The Largest Land Grant in US History – Maxwell Land Grant

Clear Creek Log near former site of Weather’s Store in Cimarron Canyon.

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 Eagle Nest and is still in operation as an Antique Shop, run by the daughter of the original owner.

Maxwell’s last home in Fort Sumner is long gone but has been recreated again and again in movie sets. After Maxwell’s 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 1881.

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.”

Lucien B. Maxwell still has family in the area, including Moe Finley, his great-great-grandson. Moe runs a boat-and-tackle shop on Eagle 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 Lucien: “I wish he’d left us the Vermejo, or 100,000 acres–or something!”

The 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. 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 Maxwell instead.

Maxwell Statue

Cimarron Maxwell Statue, July, 2003, Kathy Weiser.

The Maxwell Land Grant Timeline

1841 – Charles Beaubien and Guadaloupe Miranda receive the land original grant.

1842 – Lucien B. Maxwell arrives and marries Beaubien’s 15 year old daughter Luz.

1846 – US Army invades the region and New Mexico is incorporated as a US Territory. Maxwell and Kit Carson guide Colonel Fremont to California.

1848 – Beaubien turns over management of grant to Maxwell. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is signed, ending the Mexican War and officially ceding New Mexico and much of the Southwest to the United States.

1849 – Maxwell and Kit Carson settle at Rayado.

1850 – US Army forms official post at Rayado. Maxwell allows them to rent his home and property. New Mexico is declared a territory.

1857 – Maxwell purchases Miranda’s interest in the grant. Cimarron is founded.

1858 – Beaubien requests confirmation of the grant and Congress approves. Maxwell builds home in Cimarron.

1860 – Prospectors begin to explore the area.

1861 – Confederate Invasion of territory.  All mining activities suspended for 2 years. Cimarron officially established.

1864 – Beaubien dies leaving Maxwell his interest in the grant. Maxwell and his wife purchase all other interests in the grant and become sole owners. Maxwell builds the Aztec Mill.

1865 – Civil War ends.

1866 – Gold discovered on Baldy Peak. Maxwell considers selling the grant but decides to postpone.

1867 – Captain William Moore founds Elizabethtown. Moore, Maxwell and other entrepreneurs form the Copper Mining Company.  The entrepreneurs also make plans for the building of “The Big Ditch” to divert water from the Red River.

1868 – Maxwell founds Virginia City, just 6 miles from Elizabethtown.

1869 – Colfax County incorporated. Maxwell requests a survey of the grant from the State Surveyor General. Survey information is forwarded to Department of Interior in Washington who rules that the grant should not have been made for more than 22 leagues (about 96,000 acres).

1870 – Virginia Maxwell marries Captain Keys on the third floor of the Aztec Mill and Maxwell refuses to attend. Maxwell sells his interest in the grant and moves to Fort Sumner.

1872 – Elizabethtown is dying and county seat is moved to Cimarron.

1875 – Maxwell dies at Fort Sumner in poverty. The new grant owners attempt to extract rents from squatters or kick them off the land.  Reverend Toby fights the Grant men and is found murdered. The Colfax County War begins.

1879 – New Mexico again surveys the property and upholds the original grant which includes the full 1,714,764.93 acres.

1881 – Billy the Kid shot and killed at Maxwell’s last home in Fort Sumner, New Mexico by Pat Garrett.

1882 – Cimarron loses county seat to Springer.

1886 – US Circuit Court upholds New Mexico’s 1879 decision.

1887 – US Supreme Court confirms the lower courts decisions.

1890 – Use of the Big Ditch is discontinued.

Also See:

Rayado, New Mexico – On the Santa Fe Trail

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 Trail

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest


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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