Letters in the Limelight: E.A. Clemens

Cataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

E.A Clemens letter Coll14.9.8.3E.A.  Clemens (d. 1924) is perhaps one of Ewart’s more ‘exotic’ correspondents – not least due to his being the nephew of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). Earnest Allen (‘Al’) Clemens owned a ranch in Magdalena, New Mexico, and so owned a fair number of horses, which were Ewart’s primary focus of study at this time. In a letter dated 21 June 1902, Clemens tells Ewart that he would happily supply him with any horses from his own herd for experimental purposes, as well as any required skulls and other anatomical parts for analysis. One important motive behind breeding and cross-breeding at this time was the production of animals hardy enough to cope with heavy work or difficult conditions. In a letter to a mutual friend, American naturalist Theo Cockerell, Clemens reports that he was aiming to set up an experimental breeding station on his ranch to breed hardy ponies adapted for life in the prairie or desert. Whether or not he achieved this is as yet unknown (maybe this will emerge in later correspondence), but he was clearly a man with ambition.

Fascinated by this exchange of letters between a ranch in New Mexico and a rural bungalow south of Edinburgh, I did a bit of rooting around for any more information on Clemens. And what a story! His home, now named Clemens Ranch House, is now a registered cultural property and the current owners have created this informative website:


It is interesting to read about how Clemens’ personality manifested itself in the building of his ranch house. He was obviously a perfectionist: he reputedly ordered stonemasons from Italy to cut the locally quarried stone for the ranch house and ordered his back porch to be ripped out and remade three times before he was happy with the height. He was also cautious: after apparently being held hostage for three days by desperados, Clemens designed numerous trap doors, tunnels and escape routes from each room of the house!

 Join us again for more ‘letters in the limelight’…

4 thoughts on “Letters in the Limelight: E.A. Clemens

  1. I am interested in this correspondence with E. A Clemens. Though I never knew him, he is a Grandfather of mine. His first name is Earnest, not Edward, who was an older brother who died in 1852. He was born in Rockford, IL – Dec 10, 1859.
    I would be interested in any other correspondence dealing with him that you might come across.

      • Dear Clare;
        It has obviously been awhile since your reply to my note. I am not super proficient at using these various Genealogy programs and I missed your reply. I would like very much to receive any scans of Clemens letters. I did misspell his first name in my first note; it is Ernest not Earnest. Because I am not quite sure where I find myself in this note to you, the likelihood of my finding a reply is limited. Would it be possible for you to reply to my personal email address: dwfirth@comcast .net?

        I have done a fair amount of work on my blood Grandfather; I know the story about the design of the house relative to the desperado incident and have an account of the incident. I have corresponded with the house owners (former) who produced the Web Site. It was used principally to facilitate the sale of the property which they have done and as such pulled down the Web Site. Even though the relationship with Mark Twain has been passed down through my immediate family, I have not been able to confirm it. I most recently verified that he attended Boston Tech in 1881, which shortly after was renamed Massachusetts Technology or more commonly MIT. He first arrived in New Mexico as trained chemist and engaged in mining. The Horse Ranch followed, and it was that which initially attracted my Grandmother, but the marriage did not last very long…

        I any case, I would be happy to share any information that I have and as I said above would like very much to see the correspondence that you have. I have in effect been piecing together his life. He was pretty eccentric,.and died from the best that I can surmise deeply in debt. My suspicion is that the advent of the gasoline powered motor vehicle put his lucrative horse business into history. Magdalena was the east end of one of the major Southwest Coast’s cattle trials, and trucks supplanted horses.

        Very best regards, and sorry for the late reply.

        David Firth

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