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Fayette County, Iowa
Portrait & Biographical Album of Fayette County Iowa
Containing Full Page Portraits and Biographical Sketches of
Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County
Lake City Publishing Co., Chicago
Abram Leonard, a retired farmer residing in Windsor Township, was born in Whitehall, Washington County, N. Y., January 6, 1815, and is a son of John and Peggy (Lindsey) Leonard, whose family numbered three children: Gideon, who was born September 7, 1813, and died in 1867 in St. Johns, Mich.; Abram, of this sketch; and Henry S., who was born December 31, 1818, and died August 12, 1829. Our subject was reared to manhood in his native State and after attaining to mature years was united in marriage with Hannah Louisa Searles, daughter of William C. and Polly (Billings) Searles. They continued their residence in the Empire State until 1868, when they came to this county. Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Leonard: George Henry, the eldest, born August 26, 1841, enlisted in the One Hundred and Twenty-third New York Infantry in 1862, and was killed in the battle of Chancellorsville, Va., May 5, 1863; the second child died in infancy; and Nathan B., the youngest, who was born February 29, 1844, enlisted in the same regiment with his brother George, and the battle which brought death to the elder saw him fall before the rebel lead.
Their children dead and having no interest to keep them in the East, Mr. Leonard and his wife in 1868 emigrated West, locating in Windsor Township, Fayette County, Iowa, where by industry, economy and good management he secured a competence which was sufficient to enable him not only to retire from active business life in his declining years but would furnish him with all the comforts of life. His wife died May 13, 1882, and being old, childless and in poor health, Mr. Leonard found it necessary to have some one to care for him and with this end in view opened correspondence with his niece, Mrs. E. T. Smith, who then resided in Kansas. She and her family came and took possession of the farm April 12, 1883, the conditions being that they should make a comfortable home for him during the remainder of his life and when he died they should inherit eighty acres of his property, in compliance with these conditions, reserving only his life lease. However, he soon became dissatisfied with the new arrangement and went to New York for eight months, hoping that a temporary absence would heal the breach between them and render everything satisfactory on his return; but his hopes were doomed to disappointment, and soon after his return he felt obliged to seek a home among strangers. He commenced proceedings to recover possession of his farm but was unsuccessful. Later on an attempt was made upon his life by one Henry Schmidt, who shot him while asleep in bed, the ball striking him in the right breast and glancing into the arm, caused paralysis of that member. At the same time the family with whom he was stopping over night, consisting of Mr. Abram Peek and his wife - an aged couple - were murdered. Mr. Peek was pounded to death with a club and Mrs. Peek was shot, dying from the effects of the wound in about two weeks. Henry Schmidt confessed to the shooting of Mr. Leonard and Mrs. Peek, stating that he was hired to kill the former by E. T. Smith, who promised him $500 for doing the job, but he denied killing Mr. Peek, saying that Mr. Smith did that. The young German was executed by hanging at West Union, Iowa, January 16, 1886.
Mr. Leonard has had a peculiar experience but his exciting troubles seem to bear lightly upon him for a man of his years. It is useless to add that this event caused the most profound excitement and indignation throughout the entire county. In palliation of the horrible crime of Henry Schmidt it is only fair to say that he was a German boy of twenty-one years and was actuated to perform the terrible deed in the hope of obtaining the means of returning home to his parents who were still living in the Fatherland. The acquittal of E. T. Smith by a jury impaneled in the county where the deed was committed and within six miles of the scene of the tragedy leaves the whole matter enshrouded in the most astounding mystery. To attempt to give expression to the popular sentiment of the community is not the purpose of the writer and would only tend to separate the factions to a greater degree, while the public would remain oblivious to the real facts.
Mr. Leonard is a stanch Republican in politics, and voted the Whig ticket prior to the organization of that party. He bears the distinction of having voted for the two President Harrisons. In religious belief he is decidedly liberal, believing that 'an honest man is the noblest work of God.
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