Elizabethtown – Gone But Not Forgotten

Big Ditch Flume

Big Ditch Flume

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.

The “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.

In 1870, Elizabethtown boasted 7,000 residents, seven saloons, three dance halls, five stores, a school, and two churches. One of several hotels, the Mutz 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 of the West, Elizabethtown 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 Elizabethtown 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.

Evidently, 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.

Baldy Mountain, New Mexico

Baldy Mountain, New Mexico. Kathy Weiser, September, 2008. Click for prints & products.

Baldy Mountain and the surrounding area was crawling with prospectors in the late 1800’s.  Imagining all those men digging on the mountain sides and panning the streams is unbelievable today on this quiet mountain.

Many of the prospectors built their cabins right over, or adjacent to, their mines.  Those that lived in E-Town had a long walk through the valley and up to Baldy Mountain.

The bleeding Ute Indian woman burst into John Pearson’s saloon, where Clay Allison, Davy Crockett (a nephew of the American frontiersman) and others were whiling away the hours. After being helped to a chair, she told the story of how her husband had killed a traveler and their young son. Hysterical, she told the shocking story of how her husband had been luring travelers, perhaps as many as 14, into their cabin and then murdering them. On the day that she fled, she had witnessed another traveler who her husband had enticed inside by offering supper. During the meal, the passerby asked his hosts if there were many Indians around. Her unfortunate son made the fatal mistake of responding, “Can’t you smell the one Papa put under the floor?”  At this, Kennedy went into a fury, shot his guest and bashed his son’s head against the fireplace. He then threw both bodies into the cellar, locked his wife in the house and drank himself into a stupor. Terrified, the woman waited until her husband passed out, then climbed up through the chimney and escaped to tell her story.

Clay Allison, gunfighter

Clay Allison, gunfighter

Clay Allison, a local rancher, who was known for his gun-fighting skills, and almost always around when anything violent happened, led a group in search of Kennedy, while others were sent to search the house for evidence to support the woman’s story. The search provided a number of partially charred human bones still burning in the fire, and two skeletons beneath the house. Later, another skull was found nearby and a witness to one of the murders came forth. Kennedy, still drunk, was quickly found and taken into custody. He was given a pre-trial on October 3, 1870, where the witness appeared, testifying that he had seen Kennedy shoot one of the travelers.

The court ordered that Kennedy be held for action by the grand jury, but rumors began circulating that Kennedy’s lawyer was going to buy his freedom. Three days later, Allison and his companions snatched Kennedy from the jail, threw a rope around his neck and dragged him by a horse up and down Main Street until long after he was dead. His body was not allowed by the townspeople to be buried in the Catholic cemetery and was interred outside the cemetery boundaries.

The legend of Charles Kennedy continues, which states, in most documents, that Clay Allison decapitated Kennedy, placed his head in a sack, and carried it twenty-nine miles to Cimarron. When he arrived at Cimarron, he demanded that the head be staked on a fence at the front of the Lambert Inn (later the St. James Hotel,) where it stayed until it mummified and finally disappeared one night.

However, during the research for this article it was discovered that Lambert’s Inn wasn’t even built until 1872 and Fred Lambert was operating a saloon in Elizabethtown at the time of Kennedy’s death and continued to do so until 1871. In a discussion with Beni-Jo Fulton, the curator of the E-Town Museum, she speculated that perhaps the story was true, but, that the head was more likely staked in front of a saloon in E-Town rather than Cimarron.

E-Town was also called home to another bad boy — “Coal Oil Jimmy” Buckley. Buckley stirred up some excitement in 1871 by leading a group of outlaws in a series of stagecoach holdups on the road to Cimarron. But Jimmy’s career was cut short when the town posted a $3,000 “dead or alive” reward.

Two of Jimmy’s “friends” pretended to join him and his band of outlaws, then waiting for the right moment, shot Jimmy and his chief partner down, returning to E-Town with the dead bodies to collect the reward.

Red Bandanna Mine

Red Bandanna Mine, late 1800’s.

For about five years E-Town reigned as one of New Mexico’s most important towns, but mining operations began to diminish dramatically. The fever cooled as mining costs started to out-weigh the volume of ore produced.

A few minor operations continued, but most of the residents moved on in search of better opportunities. The settlement was reduced to about 100 residents and lost its “county seat” status to Cimarron in 1872.  Cimarron remained the Colfax County seat for ten years, before passing it along to Raton.

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