Soldier, lawyer, and politician, the mystery
surrounding Albert Jennings Fountainís disappearance in the deserts of
New Mexico has puzzled lawmen and historians for more than a
Born in Staten Island, New York on October 23, 1838 to
Solomon Jennings, a sea captain, and Catherine de la Fontaine
Jennings, Albert grew up to go to Columbia College before traveling
all over the world as a tutor. He then settled in
California, where he
worked at a newspaper before studying law in San Francisco.
Though the reasons are unknown, it was at this time, that he began to
go by the name of "Albert
Jennings Fountain,Ē an Anglicized version of
his mother's family name. In August, 1861 he enlisted in the Union
Army and was commissioned as an officer in
California Column. He
participated in the Union conquest of the Confederate Territory of
Arizona and fought at the Battle of Apache Pass.
Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain
Photo from Lee Myers Papers, NMSU
While still serving in the army, he married Mariana
Perez in October, 1862 and the two would eventually have nine
children. He obtained the rank of captain by the time he was
discharged at the end of the
Civil War. He and his family then settled
in El Paso,
Texas, where he went to work for the United States
Property Commission, which investigated and disposed of former
Confederate property. Later he worked as a Customs Collector, was
appointed an election judge, and the Assessor and Collector of
Internal Revenue for the Western District of
With this background, it is not surprising that he aspired
to politics and in 1869, won a seat in the
Texas Senate. Fountainís
radical Republican views angered many
Texas Democrats. During the
Salt War, he got into a shootout with a man named B. Frank Williams on
December 7, 1870, was wounded three times, and killed Williams
In 1875, Fountain moved his family to his wifeís home of
New Mexico, where
Fountain practiced law. Southern
New Mexico, at
that time, was still subject to frequent Indian raids and in 1878, he
became a captain in the first company of militia in southeast
fighting in the campaigns against Chief Victorio and Geronimo.
Continuing to serve in the militia,
Fountain would reach
the rank of colonel, a title that he was called for the rest of his life.
In 1881, he was appointed to defend
Billy the Kid
in his charge for murder.
In 1885, Fountain moved to Las Cruces and began to
prosecute Federal land frauds. In 1888, he was elected to the
legislature, eventually becoming speaker of the house. Afterwards, he
became a special prosecutor for livestock associations and in 1894
convicted 20 men for cattle rustling. His roles as a politician and an
attorney; however, acquired him numerous enemies.
On February 1, 1896, after
Fountain had attended a
court term in Lincoln County,
New Mexico, he and his eight-year-old son
Henry disappeared near the White Sands on their way home. When Mrs.
Fountain reported the two missing a search party was sent for them the
following day. On the Tularosa-Las Cruces road, about 45 miles from his
home, the buckboard and team were found, along with Fountainís papers,
several empty cartridge casings, and two pools of blood. Missing were
Fountain and his son, as well as Albertís Winchester rifle.
After an investigation, it was thought that a noted
New Mexico gunman and rancher named Oliver M. Lee, along with two of his
employees named Jim Gililland and William "Billy" McNew had
perpetrated the crime. Eventually, all three were tried for the crime,
but were acquitted and the case remained open, with the Fountain
bodies having never been found.
of America, updated June, 2010.