The Largest Land Grant in US History -
Maxwell Land Grant
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is simply not possible to write about the history of the Moreno Valley,
Colfax County, New Mexico, or any of its towns or villages, without remembering
Maxwell, the Maxwell Land
Grant, and the Colfax County War.
The grant was the largest ever made in the State of
and created more than its share of complaints and controversy over the
years. The almost two million acre land grant included the entire
western portion of Colfax County and the southern part of Las Animas
Two times larger than the State of Rhode Island,
the area included the towns of
Cimarron, Springer, Raton and
as well as Segundo and other towns in
The area is surrounding by breathtaking mountain views, beckoning valleys,
streams teeming with fish and hillsides alive with game.
In the beginning the land
was the undisputed territory of the
Indians, and later the
Comanche. In 1841, just five years before the US Army arrived, Charles Beaubien
and Guadalupe Miranda of Taos,
New Mexico applied to Governor Manuel Armijo for
the grant, promising to encourage new settlers to come to the area and
utilize its resources. Beaubien was a French-Canadian trapper
who came to
New Mexico in 1832, became a Mexican citizen, married a
16-year-old native girl, and opened a store in Taos. Miranda was
a gentleman from Chihuahua who had come to
on business and stayed; later he was appointed to several government
positions including Governor Armijo's departmental secretary.
The governor supported the grant thinking
that Mexican settlers would fend off the encroaching foreigners from
the United States, as well as the hostile
Indians. Two years later, another consideration was possibly
revealed when Miranda and Beaubien conveyed a quarter interest in the
grant to Governor Armijo. Another quarter was deeded to Taos
merchant Charles Bent, in return for his promise to work on developing
the grant. Whatever the reasons might have been, it took Armijo only three days after having received the grant application to
approve it. In 1843, after Armijo received his quarter interest,
he approved an additional adjacent grant to Beaubien's son, Narciso,
and son-in-law, Stephen Louis Lee.
Then along came
Lucien B. Maxwell, a fur trapper from Illinois, who was working as
a guide in the area. His work often brought him to the Beaubien-Miranda
ranch, where he met and married one of Beaubien's six daughters - Luz
who was only 15 at the time. After his marriage, Maxwell
continued to lead a nomadic existence as a guide and along with
Kit Carson, led
Colonel John C. Fremont across the desert to
John Fremont reported in his journal that
saved the expedition when he bravely confronted a band of some 300
Arapaho warriors just as the shooting was about to start. "You're a fool, God damn you!"
yelled at one of the attackers. "Don't you know me?" It turned out the
Indians were from a village where
had lived and traded a couple of years before. Instead of fighting the
two sides shook hands. Maxwell
knew the land and its fierce people and the task courage and
the same year, General Stephen Kearney led the US Army into the Mexican
territory. Governor Armijo put in a brief appearance at the head of
a ragtag militia defending Santa Fe, but then fled in fear with Guadalupe
Miranda to Chihuahua. After the invasion,
was incorporated as a territory but because of its isolation and the
hostility of the
the area attracted few settlers. Unaffected by the US Army, Charles Beaubien stayed put, but his plans for
developing the grant were ruined by the Taos revolt in 1847 against the US
invaders. He turned the management of the grant over to his son, Narciso. However, both
Narciso and Beaubien's son-in-law, Stephen
Lee were killed in the Taos Revolt by a loose coalition of
and Mexican patriots. Also killed in the revolt was Charles Bent, who had
been appointed by the US Army to be New Mexico's civilian governor. Beaubien inherited his son's interest in the other grant.
Lucien Maxwell settled down on the ranch and he and his wife
eventually had four daughters and a son.
was said to have thought his son Peter was "worthless" because the boy did
not share his interests and "wasted his time with worthless friends". He favored his daughter Virginia, who he eventually named a small
settlement after, but when she grew up and married someone that
didn't approve of, he refused to even attend the wedding.
Meanwhile, in 1848 Beaubien purchased Stephen Lee's interest
from the administrator of his estate for $100. Having lost interest
in developing the new area, he turned the project over to his son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell.
success would be astonishing. He lost no time in getting a herd of
cattle established and increased the herds by setting up individual
ranchers with their own cattle, who would then make payments on a share
He kept his best animals, continually
upgrading the remaining stock, including cattle, horses, sheep and
even a large goat ranch, its manager to be well known in later years
Buffalo Bill Cody.
Cimarron even existed,
founded the settlement of Rayado 12 miles south of where Cimarron sits
today. Rayado--which means "streaked" in Spanish, was perhaps named so for
the beautiful cliffs close to the settlement. Maxwell
and his wife built themselves a rambling one-story hacienda at Rayado,
which is now a museum on the Philmont Scout Ranch.
were only Ute and
Indians in the area, and
they weren't happy with Maxwell,
attacking the settlement frequently. Life was risky and settlers
were reluctant to come until
Kit Carson from Taos, 35
miles west, as a protective presence.
Carson built a place only a few miles away. Rayado was the first
settlement east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and became a
stagecoach and wagon stop along the
Kit Carson put together a couple of herds of sheep, drove them
over more than a thousand miles of mountains and desert to
netting them $20,000-$50,000 each for their efforts.
On one such drive they reportedly made a combined $100,000, but lost
it to highwaymen on the
Oregon Trail. Undaunted, they assembled another herd and
did it all over again.
In 1850, the United States Army established a post at Rayado, and
Maxwell let the soldiers rent his first home. Partially funded by the
$200 a month rent he received from the US Army, Maxwell started a
second home in the area that eventually grew to 16 or more rooms.
Maxwell by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Wild & Baudy Boomtown
- Legend of the Southwest
Kit Carson - The Nestor of the Rocky Mountains
Friend, Kit Carson by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Maxwell Ranch on the Santa Fe
Trail - Highway to the Southwest
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