In 1870 Coleman and Lacy moved to a spread in Colfax County, New Mexico. The
Allison brothers accompanied them and, as payment for their work driving the herd, they received three hundred head of cattle. Clay took his share and homesteaded a ranch at the junction of the Vermejo and Canadian rivers, nine miles north of today's Springer. The two rivers ensured ample water and Allison built his ranch into a profitable business.
The Allison brothers quickly entered the "social scene in Cimarron and Elizabethtown and within only a few weeks the
cowboys and ranchers were calling
Clay a friend. But law had not yet come to these early settlements and the
cowboys' Saturday night visits to town would find them drinking hard, pulling out their six-shooters, and riding up and down the streets yelling and shooting. They made their rounds to the local saloons and gambling halls where they shot out lamps, lanterns, mirrors, glasses and were said to have particularly enjoyed making newcomers "dance" as shots were fired at their feet.
In the fall of 1870, Clay Allison showed the citizens of Elizabethtown how mean and violent his temper was. Charles Kennedy, who was suspected of killing and robbing overnight guests in his isolated cabin on Palo Fletchado Pass, was being held at the Elizabethtown jail.
Clay, along with several others, broke into the jail, threw a rope around his
neck and dragged him by a horse up and down Main Street until long after he was
dead. Allison then decapitated Kennedy, carrying his head in a sack twenty-nine miles to Cimarron and demanded that it be staked on a fence at the front of Lambert's Inn (later the St. James Hotel.)
On April 30, 1871,
Allison and two others were said to have stolen 12 government mules belonging to the Fort Union Commander, General Gordon Granger. In the fall, he tried the same stunt again, but when military men came running to the corral,
Allison accidentally shot himself in the foot during the confusion. The would-be rustlers escaped to a hideout along the Red River, where
Allison sent his friend
Davy Crockett (a nephew of the American frontiersman) to fetch Dr. Longwell from
Clay was treated, he spent the rest of his life with a permanent limp.
After recuperating, Clay was on a drinking spree in a local saloon, when suddenly he took a dislike to a man named Wilson. Wilson had the good sense to quickly depart, but left
in a foul mood. Clay then happened into the County Clerk's office where he took offence to something that John Lee, the county clerk said and slung a knife at him, stapling his sleeve to the timber of a door. Lee broke free and ran across the street to Dr. Longwell's office.
Clay repeated his knife act with a young lawyer, Melvin W. Mills, who also fled to the doctor's office. Mills described what had happened to the doctor and took up his gun, stating that he would have to kill
Allison in self-defense. While the doctor was trying to persuade the lawyer away from such a dangerous act, he noticed that
Allison was riding toward the office, at which time the clerk and lawyer promptly fled out of the back door. The doctor stepped out of his office to meet
Allison, telling Clay that he had been acting badly. The rancher only laughed, stating that he had nothing against Mills or Lee but wanted Wilson's ear, then rode off in a vain search for Wilson. Mills would carry a grudge against
Allison for years, which was later evidenced in the Colfax County War.
Having no fear when it came to other men, Clay was always shy and uncertain when it came to women. But that changed when he met a considerably younger Dora McCullough. When
Clay and his brother, John, met Dora and her younger sister, both were smitten. The girls, who were born and raised in Sedalia, Missouri were orphaned during the Civil War and lived with their guardians, Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Young on what is now known as the Vermejo
Mrs. Young liked John, but Clay's reputation had preceded him and she looked upon him with disapproval. Not to be deterred, the two couples eloped in 1873 and upon their return begged the forgiveness and their blessing of the
Young's. Over time, the Young's forgave Allison when they observed that
Clay never went looking for trouble, but didn't shirk it when it came his way.
After his marriage, Allison met the only man who was able to out-draw him, Mace Bowman. Meeting in Lambert's Inn one evening, talk turned to Hickok's fast draw and
Allison stated that he thought he was even faster. Bowman begged to differ and wagered a gallon of whisky that he could outdraw
Allison. In the center of the room, they paced off the distance to the wall and turned. Before
Allison was able to get his gun out of the holster, Maces's six-shooter was pointed at his chest. Allison was amazed and paid Bowman the gallon he owed him. The two took the whiskey to the country where Bowman taught
Allison his lightening rapid trick.
On January 7, 1874,
Clay killed gunman Chunk Colbert,
a known gunslinger. Colbert came to the area looking for a fight with Allison. Some say that Colbert fancied that he could outdraw and outshoot anyone, including
Allison. Others say that he wanted revenge for his uncle, Zachary Colbert, the ferryman that
Allison had pummeled at the Brazos River 9 years earlier. Reportedly, Colbert had already killed 6 men in Texas and bragged that
Allison would be his seventh. Not giving away his motives, Colbert found
Allison and the two spent most of the day together drinking and gambling on horse races.
That night Colbert invited
Allison to dinner at the Clifton House and Allison accepted. Guessing that there might be trouble,
Clay was very cautious but, the talk was friendly as they enjoyed a large meal spread out before them. When they were seated it Colbert laid his gun in his lap and
Allison laid his gun on the table. After the meal was finished Colbert suddenly reached for his gun under the table and leveled it towards
Allison. The perceptive Allison followed suit and when Colbert's gun nicked the table, the shot was deflected and
Allison shot him in the head. Later Allison was asked why He had accepted to have a meal with him and answered, "Because I didn't want to send a man to hell on an empty stomach." Colbert was buried in an unmarked grave behind the Clifton House.
Charles Cooper, a friend of the late Mr. Colbert, witnessed the shooting. Less than two weeks after Colbert's death, Cooper was seen riding with
Allison on January 19, 1874. He was never seen again. People started talking, thinking that
Allison had killed him, but others thought that Clay simply intimidated the man into leaving. No evidence was ever found to prove the suspicions that
Clay had killed the man, but this event would come back to haunt him during the Colfax War.
few years Clay's
reputation expanded at the same pace as the booming town of
Cimarron. The new owners of the
Maxwell Land Grant were aggressively exploiting the resources of the grant
and were busy with their attempts at evicting the squatters, settlers, farmers
and small ranchers living on the land.
The power behind the grant was a
group of politicians and financers called the "Santa Fe Ring." Melvin W. Mills, the lawyer that
Allison had thrown a knife at several years before, and Dr. Longwell, who had treated
Clay's bullet wound, jumped on the bandwagon and joined the political forces behind the "Ring." In a bitter 1875 election, Dr. Longwell was made probate judge, while attorney Mills was made a state Legislator.
As the burgeoning Cimarron settlement was trying to adjust itself to the influx of prospectors, gamblers, and politics, it found itself in the midst of great conflict between the land grant company and the settlers of the area. Sheriffs served eviction notices and retaliation began. Grant pastures were set on fire, cattle rustling increased and officials were threatened at gun point. Grant gang members made nighttime raids of area homes and ranches with threats of violence. The mightily opposed residents formed their own organization which they called the Colfax County Ring, which some said was lead by
During this time when Cimarron was in the need of salvation, Parson Franklin J. Toby enlisted with the Methodist Circuit Riders, delivering his sermons in Cimarron, Elizabethtown, Ute Park, Ponil and Sugarite. Having always had a respect for men of the cloth,
was one of the first to welcome the minister. Tolby loved Cimarron, planning on making it his home, and quickly sided with the settlers in their opposition against the land grant men. He was very open about his opposition, saying that he would do everything that he could to stop the land grant owners. On September 14, 1875 the 33 year-old minister was found shot in the back in Cimarron Canyon, midway between Elizabethtown and Cimarron, near Clear Creek.
Rumors began to circulate that the new Cimarron Constable, Cruz Vega was involved in the murder of the Methodist circuit rider. Tolby's fellow minister and friend, Reverend Oscar Patrick McMains, took up the fight against the "grant men" after Tolby's
Despite a $3,000 reward for the murderer, no progress was being made on finding Tolby's killer and McMains was becoming impatient. The pastor turned to Allison for help, who was more than ready to play judge on horseback.
On the evening of October 30, 1875 a masked mob, who was said to have been lead by
Clay Allison and the Minister McMains, confronted Vega. The constable denied having anything to do with the murder, blaming it on a man by the name Manuel Cardenas, who had been hired by his uncle, Francisco Griego and mail contractor Florencio Donaghue. Obviously, the mob did not believe him and he was pummeled and hanged by the neck from a telegraph pole. Unable to stomach the violence, the Reverend McMains panicked and fled midway through the session.
After finding Vega's body later Sunday morning, Francisco "Pancho" Griego, Vega's uncle, claimed the corpse and on Monday morning he and a friend transported the boxed remains to the Cimarron cemetery. Suddenly, Clay rode up with his
cowboys and informed Griego that Vega was not to be buried in the same cemetery as his victim, Tolby.
Angry but helpless, Griego, along with several mourners, left and began preparing for a burial outside the graveyard. Following them,
Allison further instructed that Vega was not to be buried inside of the city limits. Finally, the remains were placed about a half-mile west of the St. James Hotel.
that same day, November 1, 1875,
Francisco "Pancho" Griego, along with Cruz's eighteen year-old son and
Griego's partner Florencio Donahue began making threats to the townspeople
in response to Vega's death. Looking for trouble, they wandered into the
St. James Hotel. Allison was in the
Griego accused him of being involved in the hanging of Vega. Griego
began fanning himself with his hat in an attempt to distract Allison while he
drew his gun. But Allison was not fooled and fired two bullets in killing
Griego instantly. The
saloon was closed until an inquiry could be held the next morning, and
according to local accounts of the day, the
saloon closing was the most unfortunate aspect of the whole
incident. Allison and his men ran rough-shod over
Cimarron all week, spreading general chaos. On Thursday they were said to
have paraded into the local newspaper, brandishing a knife at the editor and on
Friday night, took over Lambert's Inn, where Allison was said to have stripped
naked, and performed a war dance over the spot where he had shot
Griego, wearing a red ribbon tied around his private parts. On November 10,
Allison faced the charges in the killing
Griego, but the charges were dropped when the court ruled the shooting a
meantime, Manuel Cardenas, the man who Vega had implicated prior to his death,
was arrested and questioned in
Elizabethtown. He claimed that Vega had shot the minister, adding that
Santa Fe Ringers Mills and Longwell were also behind the killing. When word of
this got out, Mills barely escaped a furious lynch mob in
Cimarron as he alighted from a coach Longwell fled in a buggy to Fort Union
and safety just ahead of pursuers, Clay and his brother John.
However, during his protracted hearing, Cardenas
retracted his earlier accusations against Mills and Longwell, stating that he
had been coerced at gunpoint, at which time, Mills and Longwell were
cleared. However, the vigilantes obviously didn't believe his testimony and
when Cardenas was escorted back to the jail, he was shot to death. Believing
that Allison was the head of the vigilantes, this last shooting so enraged the
Mexican population of
Cimarron that they were determined to have Clay's scalp. Armed Mexican
bands roamed the street and the atmosphere was so charged that Sheriff Orson K.
Chittenden and Deputy Burleson hid Clay for a time at the Chittenden ranch, 20
miles south of Springer. When Allison again began to go about
Cimarron, he was said to be a walking arsenal, accompanied by forty-five
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