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
On Wednesday, July 1, 1868, the newly constructed Moreno Hotel opened in Elizabethtown, New Mexico with a dinner for 83 guests, and Etown congratulated itself on its prosperity. The hotel was a living symbol of how far the town had come since its gold-mine camp beginnings early the previous year. This inaugural dinner was served on “the finest china in the territory” and accompanied by bottles of Mumm’s Dry Imperial Champagne. The hotel was nicely located on 3rd Street between Broadway and Washington and would have had a fine view of Baldy Mountain on the eastern side of the valley as well as the various gold mining claims on the Moreno Creek in the valley directly below the town.
It’s not clear who owned the Moreno when it opened, but two months later, it passed into the hands of Augusta Forbes, a German-born woman who, when she divorced her runaway husband the following spring, was granted the right to revert to her maiden name of Augusta Meinert as well ownership of the hotel and “all the personal property, household, and kitchen furniture now on the premises.”
Meinert operated the hotel for about four and a half years. She remarried in late December 1872 and formally handed off the Moreno to her new husband, Chancy Storey a month later. She seems to have retired from active involvement in running the business at that point, because she’s listed as a housewife in the June 1880 census while Chancy is listed as a hotel keeper, presumably of the enterprise that had such an elegant beginning twelve years before.
Sources: Colfax County Real Estate records, 1868-1888; U.S. Census Data, Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, 1870 and 1880.
“Who you callin’ squirt?” The tall young man with the long sun bleached hair moved toward him down the bar, broad shoulders tense under his heavy flannel shirt.
“I didn’t mean anything,” the man said apologetically. The premature wrinkles in his face were creased with dirt. Clearly a local pit miner. He gestured toward the tables. “I heard them callin’ you that. Thought it was your name.”
“Only my oldest friends call me that,” the young man said.
“Sorry ’bout that,” the other man said. He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Pete. They call me Gold Dust Pete, ’cuz that’s all I’ve come up with so far.”
They shook. “I’m Alfred,” the younger man said. “My grandfather called me Squirt. It kinda got passed down as a joke when I started getting my growth on.”
Pete chuckled. “I can see why it was funny,” he agreed. “Have a drink?”