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The Maxwell Land Grant - Page 4

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Spencer reported his action to the Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, Joseph H. Wilson. When Wilson reviewed the documentation he noticed that part of the grant extended into Colorado, and questioned whether Spencer had jurisdiction over the entire grant. Questions regarding the size of the grant and the jurisdiction nagged at him and he ordered Spencer to cancel the survey until more information could be obtained. He then referred the entire issue to his boss, Secretary of the Interior Jacob D. Cox.


Cox ruled that the New Mexico Congress had not intended to approve more than 22 square leagues to the two original grantees. Further, he stated that if Maxwell agreed to this limit, he could choose the location for that amount of land, and the survey could be completed. Otherwise, Maxwell's money would be returned and his claim would be ignored.


Maxwell ignored the ruling and was ready to move on, proceeding to sell his interest in the grant and in 1870 he bonded the property to Senator Chafee of Colorado and two others for $650,000. He sold all of his other assets on the property for an additional $100,000 and moved to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, which had been de-militarized. Purchasing the buildings and other improvements, he remodeled the officer's quarters into a luxurious home with twenty rooms. Eventually, he slipped into semi-retirement and turned over most of his business affairs to his son, Peter. Just five years after he sold the land grant, Maxwell had spent the money and died in poverty from what was diagnosed as uremic poisoning.


Lucien B. Maxwell's Grave, Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Lucien B. Maxwell's Grave at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Kathy Weiser, February, 2008.


In 1870 Maxwell sold his interest in the grant

and all his assets for $750,000.  Just five

 years later he died in poverty in his home at

 Fort Sumner, New Mexico.




The Colfax County War

Senator Chaffee and the others who had purchased the land from Maxwell, almost immediately sold the land 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 Cimarron. 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.


One 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 respect for 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.


In an effort to remove the settlers from their property, grant officials, in league with a group of lawyers, politicians and businessmen known as the Santa Fe 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.


The Santa Fe 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.

Cimarron 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 the start.


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 Santa Fe 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.


On September 14, 1875 the minister was found shot to death in Cimarron Canyon, midway between Elizabethtown and Cimarron, 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."


TolbyCreek.Weiser.07-03.jpg (264x198 -- 46652 bytes)

Tolby Creek and an adjacent campground in Cimarron Canyon are named for Reverend Tolby. Photo by Kathy Weiser, July, 2003.


However, if the murderer thought that killing Reverend Toby 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 unjust alike.


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 assassins..."


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.


Continued Next Page


Cimarron-TolbyGrave.Weiser.07-03.jpg (181x316 -- 5700 bytes)

Reverend Tolby lies in the cemetery in Cimarron. His original headstone has since been replaced with a nicer one. The old headstone is at the St James Hotel.


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Nostalgic and early 20th Century Photo Prints and downloads.

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