Owen Leonard Clements Drowned During Invasion of Mexico

Owen Leonard Clements (subject of previous post: see Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery) grew up in the Ray City, GA vicinity.  He entered the U. S. Army and, serving with Battery D, 4th Field Artillery Regiment, advanced to the rank of sergeant.

In 1916, Sergeant Clements was stationed with his unit on the Mexican border near Brownsville, TX.  During a border skirmish incident Owen Leonard Clements died, along with three other American soldiers, while crossing the Rio Grande.

One of the first accounts of the death of Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements came in the El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening Edition, January 27, 1916.  ( Note: In this early account, the newspaper misprinted his name as “Owen B. Clements.”)

El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening, January 27, 1916, El Paso, TX. Owen Leonard Clements drowned along with three other soldiers.

El Paso Herald, Thursday Evening, January 27, 1916, El Paso, TX. Owen Leonard Clements drowned along with three other soldiers.


Parties Search Rio Grande For the Drowned Who Attempted Rescue.


Returned Privates Say Promise of Mescal Was Decoy Used By Mexicans.

    Brownsville, Tex. Jan 27. – Privates Wm. C. Wheeler and Viggo Pederson of Battery D, Fourth field artillery, who were kidnaped late Wednesday by Mexican bandits and taken south from the border, were rescued by Carranza soldiers and brought to Matamoros today, crossing the international bridge into the United States at 11 oclock.  Dressed in Mexican clothes, they were turned over to American authorities.
     No word had been heard from the men since their crossing the river.  They wore no clothes.  A searching party was sent out from Matamoros and at an early morning hour the Americans were found.
Wheeler and Pederson said they were decoyed to the Mexican side by a Mexican who appeared on the bank while they were swimming.  Wheeler said the Mexican did not appear to be a soldier, but when surrounded by eight Mexicans later, some distance from the bank, they found their captors were all soldiers.  The men were taken to Rio Bravo Wednesday night by their captors, held in jail until midnight, put on a train at 1 a.m. this morning and reached  Matamoros at 8 oclock.  They were taken before Col. Quintinella, where they were told that Mexican civilians were not authorized to arrest them and that the Mexican soldiers were also at fault.  Both men were turned over to United States consul Johnson at Matamoros, who delivered them to Fort Brown. 

     Three American artillerymen and one cavalryman were drowned when three United States army lieutenants and 14 privates invaded Mexico opposite Progreso, Tex., in an unsuccessfuly attempt to rescue Wheeler and Pederson, who swam across the Rio Grande while bathing and were captured by two armed Mexican bandits.

Officers Are Arrested.

     The Americans crossed under a crossfire from the American and Mexican side, but no one was killed or wounded by the gun fire.  Lieut. J. E. Mort, commanding battery D, Fourth field artillery, and Lieuts. Payton and Waldron of the same battery, were ordered arrested Wednesday night by Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston.
Col. E. H. Plummer, commanding the 28th infantry at Mission, Tex., was instructed to send a field officer to Progreso at once.  Progreso is 33 miles west of Brownsville.

Mexican Troops Sent.

     Maj. Gen. Funston reported the occurrence to Col. J. R. Quintinella, commanding on the Mexican side, in the absence of Gen. Alfredo Ricaut.  Col. Quintinella said there was no Mexican patrol opposite Progreso, but immediately telegraphed the Carranza commander at Rio Bravo, Mex., nine miles south of Progreso to send a detachment of troops to the rescue of privates Wheeler and Pederson.

Two Effect Escape.

     According to reports received here, the trouble started when four members of D Battery stripped and swam across the Rio Grande at Progreso.  Two of them, Wheeler and Pederson, were taken prisoners and marched into the interior.  The other two soldiers swam back to the American side, several shots being fired from the southern  side of the river.

Officers Search for Men.

     Nearly an hour later Lieuts. Mort, Payton and Waldron, with 13 artillerymen and one cavalryman, swam the river, under protection of gunfire from the American side.  On the Mexican shore they are said to have searched two Mexican houses without finding any trace of Wheeler and Pederson.  On their return to the American side, an hour later, they were fired upon 10 or 12 ties by men in the Mexican brush.
The Americans drowned were: Sergt. Owen B. Clements, Corp. Michael F. King, private Harry A. Rhodes, all of D battery, Fourth field artillery, and Private Charles D. Wiltenbest, troop A, 12th cavalry.
Maj. General Funston said the blame apparently rested with persons on the American side of the border, and that he had issued the strictest orders to officers and men not to cross the Rio Grande under any circumstances.

      Bad feeling had existed among Americans and Mexicans in the Progresso district since last summer when there were  many conflicts there during the Mexican bandit operations.  Two American soldiers were killed in that vicinity.

Bodies Not Recovered.

           The bodies of the four soldiers who were drowned had not been recovered today, but those searching for the corpses  expected to find them before dark. Parties  are searching the river between here and Progreso, Tex.     
(Continued on page 5, Col. 3)

(Continued from Page 1.)

     There were no boats available at the point of crossing.  The officers and men swam the river carrying only pistols and cartridge belts.

Funston Reports to Washington.

     Washington D. C., Jan 27. – Maj. Gen. Funston reported to the war department today the drowning of four and the capture of two American soldiers near Brownsville, Tex., Wednesday. His dispatch contained a  report by Maj. Anderson, commander of the 12th cavalry, and says:      “I have directed Col. Plummer, 28th Infantry, to send one of his field officers to investigate.  Mr. Garza, Mexican consul, has been informed of the contents of Maj. Anderson’s telegram and of the arrest of the three officers concerned.  He has gone to Matamoros to inform the commander general there and to ask that immediate search be made for privates Wheeler and Pederson.  The Mexicans on the other side were not in uniform.”
The state department has not yet taken up the subject with the defacto government of Mexico.  The war department’s information regarding the incident near Brownsville was turned over to the state department for its information and secretary Lansing took it  under consideration.


Related Posts:


1 Comment

  1. H. A. (Butch) Lawhon said,

    October 11, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I have a Christmas Card dated 1935 which is an invitation to the troopers of the 12th Cavalry for Christmas Dinner. It has a complete Roster inside it, starting with Captain R. D. Palmer, Comanding Officer ending with the Privates. On the back is a list of the 12 Cavalry Band. Also have a photo showing all the troopers at HQ Troop in 1935. Is there a Musem for the 12th in Brownsville, or Rio Grand City?? This was my fathers whom is listed a Private in the Roster and is in the photo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.