Henry A. Whaley, the first permanent settler in Clay County, was born near Washington in Rhea County, Tennessee, on August 24, 1826. He received little formal education. During the Mexican War he enlisted in the United States Army at Washington, Tennessee, and served in Company H of the First Regiment of the Tennessee Mounted Infantry, commanded by Capt. James W. Gillespie. Whaley saw no combat in the war with Mexico but did serve with the occupation forces at Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, after the capture of the city by the army of Gen. Zachary Taylor. By the time of his honorable discharge, Whaley had attained the rank of sergeant. He returned to Tennessee and became engaged in farming and ranching. On November 29, 1849, he was married to Annanellie Melhellen at Strawberry Plains in Rhea County, Tennessee; the couple had one son. Whaley and his wife did not live together after 1860, though a divorce was apparently never obtained. Whaley moved to Texas in 1860 and settled near Gainesville in Cooke County; there he farmed and ranched. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the frontier defense regiment commanded by Col. James G. Bourland. Serving in Company B of the regiment, Whaley saw combat in several campaigns against the Indians. By the end of the Civil War he held the rank of second lieutenant in the army of the Confederate States of America. In 1869 Whaley settled in northern Clay County, about four miles southeast of the mouth of the Big Wichita River. At that time he was the only White settler in Clay County. Whaley constructed a stockade and hired about a dozen employees to farm, care for livestock, and provide protection against the numerous Indians who frequented the area. He was soon selling several thousand bushels of oats annually. His principal buyer was the United States Army. Although he worked hard on his land for nearly thirty years and made huge amounts of money, he was alone and a virtual pauper during the last years of his life. He lost most of his land because of his weakness for alcoholic beverages. By the end of his life Whaley was subsisting on a pension of eight dollars a month granted on the basis of his service in the Mexican War. He died on December 26, 1898, and was buried in the Benvanue Cemetery, three miles east of Byers in Clay County.
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William Charles Taylor, "Henry A. Whaley: First Permanent Settler of Clay County, Texas," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 45 (1969). William Charles Taylor, A History of Clay County (Austin: Jenkins, 1972).
Founders and Pioneers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
William C. Taylor,
“Whaley, Henry A.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 05, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
October 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
March 31, 2021