Although Lucien Maxwell was a northerner, Mrs. Maxwell was a Mexican and with all the Mexican etiquette presided over her house. The dining rooms and kitchen were detached from the main house. One of the latter for the male portion of their retinue and guests of that sex and another for the women members. It was a rare thing to see a woman about the Maxwell premises, though there were many. Occasionally one would hear the quick rustle or get a hurried view of a petticoat (rebosa) as its wearer appeared for an instant before an open door. The kitchen was presided over by dark-faced maidens bossed by experienced old cronies. Women were not allowed in the dining rooms during meal hours.
The dining tables were profuse with solid silver table-service. The table cloths were of the finest woven flosses. At one time when I was there Maxwell took me to the “loom shed” where he had two Indian women at work on a blanket. The floss and silk the women had woven into the blanket cost him $100 and the women had worked on it one year. It was strictly waterproof. Water could not penetrate it in any way, shape, form or fashion.
Maxwell was a great lover of horse-racing and liked to travel over the country, his equipages comprising anything from a two-wheeled buck-board to a fine coach and even down to our rambling Concord stages. He was a reckless horseman and driver.
After the close of the war an English syndicate claiming to own a large tract of land in southeastern New Mexico called the Rebosca Redunda, came to see Mr. Maxwell and instituted a trade with him. Trading him the “Rebosca Redunda” for his “Beaubien Grant,” thereby swindling Mr. Maxwell out of his fortune. After Mr. Maxwell moved to this place he found he had bought a bad title and instituted a lawsuit in ejectment, but was unsuccessful and died a poor man.
Once during the month of October in the year of 1864, while en route to Kansas City from the old Mexican capitol, I stopped at Maxwell’s ranch for lunch.
Mr. Maxwell came out to where I was busy with the coach and told me he wanted me to carry a little package of money to Kansas City for him and deliver it to the Wells-Fargo Express Company to express to St. Louis.
I told him I would take it, but I said, “How much do you want me to take?” He told me he wanted me to take $52,000. I told him the company would not like for me to put it in the safe unless it was expressed, but he said he didn’t want to express it. “All right,” I said, “unless we are held up and robbed I will deliver the money to Wells-Fargo Express Company.” “Now,” I said, “in what shape is the money?” He pointed to an old black satchel sitting on a chair and said, “There is the wallet.” I told him to wait until I went into dinner with the passengers, then for him to go out there and take the satchel and put it in the front boot, then pull a mail sack or two up over it and on top of that throw my blankets and buffalo robes which lay on the seat on top of the mail sacks, then go away and let it alone. Do not let any one see you do this.
Let me say that Maxwell’s ranch was headquarters of the Ute agency which was established a long time prior to my traveling through there. A company of cavalry was detailed by the Government to camp there to impress the plains tribes who roamed the Santa Fe Trail east of the Raton range. The Ute tribe was very fond of Maxwell and looked up to him as children look up to their father.
One old Indian watched Maxwell put the money in the boot of the stage, and after he had left to obey my instructions this old Indian who would have gone through the “firy furnace” for Lucien Maxwell, stood guard over the stage. I did not know it at that time, but the Indian afterwards asked me how I made it in? When I came back to the coach I laid the buffalo robes to one side, then I laid the mail bags to one side and put the “wallet” as Mr. Maxwell called the old black satchel, right in the bottom of the boot and laid one mail bag by the side and laid an old blanket over both these, then piled on the balance of the mail bags and lastly my buffalo robes. I usually slept during the day after I took this money. My driver did not even know I had it. At night I slept right there under the driver’s seat in the boot of the coach. At night I rode, before we quit driving for our rest, on the seat of the boot with my brace of pistols between me and the driver.
Within about three miles of Willow Springs, Kansas, a stage station, twenty-five miles west of Council Grove, I discovered twenty-five horses hitched to the rack. There was no retreat, so I had to drive right on in. Just as we drove up twenty-five men came out of the settlers’ store and saloon and mounted.
One passenger on my coach was acquainted with every man of them. They were, however, true to my suspicions, a band of the notorious Quantrill gang, the very ones who had made the raid on Lawrence Kansas and killed so many people after robbing them. My passenger walked up to the gang and said, “Come on, boys, let’s all have a drink before you go.” They all returned with my passenger and drank, but I told the driver I did not want to leave the coach and for him to grease it and I would fool around about that so as to dispel suspicion that I was guarding my coach. Before we were through with the coach the men came back and in my presence asked the passenger if he believed the coach was worth robbing. “No,” he said, “I have not seen a sign of money.”
I told the boys that it wasn’t worth robbing, that there was not more than $10 in the safe and that it was mine. I told him I didn’t have much of a haul in the safe, but I said, “Here’s the key, you can go through it if you want to and satisfy yourself.” I laughed and talked with the balance of the boys as if nothing unusual was taking place. One of the gang took the little old iron safe, which was about eighteen inches square and weighing about 150 to 200 pounds, and put it on the seat of the coach and unlocked it. I had it literally stuffed full of way bills, letters and such other plunder, together with a little wallet of mine containing $10. The robber took out the ten dollars and held it up, saying, “Is this what you referred to, conductor?” I told him that it was. “Well,” says he, “I will not take that, it is not tempting enough.” I thanked the accommodating robber in my nicest way for having left me money to buy a few dinners with after I got to Kansas City, and they left us. I was fairly bursting with satisfaction. No one on the stage knew that I had saved the $52,000 of Lucien Maxwell’s. However, boy like, just before we rolled into Kansas City I told the passengers about the money.
When we at last had gained Kansas City one of the passengers told Mr. Barnum about the escapade with the robbers and my success in maintaining a “bold front” and the “gold dust.” Mr. Barnum grunted and said, “Oh, well, Billy is one of our conductors that is so stubborn that he has to have everything his own way.” Then, he added, “Did you say he gave his safe keys to the robbers?” “Yes,” the passenger said, “he did.” Barnum replied, “I’ll be dogged.” Then he told the passengers about my having deposited the mail in the river to make a bridge so I could cross my coach and eventually to “reach the other side.”
When I returned from the express office where I had been to take the money, in fulfillment of my promise to Maxwell, old Tom Barnum and my passengers were still talking. Barnum approached me, saying, “Been up to some more of your tricks, have you, Billy?” I told him I had been taking “poker chips” to the express office, if that was what he meant. They all had a good laugh; then Barnum requested me to show him the receipt I gave Maxwell for the money. “Now, Billy,” said Barnum, “you’re a pretty bird, you know we would not charge Maxwell a cent for express, for we never paid him a cent for board or for feeding our mules—but never mind,”—then he laughed, “oh, that receipt!”
Excerpted from the book, The Second William Penn – A True Account of Incidents that Happened Along the Old Santa Fe Trail, by William H. Ryus, 1913. (now in the public domain.) William “Billy”. H. Ryus was better known as “the Second William Penn” by passengers and old settlers of the Santa Fe Trail because of his rare and exceptional knowledge of Indian traits and characteristics and his ability to trade and treat with them so tactfully. Ryus was one of the boy drivers of the a stage company with U.S. Mail contracts, regularly running along the Santa Fe Trail. During this time, he routinely crossed the plains at a time when the West was still looked upon as “wild and wooly,” and in reality, was fraught with numerous, and oftentimes, murderous dangers.