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.”
Judge Palen flattened his palms against the rough wooden table that served as the Court bench and scowled at Sheriff Calhoun. “Are you telling me that you called twenty-one men for jury duty and only seven showed up?”
Calhoun was a big man, but he fingered the broad-brimmed hat in his hands like a schoolboy. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, go get fourteen more.”
The Sheriff nodded, turned, and crossed the creaking wooden floor.
Palen turned his attention to his seven potential jury members. “All right,” he said. “Now how many of you are going to have good excuses for not fulfilling your civic duty?”
Three of them sheepishly raised their hands. Palen nodded to his court clerk to begin taking their excuses and closed his eyes. And he’d thought this appointment as Chief Justice of New Mexico Territory and Judge of its First Judicial District was a logical step up from postmaster of Hudson, New York. He suppressed a sigh. How he missed the broad sweep of the river, the bustle of the town’s port. He grimaced and opened his eyes. Only four jurymen left. Damn this town, anyway. The whole of New Mexico Territory, for that matter.
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
A short, barrel-chested Indian man stood at the edge of the encampment with his arms folded and a frown on his face, watching the man and packhorse moving slowly up the valley toward him. When the trader was close enough to speak, the man moved into the path and raised a hand.
The traveler looked at him quizzically. “You talk English?” he asked.
“You come to trade?”
“I hope to,” the traveler said. “If you all have something to trade with.”
“If your terms are fair.” His gaze moved to the horse’s laden packsaddle. “You sell whisky?”
The traveler shook his head. “‘Fraid not.”
The other man stepped to the side of the path and gestured toward the camp behind him. “Then you are welcome.”
The trader moved forward but the Indian put up a hand to stop him. “If you are found with whisky, it will not go well for you,” he said flatly.
“Yes sir,” the trader said, and the glimmer of a smile crossed the two faces simultaneously.
It’s a mere mule track, the man thought, eying the rocky ground on the hillside ahead. A fine silt hovered in the air behind him, marking the path he and the packhorse had followed from Rayado and the Santa Fe Trail at the base of the mountains.
They’d been climbing steadily and the vinegar-scented blue-green junipers had given way to taller, straighter, deeper-green trees: fir and pine. The man looked at them appreciatively, glad it was June and not mid-winter, when the snow that provided these trees with the moisture to live would have made the trail difficult.
He clucked at the packhorse and headed up the rocky slope. At Rayado yesterday, Jesús Abreu had told him there’d be a series of small mountain valleys before he reached the larger one. Then he was to move north, to where the Cimarron River began in a marsh on the east side of the Valley. The Indians met there to trade. The traveler shook his head. It was a long way to go on the chance that they’d be there—and able to pay for the goods he had with him. He hoped this worked.
“It’s June now,” Suzanna said. “These are the Sangre de Christo mountains. It’ll be cold up here, come winter.”
“Come January,” Gerald conceded. “Though snow will make for green summer cattle pastures.”
“Grass will bring game and cougars. Cougars prefer cattle to game.”
“No more than anywhere else.”
“And the Utes will want to know why we’re in their hunting grounds.”
“There’s enough for everyone.” He gestured. “And plenty of trees. You won’t have to live in adobe anymore. Besides, Taos is only a day or so away.”
“Taos is two days through a Pass that’s impassable in winter.”
Gerald studied the valley at their feet. “At the foot of this hill and a little north,” he decided. “A cabin between those two outcroppings would be well sheltered. And your garden won’t get too windblown.”
Clearly, there was no use arguing. Suzanna’s mouth tightened. “I want glass windows,” she said.
They climbed a small hill near the headwaters of the Cimarron River to get a better view. The long narrow valley spread out below them. It was a couple miles wide and probably twelve long. The land slanting toward them was mostly grass. Small creeks meandered across it, creating dark indentations. Pine and fir hugged the banks, spreading out occasionally to absorb moisture from a sloughy spot. The streams met in a marshy area just below where Gerald and Suzanna stood, then drained into the small river that flowed eastward through the rocky canyon.
Suzanna studied the valley warily as Gerald plucked a piece of grass from the hillside. He examined it, then bit into the fleshy end and chewed carefully.
He spit it out. “Sweet,” he said approvingly. He gestured at the view below. “It has everything we could want,” he told his wife. “Water, feed, game, timber.”