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Powell Clayton (August 7, 1833 August 23, 1914) was an engineer, a Union Army general in the American Civil War, the first carpetbag Governor of the State of Arkansasmarker, and Ambassador to Mexico during the administrations of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Early life

Clayton as a young man
Clayton was born in Bethel, Pennsylvaniamarker, to John and Ann Glover Clayton. He was a direct descendent of William Clayton, originally from Chichester, England,[37555] who was a close friend of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, and William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. His father was an orchard keeper and carpenter and parents had ten children in all, although six died in infancy. He attended a private military academy in Bristol, Pennsylvaniamarker and later attended engineering school at Wilmington, Delawaremarker.

Clayton moved to Kansasmarker in 1855 and served as an engineer at Leavenworth, Kansasmarker. On April 29, 1861, he is recorded as having a company of militia at Fort Leavenworthmarker.

Civil War

In May 1861 Clayton was formally mustered into the Union Army as a captain of the 1st Kansas Infantry. In December 1861, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 5th Kansas Cavalry and later to colonel in March 1862.

During the morning and early afternoon of October 25, 1863, Clayton was in command of federal troops occupying Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He successfully repulsed a three-pronged confederate attack of the forces of General John S. Marmaduke. Cotton bales hastily placed around the Pine Bluff courthouse and surrounding streets provided an effective barricade for the union defenders. Confederate loss was 41 killed, wounded, and captured. Clayton was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on August 1, 1864.

During the war he served primarily in Arkansasmarker and Missourimarker and fought in several other battles in those states.

Arkansas life and career

Powell fell in love with Arkansas and an Arkansas girl. He married Adaline McGraw of Helena and purchased a farm in Jefferson County with his brother William (W.H.H. Clayton). Arkansas was a violent place after the war with lynching’s, murders, and intimidation. Powell was told by other farmers that they would pretend to go along with reconstruction but would win back what they had lost through peaceful means. Powell decided he would stay out of conflicts and tend to his farm. When his neighbors became more and more threatening, he realized that he could not set quietly while Arkansas was burning.

In 1868 he was elected the first Republican governor of Arkansas. His tenure was marked with impressive financial growth and population increase although he was forced to declare martial law in the beginning. He was a strong advocate for education and railroad construction, and battling the Ku Klux Klan.

On September 9, 1868 Clayton lost his left hand while hunting outside Little Rock when his rifle discharged.

Powell Clayton accepted election to the United States Senate once he was sure Arkansas was stable. While in the Senate, he worked with President Grant and his brother W.H.H. Clayton to redirect Judge Isaac Parker from Utah to Fort Smith. The legendary “Hanging Judge” along with U.S. Attorney Clayton are credited with bringing law and order to the region. W.H.H. Clayton was later instrumental in bringing statehood to Oklahoma.

Clayton returned to Arkansas and in 1882 established a home at Eureka Springs, Arkansasmarker where he built the Crescent Hotels and established the Eureka Springs Railroad. Eureaka Springs quickly became a popular destination with Clayton's development of the area. A memorial to Clayton is still in place in downtown Eureka Springs.

Clayton's administration made progress in getting the University of Arkansasmarker on its feet, establishing a system of education, and bringing railroads into the State. However his administration was also accused of corruption, was personally accused of criminal conduct and was the target of numerous attacks on his character. During his term he declared martial law and organized a State Militia and conducted military operations against the Ku Klux Klan.

His brother, John Middleton Clayton was assassinated in 1889 in Plumerville, Arkansasmarker, in Conway Countymarker while attempting to dispute the outcome of his failed Congressional candidacy to Democrat Clifton R. Breckinridge. John had served on the original board of the University of Arkansas and was involved in picking the Fayetteville site and establishing the first branch in Pine Bluff. He served in both houses of the state legislature and was elected sheriff of Jefferson County five times. When he was assassinated, a large group traveled to Little Rock to accompany his body back to Pine Bluff. The Grand Army of the Republic Post was renamed in his honor.

Later life

Powell Clayton at age 79 at the 1912 Republican Presidential Convention in Chicago
Powell Clayton was appointed as Ambassador to Mexicomarker in 1897 by President William McKinley and served in that position until 1905. In 1912 he moved to Washington, D.C.marker.

Clayton was the author of The Aftermath of the Civil War in Arkansas, published posthumously in 1915.

Clayton died in Washington, D.C., and is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker.

See also


  • Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture entry: Powell Clayton
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.


  • [Grave Stone at Arlington National Cemetery]

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