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Sons of Confederate Veterans

Chief Clinton Camp #366

Abilene, Texas



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Our Camp's Namesake

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John J. "Chief" Clinton

Born:  Aug. 2, 1848, in Dublin, Ireland

Died:  May 31, 1922, in Abilene, Texas

Education: St. John’s Military Academy, Little Rock, Arkansas

Family:  Wife, Mary “Mother” Clinton; no children

Abilene Deputy Marshal from 1884-86,
Town Marshal (the title was later changed to Police Chief) 1886-1922;
Volunteer Fireman, 1886-1889;
Volunteer Fire Chief 1889-1922.

Born in Ireland

Clinton was born Aug. 2, 1848, in Dublin, Ireland.   His family moved to Wisconsin when he was seven, and when he was 15, in the midst of the Civil War; he went to St. John’s Military Academy at Little Rock, Arkansas.  He enlisted in a Confederate Cavalry unit made up of boys less than 19 years of age.

He fought in the battle of Chapel Hill, N.C., which occurred after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered and was captured by Union troops.  Newspaper stories about Clinton say that he was fond of wearing a Confederate medal throughout his tenure in Abilene.

After the war, Clinton worked as a government scout, first coming to West Texas in 1867.  As a scout he met Col. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.  Clinton’s obituary states that Cody would visit Clinton whenever he brought his Wild West circus to Abilene.

The city of Abilene was 3 years old in 1884 when Clinton happened to pass through the county driving a herd of cattle.  He stayed when he was offered the job of deputy marshal.  In 1886, he ran for town marshal, but lost to W.A. George.   Several months later, however, George resigned and Clinton was appointed to the top job.  Clinton never lost another election.  His title was later changed to police chief, a position he held until his death May 31, 1922.

He also headed the volunteer fire department.  Clinton was the spirit of the Abilene Volunteer Department personified.  For thirty-eight years he answered the call of distress in Abilene.  The nights were never too cold nor the days too hot or rainy for him to rush to his post as commander and leader.

Another unique trait about Clinton was that he never failed to attend a funeral in town.  At times, he and the undertaker were the only people present.

Chief Clinton, however, is best known for a tradition he started in 1885.  Warned that a group of cowboys planned to shoot up the town on New Year’s Eve, Clinton declared that all saloons should close at midnight.  As a signal to the saloons, Clinton stood at the corner of South First and Chestnut streets and emptied his ivory-handled revolver into the air.  There was no trouble, and the firing of the revolver became an Abilene tradition on New Year’s Eve — even after Abilene voted itself dry.  After Clinton’s death, his friend Jinks McGee carried on the tradition until 1951.  A state historical marker now commemorates Clinton at the site. 

See Texas State Historical Landmarker ~> Click here

Excerpts from LARRY ZELISKO’s article: John J. Clinton was a legend in law enforcement” originally published Tuesday, December 28, 1999.

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Click for Abilene, Texas Forecast

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Last updated: April 09, 2006.