Clay Allison By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
August 16, 2013
Clay Allison was a gunfighter known for his mercurial personality and violent temper. He is also remembered as one of the most notorious and deranged outlaws of the old west. Allison had fought for the confederacy in the Civil War, but was discharged after a blow to the head started causing erratic behavior in him. It was this injury that historians believe explains his shockingly brutal actions, which included beheading a man he suspected of murder, and carrying the head into his favorite bar. This pretty much cemented his reputation as one of the most murderous figures of his day. Someone once asked Allison what he did for a living. He replied “I am a Shootist”. The multiple accounts of his outrageous activities are almost impossible to verify, if even half of them are true people had a right to be afraid of him! Allison went on to participate in a number of gunfights against fellow gunslingers. One of these was against an outlaw, Chunk Colbert, whom Allison shot in the head when Colbert drew his gun on him following a meal they had shared. When he was asked why he’d eaten with a man who wanted to kill him, Allison replied he wouldn’t have wanted to “send a man to hell on an empty stomach”. One of the most written about events of the old west is the “showdown” between Wyatt Earp (assistant marshal of Dodge City) and Clay Allison. Allison felt that several cowboys working for him apparently were mistreated by the local marshal’s office (Wyatt Earp). Earp claimed that he and Bat Masterson confronted Allison and his men in a saloon and that Allison backed down before them. As famous as this showdown was, it has never been positively confirmed to even have happened. Most people would assume Allison would have died in a gunfight, but he died in an accident while working on his ranch. He’d been hauling a load of supplies and the load shifted and a sack of grain fell from the wagon. Allison tried to catch it and fell from the wagon, a wheel rolled over him, breaking his neck. His death was almost instantaneous. He was 46. Allison is buried in the Pecos, Texas cemetery. There is a marker at the foot of his grave which reads “He never killed a man that did not need killing”.
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