New Mexico Bad Boy – Clay Allison

Represented by Charles Springer, the trial was held in Taos. Springer’s main defense was that a body had never been found and everyone was simply guessing Cooper had been murdered, because he had not been seen. Allison was acquitted and Axtell, true to his promise, declared him a free man. Clay’s most loyal companion was his brother John and on December 21 1876, having just come off the trail, the two decided to have some fun in Las Animas, Colorado. Spotting a local social going on, the two drunk cowboys crashed the party, dancing with very some very unwilling partners.

Charles Faber, the deputy sheriff and town marshal, asked the Allison brothers to remove their weapons but his request went unheard. Faber then left, deputized two local men and with shotgun in hand, led them back into the social. As they came through the door, someone shouted “Look out!”  When John reached for his gun, Faber shot him. Standing at the bar, Clay spun around and fired four shots at Faber, one proving to be fatal. John had already been shot in the chest and arm, and was shot yet again in the leg as Faber’s shotgun discharged when he fell. The two deputized men ran from the dance hall, Allison behind them in pursuit, but lucky for them, they escaped.

Clay ran back into the dance hall, calling for a doctor, and slid over to his brother, bringing Faber’s body with him. To John he said, “Look here! John, this is the s.o.b. that shot you. Everything’s going to be all right. You will be well soon!” Both Clay and John were arrested and charged with manslaughter, but the charges were later dismissed on grounds of self-defense. John recovered from his wounds.

Finally, the restless Clay moved on. On March 3, 1877 he sold his ranch, land and stock to his brother John for $700. He spent a brief period of time in Sedalia, Missouri but finally established himself in Hays City, Kansas as a cattle broker.

The numerous stories of Clay Allison’s exploits made him a feared western legend by the time he arrived in Dodge City, Kansas in September, 1878, several years before Wyatt Earp would become famous. The local newspapers would note his visits to the city, often describing his daring deeds. He was described by the Kinsley [Kansas] Graphic (Kinsley is 36 miles northeast of Dodge City), on December 14, 1878 as:  “His appearance is striking. Tall, straight as an arrow, dark complexioned, carries himself with ease and grace, gentlemanly and courteous in manner, never betraying by word or action the history of his eventful life.”

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

An often written about event was the “showdown” between Wyatt Earp, Dodge City Assistant Marshal and the self-proclaimed “shootist” from New Mexico. According to the stories, Allison planned to protest the treatment of his men by the Dodge City marshals and was willing to back his arguments with gun smoke. In the charged atmosphere of Dodge City, this might have been a very real possibility.

At the time, Dodge City had a reputation for being hard on visiting cattle herders, with stories circulating that cattlemen had been robbed, shot, and beaten over the head with revolvers. Indignant, the cattlemen responded that the marshals were all pimps, gamblers and saloon keepers.

As a regular practice, Dodge City authorities always disarmed the cowboys when they arrived in Dodge City, however, if one got by and went for a gun, he was immediately shot down by the Dodge City marshals. George Hoyt, who had at one time worked for Clay Allison, had been shot to death while shooting a pistol in the air in the streets of Dodge City.

There are several versions of the story of the showdown. Some say that Allison and his men terrorized Dodge City, while Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson fled in fear. Others, including Wyatt Earp himself, would say that Earp along with Masterson pressured Allison into leaving. The most likely version of the account; however, is that Allison was talked into leaving by a saloon keeper and another cattleman, with little or no contact with Wyatt Earp at all. This version, which was later written about by famous Pinkerton Detective Agent, Charles Siringo, who was present during the event, is mostly likely the true story.

Historians basically surmise that Allison might have came to Dodge City looking for trouble, but nothing really happened. While Allison and his men went from saloon to saloon fortifying themselves with whiskey, Earp and his marshals began to assemble their forces. But in the end, Dick McNulty, owner of a large cattle outfit and Chalk Beeson, co-owner of the Long Branch Saloon, intervened on behalf of the town, talking the gang into giving up their guns.

By 1880 Clay had moved to a ranch in Hemphill County, Texas, next door his brother-in-law, Lewis Coleman. On January 17, 1881, it was stated in a local newspaper that “three of the Allison brothers moved on the Gageby.” Though John and Monroe may have joined Clay at some point, they continued using their Colfax County ranch for several years.

While in Texas, Allison’s reputation was kept alive by reports of his unusual antics. Once he was said to have ridden nude through the streets of Mobeetie, whooping and hollering and declaring that drinks were on him at the local saloon. When the shocked ladies called upon the sheriff to intervene, the officer demanded that Allison get down from his horse. Instead, Allison spurred the steed to full speed up and down main street, then got off his horse, leveled his gun at the sheriff and marched him into the bar. He then forced the sheriff to drink until he couldn’t stand up, and satisfied, went back to horse.

In October, 1883, Allison sold his ranch in Hemphill County and the couple returned to the Seven Rivers region in New Mexico where Clay continued to ranch. On August 9, 1885, Clay’s first daughter, Pattie Dora was born in Cimarron.

Clay Allison Grave, Pecos, Texas

Clay Allison Grave, Pecos, Texas

In the summer of 1886, Clay had just finished a long, hard trail drive that took him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Having a terrible toothache, he visited a local dentist, who, having already heard of Allison’s reputation, trembled with the thought of who was in his chair. The dentist started working on his tooth, but Clay soon realized that it was the wrong tooth, pushed his way out of the dentist chair and went to find another dentist. After the new dentist pulled the correct tooth, an angry Clay returned to the first dentist, held him down in the dental chair and pulled one of his molars with a pair of forceps. Attempting to extract a second, the dentist’s screams were heard and men came and pulled Allison away from the petrified dentist.

Shortly thereafter, the couple moved again, this time to Pecos,Texas, 50 miles south of the New Mexico line. On July 1, 1887, Allison was hauling a load of supplies to his ranch from Pecos when a sack of grain fell from the wagon. Trying to halt it’s fall, Clay fell from the heavily loaded wagon and in the next instant the wagon wheels rolled across him, breaking his neck. As the horses reared and lurched forward, his neck was further crushed by the heavy buckboard, almost decapitating him.

Unlike most gunfighters of the time, the 47 year-old Allison didn’t die in a blaze of gunfire or at the end of a hangman’s noose, but rather stuck under his own wagon forty miles from town. Clay Allison was buried in the Pecos Cemetery the day after his death, where hundreds of people were said to have attended his funeral.

His second daughter, Pearl Clay, was born seven months after his death. Later, Dora married for a second time and moved to Forth Worth, Texas.

Just one month after Clay Allison’s death, his brother Monroe Allison died of a heart attack at his Gageby Creek ranch on August 5, 1887. The 43-year-old bachelor was found next to his horse. John Allison, after a brief and painful illness, died in Clifton, Tennessee, on January 7, 1898, leaving a wife and four daughters. He was not quite 44.

Clay Allison’s life was certainly an adventure, from cattle rustling, to lynching, to coining the term “shootist.” But his life was also marked by much success as a rancher. Whether Clay Allison was a gentleman or a villain is a question that many have never settled in their own minds.

On August 28, 1975, in a special ceremony, his remains were re-interred in Pecos Park, just west of the Pecos Museum.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated July, 2017.

 

“I have at all times tried to use my influence toward protecting the property holders and substantial men of the country from thieves, outlaws and murderers, among whom I do not care to be classed.”

— Clay Allison, in response to a Missouri newspaper which reported him with fifteen killings under his belt.

 

Clay Allison at age 45

Clay Allison at age 45

Also See:

Cimarron

St. James Hotel

Elizabethtown

Colfax County War

New Mexico (main page)

 

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