HENRY SCHLEY ERVAY, the subject of this sketch, was born in Elmira, New York. His father was Mr. Jacob Ervay, a native of Virginia, and his mother was Miss Sophia Schley, of Maryland, her father being Henry Schley of the same family of which Admiral Schley of Spanish-American war fame is a scion.
Mr. Ervay’s boyhood was spent in Pennsylvania. When he finished school he joined an engineering corps which went as far west as British Columbia, surveying and exploring. Later he returned to Minnesota, where he engaged in the real-estate business in Red Wing.
In the spring of 1858 he started south. The first stages of his journey were made on the ice of the Mississippi river in a sleigh drawn by Canadian ponies. The remainder of the trip was by carriage and coach. When he arrived in Texas he saw men in the fields harvesting wheat, so great had been the climatic change from Minnesota, and so long a time was necessary for the journey at that period.
Mr. Ervay’s earliest association in Texas was with the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, which was at that time operating between Saint Louis and San Francisco in competition with the steamship mails. When on trips of inspection for this company he saw much of the wild frontier life which is now but romance and legend. It was not a rare occurrence for the stage to roll into the relay stations but to find the people killed and horses driven away by the hostile Indians. In fact the government was obliged to furnish troops to protect the line for almost the entire distance.
Finding this life a bit strenuous and the novelty having worn off, Mr. Ervay, at the end of a year, went to Dallas, thus becoming one of the pioneers of a young city. However, before establishing himself there he joined General William Walker, who was forming a company for what has become the historic Walker expedition to assist him in his efforts to be reinstated governor of Nicaragua, from which position he had been deposed through one of the revolutions of that period. Mr. Ervay joined this company at New Orleans in the spring of 1859. The men were dispatched in small parties and rendezvoused on an island in the Carribbean Sea [sic] until General Walker had what he thought was a sufficient number to accomplish his purpose. About two hundred succeeded in effecting a landing at Fort Truxillo, Honduras, and just before daybreak divided into squads, one of which Mr. Ervay commanded. They made a dash for the fort, routed four hundred men, and for one month held the fort unmolested, the natives meanwhile not daring to attack them. In July a large sail was discovered on the gulf; it proved to be a British sloop, whose commander, Captain Simons, sent a lieutenant ashore to demand Walker’s surrender. The latter asked until six o’clock the next morning to decide on an answer. As soon as darkness fell the men were ordered to pack their things and started for Mosquito coast. The journey was fraught with great danger, being undertaken in a country filled with natives animated by a savage and murderous hatred of the men belonging to Walker’s command. After marching all that night and the next day they reached the Black river, crossed it in canoes just as night came on and camped, with sentinels stationed to warn them if the enemy approached. Early in the morning a large number of natives rushed out upon them from the bushes, but were repulsed by Walker’s men and fell back. While making this charge Mr. Ervay was wounded nine times and had to be placed on a pack pony and carried on with his companions. This encounter and caring for the wounded had taken the entire day and by the time they were again moving night had fallen. Through the darkness they advanced along narrow, ill-defined trails, torn by the thick underbrush and stifled by the heat, until midnight, when the impenetrable darkness forced them to halt. Mr. Ervay’s wounds were by this time in such bad condition that he could not be removed from the pony, so the halt proved of little comfort for him. With the dawn they were again on the move and on reaching a village were attacked by the natives from ambush, but these were routed in a half hour. They then entered and at once proceeded to construct a transport to carry the wounded to Roman river. The following morning the British man of war again appeared. The same lieutenant, who had before demanded surrender, came ashore to repeat the demand, made in the name of Her Majesty, the queen of England. Walker replied that he would surrender to Her Majesty, the queen of England, but not to Honduras. This answer satisfied Captain Simons and he took all of the Walker party on board his ship, caring for the sick and wounded of their number. England had some financial claim upon Honduras which was their excuse for interfering.
When the physicians examined Mr. Ervay’s wound they were found so serious that amputation was declared necessary, but to this he so strenuously objected that the amputation of the limbs was not performed. The sloop sailed back to Fort Truxillo, where, in spit of all promises to the contrary, Captain Simons turned over General Walker and all his men to the Honduras, who put them in prison and there they remained for twelve days–days of suffering and agony to Mr. Ervay. He lay upon mats on the floor, w here by fanning and keeping cold water upon his wounded limbs he managed to keep alive. Finally the soldiers were notified that the natives intended to shoot General Walker and this was soon carried into execution. Three days later Captain Hinkley came with a British came with a British man of war, took all the men on board and sailed for New Orleans. On reaching that city three days were spent in quarantine, after which the wounded were taken to a hospital and there Mr. Ervay passed the entire winter. He paid dearly in suffering and constant exposure to danger and death in a savagely hostile country and in a poisonous climate, for gratifying his spirit of adventure.
In the spring Mr. Ervay, being enabled by that time to walk on crutches, went to Galveston, Texas, but for two months lay ill with fever in that city. On recovering sufficiently he made his way on horseback to Dallas.
In 1862 he married and in the fall of 1863 he enlisted in the Confederate service and was made assistant quartermaster. His wounds which he had sustained in the Honduras expedition had prevented him for shouldering a musket.
At the close of the war he embarked in the live stock and real-estate business. He was also active and influential in community affairs, serving as mayor for two terms. About that time Governor Davis, who had been continued in his office by General Reynolds, in charge of the military forces of the state, concluded that Mayor Ervay was not sufficiently loyal and issued an order removing him and appointing another in his place, but the civil government having been reorganized and Dallas having received a new charter from it, Mr. Ervay acting both under legal advice and a sense of duty to the people, refused to yield. District Judge Hardin Hart issued a mandate commanding him to surrender the office, but Mr. Ervay positively refused to do so. Thereupon he was committed to and locked up in jail. It so happened that just at this crisis a decision arrived in Dallas, made by the supreme court of the Governor Davis regime, in a precisely similar case, ruling that the governor did not possess the power of removal, whereupon Judge Hart hastened to unlock the prison door and Mr. Ervay stepped out a free man to resume his duties as mayor and enjoy the increased respect of the people. His conduct through this trying affair deserved and received the warmest approval of his fellow citizens, who further showed their appreciation of his manhood and official capability by continuing him in the offices of mayor and alderman for about ten years. During his service the street bearing his name was opened and is now a prominent street of Dallas.
A little later he, in company with his brother, F. M. Ervay, entered the wholesale implement trade, in which they were pioneers in Dallas, being the first to ship in carload lots, and they paved the way for the present pre-eminence of Dallas in that industry, theirs being the larges implement and vehicle distributing point in the southwest. Since 1888 Mr. Ervay has not been directly interested in business in Dallas, although he still retains important real-estate holdings there.
At this time Mr. Ervay took up mining as his chief interest. He was one of the pioneer mine owners of Cripple Creek, making his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he had previously made heavy real-estate investments. Mr. Ervay was president of several mining companies in Cripple Creek and was actively interested in the growth and development of the camp for many years. He still retains large interests there.
In January, 1903, Mr. Ervay with his family removed to El Paso where he has since made his home, coming here partly for the purpose of finding a milder climate than that of Colorado, and party for the purpose of enabling him to supervise more closely his mining interests in Sonora, Mexico, which he has acquired in later years.
Mrs. Ervay bore the maiden name of Louise Hickman and is a representative of the Lewis and Hickman families of Virginia and Kentucky. Her grandfather, Captain James Lewis Hickman, was born in Culpeper county, Virginia, and during the Revolutionary war commanded a company under General Washington.
Mr. and Mrs. Ervay have two children, Mrs. Maude Ervay Fagin and Henry Schley Ervay, Jr. The latter was graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, at Lexington, Virginia, in the class of 1899.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 497-499.