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CLINTON, TX (DEWITT COUNTY)

CLINTON, TEXAS (DeWitt County). Clinton, former county seat of DeWitt County, was located on the west bank of the Guadalupe River five miles southwest of the site of present Cuero. The first settlers of the area were members of DeWitt's colony; the Richard Chisholm family settled in January 1829 and the Andrew Lockhart family later that March. The town gained notoriety during the Sutton-Taylor feud. Life in this area was rugged and perilous, despite DeWitt's settlements to the north and De León's colony to the southeast. In the fall of 1829 Comanches kidnapped young Matilda Lockhart and three visiting companions as the children were gathering pecans in the Guadalupe riverbottom. The Lockhart girl was rescued, but she died from the effects of the ordeal; the other three children were never found. About 1839 Richard Chisholm began operating a ferry across the Guadalupe River about 3½ miles below the confluence of the river and Sandies Creek. He soon opened a store and a horse-driven gristmill that was used by settlers from as far away as Meyersville.

Clinton was not established until after the organization of DeWitt County on March 24, 1846. Chisholm, eager to have the new county seat located on his land, deeded 640 acres to friends with instructions to survey the land and try to induce the commissioners, among them Daniel Boone Friar, to accommodate his wishes. James Norman Smith surveyed the townsite, which was named Clinton in honor of the son of the empresario Green DeWitt. Yet Chisholm's friends would not grant the commissioners the added land required for a county seat; instead Cameron, on the J. J. Tumlinsonqv survey east of the Guadalupe River, became county seat. As Clinton grew rapidly, its citizens contested the Cameron decision. Each town became county seat alternately several times, the last change being the result of an election in August 1850, which finally made Clinton the seat of government.

Clinton prospered. Court was held in a log house until a log courthouse was built at a cost of $400 in 1852. A frame building was erected in 1855 and followed by a two-story courthouse in 1858. The latter, insured for $8,000, was Clinton's last courthouse; it was moved to Cuero in 1876 when that town became county seat. William Cochran Blair organized Clinton's first church, Live Oak Presbyterian, in July 1849. Clinton Methodists organized in the 1850s. Both denominations held services in the log courthouse until 1856, when the Presbyterians built a church that they shared with the Methodists. Clinton had no school until about 1855, when Rev. and Mrs. James M. Connelly held classes as part of their Presbyterian ministry. During the Civil War years Viola Case moved her Victoria Female Academy to Clinton when Victoria was threatened by Union invasion. Public school instruction began in the 1870s. The county's earliest Masonic lodge was established at Clinton; a two-story hall was built in 1852, to which the Cameron lodge then moved. Clinton's first hotel was a log house with outside dining facilities. A later two-story frame hotel had a reputation for its fresh oysters. Jesse O. Wheeler of Victoria operated a branch store at Clinton that achieved sales of $12,000 and $18,000 in 1850 and 1851 respectively. Among the town's lawyers were Henry Clay Pleasants and John W. Stayton.qqv The Clinton post office was established in October 1849.

William Read Scurry of Clinton, with Fielding Jones of Victoria, represented the Victoria district in the Secession Convention (1861). During the Civil War William J. Weisiger organized a company at Clinton, which later fought with George H. Giddings's cavalry battalion in the Rio Grande area. During Reconstruction Clinton and other surrounding towns were occupied by troops based at Victoria. The traditional interpretation says that bad times following the war contributed to the notorious Sutton-Taylor feud, which originated in Clinton on Christmas Eve 1868, when Bill Sutton killed William "Buck" Taylor. The family feud that followed developed into the longest and most bloody in Texas history, and Clinton residents continued to be drawn into the fray. On June 20, 1874, R. P. "Scrap" Taylor and two others jailed at the town were lynched by Sutton sympathizers. The feud finally ended in Clinton with the killing of Jim Taylor and two companions by a Cuero posse on December 27, 1875.

Although the feud gave Clinton a bad reputation and caused many residents to move away, a more significant cause of the town's decline was the extension in 1873 of the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway to Cuero, across the river. The railroad induced many Clinton businesses and residents to move. In 1876 Cuero became county seat, and decline was then swift for Clinton. Clinton Methodists remained active until the 1870s. The Presbyterians moved in 1883 to Cuero. The Masons moved their lodge to Yorktown in 1877, and the Clinton post office closed in 1886. The only available population estimate for Clinton dates from this period of decline and records 150 residents in 1885. Although the Clinton school served the surrounding rural community from 1881 until 1954, by 1900 there remained little evidence that the once prosperous town ever existed. The large cemetery is overgrown with brush.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Nellie Murphree, A History of DeWitt County (Victoria, Texas, 1962).

Craig H. Roell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Craig H. Roell, "CLINTON, TX (DEWITT COUNTY)," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrc70), accessed September 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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