Land Grant - Page 2
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The Colfax County War
Senator Chaffee and the others who had purchased the land from
almost immediately sold the land to an English syndicate for $1,350,000;
and, just six months later, it was sold again to a Dutch Firm in 1872. The new grant owners immediately began to aggressively exploit the
resources of the grant, opening a sales office at Maxwell's
old place in
They waited for the customers to rush in, and they continued to wait.
Faltering gold production and the shadow of Indian attacks spooked
potential buyers. Meanwhile, folks who had already settled on the
grant were riled at the brisk way the new owners tried to collect
rents, despite the Dutch companies legal right to the property.
of the first items on the Grant owners' agenda was the removal of the
squatters who had moved on the grant during the past 30 years. The
farmers and miners who had settled on the grant had held a grudging
Lucien Maxwell, but they felt no such loyalty to the absentee foreign
firm. The settlers, having invested their lives and money into homes
and businesses were not prepared to leave, especially in view of the
contested title Maxwell had conveyed.
an effort to remove the settlers from their property, grant officials, in
league with a group of lawyers, politicians and businessmen known as the
Ring, began making false allegations against locals. Two Cimarron
locals were known to have been in support of the "Ring" -- Melvin Mills,
an attorney and Robert H. Longwell, Cimarron's
local doctor. In 1875 local elections were held with much
controversy and Dr. Longwell was made probate judge, while attorney
Mills was made a state Legislator.
Ring's two prime movers were attorney Thomas Benton Catron and his lawyer
partner, Steven Benton Elkins, later a Senator. Fellow "Ring"
members were chosen for whatever talent they could contribute, or
political or financial influence they could provide.
had already obtained a reputation for lawlessness and as the hired
gunslingers of the Land Grant company tried to force off the squatters it
quickly led to what became known as the Colfax County War. Unfortunately for the settlers, they were outnumbered and outgunned from
Reverend Franklin J. Tolby, one of two Methodist ministers holding
services in the area, quickly sided with the settlers in their opposition
against the land grant men. The 33 year-old Tolby was a
vociferous critic of the
Ring and sent a series of letters to the New York Sun exposing the group's
corrupt methods, as well as making public statements at every opportunity
that he would do whatever he could to break up the grant.
September 14, 1875 the minister was found shot to death in Cimarron
Canyon, midway between
near Clear Creek. It was clear that robbery had not been the motive
because the preacher's horse, saddle and personal belongings were
untouched. It was quickly assumed that someone from the Land Grant
company had taken revenge against Tolby's opinions and quieted him
forever. Five days after his body was found, the Daily New
Mexican of Santa Fe reported: "It is thought the murderer is a white man and paid
for the job."
However, if the murderer thought that killing Reverend Tolby would quiet
the opposition to the land grant, they couldn't have been more wrong. The settlers immediately blamed the Grant men and the politicians who were
said to have been "in their pockets." If anything, the murder further
inflamed the citizens and led to more concerted efforts to challenge the
approval of the grant. The Colfax County Ring, as the settlers
called themselves, rode like avenging angels cutting down the just and
Tolby's 34-year old minister friend, Reverend Oscar Patrick McMains, took
up the holy war, urging in a public speech, "Defiance! And Contempt
for that which is Contemptible." Further, he wrote, "The war is on;
the precious blood of settlers has been shed; and we must fight it out on
this line. No quarter now for the foreign land thieves and their hired
Despite a $3,000 reward for the murderer, no progress was being made on
finding Tolby's killer and McMains was becoming impatient. Rumors
began to circulate that the new Cimarron
Constable, Cruz Vega, was somehow involved in Tolby's murder.
The pastor turned to
Clay Allison, a local
gunslinger for help. On the evening of October 30, 1875 a
masked mob, who was said to have been lead by
Clay Allison and the
Minister McMains, confronted Vega. The constable denied
having anything to do with the murder, blaming it on a man by the
name Manuel Cardenas. Obviously, the mob did not believe him and
he was pummeled and hanged by the neck from a telegraph pole. Unable to stomach the violence, the Reverend McMains had panicked
and fled midway through the session.
Ten days later, Manuel Cardenas, the
man who Vega had implicated prior to his death was arrested and
Elizabethtown. He claimed that Vega had shot the minister,
Ringers Mills and Longwell were also behind the killing.
Mills barely escaped a furious lynch crowd in
as he alighted from a coach and was later arrested. Longwell
fled in a buggy to Fort Union and safety just ahead of pursuers Clay
and John Allison.
Mills was granted a trial, but during the
trial, the state governor was informed of the events by telegraph and
the cavalry was dispatched from Fort Union, arriving just in time to
end the proceedings and release Mills.
Cardenas, during his protracted hearing, retracted his earlier
accusations against Mills and Longwell, thus clearing the two men.
Furthermore, he stated that in Ellizabethtown
he had been coerced at gunpoint into implicating the two when he was
"questioned" at gunpoint by Joseph Herberger. Evidently Herberger had been promised a political position by Ring men Mills and
Longwell, during the earlier elections in 1875.
When the two had failed to follow through, Herberger
reportedly forced Cardenas to implicate them. While Cardenas was
escorted back to the jail when court adjourned one evening he was shot to
death. It was never known who killed Cardenas, though many
thought that it was the vigilantes fighting against the
Ring, lead by Clay Allison.
The truth about Tolby's murder later suggested that the parson
unfortunately witnessed a man by the name of Francisco Griego shooting a
man in an argument. When the man later died, Tolby planned to seek
an indictment against Greigo, who set up Tolby's murder to silence him.
Cardenas later retracted his statement about the Ring men. To this
day, the murders of Tolby, Vega and Cardenas are officially unsolved.
The reign of terror had begun in Cimarron
and the town was out of control. Violence, lawlessness and
apprehension fed the residents and many packed their belongings and left
At one time, guards were posted at all
entrances to Cimarron
and no one was allowed to leave town without the Colfax County Ring's
permission. By November 9, 1875 the Santa Fe New Mexican
informed the public that Cimarron was in the hands of a mob. The
Reverend McMains was the self-appointed commander of the vigilantes,
though most felt like the leader was
The Grant Owners petitioned the courts to allow them to demand purchase or
rent monies from the settlers and on January 14, 1876 Governor Samuel
Beech Axtell, a member of the Santa Fe
Ring, granted the petition. The court's decision allowed the owners
to kick the settlers off the land if they didn't pay the required rents or
purchase the property from the Land Grant owners. Heaping more fuel
on the fire, the decision attached Colfax to Taos County for judicial
purposes, which forced the settlers to attend court in Taos 50 miles away,
a trip which caused the settlers much hardship in time and money. Governor
Axtell claimed the change would mean improved law and order. The citizens
reacted in a fury over the bill, correctly surmising the interference of
the Santa Fe Ring.
Sheriffs served eviction notices and
further retaliation began. Grant pastures were set on fire, cattle
rustling increased and officials were threatened at gun point. Grant
gang members made nighttime raids of area homes and ranches with threats
of violence to encourage their cooperation with the grant owners. It
is estimated that as many as 200 people were killed in the Colfax County
In August, 1877 the Minister McMains was tried in Mora county for his
participation in the Vega murder. Up until the very date of the
trial he stormed up and down the valley speaking out against the
Land Grant Company. The minister was found guilty in the 5th degree
and fined five hundred dollars. The Minister McMains dedicated the
rest of his life in keeping alive the war against the grant company,
hoping to have the grant land declared open to settlers as was done with
Territory. Barns, homes, crops, and fences came under the torch of McMains
and his vigilantes as he sought to bring the Grant Company to its knees.
In 1878 the law judicially attaching Colfax to Taos County was repealed
and an honest governor, Lew Wallace, replaced the corrupted tenure of
Governor Axtell. In 1879, the Grant was surveyed once again and was
declared to include the total 1,714,764.93 acres (2,679 square miles),
though the matter was in the courts for years.
So powerful were the Grant Owners that in 1884 they persuaded the
territorial governor to field a force of 35 "militiamen," which were led
by Jim Masterson (Bat Masterson's brother) from Trinidad,
Colorado. However, George Curry, a resident of nearby Raton, rounded up a posse of
ranchers, bought up all the guns and ammo for sale and when the "militia"
arrived, they marched them at gunpoint back to the
The guns roared for another several years until, in the spring of 1887,
the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the survey and reaffirmed
the decision of 1879, thus legitimizing the
Grant Company in its efforts to drive out the settlers. Abandoned by
their government, many of the homesteaders bought or leased their places,
some just gave up and left, and a few continued the struggle, in the
forlorn hope that the government might once again reverse itself. The Dutch Firm continued its exploitation of the many resources of the
grant and it thrived for several decades.
During the 1900's the land was gradually subdivided, and ranchers,
loggers, and private organizations bought the property. Five
Hundred thousand acres became the hideaway home of Chicago grain baron,
William Bartlett who built three mansions and a railroad for his guests'
convenience. Later 200,000 acres of the private retreat were
purchased and became the Vermejo Park Club, whose members included
celebrities and the wealthy, such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks,
Cecil B. DeMille, Herbert Hoover and Harvey Firestone. However, when
the depression was evident, the club closed and the property reverted to
The Vermejo Park property and other lands, which
totaled almost one million acres, were eventually sold to W.J. Gourley,
oil man from Fort Worth. Mr. Gourley wanted to expand the
existing elk herd and purchased several hundred elk from Yellowstone
National Park for $5 per head. He also bred and raised wild
turkeys to increase the wild bird population. When Mr. Gourley
died in 1970, the land was sold to the Pennzoil Company for a bargain
$26 million. Penzoil donated 100,000 acres to the Forest Service in
1982. Now, part of the original land is owned by media magnate
In 1922, much of the land, which is now known as the Philmont Scout
Ranch was purchased by Oklahoma
oil millionaire Waite Phillips. Mr. Phillips spent six months of
each year on the ranch and eventually amassed over 300,000 acres and
renamed it Philmont, which is based on the Spanish word for mountain
The Philmont Ranch became a showplace, where cattle and sheep grazed
in the pasture. Phillips built a large Spanish Mediterranean
home for his family and named it Villa Monte. He also developed
horse trails, hiking trails and hunting cabins for his friends and
In 1938, Waite Phillips gave 35,857 acres of the ranch to the Boy
Scouts of America, along with $61,000 to be used to develop it. In
1941, another gift of 91,000 acres was added. Phillips realized
that the cost for maintenance and development of the property could
not be derived entirely from camper fees and included in the endowment
the gift his 23-story Philtower Building in
Later, in 1963, through the generosity of Norton Clapp, vice-president
of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, another piece of
Land Grand was purchased and added to Philmont. This was the
Baldy Mountain mining area consisting of 10,098 acres.
Other large ranches and small tracts were carved from the grant, and
today there are many owners of the land that
Maxwell once held.
The Old Mill Museum,
which Maxwell operated as the Aztec Mill until
1870, is in the Cimarron
Historic District. But, Maxwell's Cimarron
home didn't fare so well, as it quickly fell to ruins when
reddish adobe buildings of Reyado are now maintained by the Philmont Scout
Ranch. Scout leaders dressed in period costumes lead visitors through
adobe hacienda. It has been restored from the two original rooms that had
survived. In neighboring buildings are the 1860 stagecoach stop,
store and accommodations for stage passengers.
Clear Creek, the site where they found the Reverend Tolby's body, was once
a popular stop along the scenic highway when Weather's Store resided in
Cimarron Canyon, selling refreshments and novelty items to the travelers
stopping by for a drink of Clear Creek's cool waters flowing through a
huge log. The store was moved to
Nest and is still in operation as an Antique Shop, run by the daughter
of the original owner.
last home in Fort Sumner is long gone but has been recreated again and
again in movie sets. After
death it became the property of his son Pete and it was in this building
that a houseguest of Pete Maxwell (and more particularly of his daughter
Paulita) by the name of William "Billy the Kid"
Bonney was shot by Pat Garrett in
In eastern New
Mexico, 200 miles from the snow-capped peaks and cool valleys of
Moreno Valley, the land baron lies buried in an almost forgotten corner of
the dusty plains of Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In the same small cemetery are the graves of the outlaw
Billy the Kid and two of his companions
which are buried under a headstone inscribed "Pals."
Maxwell still has family in the area, including Moe Finley, his
great-great-grandson. Moe runs a boat-and-tackle shop on
Nest Lake, where Maxwell
once had a store. Moe keeps a framed copy of a Maxwell
Land Grant Company map on the wall of his dining room. Unfortunately, he didn't inherit it, but rather, had to buy it. Moe
laughingly says of
wish he'd left us the Vermejo, or 100,000 acres--or something!"
only monument to Maxwell on
the grant is a concrete folk-art sculpture, where Maxwell
sits looking restless, facing the west with a rifle in hand.
Weiser, 2003 - Updated April 2015
Page to Maxwell Grant Timeline
Statue Today, July, 2003, Kathy Weiser. Interestingly, the curator
of the Aztec Museum says that the statue wasn't really built for
Maxwell, but rather for a man named Henry Springer. But Mr. Springer didn't like it and said "Statues are for dead people." So, the artist dedicated it to
instead. Photo Kathy
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
Cimarron -Wild & Baudy Boomtown
Kit Carson - Legend of the Southwest
Kit Carson - The Nestor of the Rocky Mountains
My Friend, Kit Carson by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Lucien Maxwell by a Santa Fe Trail Driver
Maxwell Ranch on the Santa Fe
Santa Fe Trail - Highway to the Southwest
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