Comanche Attack!

As the story goes . . .

Nestled in a small clearing close to the woods and the Leon River, about seven miles northeast of the small settlement of Hamilton in Central Texas was a rustic one-room school house. The Leon River School was a simple square of loosely stacked logs with large spaces left between the logs to allow for ventilation. School was taught in the summer when the children had more free time from tasks on their family homesteads.

It was afternoon that day in July of 1867, and a small group of students had settled in for their lessons. Their teacher, Miss Ann Whitney, a heavy-set 32 year-old who had left Massachusetts and travelled to Texas to teach, was instructing the children when a young student, Amanda Powers, yelled that horsemen were approaching the school. At first, teacher Ann Whitney was unconcerned as she had been told a parent and his cowhands would be visiting the school that day to see his daughter who was boarding with another family in order to attend the classes. But Amanda Powers continued to watch the approaching riders between cracks in the logs and was soon convinced the riders were Indians, She pushed her little brother out the schools only window and quickly followed him. Both ran for the bushes along the river and hid.

Amanda’s departure and the sound of pounding horse hooves told the story—a Comanche attack!  Barring the door and gathering the children, Ann Whitney began pushing her students out the small window on the north side of the cabin with instructions to hide in the brush along the river. At the last minute, loose floorboards were pulled up and two students, Louis Manning and John Kuykendall took cover under the school.

With blood-curdling cries, the war party began firing arrows into the school, wounding Ann Whitney more than a dozen times. A third student still in the building, Jane Kuykendall, was wounded, but survived because the Indians apparently assumed she was dead.

Wounded and dying, Ann Whitney spread her skirts over the floor boards where Tom and Louis were hiding. The Comanche broke the door down, found the two boys cowering under the floor, and dragged them up.

Among the dozen or so Comanche raiders was a red-headed white man who asked the two boys if they wanted to join the Indians. Young John Kuykendall said yes, and was taken. Louis Manning said no. He later said he thought he was about to be killed when the leader of the raiders called for the rest to leave.

As they were leaving, the red haired Indian saw Olivia Barbee, captured her, pulling her onto his saddle. When he was distracted, she jumped down and escaped into the thick underbrush.

By chance, two women out for a ride saw the commotion as the attack began. Seventeen year old Amanda Howard and her sister-in-law Sarah Howard realized they needed to warn others that the Comanche were raiding. They reversed their horses and raced toward the Baggett’s cabin about a half a mile away. A few of the Comanche hurried to stop them. In the rush, Sarah was thrown from her horse while jumping an eight rail fence. An Indian captured her horse, but but Sarah was uninjured and able to make it to the Baggett home. Amanda charged ahead of the pursuing Indians, managed to outrun them on the young, spirited colt she was riding, and was able to spread the alarm to other neighboring cabins and alert the citizens of Hamilton.

While one group of Comanche had attacked the school, a second  group found the Stanaland family traveling nearby. Mr. and Mrs. Stanaland and their two children were killed.

Armed men from Hamilton gathered and pursued the marauders.

John Kuykendall, who was taken in the raid, was traded back about six months later. His wounded sister Jane recovered from her wound. All of Ann Whitney’s students had survived the attack!  Teacher Ann Whitney who had died trying to save her students was heralded as a hero.

School children in Hamilton County raised money to place a monument in Graves-Gentry Cemetery in memory of the Leon River school teacher. It reads: “In memory of Ann Whitney, a frontier school teacher; born in Massachusetts about 1835, killed by Comanche Indians July 9, 1867. Resting in hope of a glorious resurrection. Erected by the school children of Hamilton County.” A Hamilton elementary school is named for Ann Whitney.

In 1958, a grey granite stone memorial honoring Ann Whitney was placed on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn

Ann Whitney’s bravery in saving her students and Amanda Howard’s heroic ride is also memorialized by Eltea Armstrong on a Texas General Land Office 1972 illustrated map of Hamilton County. In an ornate block of calligraphy and around the edges of the map, is the illustrated story of the two brave pioneer women, Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard. Just two examples of strong women who helped to settle Texas.

The Battle of Plum Creek

The Battle of Plum Creek and the events leading up to it are famous in the annals of The Republic of Texas’ History. The famous Battle of Plum Creek was sparked by the unfortunate Council House Fight in 1840.

Early that year, The Penatekas or “Honey Eater” Comanches—suffering from attacks by Cheyenne and Arapaho, and from battles with the Texas Rangers, in addition to facing dwindling numbers due to smallpox—agreed to hold to peace talks with Texas. When the talks were agreed to, and before they were held, the Texas government representatives demanded return of all captives, and that the Comanche would pledge to abandon Central Texas, avoid white settlements, and not interfere with Texas incursions.

The following March 19th, twelve chiefs, twenty-one warriors, along with thirty-two other Comanches arrived in San Antonio for the negotiations. Only one anglo captive was delivered, a 16 year old girl who had been badly treated. She was covered with bruises and scars and her nose was burned off to the bone. She revealed that there were more than a dozen other captives which the Indians planned to ransom later.

The Texas representatives informed the chiefs that they would be held hostage until the remaining captives were delivered. The Chiefs let out a war whoop in response and reached for their weapons. A fight ensued and all twelve Comanche chiefs and eighteen warriors, three women and two children were killed, others captured. Several troops were killed or wounded. The situation enraged the Comanches who believed those engaged in peace talks were immune from acts of war.

As an aftermath of the Council House Fight, the Comanche launched a retaliatory raid, led by their remaining chief, Buffalo Hump. Estimates from the time are that there were probably 500 warriors and as many as 500 other members of the band, including families. On August 6th, the Raiders  began a two-day attack of the town of Victoria, killing a number of residents, capturing more than 1500 horses and mules, including a herd belonging to Mexican traders. The defending residents were able to prevent the complete sacking of the town and a group of Victoria men went for help.

Leaving Victoria, the Indians proceeded to the small port town of Linnville, killing three men along the way. On the 8th of August, the Comanche attacked the town, plundering the houses, stores, and a large warehouse. Fortunately the citizens fled oceanside and most were saved by boarding small boats and a schooner. A few citizens were killed and at least four hostages taken.

For the entire day the Comanche butchered cattle, gathered and loaded goods from the local warehouse onto horses and mules. Stealing an estimated $30,000 worth of merchandise which had been destined for San Antonio and the Mexican trade—clothing, hats, umbrellas, silk, and other goods. Attired in items they had stolen—wearing shoes, top hats, coats worn upside down and buttoned up the back, and riding horses draped in calico with yards of ribbon tied to their manes and tails, and carrying silk umbrellas, they fired all the structures except the warehouse and left. The final count of settlers killed in the two attacks was twenty three.  A small group of Linwood men followed to keep track of where the Indians traveled and a few skirmishes occurred.

As word of the Victoria/Linnville attacks spread, Texas Ranger groups and other Texans from all around began to gather at a ranch between Gonzales and Austin on the path the Indians were taking. Waiting for more men to gather they waited until they were concerned that the Indians would escape. They began to position themselves for attack at Plum Creek, just as Major General Felix Huston, head of the Texas militia arrived and took command. Fighting ensued, Chief Buffalo Hump was killed, the Comanche began retreating and the battle turned into a running fight which stretched for miles as the Comanche scattered. The Indians abandoned their plunder, killed all but one hostage—who was wounded in the chest, but was saved from death by her corset. When it was over, one report says 80 Comanche were killed. The Texans reported one man dead and seven wounded.

So ended one of the boldest Comanche attacks on Texas towns.*

*Historians may differ on a few details, but  much of this report from written reports of participants. including James Wilson Nichols in his Journal and  William Hall in his memoir Brazos.