Excerpted from the book "Come Visit, People Who Lived on the Land of the Jefferson Proving Ground"
Jean Sauer McClellan
Leander Hand, you long ago lived alone on a beautiful small farm on Big Graham Creek in the Bethel community of Ripley County. You must have lived there for 30 years.
Your house was one large room with a stove for cooking and heating, a table, some chairs, a coal oil lamp, a small table for the water bucket and dipper, and a wash stand below the mirror.
There was a wood box, almost always full, behind the stove and a small cupboard for food. A long gun stood in the corner. Your home was never locked, but if you weren't there nobody went in.
You kept your house nice and warm in the winter but in the hot, dry summers it got very, very hot.
To the back of your house was your patch of corn, and to one side was your garden. You raised a few tobacco plants for chewing. In front was a woods, where you could
follow the shade down the hill to the strip of bottomland on Big Graham. Sometimes you had a patch of corn there too, and on rotation years you had wheat. You used a hoe a lot, but early on
you had used a horse and a one-horse plow and planter. I think that was Clem Neill's horse and equipment, for you were really living on his land.
Leander Hand, I first met you when I was just past three years old and you were probably some past 50(58
). All our family moved on the farm
that joined your place on the south. We lived on the main road just east of Bethel Church. My daddy, Earl Sauer, bought this farm from Aunt Nan Ryker a short time before he went into the U.S. Army
for World War I, when he was about 23 years old. He had other people living on the place for several years. The road back by your place was just for walking and a wagon now and then. No matter-walking,
climbing fences, and crossing small streams by jumping on rocks was our way of getting around. Naylor's store was still there during the late 20's and early 30's, and I believe it was a three-fence climb
and a one stream jump to get there. Then one day Naylor's store closed, and we had a huckster truck come from New Marion. You would come to our next-door neighbors, the Clem Neill family's house, and
bring your coal oil can to be filled and to get some groceries from the huckster.
I don't remember that you had any close family, Leander Hand, but I remember that you came to our house a lot. You and my daddy seemed to be very good friends, and I think you
worked days for him sometimes and had noon dinner at our house pretty often through those early years. I remember that you were a good hunter. You were the one who told my parents that baked young
raccoon and fried young groundhog made mighty good meat. We tried each of them at different times, but my mother didn't like cooking that kind of wild game. During the appropriate hunting season,
we often had rabbit and squirrel that you very much enjoyed. I remember on day my daddy insisted you take the very last piece of rabbit, but you said, "No, let one of these little children have it."
There were three of us then and later there were four. You had a quiet, kind way at that time, Leander Hand.
Do you remember the cold days when my daddy would come in to get warm? Then there was the time during our very first summer living on our farm that the three of us children
come on a wagon with daddy to do some work project in the woods near your house and a sudden summer electrical storm and wind came up. We beat it to your house and stayed with you, safe and dry,
until the storm was over. When we came rolling home, our poor mother was out watching for us, and she had been terribly worried about us being back in the woods in such a severe storm. She thought
we could have been struck by lightning or hit by falling limbs. She thought that at least we would be drenched. She was so very thankful to find that none of this had happened because through the
whole storm we had been at your house, Leander Hand.
As we grew older and bigger, we explored the woods at will. In the spring we would come to see the redbud and dogwood trees in bloom. There was a tulip poplar that we came to
see a number of times while it was blooming. We could get pussy willows near your house very early and jack0in-the-pulpits, wild fern, and other wild flowers down in the woods in early May. Somewhere
along the way we would usually see you and have a friendly chat.
We Sauer kids, out next-door neighbor Irene Neill, and whatever company we might have had, often came back to the swimming hold in Big Graham when the water was in good shape.
Sometimes it was too hight and muddy, and during dry weather the water would get very low and stagnant, and we didn't go in it. Usually this would be in August, which we called "dog days". We sometimes
walked past your house, and other time we would come down through our woods and cross the branch on the rocks.
Sometimes we would wade right in the branch and catch crawdads that were catching minnows. We often found live mussels in the water, which we would play with and throw back.
Sometimes we would pick up some nice shells and a pretty rock or two. You would often walk down and smile at our treasurers.
We didn't come fishing without our daddy because he was afraid we would get a fishing hook in one of us someplace and we would need him to get it loose. Daddy was very busy all
week, so we usually came on Sunday afternoon. We always sat on the roots of the big elm, and you would come down to see if we were "havin' any luck."
One Sunday afternoon when our mother came along she asked if she could gather some of the watercress growing in the bottom field. You were happy for us to do that, and my sister
Elaine and I left fishing to help mother get the water cress, a more surething than fishing. We gathered enough water cress to leave some at your house, Leander Hand. We knew you liked it, for you told
us how good it was.
Then we began to have more work responsibilities at home and stopped coming to the woods and to Big Graham as much. During a hot, dry summer, probably in 1939, we learned that you,
Leander Hand, were having a disposition change. You were walking around talking to yourself in an angry voice, and once you were swinging a club. When different neighbors tried to talk to you about your
anger, you would tell of your hallucinations that were real to you. People from the church were coming back and singing to you, and the Sauer children were hiding behind your trees and laughing at you,
you said. We would never have done that, for you were our friend. These things you were hearing and seeing were caused by your illness. You were taken to a doctor, but you didn't get better. It was then
that a neighbor man removed the shotgun from your cabin. After a few days "the authorities" were called, and you were taken to the county home about ten miles away. (Ripley County Poor Farm)
After you were in the county home for a while you had a good diet, lots of fluids, and probably plenty of rest. You improved through the winter and came walking home one day in the
spring, but you didn't have the permission of the "the authorities." You just sneaked away. You were not quite yourself that summer, but you were not angry and hostile as you had been when they took you away.
You told your neighbors that you hadn't liked the county home at all, and that we wouldn't have liked it either. You had lived alone for a long time, and you didn't like sleeping in the same room with other
men. You said that first one and then the other would cough through the night and keep you awake. You felt it was an unhealthy place to be. You got to stay home through the summer, and neighbors kept checking
on you. When fall 1940 came, "the authorities" took you back to the county home. You really were not supposed to have left.
Then in December 1940, came the U. S. Government to take all our land for a proving ground, which meant that military people would be testing gunpowder on our land. This sounded to us like
they were expecting our country to get involved in a war. We all became very busy and stressed, for we had to be off our places and find a new farm. We knew you were cared for and not living on your own, and you
didn't know of the stress.
In March 1941, all of your neighbors moved away and all of the houses were empty. Then one day in the spring, there was this front page story in The Indianapolis Star with the headline,
OLD HERMIT FOUND BY ARMY ENGINEER IN JEFFERSON PROVING GROUND. We knew it was you, Leander Hand, and we knew that you weren't really lost. We knew that now that it was springtime, you had again left the county
home without permission and had come to your own little house with your garden space and little patch for farming. We knew you had come up to Clem Neill's house with your coal oi can, thinking you could meet the
huckster as you had done for many years before you got sick.
We were all saying, "Good for you, Leander Hand." We were glad you got to crawl under the fence and come home again to see your trees and wildflowers in bloom and see the water cress growing
down in the bottom land. Then there was the big elm with the bass swimming around its roots and the "sunnies' jumping on the riffle. Probably the bullfrogs were croaking like crazy, and the whippoorwills were
singing at night close to your house. It was worth your trip, even with the shock of finding everybody gone, wasn't it Leander Hand? We knew that it wouldn't be long until "the authorities" picked you up again,
and soon all of our homes and our land, as we knew it, would be destroyed. You had your memories as long as you lived, Leander Hand, and we have kept our memories of you. You were one of the Bethel community and
deserve your identity. Never once were you called "The Old Hermit." You were Leander Hand.
Research on Leander Hand
Hermit Is Found On Army's Tract Says He Knew Nothing of Purchase for Proving Ground
Army Officers at the Jefferson Proving Ground near Madison were confronted with a new problem when they found an 80-year-old hermit living on the 60,000-acre tract. Already families in the
area have been moved out, but the engineers found the hermit last Friday and he told them he knew nothing about the government having bought up the land. He said he had read no newspapers, had no radio and had no
connections with the outside world except for the occasional visits with distant neighbors. The man asked the engineers where a family in a distant farmhouse had gone. He said he had been getting kerosene for his
lamps at the house, but had found no one at home. The house has been vacated to make room for the proving ground. The hermit told the engineers he had no intention of moving because he had just completed planting
his summer garden.
(From the Osgood Journal)
JPG Hermit Wanders Back to Old Haunts
Leander Hand, who was referred to a few weeks ago in newspapers as a hermit found living in Shelby township in the Jefferson Proving Ground area, and was taken to the County Infirmary for
residence, wandered back to his old haunts one day last week.
He was discovered by JPG guards and taken to Madison where he was held in jail until Sunday when local authorities were notified.
Hand is a man in his eighties and resents being taken from his old place of abode in the proving ground. It is said there is a little hut on the county farm and that an attempt is being
made to get Hans to stay there for awhile in the hope that he will be more contented than he is in the men's dormitory.
(From the 1 May 1941 Osgood Journal)
November 13, 1907 - Osgood Journal
Squire Thomas' court was in session Tuesday. Jesse Hand, of Benville, swore out two complaints against his son Leander, one for assault and battery and one for his life, and protection
of property. He pled guilty to the former charge and upon refusing to pay fine and cost was taken to the Versailles jail by Constable James Adams
From what I have been able to find - Leander Hand was the son of Jesse and Elizabeth (Swaidner) Hand. His parents were living in Shelby township, Ripley County when
he was born. His grandparents Obediah & Mary (Jones) Hand were married there in 1839. Leander's mother appears to have died prior to 1877 as his father remarries then to a Sarah Copeland. Leander Hand died on February 27, 1953 at Madison State Hospital, but
he was buried at the Ripley County Poor Farm.
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