(thanks to my cousin Darrell for catching several typos in the post – they have been fixed. Any existing errors are my own, sadly) This photo of Thomas Asher ( T.A.) McLeland is one of a pair (much large and with the details painted in) that hang in my front hall. The other is my great great grandmother Caroline Decker McLeland. Thomas and Caroline led ordinary lives. I’m going to spend the next few posts talking about Thomas’ life as I’ve put together the pieces so far. I’m not going to include sources – at this point. Once I’ve posted the whole thing, I plan on moving it to my website The McLeland-Wieser Family with sources etc. I already have many photos of T.A. and Caroline’s family on the site. Check them out.
Thomas Asher McLeland was born, 1835, in either Wayne or Clinton Counties, Indiana to John McLeland and his wife Matilda Asher. Thomas, or T.A. as he was known most of his life, was the third child and first son for John and Matilda. Shortly after the birth of their second son, James R. McLeland, Matilda Asher McLeland died. John wasn’t the kind to raise a young hopeful family on his own. He remarried almost immediately to Martha Jane Koonz a young widow with one son. John and Mathilda had several children so T.A.’s adolescence must have been full of the chaos of younger brothers and sister.
Many of T.A’s mother’s family lived nearby, including 2 Uncles and an Aunt. By the time T.A. was 20 his father had been once more widowed and had remarried again. Now he again had a household full of young half siblings. John had also moved his continuously growing family to Boone County, Indiana where he was running a general store and becoming very active in the local Christian Church. Perhaps the household was just too full, perhaps he saw economic possibilities, perhaps he felt a closer kinship with his Asher relatives. Whatever, the reason, at the age of 22 T.A. and his only full blood brother, J.R. moved with their Asher Uncles to Allen County, Kansas.
They arrived at the height of the terrorism and political skullduggery called “Bleeding Kansas.” Although Allen County wasn’t at the heart of the troubles, the massacre at Marais des Cynes was only about 60 miles away. The area around Iola had been heavily settled by Free Staters, making it a prime target of the raiders from Missouri. T.A. and Thomas Asher, William Asher and Alvin Asher settled in the area of Deer Creek Township well away from the majority of the trouble.
Living nearby was a household of 2 families newly arrived from Illinois. William Decker, his second wife Catherine, his daughter Caroline and his younger brother Alfred and family had migrated from Pennsylvania to Illinois. There William and Catherine’s 3 young sons were born. The families arrived in this tense and volatile part of the territory just a few months before the Asher and McLeland families. Shortly after their arrival William Decker died. His widow, left alone with 3 very young children remarried almost immediately. And almost immediately William’s estate became mired in controversy. Alfred Decker and the former Catherine Decker tangled in court several times. Among the deponents in one episode was Thomas Asher McLeland.
Shortly after giving his testimony in 1861, T.A. married the orphaned Caroline Decker. Like many young married men in the early 1860’s, T.A. left his bride and joined his brother in the the Kansas volunteers, both in the cavalry. T.A. saw limited “frontier” duty, guarding rail lines etc. Many years later his pension file would relate that most of his service was away from the main battlefields but was just as muddy, tiring, disease ridden and nearly as bloody as the more “glamorous” service of his cousins. His younger brother never saw combat. James R. died of disease at Fort Scott , KS before his training was completed. Many years later T.A.’s elderly father applied for a Civil War pension based on the service of his deceased son James.
By the time T.A. came home from the war, his Asher relatives had nearly all migrated across the bloody Kansas border into Missouri, leaving Caroline and her step family waiting for T.A. to return. I have no idea if William Asher was pro Confederacy but the timing of his move seems odd. Alvin and Thomas Asher served in the Union army. And T.A. and his children kept in regular touch with Thomas Asher and his family. Whatever wounds may have been given during the Civil War appear to have been mended fairly quickly at least among some of the family.