Eltea Armstrong, Hamilton County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1972, GLO Map #73168, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Hamilton County, 1972

Underwritten by the Texas Historical Foundation

This post was underwritten by a generous contribution from the Texas Historical Foundation.

Women’s History Month is celebrated annually in March to recognize and commemorate the achievements and contributions of women to history, culture, science, and all aspects of our society. At the General Land Office, we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the remarkable career and lasting contributions to Texas history of one of our most accomplished employees: Eltea Armstrong. Armstrong’s work over her thirty-seven years of service at the GLO remains a vital part of our map collection, and several of her maps will soon be featured at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Eltea Armstrong, Hamilton County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1972, GLO Map #73168, General Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In 1856, so many settlers had moved to the area of Texas now known as Hamilton County (approximately 114 miles north of Austin) that they petitioned the legislature for a county to be created. Approved the same year, the new county was formed from lands previously in Comanche, Bosque, and Lampasas counties and named for South Carolina Governor James Hamilton (1786–1857) in recognition of his investment of over $200,000 in gold to help finance Texas’s independence from Mexico.[1]

Armstrong indicated the county seat of Hamilton with red block lettering and a gold painted star.

A frontier area with about 500 residents in the mid-nineteenth century, the white settlers of Hamilton County often had confrontations with the local Native American population. An incident at the community’s summer schoolhouse along the Leon River is memorialized by Armstrong on this official county map. In the ornately calligraphed title block, a hallmark of much of Armstrong’s work, and around the neatline of the map, is the story of two pioneer women, Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard.

Detail of the delicate calligraphy lettering labeling the adjacent counties and the cardinal points (N, S, E, W). The floral motif is filled in with gold paint.

Elizabeth (Ann) Whitney was a 32-year old schoolteacher, who, in July 1867, held off a Comanche attack on the schoolhouse where she taught. According to survivors, Whitney was able to get all but three of the students out of the back window of the one-room building before the attackers reached it. Children ran into the nearby overgrowth by the river or hid in the crawlspace underneath the school. Because it was a summer schoolhouse there were large spaces between the unhewn logs for ventilation. The attackers were able to fire their arrows into the school house injuring one child and mortally wounding Whitney.

Nearby, 17-year-old Amanda Howard was breaking a horse when the attack on the schoolhouse began. Seeing the commotion, she and her sister-in-law Sarah Howard, who was accompanying her on her ride, were determined to warn others in the area and get help. Sarah was thrown from her horse jumping a fence, but was not injured. Howard rode through the attacking Comanche, outrunning them to successfully alert the neighboring families. Armed men from the town of Hamilton were able to chase the marauders from the settlement — reportedly for 100 miles. [2]

Detail of the schoolhouse surrounded by the attacking Comanche. If you look closely you can see Ann Whitney inside with arrows in her back, children running into the trees, a girl escaping out the window, and children hiding under the building.

Armstrong represents these two events in her signature pointillist style by drawing the schoolhouse, surrounded by Comanche warriors. Ann Whitney is shown inside the school house pierced with arrows as children scramble to safety into the woods and under the building. A group of Comanches peels away from the attacking party and heads towards Amanda Howard who is shown on her horse, riding crop in hand, galloping towards the approaching band of riders and up a trail to town.

[left] Amanda Howard, whip in hand galloping towards the raiders on her way to sound the warning of the attack. [right] Comanche riders breaking away to chase Amanda Howard.

For her sacrifice in saving all of the children in her schoolroom, Ann Whitney was labeled a hero.[3] In Hamilton County, there is an elementary school named for her and a memorial in her honor at the Hamilton County Courthouse.[4] There is also a Texas Historical Commission marker at her grave as well as the original stone marker in the Graves-Gentry cemetery of Hamilton.[5]

[left] Ann Whitney’s grave marker. It reads, “In Memory of Ann Whitney — 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 schoolchildren of Hamilton County.”[6] [center] Texas Historical Commission marker at Ann Whitney’s grave. [7] [right] Ann Whitney’s Memorial at the Hamilton County Courthouse.[8]

[1] Handbook of Texas Online, John Leffler, “Hamilton County,” accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hch03.

[2] For more on the schoolhouse raid and Amanda Howard’s ride to warn nearby residents see: Wilbarger, J. W., Indian Depredations in Texas…, (Austin, Texas: Hutchings Printing Press, 1889) and “Comanche Raid in Hamilton County, Texas….,”Wild West History, http://wildwesthistory.blogspot.com/2012/03/comanche-raid-in-hamilton-county-texas.html.

[3] One boy, John Kuykendall, was taken in the raid but was later traded back, so all of Whitney’s pupils survived the attack.

[4] http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMH2KX_Ann_Whitney_Hamilton_TX

[5] http://www.texasescapes.com/TexasPersonalities/Ann-Whitney.html

[6] http://www.texasescapes.com/TexasPersonalities/Ann-Whitney.htm

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMH2KX_Ann_Whitney_Hamilton_TX