By Al Bates

When General James Carleton needed a medical officer to accompany the Fort Whipple founding party in late 1863 he selected a former Santa Fe newspaper owner and politician with somewhat dubious medical qualifications.  Although Charles Leib claimed that he had graduated from a “Philadelphia Medical College and had practiced medicine briefly,” his checkered career was largely as a political operative in support of Republican Party objectives in Kansas and Illinois.

Leib’s antecedents are murky.  He probably was born in Pennsylvania about 1826, and first achieved some notoriety in the late 1850s in Kansas when, as a Democrat, he worked against the interests of the Steven A. Douglas wing of that party and then openly switched allegiance to the Republicans.

When the Civil War broke out, Leib obtained a presidential appointment as a First Lieutenant of infantry.  His appointment became controversial and was rejected by the U.S. Senate.  President Lincoln then exercised a recess appointment and Leib became a Captain in charge of the Quartermaster Depot at Clarksburg, Department of Western Virginia, where rebels were rife and conditions were chaotic.  It was a good spot to make new enemies, and he did.  When his nomination was brought before the Senate again, a political enemy accused Leib of being short $1 million in his accounts and again he was rejected.

Instead of demanding an investigation or any other sort of vindication, Leib published a 200-page book titled Nine Months in the Quartermaster’s Department, or The Chances for Making a Million.  His book contains several favorable character references from other Army officers, but lacks any expression of outrage on Leib’s part for being so impugned.  Instead, he amusingly tells of the difficulties underwhich he labored as a quartermaster.

And then he lit out for New Mexico Territory.  In Santa Fe he published a newspaper called the New Mexican and wrangled a position as that territory’s superintendent of schools.  When news of the Walker and Weaver gold finds in the central Arizona highlands reached Santa Fe he sold the newspaper to Judge Kirby Benedict (related to Walker Party member A. C. Benedict) and signed on as a contract surgeon for the Army.  Then he travelled to the Prescott area as a member of the Fort Whipple founding party, accompanied on the challenging trip by his wife of 11 years, Mary Catherine, the only recorded woman with that group.

His position as a contract surgeon was cancelled on March 31, 1864, by an Army Inspector General in response to unknown but obviously serious charges.  His termination was deemed urgent, for the IG quickly wrote to General Carleton in Santa Fe that, “The case of Dr. Leib was such an aggravated one, I acted upon it before your instructions in regard to him were received.”

His activities immediately after losing the army appointment are unknown, but later that year Dr. Leib ran unsuccessfully for the office of Arizona Territorial Delegate to Congress, receiving less than half the votes given to the winner, Charles D. Poston.  The Santa Fe Gazette, the rival of Leib’s New Mexico newspaper, crowed over Leib’s defeat in the election and unkindly called him a “montebank,” [sic] and an “impostor of the most arrant kind …”

On January 21, 1865, Dr. Leib died of an unspecified illness in Prescott.  He left an estate consisting of a house, several mining claims, and a Colt revolver he claimed was given to him by Abraham Lincoln.

But that’s not the end of this story of early Prescott, for our attention now turns to his widow who outlived him by a quarter century.  According to her gravestone in the Prescott Masonic cemetery she was born about 1836 near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and married Dr. Leib in 1852.  All known descriptions of her are admiring, including one account that maintains she walked most of the way from Santa Fe to the original site of Fort Whipple at Del Rio Springs.  She had attended a female seminary in a day when few girls went on to school and was a talented musician.

According to local lore, after Leib’s death she chose to remain in Prescott over the objections of relatives and opened a boarding house, where she probably had as a customer Judge Hezekiah Brooks, another of the earliest Prescott pioneers and an active Yavapai County politician.

Next week in Days Past: The Courtship and Marriage of the Widow Leib

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.