The Largest Land Grant in US History – Maxwell Land Grant

Clay Allison

Clay Allison

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 Santa Fe 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 the area.

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 Clay Allison.

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 War.

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 Maxwell 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 the Oklahoma 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 Colorado line.

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 Maxwell Land 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 ranching.

The Vermejo Park property and other lands, which totaled almost one million acres, were eventually sold to W.J. Gourley, a Texas 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 Ted Turner.

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 “Monte.”

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 family.

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 TulsaOklahoma.

Later, in 1963, through the generosity of Norton Clapp, vice-president of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, another piece of the Maxwell 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 Lucien B. 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 Maxwell left.

The reddish adobe buildings of Rayado are now maintained by the Philmont Scout Ranch. Scout leaders dressed in period costumes lead visitors through Maxwell’s 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.

2 thoughts on “The Largest Land Grant in US History – Maxwell Land Grant”

  1. I am writing to you from Spain. I have a document about some research finding the history of Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Company.
    Creo que puede ser importante en esta historia firmado en 1871.
    Agradeceria ayuda, si desea verlo pongase en contacto a mi correo.

  2. Lucien Maxwell certainly never attacked the Ute and Apache reservation. He provided for the Indians and was their friend. When he left for Fort Sumner in 1870 it was because the government refused to continue to feed the Indians at the reservation. He couldn’t afford to feed 1500 Indians forever if the government would not pay for their supplies. The reservation was on the Maxwell Land Grant, not far from his ranch at Cimarron. In 1878 the Utes were sent to a reservation in Colorado and the Apaches elsewhere.

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