General Leonard Wright Colby, leader of the first Nebraska National Guards, veteran of the Indian Wars, Nebraska state senator and assistant Attorney General for the United States, started his military career as a 15-year old Civil War infantryman.
Colby was born in Cherry Valley, Ashtabula County, Ohio on Aug. 5, 1846, the fifth of seven children born to Rowel and Abigail Colby.
Gage County historian Hugh Dobbs wrote that Colby moved to a farm five miles from Freeport, Illinois at the age of four and remained there until he enlisted in the Eighth Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry as a teenage.
He served with that unit until the end of the war.
Near the end of the Civil War, Colby was wounded at the siege of Mobile on April 9, 1865. He was recommended for promotion and commission for his gallant and was given the responsibility of capturing a Confederate flag at Fort Blakely.
Colby was discharged from the Union Army in 1865 and returned to his home in Freeport to complete high school. He graduated in 1867 with “the highest honors of class.”
That fall, Colby enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and graduated in 1871, obtaining degrees in civil and mechanical engineering and a recommendation for a lieutenant’s commission in the United States Army.
In June of that year, Colby married Clara D. Dewick and moved to Beatrice.
Clara Colby was a suffragist and close friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Colbys lived near Seventh and High streets in Beatrice, where Clara owned and edited The Woman’s Tribute, a suffragist newspaper. They had three children: Ada May, Clarence and Marguerite Elizabeth.
During that time, Colby helped organize the state militia at Beatrice, designated the Paddock Guards in honor of U.S. Senator Algernon Paddock.
As captain of the Paddock Guards, Colby was placed in command of four companies of mounted rifles. The guard protected the area against the marauding Sioux and Cheyenne Native American tribes at the time, following the raiders on a 500-mile march across Kansas and Nebraska.
Colby was elected state senator in November 1876 to represent Gage and Jefferson counties and reelected in 1886.
In 1881, Colby was commissioned colonel of the First Regiment Nebraska National Guard, commanding Nebraska state troops and six companies of United States regulars.
Six years later, Colby was appointed brigadier general and placed in command of the First Brigade, two infantry regiments, a cavalry troop and a battery of artillery.
General Colby and his command were called to respond to uprising Sioux Indians near Pine Ridge, S.D. Colby and his troop participated in the Battle of Wounded Knee and many other skirmishes along the Badlands.
President Benjamin Harrison appointed Colby to Assistant Attorney General of the United States from 1890-1893.
After his appointment expired, Colby took a suit against the federal government on behalf of several Indian tribes — the Creeks, Cherokees, Seminoles and four of the tribes — and won suits against the government for nearly $7 million.
Colby entered back into public service on June 3, 1898, when President William McKinley commissioned the general to be Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War.
He was mustered out of the volunteers on his return to Washington in February, 1899.
After the Spanish-American war, Leonard Colby went back to practice law in Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, Missouri, Iowa and the Western Territories, with offices at Beatrice and Washington D. C.
Colby divorced Clara on March 30, 1906 and married Marie H. Moller on June 4 of that year. Leonard and Marie had one son, Paul Livingston Colby.
In his final years of public service, Colby served as a Nebraska district judge in the 18th district from 1921-1924.
General Leonard Wright Colby died on November 18, 1924, at Leavenworth, Kan.