Book Review: The Mesilla

Book Review: The Mesilla

If you recognize the name Albert Fountain, you’ll almost certainly associate him with his disappearance in the New Mexico desert in 1896 along with his eight-year-old son. And that’s probably almost everything you know about the man.

But Fountain’s disappearance happened as the result of events that took place well before that early February day. In fact, he’d been a polarizing figure in southern New Mexico for a number of years. He’d defended Billy the Kid in court and made other decisions that brought attention to himself—and not necessarily in a good way.

Mary Armstrong’s novel The Mesilla provides a fictional account of some of the events in Fountain’s career prior to his disappearance. This story, the first in Armstrong’s Two Valleys Saga series, centers around Fountain’s defense of Bronco Sue, a woman who was accused of killing her husband, one of a series of men she’d cohabitated with. The courtroom scenes alone are worth the price of this book.

Armstrong has clearly done her homework. The novel is packed with information and anecdotes about New Mexico’s Mesilla and Tularosa Valleys in the late 1800s, which she feeds seamlessly into the story line. If you’re interested in the history of these areas or are just looking for a well-written historical novel, I recommend The Mesilla.  

Book Review: Los Capitalistas

Book Review: Los Capitalistas
UNM Press, 1997, ISBN: 0-8263-2235-2


What picture comes to your mind when you hear the words “Santa Fe Trail”? American merchants with wagons full of merchandise heading west and returning with money in their pockets, right? Well, there’s more to that story, and Susan Calafate Boyle’s book Los Capitalistas helps to provide that additional information.

So they did. By 1840, Hispanos were major participants in the trade along the Santa Fe Trail, with extensive trade and financing relationships as far east as New York, London, and Paris. Los Capitalistas explains those relationships and the types of merchandise New Mexican merchants conveyed back and forth and, in the process, expands our understanding of New Mexico. 

The ricos of New Mexico saw pretty early on that hauling merchandising over the Trail could work both ways. After all, they were already taking wool, woven goods, and other items to Chihuahua, Sonora, and other points south. Extending their freighting operations east was the next logical step.

Los Capitalistas is written in a clear, matter-of-face style that conveys a great deal of information and provides a glimpse of New Mexico that most of us haven’t seen before, and is an important book for understanding the history of the Southwest as well as an enjoyable read. I recommend it!

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Maxwell Land Grant = Trouble

Mid-April 1871 was a busy time for the newly-formed Maxwell Land Grant Company. Lucien and Luz Maxwell had received their cash for the grant, moved out of the house at Cimarron, and were busy spending their money. Lucien had used a good chunk of it to set up the First National Bank in Santa Fe. He’d also bought land at Fort Sumner. While Luz turned the former the officers quarters into a home, he bought racehorses.

However, the Company wasn’t having an easy time establishing their control over the former Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant’s vast acreage. There’d been an initial dust-up in late 1870, when the Elizabethtown miners rioted against the new owners and the Governor had to send soldiers in to squelch them. But that wasn’t the end of it. In early April 1871, the Cimarron Squatters Club organized a mass protest and fundraising meeting in front of the county courthouse. 

The Company apparently decided to demonstrate a little force in response. They sent a group of employees into the Ute Creek placer mines and took over. That strategy didn’t work out too well—the miners disarmed the Company’s men and held them hostage.

Again, the Governor got involved. This time he came himself, forced the miners to free the prisoners, ordered them to abstain from further violence, and then got the Army to station soldiers from Fort Union in the area to enforce the peace.

The soldiers’ presence does seem to have calmed the boiling pot for a little while. But it was bound to boil over again—the Company was enforcing rent payments Maxwell had never bothered to collect and also kicking people off range and farmland Maxwell had allowed them to use.

Maxwell Land Grant Map, circa 1870

Whether the Company was within their rights isn’t clear. Things got even murkier in late January 1873, when the U.S. Department of Interior ordered much of the Grant’s acreage to be treated as public lands. This brought more settlers (the Company called them “squatters”) into the area and, with them, more unrest. 

With the newcomers came Methodist Episcopal missionary Rev. Franklin J. Tolby. Tolby sided with the settlers and miners and didn’t hesitate to speak his mind. In mid-September 1875 he was ambushed and killed on the canyon road between Elizabethtown and Cimarron, and the Colfax County War was on in earnest.

The conflict didn’t end until April 18, 1887, when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the Company’s right to almost two million acres. Even then, the violence didn’t come to an immediate halt. However, even the most ardent settlers didn’t have any legal arguments left in their arsenal and the Colfax County War gradually faded away.

Once again, money and political power had prevailed in the fight for control of New Mexico’s lands.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell,Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Larry Murphy, Out in God’s Country: A History of Colfax County, New Mexico, Springer, NM: 1969; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont: A history of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Angel Fire, NM: Columbine Books, 1997; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, The People of the Cimarron Country, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999.

Railroad Finally Reaches Albuquerque!!!!

Railroad Finally Reaches Albuquerque!!!!

On Monday, April 5, 1880, after almost 30 years of waiting, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific railroad, a subsidiary of Atchison, Topeka And Santa Fe, arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Territory’s first hope for a railroad that connected it to both coasts had been in 1853, when a survey was completed from Albuquerque toward Arizona and California. But then the nation got caught up in the conflict that would lead to the Civil War and nothing happened.

After the war, all eyes were on the transcontinental rail link which lay to the north, along the 32nd parallell. When that final spike was pounded into place at Ogden, Utah in 1869, the next logical place to build was on or near the southern border. Surely now it was New Mexico’s turn.

In the early 70s, it looked like that turn had come. Various rail lines built steadily west across Kansas and Colorado.

Then came the financial Panic of 1873. Once again, everything ground to a halt. Ranchers and farmers in New Mexico must have fumed as Texans loaded cattle and Californians boxed up grapes and pears and sent them east by rail while New Mexico still received its mail via stagecoach and had to use Santa Fe Trail freight wagons for anything larger.

Albuquerque in 1889. Source: U.S. Library of Congress.

But then the great day finally arrived and a train chugged into Albuquerque. The new track was positioned over a mile east of the town plaza. This resulted in a flurry of real estate,  commercial, and other activity. Albuquerque took on the characteristics of a boomtown, with brawls, thefts, and shootings and the inevitable ad hoc vigilante groups to try to keep them under control.

Was the arrival of the railroad a good thing? I suspect not everyone thought so.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Lawrence A. Johnson, Over The Counter And On The Shelf, Country Storekeeping in America, 1620-1920, Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the Santa Fé trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

THICKER’N SNOT

“It’s s’posed to be August, dadburn it.” Julius Fairfield looked gloomily out the door of the long, narrow log cabin that served as the Quartz Mill & Lode Mining Company barracks outside of Elizabethtown. “This fog is thicker’n snot.”

In one of the iron beds lining the walls behind him, somebody sneezed. “And there’s the snot for ye,” Edward Kelly, the company’s lone Irishman, chortled as he added more wood to the pot belly stove halfway down the room.

A door opened at the far end and the chief engineer came out. He ignored the men in the beds as he walked down the room to peer over Fairfield’s shoulder. “That fog’ll lift shortly,” he said. He clapped Fairfield on the back. “Be thankful it’s not rain.”

“That was yesterday’s gift to us all,” Fairfield said gloomily. He shook his head. “And here I thought New Mexico Territory’d be drier than New York.” He grinned and glanced at the engineer. “When’d you say payday was?”

Behind them, Kelly began to sing a song praising Ireland and its green hills, and a chorus of voices yowled at him to be still. The engineer chuckled and turned. “That’s enough now!” he said.

from Valley of the Eagles

Thomas Catron is Named U.S. Attorney for New Mexico!!!

In early March 1872, Thomas B. Catron was named U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Territory, replacing his good friend Stephen Elkins, who’d just been elected New Mexico’s delegate to Congress. Catron had come to the Territory in 1866 at Elkins’ urging. He used his appointment to become a powerhouse in New Mexico politics and the center of what became known as the Santa Fe Ring, a group of men who sought to keep New Mexico’s political and financial power firmly in their own hands.

Catron and Elkins were business as well as law partners. They focused their efforts on anything that would increase their wealth, including banking, mining, and land speculation. Elkins left the Territory in 1877 and moved to West Virginia, but Catron stayed and continued his business and political activities. He served as Santa Fe’s mayor, president of the New Mexico Bar Association, and—perhaps most importantly—kingpin of New Mexico’s Republican party.

Source: Thomas Benton Catron and His Era by Victor Westphall

These positions and his control of the Santa Fe Ring enabled Catron to amass huge landholdings, many of them fraudulently. By the end of the 1800s, he reportedly owned around two million acres in New Mexico land and had a financial interest in another four million, much of it former Spanish and Mexican land grants.

It seems fitting that Catron County, one of New Mexico’s largest counties in terms of area but smallest in terms of population, is named after Catron. I suspect he was one of those people who didn’t tolerate others well unless they could benefit him in some way, so he needed a certain amount of elbow room. Naming a county for him that contains plenty of acreage but not many people seems appropriate.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico: A Biographical Dictionary, 1540-1980, Vol. 1. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Book, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, Ed. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, New York: Harper and Row, 1977; Hal Stratton and Paul Farley, Office of the Attorney General, State of New Mexico, History, Powers & Responsibilities, 1846-1990. Santa Fe: State of New Mexico, 1990; Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and his era, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973.

Charles Beaubien Requests Mexican Citizenship

On Sunday, February 22, 1829, Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien (aka Carlos Beaubien) submitted his application for Mexican citizenship. One of the first French-Canadian trappers to settle in New Mexico following Mexican independence, Beaubien had already married Paula Lobato, a member of a prominent family, by the time he formalized his decision to stay there.   

Beaubien and Lobato made there home in Taos. In early January 1841, he and then-Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda asked  the Mexican government to give them a swath of land east of Taos. The property was granted to them in January 1843, although they didn’t leave  Taos to take possession of it until Wednesday, February 22 that year.

Although they don’t seem to have made much effort to settle the grant, the two men held onto it through the final years of the Mexican period. After the 1846 American occupation, they began the lengthy U.S. process of confirming title, an procedure that wasn’t completed until  1860, almost 28 years after Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Charles Beaubien

In that time, he’d been, sequentially, a citizen of the United States, then Mexico, and then the U.S. again. He’d been a successful Taos merchant and a judge under both the Mexican and American systems, lost a son during the insurrection of 1847, and given his daughter Luz in marriage to the mountain man Lucien B. Maxwell.

When Beaubien died in February 1864, Luz and Lucien moved quickly to buy out her sibling’s inherited portions of the grant, as well as Guadalupe Miranda’s share, and take full control. They would sell it in 1870 to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, a group which became infamous for its treatment of the people Lucien and Luz had allowed to live, ranch, and mine on their holdings.

But it had all started on that February day in 1829 when Charles Hipolite Trotier Sieur de Beaubien became a Mexican citizen.

Sources:  Don Bullis, New Mexico Autobiographical Dictionary, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque: Rio Grande Books, 2007; Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999; Victor Westphall, Mercedes Reales, Albuquerque:UNM Press, 1983.

LEONIDAS AND GEORGE, PART 2 OF 2

George was getting nervous. “Let’s get ourselves off this main track,” he said. “These cattle are making our trail a wee bit too readable.”

Leonidas nodded. “We can head up Ute Creek,” he suggested. “Maybe offer them for sale at Baldy Camp instead of driving them clear to Etown.”

The longhorns moved gladly into the Ute Creek grasslands, but then stalled. The forage was long and green, and they saw no reason to go on. George whooped and waved his hat at them half-heartedly. He was losing enthusiasm for the whole venture. His pony wasn’t really a cowhorse and didn’t care for close proximity to longhorns. And he liked Leonidas, but the big Canadian hadn’t adapted to herding as easily as he’d hoped. He sighed. Etown placer mining, and now this. He should just head on back to Ireland.

Leonidas rode up beside him. “How much farther?” he asked.

~ ~ ~ ~

Tom Stockton pushed back his hat and wiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve. Even the rippling sound of the nearby Cimarron river did nothing to relieve the heat.

Chuck, Finis, and the others reined in on either side of him. They all stared at the hoof marks on the rocky dirt road heading into Cimarron canyon.

“They ain’t even tryin’ to cover their tracks or keep those cattle where it won’t show,” Finis said with disgust. “Looks like only two men who don’t know what in hell they’re doin’.”

“Greenhorns,” Chuck agreed. He spat into the dust. “Feel kinda sorry for ’em.”

“That’s seventy head of my cattle they’re doing such a damn poor job of herding,” Stockton said grimly. “Greenhorns or not, they’re rustlin’.” He resettled his hat. “Let’s get this over with.” He spurred his horse into a steady trot. The others followed briskly behind.

~ ~ ~ ~

The two younger men didn’t stand a chance against Tom Stockton and his five riders. They were covered by guns before they even knew they were surrounded. Leonidas felt his stomach tighten.

“Round ’em up,” Stockton said, his voice icy. He gestured at the cattle with his head as his Colt focused on Van Valser’s chest.

“Aye, that’s just what we’ve been adoin’,” George Cunningham said, his Irish brogue thickening. “We were just rounding them up for you, gatherin’ ’em for a quick swing on down to your Clifton House—”

“Wrong direction, son,” Chuck said. Cunnningham fell silent.

“Get moving,” Stockton ordered.

Leonidas and George obeyed. As the other men spread out around the cattle with them, Leonidas felt a surge of relief at the lack of gunfire. Stockton was a big man in the County. Maybe he’d just turn them over to the Sheriff in Cimarron.

~ ~ ~ ~

As they entered the east end of the canyon, George Cunningham’s hopes revived. Tom Stockton had his longhorns back, and he and his men were paying more attention to the cattle than to Cunningham and Van Valser. There’d been no move to string them up.

The farmlands east of Cimarron Canyon were almost within sight. George began looking carefully at the sandstone and juniper on either side of the road. It might just be possible to make a dash for it. He glanced around. Van Valser was behind him. George slowed his pony a little to angle closer, letting the cattle ease by.

But Stockton had seen him examining the landscape, and suddenly Chuck and Finis were riding toward George and Leonidas. There was a sudden blast of gunfire. Cunningham’s pony reared, Leonidas crumpled in his saddle, and everything went black.

“Trying to escape,” Tom Stockton growled. “The damn fools.”

Copyright ©2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Elisha Stanley Is Allowed To Stay In New Mexico

In early February 1826, New Mexico’s Governor’s included an American named Elisha Stanley on the list of foreigners in the country without a passport. Under Mexican law, Stanley could have been deported immediately, but he wasn’t. Instead, he became what was known as an American merchants—men who shipped goods from Missouri to sell at retail shops in Santa Fe.

Said to have a “gentlemanly deportment and a generous nature,” the merchant Stanley plays a small but important role in my newest novel No Secret Too Small, which is set in New Mexico during the 1837/38 tax revolt. He played a much bigger role in the aftermath of that revolt.  

Almost immediately following the successful August 1837 insurrection against Governor Perez, the rebels began disagreeing about their next steps. Some wanted to seize and redistribute the property of all New Mexico’s ricos. Others wanted to push for church tithe and fee reform. There seemed to be as many different opinions about what ought to be done as there were people expressing them.

On top of this discord was the threat that the wealthy landowners from Albuquerque and farther south would organize, throw the new rebel government out of Santa Fe, and take power into their own hands. Some of these men—including former governor Manuel Armijo—were already sniffing around the capital, looking for ways to widen the cracks in the rebel coalition.

The new rebel governor, Jose Angel Gonzales, was so desperate to find a way out of the mess that he approached an American merchant in Santa Fe about asking the U.S. to step in and take over.

That merchant was Elisha Stanley. He didn’t agree with the idea and it was dropped. As a result, the United States’ acquisition of New Mexico was averted by almost ten years.  

Stanley returned East shortly after the 1837 revolt and spent the rest of his life dividing his time between Connecticut and Missouri. He died in 1874, almost thirty years after New Mexico had, in fact, become a part of the United States. But his decision not to grab the idea and run with it had given New Mexico a little more time before the juggernaut of manifest destiny sucked it into its maw.

Sources: Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba, 1837, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1985; Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-History, Albuquerque: Cosmic House, 1999; Israel P. Warren, The Stanley Families of America as Descended From John, Timothy, and Thomas Stanley of Hartford, CT, Portland, Maine: B. Thurston & Co., 1887.