Gone To Texas: The Clement Clay "Crockett" Sterling Story

     Clement Clay Sterling was born 1 Dec in 1833 (or 1836 by some records) in Blount County, Alabama. In the 1850 Federal Census, he was living with Silas and Sarah Sterling. Silas and his family migrated to Blount County with the wave of South Carolinians who populated the area when it was first opened for white settlement after General Andrew Jackson's excursion through Alabama in the early 1800s. Clement appears to be the youngest son or a grandson of Silas and Sarah. If Clement was a son, Silas was near 70-years-old when he was born.

     Clement Clay Sterling was probably named after the prominent Clay family in Alabama, specifically Clement Comer Clay who was a three term U.S. Congressman and finally a governor of Alabama. Another Clay, Clement Claiborne Clay, was a Congressman and then a U.S. Senator, and then a Senator in the Confederacy. Clement Claiborne Clay was imprisoned along with the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. John Withers Clay, Clement Claiborne's younger brother published the newspaper, The Huntsville Democrat. Somewhere along the way Clement Clay Sterling adopted the nickname "Crockett."

     Clement married Martha Anna Anderson in Blount County on 15 Jan 1860. His first child, Mary Estelle Sterling, was born 14 Sep 1860. The War was coming and the next year, "Clemon C." Sterling signed up for a three year hitch in Company B of the 19th Alabama Infantry at Summit, Alabama on 12 Aug 1861 by Captain W.R.D. McKenzie. On 25 Sep 1861, he was appointed Sergeant. Company B of the 19th Alabama was known as the "Blount Continentals" or the "Continentals" for short. Company B was one of two Blount County companies in the 19th Alabama. Other companies were from Cherokee, Pickens, and Jefferson counties. The 19th Alabama Infantry was stationed in Huntsville for three months under the instruction and command of Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Joe Wheeler.

     Another member of the Clay family was John Withers Clay, Clement Claiborne's younger brother. He lived in Huntsville and ran the newspaper, The Huntsville Democrat. The following item was in the Wednesday, 30 Oct 1861 edition:

The [Huntsville] Democrat, Wednesday, 30 October 1861

Assault on a Female–We regret to state that, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, about dark, while Mr. Wm. C. Mullens and his wife, of this city, were walking from the Railroad Depot to their residence, a private named C.C. Sterling, in the company of Continentals, Capt. McKenzie, of Blount County, made a remark that Mr. and Mrs. M. understood to be addressed to Mrs. M. and intended to insult her. Mr. M. offered to resent the real or supposed insult, when Sterling threw a large stone at him, which missed him and struck Mrs. M. on one arm and side in the region of the liver, producing a severe contusion of the area, and so injuring the liver that she still continues in a very critical condition. Sterling was taken before Justice Wilson for examination yesterday, but was remanded in jail to await the results of Mrs. M's injuries.  

     In November, while C.C. was still in jail, his company along with the rest of the 19th Alabama was ordered out to Dog River near Mobile and then the Navy Yard at Pensacola, Florida. After a few weeks, the 19th Alabama was ordered to Corinth, Mississippi and joined General Albert Sydney Johnston's army.

     Apparently, Summit in Blount County was well represented in the Confederacy. The community even caught the attention of the newspaper editor in Huntsville:

The [Huntsville] Democrat, 28 Jan 1862; page 3, column 1

A Patriotic Village–The village of Summit in Blount County, Ala., has probably given as strong evidence of patriotism as any other in the Confederacy, if, indeed, it does not surpass all others. At the beginning of the war, it had 18 resident males of 14 years and upwards–Of these, 14 were voters, 10 of whom and 4 boys under 21 (the youngest only 14 or 15) volunteered. Of the 4 left at home, 3 were over 50 years of age. Of the 14 volunteers, two were elected captains, one, a lieutenant, and one, orderly sergeant. It had a boys academy with 80 students, residents and boarders. The teacher and 22, out of 23 boys over 16 years of age, volunteered. The village contains 9 dwelling houses, 4 dry goods' stores, a doctors shop and a grocery. The stores, shop and grocery were all closed, and the keys of the stores left with one of the old gentlemen, who stayed at home, to sell goods to neighbors when specially needed. One of the resident boys, who volunteered, sealed his devotion to his country and her cause by dying a hero's death on the Plains of Manassas. His older brother displayed his valor on the same field of glory and has since raised a company and gone to the field as the captain; while a younger brother, of 14 or 15, is a private in his company. These three brave and patriotic boys are named Arnold. We understand that their noble father, Maj. A.W. Arnold, equipped the whole of his son's company with uniforms. What village or neighborhood in the Southern confederacy can boast so great evidence of pluck and patriotism, in proportion to population?

     Likely, the sergeant mentioned in the foregoing article was Clement Clay Sterling. Despite his patriotism, Clement was probably still in jail when the article was printed. He was released from jail and returned to his regiment near Corinth in March of 1862–just in time for the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in the first part of April. Clement Clay Sterling survived the Battle, but the 19th Alabama lost one-third of its strength at Shiloh. Meanwhile, the 19th Alabama's former Huntsville campground was captured by Union forces a few days later on 11 Apr 1862. The pro-Confederate Huntsville Democrat ceased publication until the following October. From April of 1862 until near the close of the War, the territory North of the Tennessee River was generally considered to be in Union hands; while the area South of the River, including the community of Summit, was considered Confederate.

     Sometime in the middle of 1862, Clement Clay Sterling dropped out or transferred out of the 19th Alabama; the circumstances are unknown. However, in Blountsville on 10 Aug 1862, he was enlisted by Captain T.H. Lewis as a Sergeant in Captain Harrell's Company B, Lewis' Squadron, Partisan Rangers. (This company subsequently became Company E, Lewis' Battalion Alabama Cavalry). Clement was attached to Lewis' Battalion for much of the rest of the War. Not much is known of his service except that in August of 1863, he was sent on special service in command of 13 men to arrest deserters in Talladega County. Sometime in 1864, Clement dropped out of the service altogether; on the last entry of his Confederate Service Record, he is listed as "absent without leave."

     After the War, Clement moved his family from Blount to near Courtland in Lawrence County, Alabama. He's listed there in the 1866 Alabama State Census. His wife Martha died prior to 1870. In the 1870 Federal Census, the widower Clement is living in Colbert County. On 13 Mar 1871 in Lauderdale County, Clement married 15-year-old Sarah "Sallie" Stewart. Clement Sterling was in his mid to late 30s. Clement is listed on the 1880 Federal Census for Colbert County, but by the next year he had moved to Basin Springs in Grayson County, Texas to start a new life.

     Grayson County, Texas lies in the Red River Valley near the Oklahoma border and is geographically located about 50 miles due North of the Dallas and Ft. Worth area. From all accounts, Clement did pretty well in his new home. He left behind many friends and relatives in Blount and Colbert County. Times were tough in Alabama in the 1880s and these friends and relatives were also very interested in the possibilities of a new life in Texas and sent many letters to Clement Sterling at his new home in Grayson County. Fortunately, these letters have been preserved and give us a picture of what life was like back in Blount County and other parts of Alabama.

     One letter was sent from Brooksville in the Fall of 1880:

Brooksville, Ala

Nov 4th 1880

Mr. C.C. Sterling my old friend. I hasten to do as you requested [and?] Mr. Elrod said you wanted to know the names of all the officers of Blount Co. They are as follows: J.W. Moore, Probate; Jessie W. Ellis, Circuit Clerk; T.G. Wikle, Sheff.; S.C. Allgood, County Superintendent of Education; Leroy F. Box, Circuit Judge. He lives in St. Clair county; A.O. Dickson, collector [Taxes?] assesor & C.C. Well, Crocket, think you could of wrote to me before this time. Crocket, I hav been sick ever since we ___ as an that scout. I am just able to go a bout a little. I have been confine to my bed and room near 4 years could not attend to any business & sufered so mutch & do yet, but not so bad as some time back. Well Crocket, our old county is making thousands of cotton our old ___ fields pay for rations & goods our good land make corn & wheat we use a great deal of guanno on poore land it pays well. There is a steam gin running in this place & one at the 4 mile place between this & Blountsville; also a big steam gin near Sam Lowerys on the mountain. Crocket I am living at my old house own all my lands yet would like to sell same. My health so bad can't look after the rents. Crocket, can you tell me anything of Tiele Crus[?], is he living yet? If so, how is he geting along. Give me the news. I have some 20 to 30 bales cotton made on my place every year. Brooksville looks as natural as ever, though some improvements. These lines leaves us all well except my self. Hoping when came to hand may find all well. I remain yours as ever the same old friend,

G.D. Shelton


     Another letter Clement received was from his friend Vestal Beeson. Clement and Vestal were neighbors in Blount County before the War, and both men had moved to the Tuscumbia area in the late 1860s.

Colbert County, Alabama
October 19th, 1881
C.C. Sterling, Esq.

Dear Friend, Your favor of late date has been received, contents noted. Was glad to hear of your welfare of your prosperity, and being well satisfied with your adopted state.

Crops in this County is almost an entire failure–you wasted more in one year than Gass will make on the Shine's place this–though Mr. Gass succeeded in digging up several hundred dollars of old man Shine's gold, that he had buried in the garden, near the vault. Cooper gave him the poodle dog's share, and kept the lion's part to himself. Well, Crockett, I have not much general news to impart. Court is over–a bill was found in the forepart of the week against Geo. Smoot for whipping his wife. He was immediately arrested and tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 100 days hard labor in the coal mines. A few Negroes were sent to the same place.

You ask if I intend to come over to your state–if nothing prevents I expect to leave here next April for Texas. I shall certainly call upon you if I should come to your part of the state, which in all probability I will. As for Dave, I have not heard of him since he migrated; but I presume he landed safely in Lamar Co.–I have not seen Ed Staples since last Spring, he is living with his father-in-law on the Houston place–they have made a good crop I understand–Tuscumbia is the same as when you left, only more so. Same old money changers–same old merchants–same saloons–with same old set of loafers therin; waiting for a Sterling or a Beeson to drop in and treat–

Crocket, give my best respects to Sallie. I often think of her uniform kindness toward me whilst here–give my love to Martha, tell [her] to go to school [and] make a lady of herself, and when she becomes of that age to choose a partner in life, to marry a man in every respect, not a thing. And I assure you Crocket, I am your well wisher and friend.

Vestal E. Beeson

Write soon, I send you papers as per request.  

     Other members of the Sterling family in Alabama moved to other parts of Texas including some of Clement's cousins. One cousin, Hilluriah Sterling, first moved to Tippah County, Mississippi from Blount County. In 1884, Hilluriah moved to within a few miles of Clement to a place called Van Alstyne.


Letter to Mr. C. C. Sterling
Basin Springs
Grayson County, Texas
Postmarked 21 Jul 1885

July 19, 1885

Van Alstyne
Grayson County, Texas

Dear Cousin,

I set myself to write you a few lines this morning as I learn you are in this county. I received a letter from my brother James M. Sterling yesterday and he said you lived at Basin Springs in this county, if so let me hear from you at once. I moved to this place last January. Got here too late to get choice of places. We don't like this black mud. I want to know how you like where you live. I suppose it is only about 25 miles from here to where you live. I would like for you to come down and see me as soon you get this. I live 16 miles South of Sherman near Van Alstyne. You will find me two miles West of Van. I would be glad to see you and your family.

Crocket, it has been a long time since we met, although I have not forgot you. Want to see you mighty bad. Come and bring your family. I want to talk with you about all of the connection. I left old Blount in 1867 and came to Mississippi and stayed there till January last. Come to this place–land is too high here for me; too high at home. I want to go somewhere and get me a place. If you are settled where you are, let me know and I will come and see you. I have a heap of friends in Texas; some in Grayson, some in Ellis; some in Parker; some in others. These are said to be good counties. This is a good county here, but land is too high–from 10 to 30 dollars per acre.

Well Crocket, I will say to you James and George's family, Tom Trammel's family is all well. I have one sister in this country. She is well. She married a man by the name of Lewellen[?]. Mother and Tobe[?] is in Mississippi yet. They was well the last time I heard from them. Sinday [Lucinda] is dead. Sallie [Sarah] is in Arkansas. Nan [Nancy] and myself is here.

Well Crocket, I have 20 acres in cotton and in corn. My crop is very good except some cotton. The web worm eat it and made it late. Well, I will close this time. Hoping to hear from you soon. If you can come down in a few days, write to me and let me know. If you come on the train, I will meet at the train any day. If you have got a good horse you can ride here in a day. I suppose it is only 25 miles. Write and tell me if you live at a railroad town and what railroad. I may come to see you this summer.

So, no more this time. You give my love to all the family,

H.. Sterlin [Hilluriah Sterling; the "g" in Sterling was left off in the signature]

You know my name by

     Hilluriah Sterling's older brother, James M. Sterling was a private in Captain Arnold's company mentioned in one of the newspaper articles. Captain Arnold raised Company D which was attached to the 26th Alabama Infantry. (The 26th was later renamed the 50th).

     Another one of Clement Sterling's cousins was another Hilluriah. His name was Hilluriah Hale, son of William and Sarah (Sterling) Hale. Hill Hale wrote Clement with news of Blount County and asked a series of questions as he contemplated his own move to Texas.

Brooksville, Blount County, Ala. April 17, 1887
C.C. Sterling
Bayson [Basin] Springs
Grayson County, Texas

Dear Cousin: It has been a good while since we heard from you. This letter leaves us all well and we are doing tolerably well. There is a good deal of excitement about Brooksville over the new railroad which they expect to build through here from Huntsville to Birmingham. Except this railroad excitement this country is not doing much. I am driving ahead and manage to make a living but if I can do any better in Texas I would like to bid old Blount goodbye and try it. I have my wife and eleven children, five of the children big enough to work. My oldest boy is eighteen and the next boy about fifteen and then a girl thirteen and then a girl about 12 and then a boy eleven. These five are my dependence for work hands. My other children are small.

The cash prices we pay for produce here are for corn seventy-five cents, flour five dollars a barrel, meat 12 1/2. Other things in proportion. Write me your Texas cash prices. Is the country you live in healthy? Did the dry streak affect your crop last year? Can land be bought on good terms? What sort of time do they give a man in Texas on land payments? Tell me about the public lands, the railroad lands and the school lands. Are these all taken up and what sort of terms do they give a man on each? What are the chances to rent in Texas the first year and how are the terms to renters? Give me full information about my moving to Texas, will it be a good thing for me? Write me something about Bryant Roberts and Medilly, how are they making it and how do they like the country? Hoping to hear from you soon, I am your cousin,

Hill Hale

     The letters transcribed here represent only a few of the letters typically received by Clement Clay Sterling from Alabama friends and relatives over a ten year period. Most of the letters were written by those who missed their former neighbors and kinfolk. As one of the many Alabamians to migrate to Texas following the Civil War, Clement was asked about the weather, the price of land and produce, and if he thought moving to Texas would be a good idea for others he left behind in the old home places–such as his cousin Hilluriah Sterling described as "Old Blount."

     Clement Clay "Crockett" Sterling had several children with his second wife Sallie, including Martha (1871), James (1882), William Gibson (1882), Edgar (1885), and Alice (1888). He had spent less than 10 years of his life in Texas before he died on 18 Nov 1889. He was not yet 60-years-old. His wife Sallie survived him by nearly 40 years and died 20 Jan 1930. They are both buried in the Basin Springs Cemetery in Grayson County. His tombstone reads, "A loving husband, a father dear; a faithful friend, is buried here."

     Many of his descendants can still be found populating the Grayson County area of Texas. Clement paved the way for several other former Alabama families who pulled up their Alabama stakes and made the trek West to Texas. Their descendants can be found in North and East Texas. Although he is now considered one of the Texas pioneers, Clement Clay "Crockett" Sterling had his roots back in Blount County, Alabama.

     Sources: 1866 Alabama State Census; 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 Federal Census; Blount and Lauderdale Marriage Records; Confederate Service Records; Grayson County, Texas Cemetery Inscriptions and Related Family Data, Vol. II, by Mrs. T.E. Henry and Mrs. Sears Anderson, 1984; The Huntsville Democrat; 19th Alabama Infantry Regimental History; letters generously provided by Clement Sterling descendant, Marsha Moody of Dallas, Texas.