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.