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). Edward 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’…


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