July is a month fraught with meaning in connection with Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, the man who controlled almost 2 million acres of New Mexico Territory land in the 1860’s.
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell died on this day, July 25, in 1875, five years after the sale of what was known as the Maxwell Land Grant to a consortium of London investors was recorded in the Colfax County, New Mexico Territory’s record books. It was his daughter Odile’s sixth birthday.
The Beaubien Miranda land grant had come into Maxwell’s hands through his wife’s inherited portion, their purchase of her Beaubien sibling’s sections, and their acquisition of the remainder from the Miranda heirs. There was still some question about the actual size of the grant when Maxwell died, a question which would be settled by the United States Supreme Court in 1887, when they confirmed it at just under 2 million acres.
A portion of the money from the sale, went to the purchase of the decommissioned Fort Sumner from the Federal government. Located in the southeastern part of the Territory, Fort Sumner had been the site of the infamous detainment of Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the 1860’s. Following their return to their homeland, the Fort had little use to the military control of the Native population. Maxwell purchased it in 1870, renovated the buildings, and ranched and raised race horses there until his death in 1875.
Lucien Maxwell’s family continued to live at the old Fort after his death. Six years later, again in July, another death became associated with the site. Billy the Kid was visiting the Maxwell home at Fort Sumner the night that he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Sources: Dean K. Boorman, Guns of the Old West, Lyons Press, 2004; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Sunstone Press, 1999; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont, A history of New Mexico’s Cimarron country, UNM Press, 1972; David G. Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past, UNM Press, 1994; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country Sunstone Press, 1999.