“Colonel” Thomas Means – A Really Mean Man

Old Taos, New Mexico

Old Taos, New Mexico

“Colonel” Thomas Means was a bully and very mean man who lived in Taos, New Mexico, before meeting his just end at the hands of vigilante citizens.

A surveyor by profession, Means came to New Mexico Territory soon after the inauguration of civil government by the Americans. He lived in Colfax County for some time, and for years, was involved in many of the events of the Colfax County War, which is part of the history of the famous Maxwell Land Grant.

He finally settled down in Taos, where he made life one continuous round of misery for all who were forced into contact with him. He exhibited an insolence and confrontational disposition that constantly got him into trouble until he became such a nuisance to the more peaceably inclined inhabitants as to render drastic measures necessary. He would not only grossly insult and frequently attack anybody who came within his reach but also beat his wife so severely on several occasions that her life was despaired of.

Finding that the courts of justice were of no avail, in 1868, several citizens decided to organize that common frontier institution known as a Vigilance Committee and put an end to “Colonel” Means and all his meanness. Though the vigilantes warned him of his inevitable fate if he continued in his violent actions, Means ignored the threat. On January 2, 1867, when he drew his knife, fired his pistol at several people, and assaulted and nearly killed his wife following a “big spree,” he was arrested.



That night, a group of 15-20 heavily armed men “in disguise” entered the room where Means was being held and forcibly removed from the custody of his guards. The men then carried him to an adjoining room, which served as the county courthouse, and hanged him from a heavy rafter.

The coroner’s jury described Means as “not deserving of the sympathy of anyone, being as he was altogether a dangerous character, continually threatening the lives of peaceable citizens, without distinction and even the lives of members of his own family and innocent children.” The conclusion was that Means had died at the hands of “persons unknown.”

The next day was general rejoicing that the community had been summarily rid of one of its most disagreeable and dangerous factors. Thus ended the career of one of the most widely known, and at one time, one of the most influential men of northern New Mexico.


© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

Also See:

Outlaws on the Frontier

People of New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico