James Harvey McLeary, soldier and judge, son of Dr. Samuel D. and Sarah Ann (Weller) McLeary, was born in Smith County, Tennessee, on July 27, 1845. The family settled on Harvey's Creek in Colorado County, Texas, in the late 1850s. McLeary attended county schools and Soule University before he joined the Confederate Army to serve under Henry H. Sibley from 1861 to 1865. He subsequently received a B.A. degree from Washington and Lee University in 1868 and graduated from law school in 1869. He returned to Texas, was admitted to the bar in June 1869, and opened an office in Columbus. In December he married Emily Mitchell of San Antonio; they had one child who survived to adulthood. McLeary moved to San Antonio and became a partner of Charles L. Wurzbach. Emily died in 1872.
The next year McLeary was elected to the Texas legislature, where he focused on education and took a leading part in shaping the legislation that gave towns and cities the right to control their local public schools. He married Mary King, daughter of Valentine O. King, in August of 1875. They had four children, including sculptor Bonnie MacLeary. McLeary was elected attorney general of Texas in 1880 and served one term. He was grand master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas in 1881. He was appointed United States judge in Montana Territory by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. After returning to Texas in 1888, McLeary and Judge W. W. King formed a partnership that was dissolved after a year. In 1892 McLeary was a delegate to the state Democratic convention at Lampasas and to the Democratic national convention in Chicago. He served in the Spanish-American War with the rank of major and in 1901 was appointed United States judge in Puerto Rico, where he served until ill health forced him to return, in November 1913, to Washington, D.C. He died there on January 5, 1914, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.