Texas Rangers: Shooting times in Company D

June 13, 2024

Edited by Jim Fish

Ozona—Ranger J. B. Gillett remembers his old compadre "Slick" Clements as a “good marksman." June 1st, 1875, there was enlisted in Capt. D. W. Roberts' Co. D, a young man by the name of W. T. Clements. Like the rest of us, he was a raw recruit and a stranger in camp. He was born and raised in Brown County, Texas. At that time Brown County was away out in the frontier. The Comanche and Kiowa raided that country almost every light moon. During the spring and summer months, people living there were compelled to sleep with their guns and pistols in hand. Clements soon learned the use of firearms, and he said that he could hardly remember when he first learned to ride and shoot.

“He was a perfect blonde with light blue or grey eyes, was nearly six feet tall and at the time of his enlistment weighed about 160 pounds. He was of a quiet disposition, not inclined to talk much, but friendly and sociable. The only thing about him that attracted attention at all was he used an American model Smith & Wesson pistol instead of a Colt .45, which nearly all Rangers used.

“There were always some Rangers in each camp who could shoot better than others and many of them were crack shots. We often had shooting matches and the best shots were well known.

“About a month after Capt. Roberts had recruited his company to its full strength, there appeared at camp a cowboy by the name of Ben Anderson. He was a cousin of Billy Clements and came to pay him a friendly visit. Anderson was quite a talker and mixer, rather sporty, and liked to gamble a little. He had not been in camp long before he asked if we had any good shots in the company, and upon being told that we had some experts, Anderson offered to bet his horse that Bill Clements could beat any man in camp shooting at game or at a target with pistol or gun. No one seemed to care to bet with him. Anderson soon finished his visit and left.

“Clements said nothing about his ability to shoot at all. The Rangers at that time were armed with Sharps carbines, .50 caliber, and a sorry gun to hunt Indians with. They were short and light in weight, which made them heat easily, and when fired, the recoil was fearful. Besides, they were poorly sighted.

“The boys, by cutting a nickel in half and using it for a bead or front sight, could improve the shooting qualities of those old Sharps. Clements was handy at putting in those new sights, and the Ranger would try them out at targets, Clements of course shooting with them and, just as Ben Anderson said, we soon found out that Clements could beat any man in camp shooting.

"Then while scouting it was seen that he was a great hunter and could easily supply any size scout with plenty of deer and turkey. I remember once being a scout with him. It was nearly time to camp for the night when the sergeant in charge of the scout noticed right in front of us three old buck deer lying down behind a little live oak thicket. The sergeant halted the command, called Clements, and asked if he could kill one of those deer for supper. Clements said he thought he could, dismounted and slipped up within twenty-five yards of them, stepped suddenly out in plain view and the old bucks jumped up and ran. Clements killed all three of them before they could get away. If he could slip up right close to a bunch of wild turkeys and flush them, he could kill one or more on the wing with a rifle as easily as most men could kill them on the ground. Of course, this was after the Battalion had discarded the Sharps carbine and were armed with the best gun in the world, the Winchester.

“From time to time, the best shots in Co. D tried Clements, but he beat them all. The nearest approach we had to him as a shot in the company was Ed Sieker, Tom Bird, and Jim White. It took Sieker a long time to be convinced that Clements was his master with Winchester or pistol. On one occasion, an old German from Fredericksburg came to our camp with a load of fine watermelons. He had hauled them nearly one hundred miles and camped with us to sell them out. After the boys had bought some and were pretty well filled on melons, this German found the balance slow sale.

“Some of the Rangers offered to shoot with him for his melons. The German bit for he was some shot himself, Clements of course, was selected to shoot against him. Twenty-five cents was staked against a melon. Clements beat him every shot and won the whole load, but after a good laugh all around, the melons were given back to their owner.

“W. T. Clements quit Co. D and joined Major Jones' Escort at the same time the writer did, and on our trips up and down the line, Clements beat every man in the battalion without exception that could be inducted to shoot against him. I remember some of the Rangers on the line saying to Clements, “Of course you can beat us with that old long barrel Smith & Wesson," when Clements would smile, hand them his pistol, take their Colts and beat them just as bad as ever, and let them use his pistol.

“All old rangers who were in the Battalion from 1875 to 1885 will remember W. T. “Slick" Clements, as he was generally known. He played the violin well and was a fine messmate. I have been on scouts with him when he would go to a wild turkey roost at night, select and kill a big fat gobbler, jump on him as soon as he had fallen, pluck the feathers while the turkey was yet warm, bring him into camp, split him down the back, run a stout stick through him, place him before the campfire, roast him slowly for two hours, baste him with bacon grease and turn him from side to side until he was well done and nicely browned. Then with plenty of hot coffee and bread, we would sit around our campfire sometimes until near midnight and have a feast fit for a king.

“Clements, raised as he had been, was naturally a healthy man. He was never sick until some 20 years ago, he was stricken with pneumonia and died within 24 hours.

“In the fall of 1878, Clements and the writer were sent to San Antonio to recover a stolen horse. We were detained in San Antonio three or four days before the horse was delivered to us and, while there, visited a shooting gallery. There were twelve little iron black bird targets. If one knocked down all twelve without a miss, the cartridges did not cost anything. Clements knocked down 48 without a miss. The owner of the gallery said, ‘Try that bull's eye.' This target was a small one; the black spot in the center was about the size of a lady's thimble. One had to hit it center to ring the bell. Clements stood without moving his position and rang the bell thirty times. The proprietor looked at him and said, ‘Hell, I'll have to bar you off or I won't have a cartridge left in the house, or any money.’ A little bootblack who witnessed the shooting, followed us out on the street, and as we passed some other bootblacks, he pointed to us and said, ‘There goes those shooting Rangers. They went into old Joe Lang's shooting gallery, knocked down every target in his place and it did not cost them a cent.’”

Ozona July