The St James Hotel was built in 1872 by Henri Lambert (later changed to Henry) and was originally called Lambert’s Inn. Its saloon, restaurant and 43 rooms were witness to at least 26 murders during Cimarron’s wilder days. Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody have all left their mark on the St. James, as attested by the numerous bullet holes in the ceiling of the main dining room.
Before Henry made his way to New Mexico, he was the personal chef to President Lincoln, upon the recommendation of Ulysses S. Grant. He continued to hold the position until the president was assassinated in 1865. Before long, Henry made his way west in search of gold. Finally settling in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, he opened a saloon and restaurant instead of finding gold.
At this time Elizabethtown, Cimarron, and much of the surrounding was owned by Lucien B. Maxwell. The Maxwell Land Grant was the largest land grant ever made in the United States. When Maxwell sold the grant in 1870, the new Land Grant Company men discovered that the French chef, Henry Lambert, was working in Elizabethtown and enticed him to come to Cimarron.
The Lambert Inn, as it was called at the time, started business in 1872. Built during a time when law and order was non-existent, the saloon quickly gained a reputation as a place of violence, where it is said that 26 men were shot and killed within its adobe walls. The first question usually asked around Cimarron in the morning was: “Who was killed at Lambert’s last night?” Another favorite expression following a killing was: “It appears Lambert had himself another man for breakfast.”
The saloon was wildly popular to cowboys, traders, miners and the many travelers of the Santa Fe Trail. The saloon did so well that Henry added guest rooms in 1880, and the hotel was soon considered to be one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River
Many well-known people stayed there over the years. Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives spent three nights at the St. James on their way to Tombstone, Arizona. Jesse James stayed there several times, always in room 14, signing the registry with his alias, R.H. Howard. Jesse James’ nemesis and would be killer, Bob Ford, also stayed at the St. James.
Buffalo Bill Cody, who was a goat ranch manager for Lucien Maxwell for a short time, met Annie Oakley at the hotel and began to plan and rehearse their Wild West Show. When Henry’s son Fred was born, Buffalo Bill nicknamed him “Cyclone Dick” because he was born during a blustery snow storm, and he was soon asked to be Fred’s godfather.
As Fred Lambert grew older, Buffalo Bill would be one of the first to give him instruction in the use of guns. Fred Lambert would spend his entire life upholding the law as a Cimarron Sheriff, a member of the tribal police and a territorial marshal. When Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley left Cimarron to take their show on the road, they took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them.
Other notables who have stayed at the historic inn include Bat Masterson, train robber Black Jack Tom Ketchum, General Sheridan, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Clay Allison, Pat Garret, artist Fredrick Remington, Governor Lew Wallace, and writer Zane Grey. The Hotel was later renamed the St. James and continues to cater to travelers today.
When the railroads came through, the Santa Fe Trail died, and soon after, the gold in the area began to play out. Cimarron’s population began to dwindle and the elegant St. James Hotel fell into disrepair.
When Henry Lambert’s sons, Fred and Gene, replaced the roof of the Lambert Inn in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar. A double layer of heavy wood prevented anyone from sleeping upstairs from being killed. Today, the ceiling of the dining room still holds 22 bullet holes.
Henri Lambert died in 1913. His wife, Mary E. Lambert died in 1926. Through the years, the old hotel was, at many times, uninhabited and passed from owner to owner. However, in 1985 the St. James Hotel was restored to its former luxury.
The St. James Hotel is said to remain host to several restless spirits. Both the owners and the guests of the hotel will tell you that it is haunted with many unexplained events. Several psychics have visited the hotel and specifically identified three spirits, as well as many others who just pass through to relive their experiences.
The second floor of the hotel is the most active, with stories of cold spots and the smell of cigar smoke lingering in the halls (smoking is not allowed in the hotel.) A prior manager said that “you never see them, but you do feel and hear them.” Another report from a former owner, states that she walked into the dining room and saw a pleasant-looking cowboy standing behind her in the mirror on the front of the bar. The spiritual activity of the hotel has been featured on the popular television shows Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair.
Room 18 at the hotel is kept locked because it houses the ghost of an ill-tempered Thomas James Wright, who was killed at his door just after winning the rights to the hotel in a poker game. Having been shot from behind, Wright continued on into the room and slowly bled to death.