Clay Allison, gunfighter,
the fourth of nine children of John and Nancy (Lemmond) Allison, was born
on a farm near Waynesboro, Tennessee, on September 2, 1840. His father,
a Presbyterian minister who was also engaged in the cattle and sheep business,
died when Clay was five. When the Civil War broke out, Allison joined
the Confederate Army. In January 1862 he was discharged for emotional
instability resulting from a head injury as a child, but in September
he reenlisted and finished the war as a scout for Gen. Nathan Bedford
Forrest. He was a prisoner of war from May 4 to 10, 1865, in Alabama.
After the war Allison moved to the Brazos River country in Texas. At a
Red River crossing near Denison he severely pummeled ferryman Zachary
Colbert in a fist fight. This incident reportedly started a feud between
Allison and the Colbert family that led to the killing of the ferryman's
desperado nephew, "Chunk" Colbert, by Allison in New Mexico
on January 7, 1874.
Allison soon signed on as a cowhand with Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnightq
and was probably among the eighteen herders on the 1866 drive that blazed
the Goodnight-Loving Trail. In 1867-69 Allison rode for M. L. Dalton and
was trail boss for a partnership between his brother-in-law L. G. Coleman
and Irvin W. Lacy. During this time he befriended the John H. Matthews
family in Raton and accidentally shot himself in the right foot while
he and some companions stampeded a herd of army mules as a prank. In 1870
Coleman and Lacy moved to a spread in Colfax County, New Mexico. Allison
drove their herd to the new ranch for a payment of 300 cattle, with which
he started his own ranch near Cimarron. Eventually he built it into a
He is alleged to have had a knife duel with a man named Johnson in a freshly
dug grave in 1870. On October 7 of that year he led a mob that broke into
the jail in Elizabethtown, near Cimarron, and lynched an accused murderer
named Charles Kennedy. Allison was a heavy drinker and became involved
in several brawls and shooting sprees. On October 30, 1875, he led a mob
that seized and lynched Cruz Vega, who was suspected of murdering a Methodist
circuit rider. Two days later Allison killed gunman Pancho Griego, a friend
of Vega, in a confrontation at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. In January
1876 a drunken Allison wrecked the office of the Cimarron News & Press
because of a scathing editorial. He allegedly later returned to the newspaper
office and paid $200 for damages. In December of that year Clay and his
brother John were involved in a dance-hall gunfight at Las Animas, Colorado,
in which a deputy sheriff was killed. For this Allison was arrested and
charged with manslaughter, but the charges were later dismissed on grounds
of self-defense. Allison was arrested as an accessory to the murder of
three black soldiers the following spring, but evidence was sketchy and
he was soon acquitted. In 1878 he sold his New Mexico ranch and established
himself in Hays City, Kansas, as a cattle broker.
In September 1878 Allison and his men supposedly terrorized Dodge City
and made Bartholomew (Bat) Masterson and other lawmen flee in fear. Later,
Wyatt Earp was said to have pressured Allison into leaving. Though Dodge
City peace officers may have questioned him about the shooting of a cowboy
named George Hoy, there is no evidence of any serious altercation.
By 1880 Clay and John Allison had settled on Gageby Creek, near its junction
with the Washita River, in Hemphill County, Texas, next door to their
in-laws, the L. G. Colemans. Clay registered an ACE brand for his cattle.
On March 28, 1881, he married Dora McCullough. The couple had two daughters.
Though Allison served as a juror in Mobeetie, and though age and marriage
had slowed him down some, his reputation as the "Wolf of the Washita"
was kept alive by reports of his unusual antics. Once he was said to have
ridden nude through the streets of Mobeetie. In the summer of 1886 a dentist
from Cheyenne, Wyoming, drilled the wrong one of Allison's teeth, and
Allison got even by pulling out one of the dentist's teeth.
In December 1886 he bought a ranch near Pecos and became involved in area
politics. On July 3, 1887, while hauling supplies to his ranch from Pecos
he was thrown from his heavily loaded wagon and fatally injured when run
over by its rear wheel. He was buried in the Pecos Cemetery the next day.
On August 28, 1975, in a special ceremony, his remains were reinterred
in Pecos Park, just west of the Pecos Museum.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carl W. Bretham,
Great Gunfighters of the West (San Antonio: Naylor, 1962). Norman Cleveland,
Colfax County's Chronic Murder Mystery (Santa Fe: Rydal, 1977). J. Frank
Dobie, "Clay Allison of the Washita," Frontier Times, February
1943. Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison: Portrait of a Shootist (Seagraves,
Texas: Pioneer, 1983). Richard C. Sandoval, "Clay Allison's Cimarron,"
New Mexico Magazine, March-April 1974. F. Stanley [Stanley F. L. Crocchiola],
Clay Allison (Denver: World, 1953).
C. L. Sonnichsen