John Leach | Prairie Public Broadcasting

John Leach

Feb 3, 2020

John Charles Leach was one of the soldiers that stood guard at the casket of Abraham Lincoln after the president’s assassination in 1865. Leach was picked because of his height, well over six feet.

Leach was born on this date in 1947 in Crossingville, Pennsylvania.  He served with the 103rd Pennsylvania infantry regiment in the last days of the Civil War. After guarding President Lincoln’s casket, he mustered out of the army in June.

After his time in the army, Leach found his way to North Dakota – one of 42 men brought to the upper reaches of the Missouri River to build the Fort Yates Agency.

Next, he started cutting wood near Fort Rice for the steamships that plied the Missouri.  Strong in heart and muscle, no one could outwork him.  He could cut 6 cords or more in one day.

During the fall of 1872, John and his partner, Don Stevenson, with 30 teams of oxen, hauled 3000 cords of wood 6 miles to Fort Rice.  During the following 3 years, the partners worked at cutting and bringing in hay for the military.  John was involved in several skirmishes with the Lakota when they objected to the taking of the hay.  During one incident, Leach shot No-Two-Horns in the leg.  Another time, at the Grand River, Rain-In-The-Face shot at John and missed.  It was said “Rain” was just playing with John and missed him on purpose.  

In 1876, during the gold boom in the Black Hills, Leach and Stevenson ran a large freight operation on the Bismarck-Deadwood trail outfitted with 60 wagons.

Leach finally settled down, building a house at the Parkin Ranch on the lower Cannonball and ran a ferry on the Missouri river 3 miles east of the ranch.  In the fall of 1883, John was invited by the Lakota nation to participate in the final great buffalo hunt that brought the species nearly to extinction.

When the railroad ran its line south of Mandan to the mouth of the Cannonball and west to Mott, the town of Solen was established on the line just west of the Missouri.  John moved to Solen, started a general store and did very well. In 1914, after Sioux County was organized, he was appointed County Commissioner.

John Leach passed away in 1929 and is buried in the Union Cemetery in Mandan.

Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson

Sources: 

Book, “Which Chosen People?  Manifest Destiny Meets the Sioux” by Robert Dodge.  John Leach, Forest

Stream Magazine, June, 1921.

Frank Fisk obituary, Welchdakotapapers.com