By Judy Wade
East of Byers in northern Clay County, a thriving community once sat at the intersection of FM 171 and Old Fort Sill Road. Today, a modern brick home on one corner, fields and pasture on the others give no indication of the rich history Benvanue brought to the region.
Henry Whaley was the first to settle in the area. In fact, he was the first permanent white settler in Clay County. Born in Tennessee, he enlisted in the army at the onset of the Mexican War. He returned to his home and began farming and ranching, married and had one son. In 1860 he began moving his family west.
His wife died along the way, and he settled in Cooke county, again farming and ranching until again enlisting in a frontier defense regiment, seeing combat in several campaigns against the Indians.
In 1869 Whaley settled in north Clay County, constructed a stockade and hired about a dozen employees to farm, care for livestock and provide protection against Indians.
He was soon selling several thousand bushels of oats annually, principally to the U.S. Army who used Fort Sill Road to transport supplies between Fort Sill in Indian Territory and Fort Richardson in Jacksboro and Fort Belknap near Newcastle, both in Texas.
Indian raids continued. In 1873 one of Whaley’s employees was killed, and one Indian was killed. In 1874, another raid resulted in all of Whaley’s horses being stolen and driven into the Wichita Mountains. Among the horses was a mule, which returned to the ranch four months later.
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