Elizabethtown - Gone But
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May, 2004, photo by Dave Alexander.
This image available for photographic
prints & editorial downloads
Elizabethtown, New Mexico once
boasted over 7,000 residents and was often visited by notorious gunmen
Black Jack Ketchum
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (1818-1875)
owned the Maxwell Land Grant, the largest in US History.
Maxwell paid about 2 cents per acre for 1,714,765 acres for a total of
$35,245 for the land.
Rich in history and once full of life with
over 7,000 residents, it is hard to imagine Elizabethtown
as it once was. Now, the sparse remains of the once
bustling boom camp look silently upon the Moreno Valley and the face
of the imposing Baldy Mountain.
It all began in 1866, just one year after the
Civil War ended, when
Indians arrived at Fort Union (northeast of
wanting to trade "pretty rocks" for supplies. Stationed at
Fort Union, Captain William H. Moore was acquainted with one of the
Indians. He had once found the Indian badly wounded and on the verge of death, given him water
and taken him back to the fort, where he was nursed back to health. Ever grateful to Captain Moore, the
Indian gave him several of the "pretty rocks" which Moore quickly
recognized as being rich in copper. The ore had been found on
the upper slope of Baldy Mountain (12,441 feet) on the Western edge of
Maxwell Land Grant. The
Indian agreed to lead Captain Moore and several other soldiers to
a spot high on the majestic mountain, where enough copper was found to
stake the first of many claims in the area.
continuing to explore the area, three of the men made camp on the
banks of Willow Creek. Passing the time, one of the men took a
gold pan from his saddle bag and began sifting the creek gravel. When his loud, excited shout pierced the quiet evening his companions
came running to his side. All thought of copper vanished from
their minds as the three stared at the sparkling gold flakes lying in
the base of the pan. They wasted no time, immediately exploring the
area, spending the next several days panning the creek and chipping at
rock. But it was already October and winter comes early to the
high slopes of Baldy Mountain. Vowing to keep their findings
secret, the three carved the words "DISCOVERY TREE" on a Ponderosa Fir
next to their camp, made their way down the mountain, and began the
long trek back to Fort Union.
But, the secret was just too big and during the long idle
months of winter, their pledge was broken. Word got out and when the
snow melted in the spring of 1867, they were just the first of many men
flooding to the area to find their fortunes.
Lucien B. Maxwell, long-time
resident of the area and sole owner of the Maxwell Land Grant, owned the Moreno Valley as well as Baldy Peak. The
already wealthy land baron and entrepreneur watched the storm of gold
seekers with great interest and realized that he couldn't fight the
inevitable. Taking full advantage of the situation, Maxwell
welcomed the squatters by charging them for the use of his land, fees for
placer and quartz claims, and toll charges for the use of good road that
Miners paid $1 a month for a 500
square-foot parcel, $12 dollars a year in advance for a placer or gulch
claim, and half the proceeds of a lode claim. Some of the miners
paid, but many did not, a situation that would plague Maxwell and
the investors who later bought the grant. By July of 1867, 17
companies had set up with 400 hundred claims within an eight-mile radius
of old Baldy.
addition to Maxwell's real estate
interests, he quickly got involved with the mining activities, placing
several placer claims himself. He joined Captain Moore and
several entrepreneurs to form the Copper Mining Company in 1867, which
soon found the first lode of gold.
Meanwhile, back in
June, 1867, Captain William Moore and his brother, John Moore, opened a
general store southwest of the peak to supply the many miners who were
streaming into the territory. Many of the settlers quickly moved their
tents to the area around the store, and it wasn't long before cabins began
to sprout up. Before the month was out it was clear that the general
store would become the center of a town, and Moore began construction on
the first house in the rapidly growing settlement.
very next year, Moore and other businessmen platted a town site,
incorporated the village (the first in New Mexico),
and began selling lots at prices ranging between $800 and $1200.
town was named after the captain's daughter, Elizabeth Catherine Moore,
who had just turned four years of age but it was quickly nicknamed E-Town
by most of the locals. Elizabeth Moore was the first school teacher
and lived her entire life in Elizabethtown.
By the end of July, 1868 there were about
400 people living in Elizabethtown. A sawmill and several other stores followed Moore's, as did the
saloons and gambling houses. Like most
West towns, dancing, dining and drinking were popular, as well as
a burgeoning red-light district, comprised of several cabins. Other women of the "profession" worked their trade in second floor
rooms connected to the saloons
where dumb waiters carried drinks to their guests.
Lucien B. Maxwell envied the
quick success of Elizabethtown,
and not wanting to be outdone, he began to plan another town site just
six miles away.
Partnering with several business
associates, including Territorial Governor R.B. Mitchell, they laid
out the new town site and named it after Maxwell's
eldest daughter, Virginia. But Virginia City was too far from
the "action" and never really got off the ground.
The mines attracted many new residents
including settlers from
who brought herds of cattle and made livestock raising another
principal industry in the County. E-town
kept growing and the first crude structures were replaced by 5
well-built stores, a drug store, 7
3 dancehalls, 2 hotels, a brewery, and a flour depot. The saloons
boasted dance floors, gaming tables, and bars that were 100-200 feet
The sawmill was kept busy providing lumber
for commercial buildings and private homes. By 1869, E-town
had about 100 buildings and by late in the same year enough families
had joined the miners to require a schoolhouse and a Protestant
church. A Catholic parish soon followed.
In 1869, Scranton and Aken started the
first newspaper, the Elizabeth Lantern, selling it later to William D. Dawson who renamed it the
Railway Press and Telegraph. Dawson had strong views which he
expressed freely, and it was noted in the Colorado
Miner that he had whipped up townspeople into "a furious rage" with his newspaper.
During the harsh winters, mining in the area was shut down and
population would rise and fall with the weather. Even when weather was
good, the mining was erratic -- when new gold was found, the town
would grow as word spread and then fall again as interest dwindled. Those hardy settlers who stayed often had to deal with drunks,
outlaws, and Indian raids, as well as the harsh winter weather.
Elizabeth Moore Lowrey's last home still
stands across the valley from
Elizabethtown, by Reletta Clumsky, September,
This image available for photographic
prints & editorial downloads
As the mining boom continued, the creeks
of the area were found to be inadequate to supply the mining
operations and the citizens of the bustling boom town. Again,
the entrepreneurs --
Maxwell, Moore and others searched
for a solution.
"Big Ditch" was built to divert water from the Red River through
ditches, pipes, and trestles -- around mountaintops and through canyons
for a distance of 41 miles (only 11 miles in a straight line.) The
cost was a monumental $280,000; however, only about 1/10th of the water
that went into the ditches and flumes came out at the other end, due to
leaks, seepage and evaporation. Although it did not initially bring
in as much water as hoped and required constant maintenance, the Big Ditch
was in use until 1900. Eventually, a lawsuit resulted which banned
the diversion of water.
1870, Elizabethtown boasted 7,000 residents, seven saloons, three dance
halls, five stores, a school, and two churches. One of several
hotels, theMutz Hotel
was built by Herman Mutz,
a rancher and cattleman of the area. That same year, the territorial legislature recognized the rapid growth of the
area, created a new county, and named it after Vice President Schuyler
Colfax. Elizabethtown was designated to be the Colfax County seat.
Like many frontier towns
had its share of gruesome stories. Amazingly, it appears that E-town
housed a serial killer for the time. Charles Kennedy, a big,
husky full-bearded man, owned a traveler's rest on the road between
and Taos. After travelers would register at the rest stop, some would
disappear never to be heard from again. These traveling strangers were
rarely missed in the highly transient settlement.
when travelers stopped for a bed and a meal, Charles killed them,
stole their valuables and either burned or buried their bodies. These events might never have been known, except for his wife's
confession, when she fled from him in terror in the fall of 1870.
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