More on Sergeant Owen Leonard Clements

Owen Leonard Clements (subject of previous posts: see Owen Leonard Clements and the 4th Field Artillery and Owen Leonard Clements Drowned During Invasion of Mexico)  was a son of Senie Burkhalter and  Benjamin Franklin Clements. He grew up in the Ray City, GA vicinity and as a young man entered the U. S. Army.  He was serving with Battery D, 4th Field Artillery Regiment in Texas on the Rio Grande  in January of 1916 when he and several men in his unit were involved in an ‘unofficial’ invasion of Mexico. Clements drowned while crossing the Rio Grande.  Here is another account of the incident.

Owen Leonard Clements was among soldiers who crossed the Rio Grande in 1916.

Owen Leonard Clements was among soldiers who crossed the Rio Grande in 1916.

Corpus Christi Caller and Daily Herald
Thursday, January 27, 1916





Sensational Incident Precipitated by Act of Four American Artillerymen Who Swam the River, Two of Them Being Captured as They Climbed the Bank on Mexican Side – Eighteen of Their Comrades Went to Rescue and Battle Resulted

MERCEDES, Texas, January 26. – Four American soldiers are known to be dead and two others are missing as the result of the first armed invasion of Mexico by United States troops, which occurred at Progreso, seven miles southwest of Mercedes at 3:30 o’clock this afternoon.  None of the Americans, however, were killed by Mexican bullets, the four who lost their lives having been drowned while swimming the Rio Grande.

The Dead

PRIVATE HARRY A. RHOADE, all of the above are of Battery D., Fourth Field Artillery
PRIVATE CHARLES D. WILTON BEST,  troop A., 12th Cavalry

The Missing


Beginning of the Trouble

      The trouble started when four men of Battery D., Fourth Field Artillery, which is on patrol duty at Progreso, swam the Rio Grande to the Mexican side.  As soon as they had scrambled up the bank the party was confronted by a number of armed Mexicans, apparently regular soldiers, who demanded their surrender.  Two of the Americans plunged back into the river and escaped, although a fulisade of shots was fired at them.  The other two, Wheeler and Patterson, were captured and the last their comrades saw of them they were being taken toward the brush.
       Shortly after the men who escaped had reported the affair Lieutenant John E. Mort, commanding Battery D., with Lieutenants Peyton and Waldron, fourteen men of the battery and one trooper of the 12th Cavalry, left camp and swam the river with the avowed intention of rescuing the men taken prisoner by the Mexicans.  For two hours the rescue party searched the brush on the Mexican side penetrating for a distance of three-quarters of a mile into the interior, but failed to find any trace of the missing men.  On their return to the river they were fired on from the brush, but did not return this attack.

Men Lost in Retreat

      As the American soldiers plunged into the river to return to their own side Mexicans, who apparently had been following them, opened a brisk fire on the swimming me, which was returned by other men of Battery D., and of Troop A., 12th cavalry, who had mustered on the Texas side of the river to cover their comrades’ retreat, several hundred shots being exchanged.  It was during this retreat that the four artillerymen were drowned but as their bodies have not been recovered it is not known positively whether or not they were struck by bullets.
      As they acted without orders from their superior officers the three lieutenants who lead the dash across the river have been placed under arrest, pending an investigation.  The privates who participated in the affair are confined to quarters and also may be brought before a courtmartial.
     Major Anderson, commanding this department of the border patrol, has telegraphed a report of the affair to Major General Funston at San Antonio, with a request for instructions as to further action.
      Among soldiers and civilians the incident has created the most intense excitement, many alarming rumors having been in circulation throughout the afternoon and evening.  One of these was to the effect that an organized invasion of Mexico had begun and that a score or more American soldiers had been killed.
      Army officers have taken steps to prevent any recurrence of the trouble but men of the ranks are greatly aroused over the probable fate of Wheeler and Patterson.  They remember that in previous cases where American soldiers have fallen into

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hands of the Mexicans only their mutilated bodies having been recovered.

Another Version

      The following version of the affair, somewhat different from the above, which came to The Caller early in the evening by long distance telephone, was received at midnight over the Western Union wires from The Caller’s correspondent at Mercedes:
      “While American soldiers of Battery D, stationed at Progreso, were bathing in the Rio Grande river this afternoon two got too close to the Mexican side, were captured by Mexicans and taken into the interior.  Four other American soldiers who went to their rescue were drowned.
      “About three-quarters of an hour after this happened a detachment of fifty men crossed into Mexico in search of their comrades but returned in an hour or so without them.  They were fired at continually by bandits.”

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.     
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     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.


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