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Gunman King of Toyah


Edwin L. Sabin in his book Wild Men of the Wild West, copyright 1929, says, "Jep Clayton, gunman king of Toyah west of Pecos, New Mexico, challenged the prowess of Clay Allison. Accepting the defiance Mr. Allison at Pecos promptly saddled up and rode over to Toyah. Jep Clayton, when confronted, apologized and attributed his careless words to the effect of whisky. Mr. Allison hopefully plied him with whisky again, upon the chance that he might repeat; but he could not make Jep Clayton perform. Therefore he might only censure him for having made a man ride twenty miles for nothing; he threatened to bring a bull whip instead of a gun, next time, and went growling home."

The Gunfighters by Schaenberger recalls this same incident only the name given is Jen Clayton and it is said to have taken place in Pecos, Texas; not New Mexico. Today there is a town in Reeves county Texas named Toyah, located about twenty miles west of Pecos.

 R. C. Crane tells this story (published in the West Texas Historical Association Year Book of October 1947):


In about 1881-2 there was a stretch of country in Texas as large as several ordinary states, which was in process of being reclaimed from the wilderness. It reached from the Rio Grande to Red River and No Man's Land; from Fort Worth to El Paso. The Southern Pacific and the Texas & Pacific Railways were racing through it toward the setting sun to see which should be the first to get into El Paso.

 The buffaloes had just been killed out, and their bones lay bleaching on every prairie. Indian raids had about ceased, and pioneer cattlemen had come in with their herds and located open range ranches for themselves. In all this region it was not against the law to "tote" pistols, for it was still recognized as "Indian country," and it was customary for a man to go armed to protect himself in the "Indian country." Wire fencing had not come into general use, and in that vast region there were millions of cattle but no pastures. It was wide-open range, and sometimes when a blizzard struck, cattle drifted as much as two hundred miles.

 Sweetwater, on the line of the Texas & Pacific Railway, was in the midst of this region. The railroad had pushed on with its construction, and at every construction camp there were saloons and all of the usual accompaniments. In every new town laid out, the saloon was the first "business" to start up.

 The cattlemen were usually for law and order, but the "bad men" flourished, and every community had its own peculiar brand of bad men. Some of these were of the "tin horn" variety, while others were killers who, when "lickered up" sometimes shot on small provocation, or "just to keep in practice." Many new-made graves resulted.

 Horace Greeley's advice: "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country," was still ringing in the ears of many young men, ambitious to make their own way in the world. Under these circumstances an ambitious, well equipped young lawyer came to West Texas and located at Eureka, also on the Texas & Pacific Railway, just east of Sweetwater. His name was Sam Jones, and he tried to fit in with the "atmosphere" of West Texas.

 One night Jones dropped off the train at Sweetwater, showing signs of being "lit up", and taking off his hat, he waved it over his head and yelled, "I am a wolf! I came all the way from Eureka to see some of those bad men of Sweetwater! Where are they?" A bystander directed him to Billie Gray's saloon, just across the street from the depot.

 From all accounts, Jones in those days practiced at two different kinds of bars. He walked a bit unsteadily across the street to Billie Gray's saloon, made his way in, stepped up to the bar and called for drinks for the crowd (and a crowd was there).

 "My name is Sam Jones," he informed Billie Gray. "I live at Eureka, and I came up here to see some of your bad men that I have been hearing about! Where are they?"

 "I cannot say that we have any bad men around here, but I'll introduce you to a few of our citizens," Gray told him.

 "Mr. Jones, meet Jep Clayton; and this is Jim Cooksey, Mr. Jones."

 Jones looked Clayton over with drunken eyes.

 "So you are Jep Clayton! Well! I've heard of you. They tell me you are one of Sweetwater's bad men. But you do not look bad to me, though they do tell me you are careless in the way you handle your shooting irons sometimes. You look to me like a man I could lick with my bare hands."

 Jep Clayton was a mild mannered man, and not as large as Jones. He had brought cattle to the country in 1877 before the buffaloes were all gone and while Indians still made occasional raids into the country, and located the old "18" Ranch on the head of Cottonwood Creek. He had been suspected by several grand juries of having been intimately connected with the necessity for the digging of several new graves.

 Clayton measured Jones with his steal gray eyes, and finally said, "No, I don't claim to be a bad man; but it's against my religion to let anything that looks like you from any other town come here and run it over me or any of my friends around here. If you've got a gun, get it. I'd rather match you a few rounds with shooting irons than to have to whip you with my hands." Jones replied that he did not fight with a gun, but could tame Clayton's kind with his bare hands. No sooner had the words left Jones' lips than Clayton shot out his right and gave Jones an upper cut under the jaw which sent him sprawling to the floor. Jones scrambled to his feet, and seeing Clayton standing ready, bethought himself of the old adage, "he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day." Thereupon he began a rapid movement toward the door leading into the gambling room.

 He had not reached the door when a familiar sound rang out in the saloon - the sound of a 45 caliber pistol. Jones fell to the floor, yelling: "Murder! Murder! I'm shot! I'm shot. Get a doctor quick,: while he writhed in apparent agony. Sweetwater's first doctor was there. He was also mayor of the town at the time, but neverthless liked to mingle with the "boys" around at Billie Gray's place. Dr. Moody went at once to the man on the floor, feeling for the wound and asking him where he was shot. "I'm shot through and through," groaned Jones. "I can feel the blood running out of me! Can't you see the place where the bullet went in?"

 Dr. Moody could not see where the bullet went in, but following the movement of Jones' hand he located something hard in the right hip pocket of Jones' pants.

 "That's the place! That's the place! Don't touch it. I'm going to die. I know I'm going to die."

 What could the hard substance be? Dr. Moody with difficulty extracted it from the pocket and held it up to the light of the kerosene lamp for inspection, then continued his investigation for the wound of the shot man.

Feeling under the place where the hard substance had come from, he found something else, metalic and about the size of a silver dollar. It lay flat against the flesh of the shot man. It was the flattened out bullet from a .45, the kind in common use on the frontier.

Looking at the bullet and the ruined plug of tobacco which he had removed from the "wound", the doctor said to Jones, "You get up from there! You ain't going to die. You ain't even hurt! The bullet hit too low down to kill; besides, it never did get under your hide. If it hadn't 'a been for this plug of tobacco, it might'uv hurt you where you set down."

The bystanders and all of the old timers in Sweetwater swore that Jones never waited for the eastbound train to take him to Eureka, but covered the distance in some un-accountable manner that night.

The grand jury met soon after that and investigated the incident, but was unable to find any witness who was present who would admit having seen anybody with a pistol when Jones was shot. They all heard the sound of the pistol; they all heard a man yell, and then they saw Jones on the floor. But no one knew who shot!

Jim Cooksey was there when the shooting occurred; he was a pal of Jep Clayton's and he was handy with a pistol. He and Clayton had been mixed up in several "incidents" where new graves quickly followed the incidents, and the wise ones always thought that Jim Cooksey fired the shot, just to keep in practice, and not to kill or seriously injure the target.

Jones lived to see the wilderness of West Texas occupied by a million people, and he himself became one of the best lawyers in Texas. He sometimes went to Sweetwater - but only when it was absolutely necessary, and when he went there, he always carried a plug of tobacco in his pocket.
 
 


Mr. Crane's delightful story is obviously fabricated from old tales of the region, but how much truth is there in it? Were Jim Cooksey and Jep Clayton real "bad men" of Sweetwater, Tx.? Could Jep Clayton of Sweetwater be the same person Mr. Sabin calls "The Gunman King of Toyah"?

Luella Hardie of San Antonio, Tx. is a grandaughter of Reuben Mardes Clayton (born 14 Feb. 1856, died 4 May 1942). She remembers her grandfather talking about his uncles, Jep and Jack (or John), being wild and wooly and having reputations as gunmen.

These brothers are listed on the 1860 census of Palo Pinto County, Tx. living with their father, John Clayton,  and in 1870 J. L. Clayton and J. C. Clayton are listed as cattlemen living in the household of George W. Hashlow in Coleman County, living very near W. C. Clayton (their brother), Charlotte Clayton (widow of their brother Littleberry Toney Clayton), and Melvina Kohen (their sister).

The marriage of J. L. Clayton to Martha Hunter on July 17, 1873 is recorded in Coleman county records and J. L. Clayton (age 31) with wife M. J. Clayton (age 20) is listed on the 1880 census of Coleman county.

J. L. Clayton was named as one of three commissioners when Fisher Co., Tx. was formed in 1778 and the cattle brand  was registered to Jep Clayton in Fisher county in 1882.

On Jan. 6, 1883 the Graham Leader ran the following story: Bloody Tragedy . . . Lampasas, Chap Clayton and Bill Jones were involved in a shooting in a saloon. Clayton was arrested and freed on bond. Last night he, with his attorney and some friends were having  supper in a restaurant when Craig Thomas, Clayton's brother-in-law, came in and asked who had done the shooting. In the ensuing scuffle, Thomas had a knife and Clayton a pistol, resulting in Thomas' death. Clayton was captured and jailed. Apparently "Chap" was a nickname for Jep because an article about Jep Clayton in the El Paso Times of June 8, 1888 says that a Mr. Thomas was shot by Jep Clayton "some time ago" in Lampasas.

From the Dallas Herald Oct. 30, 1884, dateline Colorado City. "The case of the state vs J. L. Clayton, charged with murder, was begun in the district court today."

From the Dallas Herald Feb. 4, 1885, dateline Abilene, Feb.3rd. "Jeff Clayton, Jim Cocksey, Sam Pace, and J. M. Chambers, all charged with murder, and who were to have been tried this term at Sweetwater .........(blurred, something about a change of venue).......... Clayton has been tried previously but escaped by a hung jury. He is wealthy and is charged with murdering a sheep hearder.

From the Dallas Herald Feb. 26, 1885, dateline Midland, Feb.20th. "J. L. Clayton and family removed to Toyah last Tuesday."

From the Dallas Herald Mar. 5, 1885, dateline Abilene. Feb.26th. "The jury in the case of Jep Clayton, the rich ranchman charged with murder, today brought in a verdict of acquittal. The case was tried once before at Colorado City. The crime was committed at Sweetwater."

From the El Paso Times. Oct. 9, 1887. Judge Falvey was at Pecos City yesterday trying the habeas corpus case of Gran Tenan for the killing of Jep Clayton.

From the El Paso Times. May 3, 1888. G. B. Tinnan trial set for June 6 at 10 a.m.; charged with killing Jepp Clayton at Toyah, Reeves county.

NOTE: The following is from a copy of the June 8, 1888 issue of the El Paso Times. The bottom of one page, and top of the other were cut off in copying so there are some gaps in this:

El Paso Times. June 8, 1888. TINNIN-CLAYTON CASE.

     The trial of G. B. Tinnin, charged with the murder of Jep Clayton was resumed in the district court yesterday at 9 a.m. Though neither Clayton nor Tinnin was ever a resident of this county there is much local interest in the trial and quite a large audience was present during the day and evening, especially, during the closing arguments. There are twenty five or thirty people up from Reeves county, including lawyers, witnesses and friends of the slain or slayer. There have been rumors that more blood would be shed by the friends of Clayton and Tinnin, on account of the killing last September. What foundation, if any, there is for these reports cannot be learned.
     The defense opened yesterday morning. Mrs. G. B. Tinnin, wife of the defendant, was the first witness placed on the stand. She testified that Clayton's wife was her niece. About two months before the killing witness was at her niece's house in Toyah and Clayton pulled out a revolver with which he said he was going to fill her husband full of holes. Witness waited several weeks before telling her husband of this threat. Witness related the circumstance of her going out to meet Clayton when she saw him coming towards her house just before her husband shot him. She denied that Clayton showed her that he was unarmed. She asserted that Clayton said with an oath that no woman should search him. Her husband came out of the gate just then and Clayton shoved her to one side with his left hand. The next instant the shot was fired and Clayton fell. Witness said her husband had left home severl times to avoid meeting Clayton, fearing trouble.
     W. J. Harris testified that he heard Clayton say at Fort Hancock that he was going to kill Tinnin if Tinnin did not pay him.
     L. S. Turnbo, who was sheriff of Reeves county at the time of the killing, said he was at Toyah the day before the tragedy and heard Clayton threaten the life of Tinnin. Turnbo advised Clayton to arbitrate his dispute with Tinnin, and obtained a promise from Clayton to take the train for the west that night. Turnbo being compelled to go east the same day. Clayton, however, remained in Toyah.
     Mrs. C. M. Fields, landlady of a hotel at Toyah, testified that the day before the killing she heard loud talking and looking from a window she saw Clayton take a pistol from under his vest, and heard him say with an oath that he would "kill him".
     James Johnson, a storekeeper at Toyah, testified that Clayton was in his store the day before the killing, considerably under the influence of liquor and carrying a pistol.
     J. K. Ish, of New Mexico, testified that he was in Toyah on the day Clayton was killed and heard him threaten to kill somebody.
     C. M. Fields, of Toyah, Thomas Trammel and James Newman of Sweetwater, M. C. Lambeth, of Abilene, and E. M. Fink, city Marshal White and Deputy Sherriff Comstock, of El Paso, were placeed on the stand to establish the fact that Clayton had the reputation of being a bad and dangerous man when in drink and that he was a terror to the communities in which he lived. All tesified, however, that he was quiet and peaceable when sober.
     The theory of the prosecution was that Clayton went to Tinnin's house unarmed to seek a peaceable settlement, that Tinnin lay in ambush behind a carriage house, and that when Clayton went by Tinnin shot him in the back of the head. The theory of the defense was that Tinnin expected Clayton to come armed and believed one of them would be killed when they met; and that when Tinnin shot he believed Clayton was running to get behind the carriage house for protection.
     [Part missing here]
     JEP CLAYTON is a name well known throughout western Texas, and indeed in eastern Texas as well. His enemies --- and he made plenty of them --- say that he was a desperado and a man who would "shoot another just to see him kick". His friends --- and he had plenty of followers and admirers --- say that while he was a man who loved a fight, he always fought fairly and never took advantage of his opponent or killed an unarmed man. Jep is credited with many unique and fantastic crimes, among them the scalping of a Mexican on one occason and the shooting of a Chinaman on another. His friends do not deny that Jep amused himself on sundry occasions in this way, and it makes them smile to recall the fact of his having lifted a Mexican's hair. As was brought out in the testimony yesterday, Jep was a good natured, peaceable man when sober, but when he had sipped a few drinks of bad whiskey he was a tiger. He killed a man named Ripley at Sweetwater and narrowly escaped the noose on account of it. He also had a hand-to-hand encounter at Lampasas with a man named Thomas, in which Thomas gashed him severely with the big blade of a large pocket knife. Thomas' last blow drove the knife blade into Jep's cheek bone just below the left eye and broke the blade, leaving the point sticking into the bone. but Jep shot Thomas dead the next instant. Jep's friends say he was always justifiable in his killings, and in proof of it they point to the fact that he always got clear on trial. Jep Clayton was born  in Mississippi, but his parents soon afterwards moved to Texas and he afterwards lived in several counties in this state, including Coleman, Taylor, Fisher, Nolan and Reeves. He was 28 years old at the time of his death [Note: census records show he was 38 years old at the time] and was a large, powerful man. Though deeply in debt at the time of his death, he had been a heavy stockman and it is said that he and his partner, James Cooksey, sold out in Fisher county four years ago for $86,000.

     If there was a follow-up article giving the results of this trial I have not been able to find it. I did find the following notice posted in the El Paso Times of June 9, 1888. "If any of the friends of Mr. Tinnin or of the late Mr. Clayton have any idea of indulging in pistol practice in this little border village they had better count the number of deputy sheriffs and city police officers who are on duty now a days, before opening the ball. It has been a long time since such a ball has been held in this city, but the officers have not forgotten how to dance."

From these articles it appears that Jep Clayton shot at least two men and probably at least one other since the fight that resulted in the death of Craig Thomas was started because of a shooting the previous night. It should be no suprize to anyone that Jep Clayton died the same way Mr. Ripley and Mr. Thomas did.

Jep Clayton's full name was Jeptha Langford Clayton . He was a son of John Clayton and Agatha Milton. Jane Dixon Koen was the mother of Sarah and Mary Catherine Koen. Sarah married Abram Hunter and their oldest daughter, Martha J. Hunter married Jeptha Langford Clayton. Mary Catherine Koen, Martha J. (Hunter) Clayton's aunt,  married Granville Tinnin. James Cooksey who was mentioned in the El Paso Times as Jep Clayton's partner was married to Agatha Clayton who was Jep Clayton's niece. Jane Dixon Koen, the mother of Sarah and Mary Catherine, after the death of her husband, married John Clayton, Jep Clayton's father. The article in the Graham Leader about the killing of Craig Thomas says that Thomas was "Chap" Clayton's brother-in-law. This could be a mistake. Census records show that Craig Thomas' wife was named Mary and there is no evidence that Jep Clayton had a sister named Mary and obviously Thomas could not be a brother of Jep Clayton's wife whose family name was Hunter.


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