Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Rest of Clay Allison (almost)

Let’s say something about Robert Clay Allison.

He was not a fast gun.

What made him dangerous and feared was the fact that he was ready to kill without a second thought. That gave him a tremendous edge. If I am not mistaken, a quick gun in those days was not someone who drew fast, but rather someone who was instantly ready to go for a gun and use it.

There’s a good example of Clay Allison’s relatively “slow” draw.

There was a deputy sheriff of Colfax County named (at the time) Mace Bowman.

Bowman was born in Kentucky in 1844, served with the 11th Texas Cavalry, and the Graham Rangers in Texas. He was part of the Lee-Peacock feud in northern Texas, after which he disappeared for some time. Perhaps he was wounded. He became a lawman in Trinidad under the name of Matt T. Mason in 1873, and he took the name of Mason T. Bowman in Colfax County two years later.

Mace Bowman was known as a fast and deadly man with a gun, and he could outdraw Allison. In fact, my source says they unloaded their pistols and had many practice sessions and mock duels, but that Clay Allison could never beat Bowman.

Marion Littrel
Only once did Bowman and Allison have a confrontation. It took place in Cimarron, perhaps at Lambert’s saloon. Clay Allison was never known as a man who could hold his alcohol, and it is said he became more confident of his skills and standing when drunk than was otherwise the case.

History doesn’t tell us what Allison said to Bowman, but whatever it was, it caused Bowman to turn and face Allison and coolly say, “Have at it.”

They say Clay thought about it for some time (long enough to chew boot leather, they said) and finally grunted, “Hell. No use in us both dying.” And Allison walked out of the saloon.

Bowman later advised him that geographical relocation would be a good thing, which may have been a reason for him leaving New Mexico for the Texas Panhandle.

Cap Arrington
Marion Littrell, foreman of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company and later Colfax County Sheriff was also a man said to have bested Allison. A third man said to have caused Allison to have second thoughts and back off was G. W. (Cap) Arrington of the Texas Rangers.

Clay Allison as Lothario

Macho as he was, well thought of by the tough set though he was, Clay Allison did not do well with his love life.

One of the ladies who caught his eye in the mid-a870s was Josephine Bishop. But when he went courting, her mother chased him out of the house with a broom. Apparently she wanted someone for her daughter with skills beside knife and gun. Josephine married Frank Springer on October 10, 1876.

Allison’s attentions then moved on to Carrie Gale . . . without success. She got married to Marion Littrell on September 19, 1879. And he was not about to go up against Littrell.

Finally Clay married his brother’s wife’s sister, Dora (Medora) McCulloch, in Mobeetie, Texas. Allison was 39. Dora was 18.

Clay Allison seems to have settled down a bit with marriage, as is sometimes the case.

Death by toothache

Clay and his crew drove a herd of 1500 steers from Texas to Cheyenne, starting in May 1889. On his way back, he stopped off at the Optic newspaper office in Las Vegas, New Mexico. While there, he told of a run-in with a Cheyenne dentist. The problem, of course, was a toothache. The dentist, of course, said the tooth would have to come out, and he pulled it.

The problem was, the pain did not abate, and it was augmented by the pain from the new crater. Allison went to another dentist, who informed him that the wrong tooth had been pulled, and proceded to pull the right one. The dentist charged him $25. Upset, as he often got, Allison returned to the first dentist, threw the man on the floor, grabbed a pair of pliers, and started to pull a tooth to pay for the one he lost. One tooth pulled, Allison went after another but got lip and tooth both in the grip of the pliers. Screams from the dentist attracted a crowd. Apparently satisfied, Allison tossed away the pliers and left.

Death by wagonwheel

The fateful day was July 2, 1887, ten and a half years after Allison had killed a man. At Pecos, he insisted on showing a man how to drive a fully loaded wagon. Up on the high seat, Allison hollered for the horses to git, which they did with a jerk that threw him off the driver’s seat and under the wagon wheels. The rear wheel ran over Allison’s neck, breaking it and killing him instantly. He was survived by wife Dora and two children, Clay and Patti.

Check here for books by Chuck Tyrell:


  1. Interesting stuff Charlie. I enjoyed the post.

  2. Thanks, Jerry. Who knows what I'll do next month?

  3. Charlie, I love these in-depth posts of yours. Thanks so much for the great presentation and the research you must have had to do for this series on Clay Allison!

  4. This is the kind of research I love. I have spent many hours looking for the 'pieces' although usually about unsung women. Truly enjoyed this one. Keep em coming. Doris

  5. Cheryl

    Who'll we do next?


    History is all about finding out what happened to who, right? Fortunately, I have most of the back issues of the National Association of Outlaw and Lawman History (now defunct) which has tons of research in it, all linked to sources. More about other western characters in later posts.

  6. Charlie, the world is your oyster, right? LOL Surprise us--you'll come up with someone wonderful, as always!