Talking Texas Who was Elizabeth Carter Clifton?

Texas Froniter Icon 


            Elizabeth Carter Clifton was a rancher, merchant, Indian captive, and became a legend on the Texas frontier. Clifton was born on March 29, 1825 in Alabama. When she was sixteen, she married Alexander Carter, a free black man. They had two children and moved west to Fort Belknap in Young County. Carter managed a ranch and ran a boarding house, the Carter house, while her husband and father-in-law ran a cargo transportation business. Her husband and father-in-law were murdered in 1857.

            In 1858, Clifton married Lt. Owen Sprague, but he disappeared eight months later. Clifton’s trading house began to prosper once the Butterfield Overland Mail began stopping in Fort Belknap in 1858. Clifton married one of her ranch hands, Thomas Fitzpatrick, when she was thirty-six, but he was murdered eighteen months later.

            Clifton was taken captive by the Plains Indians led by Comanche chief Little Buffalo in the Elm Creek Raid of October 13, 1864.  Clifton’s daughter, Midred Durkin and infant grandson were murdered and Clifton was taken captive along with her thirteen-year-old son, and Clifton’s two granddaughters, Charlotte Durkin (Lottie), age five, and Mildred Durkin (Milly), age 2.

             For twelve months and twenty days, Clifton was held captive in a Kiowa camp in northwestern Kansas. Milly along with several other children froze to heath in early 1865. Lottie spent nine months in captivity and was branded on her arms and head before released.

             On November 2, 1865, Clifton was rescued by Gen. Leavenworth and held at the Kaw Mission at Council Grove, Kansas. She was paid three dollars a week to take care of other released captives until August 1866, when she began the six-week trip home.

            Clifton was reunited with her granddaughter, Lottie in Parker County. In 1869 Clifton married a Parker county farmer Isaiah Clifton. They moved to Fort Griffin with Lottie and Isaiah Clifton’s four youngest children.  Isaiah died in 1880 and Clifton remained at Fort Griffin until her death June 18, 1882. She was buried beside Isaiah in the oldest cemetery in Shackelford County.

            Elizabeth Carter Clifton led a grueling life; full of challenges and it made her a legend. You can hear her story at Frontier Texas in Downtown Abilene, where she has been brought back to life with state of the art technology. 



Barbara A. Neal Ledbetter, "CLIFTON, ELIZABETH ANN CARTER," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed February 27, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

© 2015 Frontier Texas/ Rebecca Kinnison