is buried near Mangum, Oklahoma (then Texas).