Allison, Robert Clay (1841–1887)

By: C. L. Sonnichsen

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Clay Allison, gunfighter, the fourth of nine children of Jeremiah Scotland and Mariah R. (Brown) Allison, was born on a farm in Wayne County, Tennessee, on September 2, 1841. His father was a row crop farmer. When the Civil War broke out, Allison joined Phillips' Tennessee Light Artillery Company in the Confederate Army. On January 15, 1862, he received a medical discharge for emotional instability resulting from a head injury as a child, but in September he reenlisted as a cavalryman with Company F, Col. Jacob B. Biffle's Nineteenth Tennessee Cavalry. The regiment was with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in the fall of 1864 through the spring of 1865 and surrendered at the war's end with Forrest's Cavalry Corps. He was a prisoner of war in Alabama from May 4 to 10, 1865.

After the war Allison moved to the Brazos River country in Texas. Allison soon signed on as a cowhand with Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight and may have been among the eighteen herders on the 1866 drive that blazed the Goodnight-Loving Trail. He was in Colfax County, New Mexico, by the spring of 1871 when he accidentally shot himself in the foot while he and some companions stampeded a herd of Gen. Gordon Granger's army mules as a prank. In 1872 Allison's future brother-in-law L. G. Coleman and ranching partner I. W. 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 lucrative operation.

Allison was a heavy drinker and became involved in several brawls and shooting sprees. On October 30, 1875, he may have been in 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 to his brother John for $700 and moved to Hemphill County, Texas, on land located at the junction of Gageby Creek and the Washita River.

By 1880 Clay and his brothers, Jeremiah Monroe Allison and John Allison, had settled on the Gageby Creek land next door to their sister Saluda Ann and her husband Louis G. Coleman and fellow Tennesseans, the J. C. Hoggett family. Clay registered an ACE brand for his cattle. On February 15, 1881, he married Dora McCullough in Mobeetie, Wheeler County, Texas. 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 1883 he bought a ranch located on the Texas-New Mexico border northwest of 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.

Carl W. Bretham, Great Gunfighters of the West (San Antonio: Naylor, 1962). Norman Cleaveland, 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, 1956).
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Gunfighters
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

C. L. Sonnichsen, “Allison, Robert Clay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994