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Conoly recognized by Sons of Republic of Texas

By Sandy Jennings BCC Staff Writer

What started out as a fun conversation with his sister concerning historically which family member came to Texas first, ended in Clay Conoly of Dixie Dude Ranch receiving a commemorative plaque and membership into The Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT) on November 23, 2016.
“We’re kind of big history buffs and I was having a conversation with my sister Bitsy about which one of our four grandparents came to Texas first,” Conoly said. “I took it from there and started doing the research, compiling what we already had and researched the rest on the internet. It was a lot of fun.”
After six months, Conoly’s research led him to an abundance of information on seven generations of family on his mother’s side. For qualification requirements, Conoly named James M. Smith as his fourth great-grandfather and historical Texan figure.
The plaque reads, “This certifies that Clay Crowell Conoly is a member in good standing of The Sons of the Republic of Texas and is entitled to all rights and privileges appertaining thereto, by lineal descent from James M. Smith.”
Smith (1798-1873) was a veteran of the battle of San Jacinto, a fact that was not lost on Conoly. Smith, a farmer and stockraiser by occupation, married and had nine children. Originally from North Carolina, Smith emigrated to Texas in December of 1835 and settled in Montgomery County.
In 1836, Smith enlisted in the Texas Army and was promoted to sergeant. He received Donation Warrant #492 on August 3, 1838, for having participated in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, and was issued Letter Patent #347 dated January 19, 1852, from Texas Gov. Peter Bell for 640 acres of land located in Robertson District, Leon County. On March 16, 1838, Smith received his first class headright certificates for a league and a labor of land by the Montgomery County land commissioners.
Although he used Smith’s lineal descent for purposes of the SRT, Conoly found it was actually his fourth great grandfather Sharp Whitley who came to Texas first in January of 1835.
“Sharp Whitley was the first in my family to come to Texas, which was the goal I was trying to accomplish,” Conoly said. “I named my son, Sharp Conoly, after him.”
Even though his research did not show Whitley’s involvement in the military, Conoly believes he must have served in some capacity since Whitley is buried in the same cemetery as Sam Houston.
Whitley married Mary Alice Brown and they gave birth to William Wallace Whitley.
According to Dixie Dude, William Wallace Whitley and his wife, Zoe Dixon Whitley, bought 1440 acres of raw ranch land in the Middle Verde Valley in Bandera County, just nine miles west of the small town of Bandera and raised horses and Angora goats. The Whitley's had eight children, one of them being Rose “Billie” Crowell, more affectionately known in Bandera as “Mamaw.”
During the wake of the Depression, Whitley's daughter and son-in-law, Billie and Dee Crowell, approached Whitley with the idea of starting a dude ranch business. He agreed to give it a try, so the Crowell's left their careers in California, where Billie was an actress and Dee was a stunt man and traveled with their daughter, Darlene (Conoly’s mother), back to Texas. The name Dixie Dude Ranch refers to their trek from California to “Dixieland.”
Conoly, Billie “Mamaw” Crowell’s grandson, came to the ranch in 1988, helping his grandmother and eventually taking over the historical ranch.
Although he’ has nicely compiled pieces to his past creating a definite timeline of historical facts, there’s still questions Conoly would love to ask his ancestors.
“Why would anyone come to Texas before it was settled? It was untamed and still part of Mexico” Conoly said. “Here all these people that were here were under the rule of Mexico and having trouble as a result. These guys all came right before the Revolution.”
A fact that surprised and delighted Conoly was that Sharp’s nephew, Jonathan Lindley, fought and died at the Alamo. Lindley joined William R. Carey’s artillery company and helped garrison the Alamo. On March 6, 1836, Lindley was killed in the battle of the Alamo. With this new information, Conoly visited the Alamo, finding Lindley’s name on the historical registry.
Passionate about his history, Conoly compiled his findings and research given to him by extended family into a binder titled “7th Genercion de Tejas” with his name at the bottom. It is the historical journey of his family that he will continue to add to and pass on to future generations.
“The real fascination, is before I started this research, I didn’t really have anything beyond my great grandfather, Conoly said. “Everything prior to that was just bits and pieces.”
Although the Whitley side of his family had passed on prior research, Conoly had nothing about his father’s side of the family.
“I think every generation should do something to preserve their family’s history,” Conoly said.
Conoly encourages others to research their lineage too, noting that there are several sites, such as Ancestry,com and, as well as several historical sites like the Republic of Texas tax rolls or census and lists of battles and who fought in them that he could cross reference.
“I’m sure there are others in Bandera that also qualify to be a member of the Sons or Daughters of Republic of Texas,” Conoly said.
It was after his extensive research that Conoly realized he had enough information to qualify under the SRT requirements, really just icing on the cake for the siblings that sought out their first Texan grandparent.
“I found out their mission statement was identical to why I was doing the research in the first place and that was to basically keep the memory and spirit alive of all those that came before us,” Conoly said.
During his research, among the pages of history, Conoly made some self-discoveries.
“I felt a greater appreciation and gratitude for where I live now,” Conoly said. “It gives you a greater sense of self knowing where you and your family came from.”