THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY
JANUARY 2018 BOOK REVIEW
This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Autumn 2016, Volume 63, Number 1)
TOM TENNILLE AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JIM CLEMENTS: Echoes Of The Sutton-Taylor Feud And Texas Reconstruction.
By Wayne Tennille. Pp. xiv + 118. Eleven illustrations. Selected bibliography. Endnotes. Index. Soft cover. $14.95 US.
We all love a mystery, or so the saying goes. The only thing incontrovertible about the death of Jim Clements on May 22, 1897 is just that. But wait: even that is controversial since no body was ever found; Jim Clements may not have been killed at all, but may have disappeared in Mexico. Was he killed and his body buried? Or did he decide to leave it all behind him and just disappear? Was he another victim of the Sutton-Taylor Feud which claimed many lives in Texas during the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction?
Jim Clements is not an easily recognized figure of Western Americana. Only one article has been devoted to his life, “James Clements: Peripheral Gunfighter” published in the English Westerners Society Brand Book back in 1980, by this reviewer. He has appeared in books about the Sutton-Taylor Feud but only in passing, and he figures in the several biographies of John Wesley Hardin, but mainly during the cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas in 1871. To answer the question as to whom Jim Clements was, in a word: he was a first cousin of John Wesley Hardin, sided with the Taylor clan in the Sutton-Taylor Feud and in May 1897 “disappeared.” He may have been murdered but his body was never found and no one ever convicted of the crime. He had married Anne Tennille, daughter of George Culver Tennille who was killed in the feud. He had several children who grew to adulthood. And what makes this incident in history significant is that Anne Tennille had a brother, Thomas Conley, born February 22, 1860, in DeWitt County, Texas, which some consider the heart of the Sutton-Taylor Feud.
Author Wayne Tennille is the grandson of Tom Tennille. He had grown up knowing about the disappearance of Jim Clements, and in some way the name of his grandfather was hinted at as the killer. After many of the old-timers were dead he decided to seek out all he could find about the relationship of Clements and Tom Tennille. His research uncovered much about the times his grandfather lived, the man he may have killed and why his passing remained a mystery.
Author Tennille opens his story with the disappearance of Jim Clements. Instead of a conflict over open range or a stolen horse the problem in this family was that Jim Clements abused his wife. Anne T. Clements may have began the road of marital bliss as any other bride, but the happiness ended and ultimately Anne had had enough and wanted out of the marriage. Jim wouldn’t accept that and let it be known he wouldn’t change his ways. It became well-known among family members, and among the extended family members, that the couple had reached an impasse.
There are various theories as to how the impasse was breached, and author Tennille discusses thoroughly the probable incidents which led to the hearing of shots on that February day in 1897 and why the families of that section were able to keep “mum” about what they knew or thought they knew.
In developing the story we deserve the chapter on the feud, a sketch of the life of Thomas Tennille, his father who died fighting a posse, others who were closely connected and what happened to Thomas Conley Tennille. Jim Clements had two brothers who could have conducted their own “investigation” but apparently did not. One is tempted to speculate on what would have happened if John Wesley Hardin was still alive, but he had been killed over a year and a half before, so if Jim Clements was in truth killed Hardin could not have returned to DeWitt County to ferret out who the killer was.
The author concludes that Jim Clements was in all likelihood murdered to prevent more abuse of his wife and perhaps his children. But the second mystery remains: if Clements was murdered, then who killed him? His brother-in-law certainly had the means and had stood up to him before, but there were other close friends of Tom and Anne who had the means as well, as did Anne herself. She was no timid prairie flower. So that mystery remains.
In sum this is a succinct gathering of the now available facts on a mystery over a century old. It was a cold case in 1897 and will remain so.
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