Elizabeth Ann Clifton, rancher, merchant, and Indian captive, was born on March 29, 1825, in Alabama. In 1842, when she was sixteen, she married Alexander Joseph Carter, a free black. The couple had two children and lived with Carter's parents, Edmund J. and Susanna Carter, in Red River and Navarro counties before moving west to Fort Belknap in Young County, where they began raising stock and farming. Elizabeth Carter managed the ranch, soon as a full partner, while her husband and father-in-law ran a cargo transportation business. Though she was illiterate and epileptic, she also ran a boarding house, the Carter Trading House. In 1857 her husband and father-in-law were both mysteriously murdered. When Carter's estate was finally settled, his remaining assets were divided between his two grandchildren, Elizabeth Carter's married daughter and her young son. Mrs. Carter was not, however, made guardian of her son's property.
In 1858 Elizabeth Carter was briefly married to Lt. Owen A. Sprague, but Sprague disappeared eight months later. Elizabeth continued to be one of the most successful women on the frontier. The Trading House prospered after the Butterfield Overland Mail began stopping in Fort Belknap in 1858, and she still managed the ranch. When she was thirty-six years old, she married Thomas FitzPatrick, one of three Carter ranch cowhands, on August 26, 1862. FitzPatrick was murdered eighteen months later.
Elizabeth endured further calamity when her Young County ranch was attacked in the Elm Creek Raid of October 13, 1864, and she was taken captive by Plains Indians led by Comanche chief Little Buffalo. Elizabeth's daughter Mildred Susanna Durkin and Mrs. Durkin's infant son were murdered. The Indians took captive Elizabeth FitzPatrick, her thirteen-year-old son, and Elizabeth's two surviving granddaughters, Charlotte Durkin (Lottie), age 5 years, and Mildred Durkin (Milly), age 2 years. The son was killed shortly after his capture.
Mrs. FitzPatrick was held twelve months and twenty days in Kiowa chief Sun Boy's camp on the Arkansas River in northwestern Kansas. Her granddaughter Milly and several other children held in Comanche chief Iron Mountain's camp apparently froze to death early in 1865, though Elizabeth believed that Milly remained alive in captivity. The other grandchild, Lottie, spent nine months as captive of Comanches who tattooed her arms and forehead before releasing her.
Elizabeth was rescued on November 2, 1865, by Gen. J. H. Leavenworth and subsequently held at the Kaw Mission at Council Grove, Kansas. There she took care of another recently released woman, who was pregnant and in poor health, and the woman's two children. For the next ten months, Elizabeth was paid three dollars a week to nurse, cook, and sew clothes for a growing number of recently released captives. She complained on the released captives' behalf that they were not receiving adequate care, that arrangements for safe transportation to their homes were taking far too long, and that more should be done to free others still in captivity.
On August 27, 1866, almost two years after her capture, she and several others began the six-week trip home. Elizabeth FitzPatrick was reunited with her previously released granddaughter in Parker County. In 1869 Elizabeth married a Parker County farmer and widower, Isaiah Clifton. They moved to Fort Griffin with Lottie and Clifton's youngest four children in order to manage what remained of landholdings inherited by Lottie Durkin after her mother's death.
Elizabeth Clifton remained at Fort Griffin until her death on June 18, 1882. She was buried beside Isaiah Clifton, who predeceased her in 1880, in the oldest cemetery in Shackelford County. As late as 1877 she had wired the Office of Indian Affairs in Washington to report a rumor that her granddaughter, Milly Jane, might be living with a Kiowa woman named Ama. Elizabeth Clifton died penniless. See alsoINDIAN CAPTIVES.
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Barbara Neal Ledbetter, Fort Belknap Frontier Saga: Indians, Negroes and Anglo-Americans on the Texas Frontier (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982).
Captives and Victims of Attack
Ranching and Cowboys
Ranchers and Cattlemen
Native American Captives
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Barbara A. Neal Ledbetter,
“Clifton, Elizabeth Ann Carter,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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