Old Man Clanton

Paging through a back issue of True West (June 2016) I came across an interesting coincidence I missed on my first pass through the magazine last year. On August 13, 1881, while Nana was halfway through his famous raid through New Mexico, Newman Haynes Clanton and six companions were ambushed far to the south,  close to where the New Mexico and Arizona borders meet the Mexican line.

“Old Man” Clanton was the 65-year-old patriarch of the “Cowboy” gang who would make themselves famous two months later by shooting it out with the Earps and Doc Holliday at Tombstone’s OK Corral.  In the summer of ’81 they were already notorious on both sides of the border as rustlers and murderous bandits.  Clanton and his companions  were driving a herd of cattle west out of the Animas Valley when they were jumped by Mexican rurales in Guadalupe Canyon on the southern end of the Peloncillos.  The old man and four others were killed and two escaped in the dawn attack; there were apparently no Mexican casualties .

Nana and his raiders were far to the north that day, still riding away from their own successful ambush of Captain Parker and his men in Carrizo Canyon on the 12th. But the trail Clanton was on along the border was well-known and frequently used by the Indian raiders. It’s tempting to imagine what might have happened if Old Man Clanton had encountered Nana instead of the Mexicans. They were both very tough old men, equally experienced in the dark arts of border warfare, and they would have made formidable opponents. Perhaps instead of fighting each other they might have united against the hated Mexicans.

Speculation aside, the coincidence of dates is a reminder that not all the violence in Apacheria was committed by the Apaches, and it’s likely more was laid to their account than they were due.

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