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2017-04-06

Grandma Emily Smith Whitley

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. BCHC Research Historian ©2017

This is just another story of the pioneer women that lived and settled in this part of the country when it was just country. Another story of women who helped build this country, such as those tough women who helped dig the old mill, race in Bandera or those with such grit as Sarah Kinchaloe. Mrs. Kinchaloe stood at the door of their cabin trying desperately to fire a rifle that failed, but stood she did. There she took an arrow and as many a ten lance thrusts to protect her friends and family before she collapsed. Still she survived to tell her story. A.J. Sowell in his book "Early Settlers and Texas Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas" tells her story in the chapter that bears her name, "Mrs. Sarah J. Kinchaloe" (pages 90-96). What a lady!
When the men were working, when they were gone, sick or for whatever reason, pioneer women were left to make things work. I hope I don't bore you, but I must tell a story about Emily A. (Smith) Whitley. She was born in Alabama (according to her son's notes) on February 24, 1829. She arrived in Texas in 1834 with her parents, William Berry Smith and Mary Ann Ashmore (according to Texas Archives and LOS/Salt Lake City, etc.). She married Elisha Franklin Whitley, Sr. in Walker County, Texas on May 17, 1847 in the home of Thomas Carothers, Justice of the Peace. She lived in at least these counties after she was married: Washington, DeWitt, Gonzales, Karnes, Kerr, Medina, Uvalde and Bandera, (now Real). After her first husband and Henry McCray were killed by Indians or men dressed as Indians on January 12, 1873, she married Edward Crutchfield in Uvalde County on September 15, 1875.
Left with a family to feed, she made do the best she could. She had one daughter and many sons. Some of the boys had gone on their own and were married, but some were still around the homestead to help out. Elisha Franklin Whitley, Jr. married sometime in January of 1875 in Castroville, Texas, to Mary McCray, daughter of Henry McCray. Sarah "Sally" Whitley, the only daughter, was married on June 24, 1874, with written permission from her mother, to John Wesley "Nat" Skinner in what is now Devine, Medina County, Texas.
Here I wish to tell of one of her many encounters with the Indians. Sometime during her married life with Elisha F. Whitley, Sr. (the exact location is not known), she made a stand on her own to protect her family. These Whitley's, like a lot of seasoned pioneers, became accustomed to the ploys and tricks of the Indians. The Indians would make sounds of turkey gobbles and sounds of hogs rooting around to draw them out of the cabin and safety. They even used the milk cow's bell to attempt to draw them out, so I was told many a time. The Whitley's would chain their horse or horses to the cabin to prevent the Indians from stealing them and as they believed, from burning the cabin down. The Whitley 's had fine horses and brought them with them from Illinois, which the history books of Illinois will attest to.
Of course, grandpa Whitley was gone, and of course the Indians decided to raid the country, and of course grandma Whitley was left alone with the kids. Knowing by either the way the dogs or the way the cattle and horses were acting tipped her off that the Indians were around the cabin. Most likely she recognized the imitation sounds made by the Indians used to draw them out. Having no other adult with her she decided to make them believe the cabin had some men in it. I was told that the window in the cabin was open (hinged from the top and propped open with a stick).
This smart women, who wore her hair short like a man, put on a hat and walked in front of the window, so the Indians could see her. Then she crawled under the window to the other side and put on a coat and another hat and walked in front of the window again, hoping to make the
Indians think she was another man. She did this again carrying a rifle and so on. This evidently worked, cause they did not attack the cabin during the day, but come night time, they got a lot braver.
Of course this was the Indians favorite time to raid. It was around the full moon period, but this habit of the Indians was well known by the wiser more experienced settlers too. Expecting trouble that night, grandma kept her flock close to her side. Her children were also well versed on the evils of the Indians and did not want to lose their hair or become a captive. Grandma could her the Indians messing around the cabin, testing their bravery. After a while, losing fear of there being men in the cabin, one of the Indians starting chopping a hole in the door. Everyone in the cabin did their best to keep their composure. As soon as the Indian chopped the hole big enough, he stuck his head in to take a look see. When he did this, he came face to face with grandma Emily. She was holding a wood axe and with all her might, struck him in the head, splitting his skull. The Indian fell back out of the chopped hole. She could hear the commotion of the Indian being drug off into the dark. She did have a gun, but was saving the loads for a last stand. Why the Indians didn't torch the cabin is anyone's guess.
The next morning there was no sign of the Indians' presence. More stories, though not so scary, were told to me by my grandfather, but those I will save for another time. I tip my hat and give a mighty praise to all the pioneer women of this country. Especially to the Texas pioneer woman and to my Grandma Emily Whitley!