Three years after the Great Rebellion, Henry still drifted. There was nothing behind him in Georgia and nothing further west than San Francisco. Not that he wanted to go there. The California gold fields were played out.
But he needed to get out of Denver. A man could stand town life only so long and he’d been here three months. The Colorado gold fields were collasping, anyway. Played out before he even got here.
“Been too late since the day I was born,” he muttered, putting his whisky glass on the long wooden bar.
“I hear tell there’s gold in Elizabethtown,” the bartender said. He reached for Henry’s glass and began wiping it out. He knew Henry’s pockets were empty.
“New Mexico Territory. Near Taos somewheres.”
Henry nodded and pushed himself away from the bar. “Elizabethtown,” he repeated as he hitched up his trousers. “Now there’s an idea.”
On Tuesday, September 1, 1903, a fire that lasted a little over an hour destroyed almost all of Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s business district and began the demise of the 36-year-old municipality.
The blaze began around 2:15 p.m. in a defective stove flue at Remsberg & Co. Mercantile. By three o’clock, nothing was left of the store except $300 in merchandise and the company’s books and cash on hand.
In the meantime, the flames had spread to the Mutz Hotel next door. From there, Harry Brainard’s saloon and warehouse caught fire, then the general store next to Brainard’s. Flying embers ignited the Moreno Hotel and it was also destroyed.
By 3:30 p.m., almost all of Etown’s mercantile district had been reduced to ashes. The only store left standing was Herman Froelick’s.
Although the Mutz Hotel would be rebuilt in stone, the conflagration was the beginning of the end for Etown. Over the next two years, miners, store owners, the local schoolteacher, and even Elizabethtowns’ favorite vegetable wagon man would flee town for other locales. Some of the remaining buildings would eventually be dismantled and then reassembled in what is now the Village of Eagle Nest, three miles to the south.
It’s a little amazing what a single fire can do.
Sources:The Elizabethtown New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Dumas, Texas, 1961; September 4, 1903, Santa Fe New Mexican
“Things are changing, Mr. Maxwell.” Judge Joseph Palen set his whisky glass on the saloon table and looked around the room. “In another year or so, these ragged placer miners will be replaced by businessmen with laborers to do the rough work.”
Maxwell nodded, following his gaze. “And many of these men will be laborers, instead of independent men with claims of their own.”
“Claims so poorly worked they bring in barely enough to keep body and soul together.” Palen flicked a speck of dust from the sleeve of his dark broadcloth suit.
“That’s all that matters, I suppose.” Maxwell grimaced. “Efficiency.”
“It’s a large territory, and its resources are going to waste.”
“So they tell me,” Maxwell said. He shook his head, put his glass on the table, and reached for his battered black hat. “I’ve been here a long time, Mr. Palen, and I happen to like Nuevo Mexico’s lack of efficiency. So do most of the men in this room, I expect.” He stood, towering over the table. “Good day to you, Judge.” A mischievous smile flashed across his face. “And good luck.”
“You have an interest in a number of cases before this court,” Judge Palen said sharply.
Lucien Maxwell nodded and tilted his head toward the old lawyer beside him. “Mr. Wheaton is my designated attorney.” He raised an eyebrow. “I believe that releases me from the need to be present.” He adjusted his right foot higher on his left knee.
“You have been indicted on a serious charge.” Palen leaned forward. “That indictment requires your attendance.”
“The Probate Court issue?” Maxwell lifted a shoulder. “We have an excellent probate court clerk. As you’ll see from his records, there was no need to hold formal court.”
Palen’s lips thinned. “You committed to appearing on the first day of this session in regard to the indictment against you. It is now the fourth day.”
“I was unexpectedly detained.”
Palen stared at him for a long moment, then turned to the court clerk. “Let the record show that Mr. Maxwell has appeared and apologized for his failure to appear, and that we are satisfied no contempt was intended.”
Maxwell’s jaw tightened, then he nodded slightly and readjusted his right foot on his knee.
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, richest man in northern New Mexico Territory, sat on one of the mismatched chairs in Elizabethtown’s makeshift Colfax County courtroom and studied the man sitting behind the Judge’s table. He’d sat at such tables himself, though he doubted he’d ever looked so uncomfortable. Joseph Palen looked out of place here in this rough mining town and angry that it had the audacity to call itself a county seat. Apparently disapproved of Nuevo Mexico, too, for that matter.
Maxwell felt the impulse to laugh, but instead lifted his right foot to his left knee and watched the crowd gather. Most of the men nodded to him politely, touching their foreheads in a kind of salute, and he nodded back. They were good people, he mused. Knew what they wanted, had no pretense about them.
Beside him, the old attorney Wheaton muttered, “Here we go,” and Judge Palen gaveled the room to attention.
“Apparently, Mr. Maxwell has deigned to honor us with his presence,” Palen said, glaring at Lucien.
Maxwell resisted the impulse to straighten his spine and put both feet on the floor. “I believe you asked to see me,” he said coolly.
In January 1826, Santiago Abreú, New Mexico’s representative in Mexico City, sent a letter to the government officials in Santa Fe. In it, he cautioned them to be wary of the Americans in the province, especially those who wanted to settle, buy land, and marry without first obtaining the appropriate citizenship papers. In addition, the letter asked officials to record the activities of all non-Mexicans in New Mexico. This governmental policy of monitoring the Americans continued into the next decade, including after Abreú himself was appointed Governor in 1831. His duties included enforcing the laws that governed the americanos’ activities, including the regulations related to trapping and trading.
Ironically, Governor Abreú was the father of Jesús Abreú, the man who would become Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell’s brother-in-law and fellow heir (through their wives) of a substantial portion of the Beaubien-Miranda land grant east of Taos. Although Canadian-born Carlos Beaubien, Jesus Abreú’s and Lucien Maxwell’s respective wives, had become a naturalized Mexican citizen prior to the grant’s being made, there is no record that Lucien Maxwell, ultimate owner of most of the land, was ever a naturalized Mexican citizen. However, by the time Beaubien died in 1864, Maxwell’s citizen was a moot point. The thing Santiago Abreú had feared, that the Americans would eventually take over, had occurred 18 years before and many of his countrymen were in eminent danger of losing their patrimony to the men who were flooding in from the eastern States.
Sources: J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, U of Oklahoma, 1971; Stephen Zimmer, ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999.
The three men and two mules stopped and stared up the mountainside. A fall of broken rock blocked their way.
“Well, shit!” Gus said. “How’re we supposed to get to that old mine shaft with this in the way?”
Herbert pulled off his hat and fanned his week-old beard. “Maybe we can go around.”
Alonzo pulled his suspenders away from his rounded belly and looked down and then up the sharply-angled slope. “Mules ain’t gonna like that,” he said.
“Guess we’re done then.” Gus rubbed his jaw. “Hell, I needed that gold.”
Herbert shrugged and began maneuvering the mules to face back down the mountainside.
Alonzo stared across the slope at the fractured stone. “That’s rotten quartz,” he said thoughtfully. He moved out onto the rocks.
“Careful there,” Gus said, but Alonzo only crouched down and stretched to pluck a piece from near the center of the rock fall. He turned it carefully. “Will you look at that,” he said wonderingly.
Gus and Herbert looked at each other, then Alonzo. He grinned back at them. “Might be this is as far’s we need to go,” he said. He lifted the quartz in his hand. “Looks like there’s gold enough right here!”