A double-barreled shotgun featured in the tragedy.

In the nearly 150 years since Congress and President Abraham Lincoln authorized the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government, only once has one MOH recipient intentionally killed another MOH recipient. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1877, Claron Windus put a doublebarreled shotgun to the stomach of fellow honoree Adam Paine and pulled the trigger. Paine, according to one account, “was shot at such close range that his clothing caught fire.”

It was back on December 21, 1861, that Congress passed a bill designed to “promote the efficiency of the Navy.” On February 17, 1862, another bill extended the MOH to recognize exceptional actions by Army personnel. Lincoln signed both bills into law. The Medal of Honor is often incorrectly referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, perhaps stemming from a July 9, 1918, act that reads in part, “The president is authorized to present, in the name of Congress, a Medal of Honor….” To date Congress has awarded Medals of Honor to 3,454 individuals for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” In many cases (more than half since America’s entry into World War II) the MOH has been awarded posthumously. But the case of Windus and Paine is unique in the annals of MOH history.

Claron Augustus Windus, born in Wisconsin in 1848, lied about his age in 1864 to join the 5th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry as a drummer. He saw combat in Virginia at the siege of Petersburg. After the Civil War he again lied about his age to join the Army. Windus was a private in the 6th Cavalry in Texas in 1866. Two years later he went AWOL, maybe out of boredom with everyday life on the frontier. A court-martial found him guilty of desertion and the theft of four Army horses.

Windus served 12 months hard labor, but he came back to do his duty. He joined a cavalry contingent sent to recover mail stolen by Indians on July 6, 1870, from Rock Station, near Fort Richardson, about half a mile from Jacksboro in Jack County. Windus and 54 other troopers under the command of Captain Curwen B. McClellan trailed their quarry about 40 miles northwest of Fort Richardson to the North Fork of the Little Wichita River. They were delayed on the south bank, as recent rains had swollen the river. Windus kept busy, though. He served as a bugler and orderly, assisted Army surgeon George W. Hatch and rode the camp perimeter to drive off any Indian snipers.

On the morning of July 12 the cavalrymen broke camp and started up the river when some 100 Kiowas led by Chief Kicking Bird attacked. McClellan led his outnumbered force in a four-hour fighting withdrawal to the south. The Kiowas lost about 15 warriors while killing three soldiers and wounding 11 others, including the surgeon.

Although Kicking Bear had called off the chase, the cavalrymen remained badly outnumbered and in danger. On the 13th Windus, along with scout James B. Dosher and Sergeant George Eldridge, volunteered to ride to Fort Richardson for help. Evading Indian patrols along the way, the trio made it safely to the post and returned with a relief column. Captain McClellan recommended Windus and 12 comrades for the Medal of Honor, for “conspicuous acts of bravery.” They were so decorated at Fort Richardson that October. A year later Windus received his discharge from the Army. Perhaps, despite his moment of glory in the Texas sun, he had again become bored with frontier duty.

Just over two years later, in November 1873, Adam Paine signed on as a cavalry scout at Fort Duncan, Texas. Born in Florida in 1843, Paine was a black Seminole—descended from free blacks or slaves who joined the Seminole Indians in Florida in the 1700s and 1800s. He distinguished himself in several actions before showing exceptional courage in defending himself and four other scouts against attacking Kiowas near Quitaque Peak on September 26, 1874. Then Colonel (later General) Ranald S. Mackenzie, among the Southwest’s most renowned Indian fighters, lauded Paine as “having more cool daring than any scout I have ever known.” For his “habitual courage” the scout was awarded the Medal of Honor on October 13, 1875. (For more on Paine and three other black Seminole MOH recipients, see “Indian Life” in the October 2010 Wild West.)

That same year Windus, who turned stints as a teamster and mail agent after leaving the Army, was appointed deputy sheriff in Brackettville, Texas, the Kinney County seat. Some 10 miles north of the Rio Grande, Brackettville is best known today as the filming location for many Hollywood Westerns, most notably John Wayne’s 1960 epic The Alamo (film crews built a replica of the old San Antonio mission there). But Brackettville was also the setting for the climactic real-life confrontation between Windus and Paine.

Paine may never have received his actual medal, as he was discharged in early 1875. Never one to adhere closely to military strictures, the ex-scout almost immediately switched to the wrong side of the law. On Christmas Eve that year he got into a heated argument with a white cavalryman in Brownsville, Texas, and stabbed him in the heart. Paine then took up with cattle thief Frank Enoch along the Mexican border. No matter what other crimes he committed, the Brownsville murder had made him a fugitive from justice, and Mexico offered a relatively safe haven whenever he felt any heat in Texas.

Paine spent at least some of his time among the black Seminole community in Brackettville. On New Year’s Eve he attended a party there, along with Enoch and several fellow former black Seminole scouts, including Isaac Payne, who had also received the Medal of Honor. (Adam Paine may originally have spelled his surname with a “y” but probably wasn’t related to Isaac Payne.) Learning that several fugitives would be at the holiday party, Sheriff L.C. Cromwell showed up with Deputy Claron Windus. Three MOH recipients—Paine, Payne and Windus—were now at the party, but not to discuss past accomplishments.

What triggered the violence that rang in the New Year is uncertain. Perhaps Paine and friends simply resisted arrest, or perhaps Windus shot first and asked questions later. What is certain is that Windus’ close-range, double-barreled blast killed Paine instantly. Some accounts say the shot was to Paine’s stomach, while at least one writer claims Paine got it in the back. Windus also mortally wounded Enoch, either with his shotgun or a revolver. In the confusion Isaac Payne and ex-scout Dallas Griner grabbed two horses (apparently not their own) and headed for the border. Payne spent time in Mexico but within the month returned and re-enlisted as an Army scout. He retired in 1901, a quarter century after Adam Paine’s death, and died in Mexico in 1904. Both are buried at the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery in Brackettsville.

Windus suffered no legal repercussions from shooting Paine and Enoch, and less than a month after the 1876 New Year’s Day fray he gave up his deputy sheriff position to become the Kinney County tax assessor. A month after that he married Agnes Ballantyne, daughter of James B. Ballantyne, county inspector of hides and animals. As tax assessor Windus had advance knowledge of property to be sold for delinquent taxes, and over the years he used that information to become one of the largest property owners in Kinney County. The wealthy Windus boasted the first house in Brackettville with indoor plumbing.

In 1898 the 50-year-old Windus reentered service as a captain and followed Teddy Roosevelt to Cuba. After a year of fighting in the Spanish-American War, he returned to Brackettville in 1899. Windus lived comfortably in Texas until falling ill on September 20, 1927, possibly a recurrence of the malaria he’d contracted in Cuba. He died in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio that October 18. Windus is buried in Brackettville’s Masonic Cemetery, some three miles from the burial ground of the four black Seminole scouts who also received the Medal of Honor—including Isaac Payne and Adam Paine.


Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here