Mail Escort Survives October Snow

Captain Louis Felsenthal and the men of New Mexico’s Fort Union’s Company C were out in the field in September and October 1864, escorting mail-and-passenger stagecoaches between Fort Lyon and Fort Union. This should have been pleasant enough duty on the Plains in the fall of the year—the heat reduced, plenty of grass for the mules pulling the supply wagons, golden trees lining the rivers that crossed the open prairie.

But the duty wasn’t pleasant. The weather that fall was unusually cold. By October 20, Felsenthal and his men were experiencing snowstorms every few days. They hadn’t expected these kinds of conditions and didn’t have winter clothing with them. They must have been glad when their two-month rotation ended and they could head back to Fort Union.

They were en route to the Fort, on the north side of Raton Pass, when they were caught in the worst snowstorm they’d seen to date. The company and its animals struggled up and over the Pass, then down to Red River Station, where they sheltered as snow continued to fall all that night and through the next morning.

At that point, the snow on level ground was over a foot and a half deep. And still coming down. It fell steadily snow for two more days until Felsenthal, worried about the lack of forage for the mules, decided to break for Fort Union.

Oct 29 post illustration.Felsenthal

Four days later, after marching through snow that reached to their waists, men, wagons, and mules arrived at Lucien B. Maxwell’s ranch in what is today’s Cimarron). By the time they got there, many of the men had frostbitten feet and most of them were snow blind from the glare of the sun on the snow. But they’d all made it.

One reason Felsenthal and his men survived their trek is that a herd of cattle destined for Fort Union was also marooned by the storm at Red River Station. As a result, the Captain was able to buy 378 pounds of beef to feed his men, giving them the fuel they needed for their coming journey.

They were also fortunate to reach Red River Station when they did. The storm that closed in after Company C arrived there extended north and east across the Colorado plains, creating deep drifts on the stage route between Bent’s Old Fort and Denver and making the divide between the Arkansas and the Platte Rivers particularly treacherous.

You can just never tell what the weather’s going to do on the Western Plains.

Sources: Jacqueline Dorgan McKenna, Louis Felsenthal, Citizen Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the santa fe trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.

The Lights of Cimarron: Book Review

The Lights of Cimarron cover
Five Star Publishing, April 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1432851187

It’s always a treat to discover that a book I’m reading and enjoying is part of a series, so I was delighted to discover that the characters in Jim Jones’ The Lights of Cimarron are featured in other books as well.

Set in Cimarron, New Mexico in the 1870s, The Lights of Cimarron features Tommy Stallings, a very young sheriff who has the makings of a great man. He’s fallible, a little insecure, and he has a great mentor who’s a legend among sheriffs and a wife who doesn’t take him too seriously.

Tommy has challenges, though. For one thing, Colfax County officials want him to relocate to the new county seat in Springer, away from Cimarron where his wife is a teacher. So there are marital issues.

More ominously, there’s a gang of rustlers at work in the County and they’re doing more than stealing stock. They’re killing people, women and children as well as men, and leaving mutilated bodies in their wake.

But Tommy’s been charged with taking a bribe, a charge a local mayor seems more concerned with than murder. The accusation is keeping Tommy from finding and dealing with the rustlers. In fact, the mayor seems to be using it to block the rusting investigation. Can Tommy clear his name and get the rustlers too?

In my opinion, the test of a good series is whether the books in that series can stand alone as separate stories. This one does. It’s a pleasure to read and left me wanting to know more about the characters and what will become of them in the future. I’m looking forward to locating and reading the Jared Delaney series, of which The Lights of Cimarron is a spin-off.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted Western with interesting characters and which is part of a series, I definitely recommend The Lights of Cimarron!

Spoiled Meat Nearly Starts Indian War

In mid November, 1875, the Utes and Apaches gathered at New Mexico’s Cimarron Indian agency for their treaty-mandated weekly distribution of food, and their patience ran out.

Both tribes had been complaining for several years that the flour doled out to them was hardly fit for anything and that the distributed meat was from worn-out Santa Fe Trail oxen too tough to eat. But the meat they were offered in mid November 1875 was worse than anything they’d seen yet. It was rotten.

This was the last straw. The Apaches, at least, had had enough, and shots rang out. The agency employees retreated into the agency office, in what is now Cimarron’s Old Mill Museum.

With Indians firing into the mill, and agency staff firing outside, several people, including Indian agent Alexander G. Irvine, were injured.

Nov 23 llustration.Aztec mill.j.s. pierce collection
Aztec Grist Mill, Cimarron, New Mexico. J.S. Pierce Collection

Eventually, the Apaches withdrew. In spite of his wounds, Irvine headed to the telegraph office and wired Fort Union for reinforcements, which arrived the next day. The troop officer went to the Apache camp and talked them into a meeting in Cimarron. But the gathering wasn’t a productive one. Irvine was interested only in who’d fired a gun, not the quality of the food he’d been distributing. He issued an ultimatum: If the Apaches didn’t hand over Juan Barilla, Juan Julian, and a man named Chico, he’d stop distributions entirely.

The Apaches refused this proposal and headed back to camp. But somewhere along the way, Juan Barilla was unlucky enough to get himself arrested and thrown into the Cimarron jail. On Tuesday, November 23, he attempted to break out and was killed in the ensuing scuffle.

The Apaches were furious. They wanted someone to pay for what they viewed as Barilla’s murder.

Irvine just wanted out. He resigned his position and suggested that the Army take over. The authorities at Fort Union not only agreed to this proposition but wired General Nelson A. Miles in Kansas for help.

As a well-known Indian fighter, General Miles could have been expected to move immediately into action against the Apaches in the Cimarron area. Instead, he took the time to do a little investigating and concluded that the government had failed miserably in its responsibilities toward the Native Americans assigned to the Agency. He put a military man in charge at the Mill, established new procedures, and left town satisfied that he’d averted serious hostilities.

Whether Juan Barilla’s friends and families were satisfied is another question entirely. But at least they had better food distributed to them after his death.

Source:  Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont, a history of New Mexic’s Cimarron Country, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1972.