Book Review: Philmont, A History Of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country

Murphy.Philmont.cover
University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1972
ISBN: 9780826302441

The summer staff at the Boy Scouts of America Philmont Scout Ranch outside Cimarron, New Mexico are often working their first “real” job. For Lawrence R Murphy in the 1960s, that job became the springboard to a history degree and a master’s thesis on the Baldy Mountain mining district, part of which lies inside the Scout Ranch boundaries. Murphy’s thesis and other writings became the foundation for Philmont, A History Of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country.

But Philmont is much more than a history of Baldy Mountain or Philmont Scout Ranch. It’s also a history of Colfax County, New Mexico.

And it’s a thorough one. The book begins with the region’s plants and animals, then goes on to discuss the Native Americans who were present when the Spanish moved into the area and the uneasy truce and outright conflict between the two groups. It then moves on to the advent of fur trapping in the southern Rockies, the Santa Fe Trail, the establishment and settling of the Beaubien and Miranda Land Grant, and Lucien Bonapart Maxwell’s acquisition of the grant.

This section also covers construction of Fort Union, Cimarron’s role as an Indian agency, the discovery of gold on Baldy Mountain, the Colfax County War, and subsequent events on into the early 1900s.

For a book titled Philmont, this history provides remarkably little space to the actual acquisition and development of the Boy Scout ranch. As a result, its potential readership is far larger than the many Scouts who gather each year at the Ranch. For those of us interested in the history of New Mexico’s Colfax County, including the Colfax County War, it provides a great overview of events.

As a writer of historical fiction who focuses on Northern New Mexico, I found Philmont fascinating and useful as a springboard for my own research. I highly recommend this well-written history of the Boy Scouts of America Philmont Scout Ranch and its region.

U.S. Agency Triggers Colfax County War

On Wednesday, January 28, 1874, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued the order that began New Mexico’s Colfax County War.

The Department had decided to designate the approximately 2 million acres claimed by the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company as public land, not private. This meant that the former Beaubien/Miranda land grant was now open to settlement under federal homestead laws.

The Interior Department’s decision was part of an ongoing dispute over the size of the Land Grrant. According to the Department, until that matter was settled in Federal Court, the land was public and therefore available to qualified homesteaders.

But the Land Grant Company wasn’t about to let anyone settle without payment on acreage they claimed as their own. And that payment certainly wasn’t going to go to the U.S. government.

In fact, the Company was already fighting settlers on the vast acreage they claimed. Their attorney, Frank Springer, was hard at work in New Mexico’s Territorial Courts, evicting anyone the Board believed shouldn’t be there. With evictions already occurring, opening the Grant lands to federal homestead claims was simply asking for more trouble.

Jan 28 illustration.Springer, Frank

And it came. If the Company couldn’t get rid of “squatters” through the courts, they’d try other strategies. This all cost money, of course, something that the Board was often short of. But even as the Company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, its board members continued the fight. If this required extra-legal methods, then so be it.

Right about the time the Department of the Interior announced its decision, another factor arrived in Colfax County. His name was Reverend Franklin J. Tolby. Tolby believed that the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company was taking more than its share of local resources. In fact, he advocated that some of the acreage in dispute be handed over to the Native Americans who’d hunted and lived there long before anyone even thought that American capitalists would have a use for it.

Tolby was articulate and people listened to him. This put him solidly in the sights of the Company’s board members. A lot had happened on the Grant up to this point: legal and extra-legal evictions, miners’ protests in Elizabethtown, meetings of concerned citizens in Cimarron, heated newspaper articles for and against the Grant Company. But none of that compared to what occurred after January 28, 1874. The Colfax County War was about to begin.

By the time it was over, Reverend Tolby and others would be dead, homesteaders would be burned or run out, and the Land Grant Company would be on the verge of yet another reorganization. The grant never did return the profit its investors had hoped for.

As with most wars, everyone got hurt in the end.

Source: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2014; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lower, Lower, and Legends, a history of northern New Mexico’s Moreno Valley, Columbine Books, 1997; Victor Westphal, Thomas Benton Catron and His Era, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1973; Stephen Zimmer, editor, For Good Or Bad, People Of The Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1999.

Let The Evictions Begin!!!

In the summer of 1870, the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company closed their sale with Lucien B. and Luz Maxwell for the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant and the Company began moving to take full possession of the land. This move began with sending notices to anyone who hadn’t arranged with Maxwell for formal title to their land, including miners who had paid Maxwell for the privilege of working their mines or farmers who had been providing produce in lieu of cash money. These “squatters” were informed that they must either make arrangements with the Company or leave. When they didn’t the Company initiated ejectment proceedings. Conveniently, Stephen B. Elkins, a member of the Company Board and the company’s attorney, also happened to be New Mexico Territory’s U.S. Attorney General at the time. None of these cases appeared before the court in the Fall 1870 session, so it appears that there was some time provided to the persons in question who had the resources to make the necessary “arrangements.”

The process was not a smooth or a simple one and the Company’s actions reverberated as far as the East Coast. By the summer of 1875, a series of articles had appeared in a New York newspaper criticizing Santa Fe ring members Elkins, Catron, Palen and others. One of the authors was the Reverend Franklin Tolby, who used his pulpit as a platform for preaching against the Land Grant Company’s eviction process and advocating that the government buy at least of a portion of the grant  as a reservation for the local bands of Utes and Arapahos—a solution to the “Indian problem” that Kit Carson and Indian Agent William Frederick Milton Arny  had proposed prior to the sale of the grant. After all, they’d been here first. This, of course, didn’t happen and local settlers would continue to be evicted and tensions would continue to rise throughout the first half of the 1870’s, beginning with a riot in Etown in 1870 and reaching a crescendo in 1875 with Reverend Tolby’s death and the lynching of a (possibly) innocent man. Stay with me as I look at Reverend Tolby’s activities and death, and the resulting lynching, in the months to come….

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999; Victor Westphall, Thomas B. Catron and His Era, University of Arizona Press, 1973.