Are there any books or articles that examine the “shootist” personality? Was Clay Allison bipolar, schizophrenic, antisocial or some combination of psychoses? Or was he just overly sensitive?

David Goode
Bedford, Virginia

Not a lot is written about the psychology of gunfighters. Since psychology is a 20th-century science, gunfighters can be analyzed only in retrospect. Yet, the Civil War likely affected many Old West gunfighters, such as Clay Allison.

Allison was a taco and tamale short of a combination plate. During the war, he came home on leave in 1862 with a medical condition described as partly epileptic and partly maniacal.

On October 7, 1870, in Cimarron, New Mexico, he was part of a mob that lynched an accused murderer. Afterwards, Allison cut off the victim’s head and placed it on a pole in Lambert’s Saloon. He later abused the body of another lynch victim, dragging the corpse behind his horse. When a newspaper editor criticized him, Allison wrecked the newspaper office.

Legend says Allison’s dentist once pulled the wrong tooth, prompting Allison to extract one of the dentist’s front teeth. The man’s screams attracted a crowd before Allison could pull out another tooth.

Ironically, Allison died as a result of a wagon fall that fractured his skull on the front wheel.

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