In continuing with the theme of Women's History Month, the story of the heroic acts of Miss Ann Whitney and Miss Amanda Howard. As with many stories of traumatic incidents, the accounts of what happened often differ greatly. In piecing together this story I have attempted to consult, and credit, as many credible sources as possible. The story of these heroic women was originally told by Eulalia Nabers Wells in her memoir titled Blazing the Way, but I first heard of the heroic sacrifice of Miss Ann Whitney through the Comanche County Historical Museum in Comanche, Texas.
Schoolteachers played a unique role in the Wild West. In addition to educating children in small towns, schoolteachers were also representations of culture and civilization. This was a challenging role considering many of the small towns were far from civilized, or so far away from what could be considered civilization that the job could be downright dangerous. Such was the case for schoolteacher Ann Whitney who agreed to teach the children in Hamilton County, Texas.
There are few details on the early years of Ann Whitney except that she was a highly respected schoolteacher. She was 32 years old in 1867 and an exceptionally large woman who commanded respect, but also showed tremendous compassion and kindness to her students.
The book Old West: The Women, by Joan Swallow Reiter, has a picture of a schoolhouse in 1887 Live Oak County, Texas showing a bunch of tree limbs covered in dried vines with the children seated inside on wooden chairs. This haphazard construction kept the school area cool for the children--school was held only during summer months so students could help with the harvest and planting in the fall and spring.
The schoolhouse where Ann Whitney taught her students in Hamilton County was just a tad more carefully constructed with logs and boards, but the boards were spaced apart for ventilation, so far apart that a man could stick his entire head inside, which will be an important detail later in the story. The boards on the floor could also be lifted easily by a child. There was a door in the front facing the valley and one window in the back facing the river. The schoolhouse was located in a valley that was 3/4 mile long 1 1/2 miles wide with a completed unobstructed front view of the building, and anyone who might be approaching the building.
On July 9, 1867 Ann Whitney arrived early, as always, on her saddle horse, her favorite pet, Mary. The school room filled slowly with children who obediently took their seats and the morning was relatively uneventful. One of the young girls, 12-year-old Olivia Barbee, was expecting a visit from her father, a stockman who was often working on the prairies, gathering longhorn cattle for his herd. Around 2 p.m., another young girl, Gabriela Powers, the daughter of local resident Alexander Powers, paused as she walked past the doorway and noticed a group of riders approaching the school. She told Miss Whitney that riders were coming. Miss Whitney reminded the child that Olivia Barbee was expecting her father and told the girl to take her seat.
The child shook her head. Suddenly, the girl screamed. "Indians," and she ran across the room to her younger brother, Alex Powers. She grabbed his hand and dragged him to the single window in the back of the school room then pushed her brother through, following close behind him. They ran into the reeds on the banks of a nearby river.
Miss Whitney rushed to the door, her heart pounding as she realized that the school was under attack from a raiding party of Comanche. She could see that the men were stealing her beloved horse, Mary. She slammed the door shut and shouted at the children to climb through the window at the back of the schoolhouse where they would not be seen by the approaching Comanche warriors.
A few children managed to climb through the window before the raiding party arrived, but one young girl, Mary Jane Manning, was very sick when she arrived at school and clung desperately to Miss Whitney's skirt. Olivia Barbee suggested to the rest of the children that they hide beneath the floorboards of the schoolhouse. John Kuykendall was one of the children who joined her, but his sister hid behind a piece of furniture in the room.
The Comanche warriors came to the front door and pounded their fists on the wood, then stuck their painted faces through the slats in the walls. According to the children, one of the men appeared to be Caucasian or Mexican and had red hair. One of the Comanche shouted to Miss Whitney in English. Miss Whitney turned to him and begged for the lives of her children. The man nodded and held up three fingers, but the reason for this is action is unknown.
The Comanche warriors started firing arrows through the walls into the tiny school room. Miss Whitney was hit numerous times. Her blood flowed freely down the front of her dress and onto the young girl still clinging to her skirts, through the floorboards, and onto the children beneath the floor. Miss Whitney continued to pace the floor, begging for the lives of the children. With 12 arrows in her body, she still managed to stumble to the window to help Miss Kuykendall climb through. According to many accounts, including a detailed explanation on Texas United, Miss Kuykendall was shot in the back with an arrow as she climbed through the window, but she survived.
Miss Whitney was bleeding profusely and Mary Jane Manning was covered in her beloved teacher's blood. Mary Jane finally stripped out of her blood-stained dress, climbed through the window with the assistance of her dying teacher, and ran to the river. Her brother, Louis Manning, watched his sister leave. He climbed out from beneath the floor boards and followed his sister through the window. He ran to the river and straight into the arms of his sister, who was hiding in the reeds by the river. Mary Jane held her brother in her arms until they were rescued.
The Comanche warriors broke down the door. Miss Whitney fell to the floor, dying, with 18 arrows in her body. One of the Comanche noticed the floor board and pulled Olivia Barbee up into the school room. He was trying to push the struggling child onto the back of his horse when the leader of the group called him back into the schoolroom. Remarkably, he left the girl, and Olivia ran to the river. She was so terrified that she refused to leave to seek help. She was discovered in the morning by one of the townsmen who had to chase her down and convince her that she was safe.
Inside the building, another Comanche found the two young boys. The Indians asked the boys if they would like to join their tribe. The boys, staring down at their dying teacher, did not know what to say. One boy, John Kuykendall, said yes, and he was lifted up onto the back of one of the horses. The other boy said no, and just as one of the Indians prepared to kill him he heard their leader shouting in front of the house and the man ran outside instead, mounted his horse, and they rode away.
The Comanche leader had gathered his warriors to leave because he spotted two women riding through the valley. Miss Amanda Howard, who was only 17 years old, was already an experienced equestrian and had asked her sister-in-law, Sarah Howard, to ride with her through the valley. When they first saw the men at the schoolhouse they, too, thought they were the cattlemen the teacher was expecting. Amanda Howard quickly realized the men were Comanche and shouted to her sister-in-law as she kicked her horse into a fierce run. The two women turned toward the house of a neighbor, Mr. Baggett, because his house was closer than their own home. The Comanche warriors followed furiously behind. Amanda Howard aimed her horse toward the fence and horse and rider cleared the fence gracefully. Sarah Howard's horse shied from the fence and she was thrown. She jumped to her feet and ran for the house, but arrived safely.
About the same time, Mr. Stanaland and his family entered the valley and their wagon passed the Howard House. (There are numerous names used for Stanaland in reports of this incident, but an email from the Stanaland family to Forttours provides the most accurate identity, in my opinion.) Amanda Howard could see them from the window of the Baggett home. The Comanche killed Mr. Stanaland and wounded his wife and children. Amanda Howard knew the rest of the townspeople were in desperate trouble. She knew she must act, and fast. She ran back to her horse and started to ride for the road leading south toward the rest of the homes. In order to do this, though, she had to ride straight toward the Comanche warriors, outrun them, and turn quickly onto the road. Her bravery was unexpected. She managed to surprise the Comanche with her wild ride facing them, and change direction before they realized her plan. She then turned east toward the nearest settlement. The Comanche, realizing she would succeed in alerting the rest of the townspeople, turned to ride out of the valley.
Amanda Howard alerted as many townspeople as she could on her heroic ride and the terrified parents who still did not know the fate of their children grabbed their guns and raced toward the schoolhouse. Abe Hendrix, a Mr. Pierson, the two brothers of Amanda Howard and seven more men formed a search party for John Kuykendall. They used dogs they had trained specifically for tracking Comanche horses. They tracked the horses for 100 miles far into the mountains, but the Comanche warriors had divided up into many smaller groups and the dogs lost their trail. Young John Kuykendall later said that he was close enough to see the rescue party, but could not shout out for help in fear of being killed by his captors. Six months later, he was recovered and returned to his family.
There is a marker on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn commemorating the sacrifices of Miss Ann Whitney. It says, "In Memory of Ann Whitney, born in Massachusetts around 1835, murdered by Comanche Indians on July 9, 1867 while protecting her students."
The Official State Historical marker at her gravesite reads: "Ann Whitney, 1835-1867, described as a stout lady with an engaging personality, Elizabeth Ann Whitney confirmed that she could be strong, brave and resourceful on one fateful July day in 1867. Ann was a teacher at a nearby frontier school. Suddenly, during the course of a typical school day, a party of Comanche Indians attacked. Reportedly pierced by 18 arrows during the ordeal, Ann Whitney nevertheless helped all but one young boy escape."
Her tombstone reads: "In Memory of Ann Whitney, frontier school teacher born in Massachusetts about 1835, killed by the Comanche Indians July 9, 1867. Erected by the school children of Hamilton County, Texas."