This Week in Texas History: The Clements – A family of killers

This Week in Texas History
By Bartee Haile

Mannen Clements, Sr. decided to take a break from politicking on Mar. 23, 1887 and stepped into a Ballinger barroom for a refreshing drink. What he got instead was a deadly barrage of bullets.

Including members of their extended family, the Clements were a close-knit clan of cold-blooded killers. Besides Mannen and his brothers Gyp, Jim and Joe, the lethal lineup featured cousin John Wesley Hardin, son-in-law “Deacon” Jim Miller and Mannen, Jr. better known as Mannie.

Wes Hardin eluded the law in early 1871 by lying low at the Clements ranch in Gonzales County. The teenaged terror accompanied his kin on a cattle drive to Kansas that littered the Chisholm Trail with bodies. He added a half dozen notches to his blazing six-gun, while Mannen blew away two insubordinate cowpunchers.

After breaking Wes out of jail in 1872, the Clements boys and their trigger-happy cousin spent the next two years fighting on the side of the Taylors, distant relatives, in their Gulf Coast feud with the Suttons. As the private war petered out, the Clements went back to rustling cattle and Wes continued his killing spree.

When Wes was slapped with a 25-year prison term in 1878, Mannen promised to care for his wife and children. The addition of the Hardins to his long list of dependents was no financial strain for the rancher, who by the mid-1880’s had become one of the wealthiest cattlemen in West Texas.

Numerous neighbors had noticed that the size of the Clements herd seemed to increase in direct proportion to their own mysterious losses. To intimidate his detractors and prevent a potentially incriminating investigation, Mannen ran for Runnels County Sheriff in 1887.

On the candidate’s campaign staff was Jim Miller, a young drifter Mannen hired in spite of or maybe because of his reputation as an up-an-coming contract killer. The soft-spoken assassin not only felt deeply indebted to the elder Mannen but also was his son’s best friend and his daughter Sallie’s suitor.

Although everyone assumed the saloon slaying of Mannen Clements by city marshal Joe Townsend would be avenged by his brothers, the choice of weapons implicated Miller. Townsend survived the shotgun blast, but his left arm was so badly mutilated in the ambush that it had to be amputated.

Jim vanished but secretly sent for Sallie Clements, who eagerly wed the fugitive. Five years later, Mannie Clements was reunited with his pal and sister, and their violent struggle with Sheriff Bud Frazer for control of Pecos turned the sleepy town into a battleground.

By the time “Deacon Jim” finished off his foe in the usual fashion, Mannen had moved to El Paso and launched an unlikely career in law enforcement. Soon after his arrival, Wes Hardin, recently paroled after 15 years behind bars, was gunned down in a local dive.

Although Mannie wore a badge for 14 years, he remained an outlaw at heart. He often abused his authority to cover up his crimes and to bully critics into submission.

Hearing that the respectable element had circulated a petition to protest his possible promotion to police captain, Mannie angrily confronted the mayor. “I am going to get every one of those names off the petition,” he vowed and succeeded in doing exactly that. But the tough tactics did not secure the higher office.

Finally in 1908 Mannie’s enemies were convinced they had the goods on him. Positively identified by a robbery victim as the man who took his cash and diamonds at gunpoint, Mannie seemed smugly confident as the trial date approached.

A surprise acquittal spared him a stretch in the penitentiary, but Mannie’s law enforcement days were over. He reportedly resorted to smuggling Chines aliens over the border, a hazardous occupation that barely covered his bar tab.

On Dec. 29, 1908, Mannie swaggered into the Coney Island Saloon, an El Paso watering hole once called a meeting place for “all the uncaged convicts in the west.” Minutes later a shot rang out and Mannie slumped to the floor with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

Patrons quickly scattered leaving the proprietor to tell the first officer on the scene, “Mannen Clements just committed suicide.” The police charged a bartender with the murder, but a wishy-washy jury, after voting eight to four in favor of conviction on the first ballot, later returned a verdict of not-guilty.

Jim Miller did not live long enough to avenge the son as he had the father. The hired killer undoubtedly planned to turn El Paso inside out until he found Mannie’s murderer but had to honor a prior commitment in Oklahoma. His dirty work done, Jim was detained by a lynch mob that insisted he hang around awhile.

Read all about the early years of the oil frenzy in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil” Order your copy for $24.00 by mailing a check to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.

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