Much of the material in this sketch of one of Indianas successful educators, gallant soldiers and distinguished men of letters is taken from the delightful volume of Will H. Glasscock, entitled "Young Folks of Indiana," the review of Capt. Harris appearing under the caption of "History, Story and Song."
The paternal ancestors of Mr. Harris were English, while on the mothers side he is of Scotch-Irish lineage. Owing to the death of his grandfather, which occurred when his son, Samuel Harris, was a mere boy, many important details of the family history have been irretrievably lost. From the most reliable information obtainable it appears that the Harris family originally settled in Delaware, where the above Samuel was born and reared. He learned the shoemakers trade and worked at that vocation for a number of years in different places, moving to Fayette county, Indiana, in 1852. He was of profound religious convictions, and when young united with the Methodist Episcopal church, in which he afterwards became an acceptable minister of the gospel, devoting no inconsiderable part of his life to the duties of that holy office. He lived at different places in this state and ministered to a number of congregations, mostly as a local preacher, his health preventing him from accepting regular pastorates. His wife was a native of Pennsylvania and bore the maiden name of Mary Robinson. She became the mother of three sons and four daughters, as follows: Rebecca, who married William D. Barwick and resides in Coles county, Illinois; William, who died in childhood; Lee O.; Alexander, a painter by trade, who died some years ago in Marion county, Indiana; Ann E. Nigh, of Greenfield; Elizabeth, who died in childhood and Mary, of Marion. The father died in Hancock county, Indiana, and the mother at Mattoon, Illinois.
Lee O. Harris was born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, on the 30th day of January, 1839, and spent his early boyhood pretty much the same as the majority of lads. He attended school, worked in the fields, roamed the hills in quest of youthful sports, and during those early years the close touch with nature aroused that fondness for the romantic and beautiful which in after life developed into a liking akin to passion. "The woods, the fields and the hills gave him secrets which they withheld from other boys, and spoke to him in a voice his companions could not understand." "His ear was ever close to natures heart and he heard and felt its beatings in harmony with the promptings of his own life and soul. He loved her and she taught him. To him there was music in the murmurs of the brooks and in the singing of the birds; there was beauty in the changing clouds and the blooming flowers. For him there was wisdom in the rounded pebble and the unfolding bud and grandeur in the gathering storm." At the age of thirteen he came with his parents to Fayette county, Indiana, where he spent five years in the midst of the natural splendors of that beautiful region. Mr. Harris returned to his native state where he completed his academic course. When about eighteen he joined a party of United States engineers who were surveying through the mountains to Puget Sound, seeing much rough service which proved a fruitful and valuable experience. "To sleep in the open air, sheltered only by the foliage of the trees and being awakened by the first bird notes of the morning was to him a new and delightful experience. The spirit of the mountains, and of the incidents of that journey has since been woven into his nature poems."
Returning from the "Rainy Region" of the North, Mr. Harris began teaching at Fountaintown, Shelby county. In 1858 he became a resident of Hancock county. When Ft. Sumter fell and President Lincoln called for volunteers, he was one of the first of Indianas young men to respond, enlisting in Company I, Eighth Indiana Infantry, for the three-months service, and was promoted to second lieutenant. At the expiration of his first enlistment, Mr. Harris re-entered the service in Company G, Fifth Indiana Cavalry, in which he also received a second lieutenants commission. By reason of physical disability he resigned from this regiment and later enlisted in the one Hundred and Forty-eighth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, as first lieutenant of Company C.
He resumed teaching at the close of the war and from that time to the present has been actively engaged as a teacher or superintendent. With the exception of four years as principal of the Lewisville high school, Henry county, and one term in Douglas county, Illinois, his teaching was confined to Greenfield and vicinity, and during a long and uninterrupted period he earned much more than local distinction as a scholarly and accomplished instructor. While teaching, he assisted in founding the Home and School Visitor, a journal devoted to literature and education, and for a number of years was its editor. He was also editor of the Greenfield Republican for two years. In addition to his dual duties as editor and teacher, he contributed articles to various papers and magazines.
In 1897 Mr. Harris was elected superintendent of the Hancock county public schools, which position he has since held. In this official station he has given new impetus to the cause of education by inaugurating a number of reforms in the schools and advancing the standards of proficiency and professional training of the teachers. Among the more important of the improvements brought to successful completion is the establishment of the township high school system, which has done much to promote the cause of education throughout the county, providing the pupils of every community with superior facilities for training in the advanced branches of learning. As an educator Mr. Harris is favorably known throughout the state and he takes an active interest in the various educational associations. He is progressive and has made his influence felt as a potential factor in the noble work to which his life and energies have been so largely devoted.
Reference has already been made to the place he occupies among the literati of Indiana, a position which he has won by giving to the world, in story and song, the thoughts of a brilliant mind and vivid fancy. While yet a boy he wrote poems which were published in local papers, and which attracted admiration by their beauty of thought and elegance of diction. "These early poems were full of music and fresh with the fragrance of wild flowers and new-mown hay and gave fair promise of better things which he was yet to write." Under the non-de-plume of Larry OHannegan, he wrote a number of lyrics and other poems which gained wide publicity and won him a permanent place among the poets of the west. Among his published books is "The Man Who Tramps," a story of tramp-life, beautifully woven round a farmer boy, who by unkind treatment was driven from home and obliged to wander from place to place in order to obtain a livelihood. "Interludes," another volume, contains his best poems classed under the following heads: "Songs of Nature," "Home and Affection." "Retrospective," "Flights of Fancy," Echoes of War Times," and "Miscellaneous."
"Mr. Harris seldom writes to order or in a hurry; when he feels a desire to write, he closes the door of his study and waits till all about the house have retired; then, in the stillness of the night, he gives himself up to his work with no thought of time." His style, always clear and elegant, is variable, partaking of the nature of the subject, and he never fails to impress his reader with the sincerity by which his own heart is animated. All of his productions bear the stamp of a high order of genius and nothing ever came from his pen but is worthy of being put in imperishable form for the lovers of good literature to read. He brings to his aid a mind thoroughly disciplined, and with a quick wit, ready fancy and vivid imagination, clothes his thoughts in beautiful and appropriate words which rarely fail to please the most critical and exacting.
Capt. Harris is easily the peer of any of his fellows in all that constitutes true manhood, and during his residence in Hancock county his name has been synonymous with what is honorable and upright in citizenship. He has adorned every station to which he has been called and in years to come his name and fame will be cherished as a scholar without pretense, a capable and faithful teacher, as an honest official, as a sweet singer, and as a man true to his highest ideals of manhood. He is an optimist in all the work implies and has ever manifested a deep and abiding faith in God and confidence in humanity. If there is one dominant or conquering instinct or impulse of his nature more pronounced than any other, it is the desire to do right. He chooses the good as his law; nor does he desire simply to live in this atmosphere, but has always aimed and labored to diffuse it. His temperament is positive, and like his morality, it never abates. The problem under consideration must be right or wrong, just or unjust, and between these extremes there is no borderland. He cares little about probabilities; the end is the truth and from this he does not fluctuate nor with less than logical or rational motives does he make excursions therefrom. He is careful of the feelings of others and never consciously wounds their sensibilities. The soil of his heart is rich and warm and not infrequently subject to an overflow of the affections, his friendships are ardent and unfaltering. It may be truthfully said of him that he has forged and beaten out his destiny by the blows of his own might.
Referring to the domestic page in the history of Capt. Harris, it is learned that he was married on the 14th day of March, 1861, to America, daughter of John Foster, one of the pioneers of Hancock county and at one time a member of the state legislature. Two children have blessed this union, Anna H., widow of the late William Randall, and Lizzie, both teachers in the schools of Greenfield. Fraternally Capt. Harris has risen to a high degree in Masonic circles, belonging to Lodge No. 101, at Greenfield. He is a member of Greenfield Chapter No. 96, Royal Arch Masons, and of Greenfield Commandery No. 72. He also belongs to the Pythian fraternity and the Grand Army of the Republic, in both of which he has been honored with important official positions.
Religiously Capt. Harris subscribes to the Presbyterian creed and for some years has been a deacon in the church at Greenfield. During the course of his career he has been thrown in contact with many of the leading educators and literary men, and among his early pupils are a number of men and women who have achieved distinction. Indianas favorite poet, James Whitcomb Riley received instruction from him and between these two congenial spirits feelings of the warmest personal friendship have long existed. His has indeed been a useful life and whether as a student, untangling the mysteries of intellectual lore, or as a teacher impressing upon the minds of those under his charge these principles of correct living which have become as impressions upon the granite rock, or as a sweet singer, culling from nature her sweetest diadems of beauty, or as a devotee at the shrine of truth, or in the sphere of a public official, the same unwavering adhesion to duty and vigilant, scrupulous recognition of obligation, invariably have been present to guide his life and control his conduct.
Transcribed from Biographical Memoirs of Hancock County B. F. Bowen, Publisher, Logansport, Indiana, 1902 Pages 317-320.
Submitted by Sylvia (Rose) Duda, Laingsburg, MI July 24, 2002.
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