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.

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 3 of 3

“Things are changing, Mr. Maxwell.” Judge Joseph Palen set his whisky glass on the saloon table and looked around the room. “In another year or so, these ragged placer miners will be replaced by businessmen with laborers to do the rough work.”

Maxwell nodded, following his gaze. “And many of these men will be laborers, instead of independent men with claims of their own.”

“Claims so poorly worked they bring in barely enough to keep body and soul together.” Palen flicked a speck of dust from the sleeve of his dark broadcloth suit.

“That’s all that matters, I suppose.” Maxwell grimaced. “Efficiency.”

“It’s a large territory, and its resources are going to waste.”

“So they tell me,” Maxwell said. He shook his head, put his glass on the table, and reached for his battered black hat. “I’ve been here a long time, Mr. Palen, and I happen to like Nuevo Mexico’s lack of efficiency. So do most of the men in this room, I expect.” He stood, towering over the table. “Good day to you, Judge.” A mischievous smile flashed across his face. “And good luck.”

Moreno Valley Sketches II

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 2 of 3

“You have an interest in a number of cases before this court,” Judge Palen said sharply.

Lucien Maxwell nodded and tilted his head toward the old lawyer beside him. “Mr. Wheaton is my designated attorney.” He raised an eyebrow. “I believe that releases me from the need to be present.” He adjusted his right foot higher on his left knee.

“You have been indicted on a serious charge.” Palen leaned forward. “That indictment requires your attendance.”

“The Probate Court issue?” Maxwell lifted a shoulder. “We have an excellent probate court clerk. As you’ll see from his records, there was no need to hold formal court.”

Palen’s lips thinned. “You committed to appearing on the first day of this session in regard to the indictment against you. It is now the fourth day.”

“I was unexpectedly detained.”

Palen stared at him for a long moment, then turned to the court clerk. “Let the record show that Mr. Maxwell has appeared and apologized for his failure to appear, and that we are satisfied no contempt was intended.”

Maxwell’s jaw tightened, then he nodded slightly and readjusted his right foot on his knee.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 1 of 3

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, richest man in northern New Mexico Territory, sat on one of the mismatched chairs in Elizabethtown’s makeshift Colfax County courtroom and studied the man sitting behind the Judge’s table. He’d sat at such tables himself, though he doubted he’d ever looked so uncomfortable. Joseph Palen looked out of place here in this rough mining town and angry that it had the audacity to call itself a county seat. Apparently disapproved of Nuevo Mexico, too, for that matter.

Maxwell felt the impulse to laugh, but instead lifted his right foot to his left knee and watched the crowd gather. Most of the men nodded to him politely, touching their foreheads in a kind of salute, and he nodded back. They were good people, he mused. Knew what they wanted, had no pretense about them.

Beside him, the old attorney Wheaton muttered, “Here we go,” and Judge Palen gaveled the room to attention.

“Apparently, Mr. Maxwell has deigned to honor us with his presence,” Palen said, glaring at Lucien.

Maxwell resisted the impulse to straighten his spine and put both feet on the floor. “I believe you asked to see me,” he said coolly.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

More Victims of Fremont Expedition Die

By the middle of February, 1849, mountain man Bill Williams and the two men who’d survived the failure of the Fremont expedition in the Sangre de Cristos with him, were in Taos recovering. Before the end of the month was out, the 62-year old Williams and the Fremont expedition medical doctor Benjamin Kern headed back out into the snow-covered wilderness. Their mission was to retrieve Dr. Kern’s medical equipment and supplies and his two brothers’ art materials and papers. The goods were in a cache on the Continental Divide near the Rio Grande headwaters, where they’d been placed after the expedition’s pack mules succumbed to starvation and cold. Williams and Kerns were accompanied by a handful of Mexican assistants, who managed the pack outfit.

It was a fateful trip for the two Americans.  While they made it back to the cache, they did not make it out alive.

The Utes in the region had been in war mode since the previous summer. Since then, they’d been raiding the settlements up and down the Southern Rockies and the plains to the east. When they combined with the Apaches to clash with U.S. troops in the Raton mountains, the U.S. military leaders started getting concerned. Lt. Joseph H. Whittlesey was ordered out to bring the tribe into line.

Whittlesey started north from Taos on March 11 with 37 men and four scouts, one of them Lucien B. Maxwell. The next day, about fifteen miles north of Red River, his forces attacked a Ute village and forced those they hadn’t killed into the cold and snow.  About a dozen Utes fled toward the Rio Grande. When they happened on the Williams/Kerns encampment on the Continental Divide, they saw an opportunity to revenge what Whittlesey had done.

The Utes shot Old Bill Williams and Dr. Kern, ordered the men with them to stay put, and carried off the supplies and pack mules as partial payment for the destruction of their winter camp. It is said that when the Utes realized they’d killed Williams, they gave him a chief’s burial. If this is true, it’s more respect than he received from Fremont, whose family later blamed Williams for the failure of Fremont’s expedition and the subsequent death of so many of his men, an accusation that seems to have no basis in fact.

 

SOURCES: Robert G. Cleland, This Reckless Breed of Man, UNM Press, 1976; Alpheus H. Favour, Old Bill Williams, mountain man, U of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1962; Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders in the Far Southwest, Utah State UP, Logan, 1997.

New Mexico’s Rep Issues Warning About Americans

In January 1826, Santiago Abreú, New Mexico’s representative in Mexico City, sent a letter to the government officials in Santa Fe. In it, he cautioned them to be wary of the Americans in the province, especially those who wanted to settle, buy land, and marry without first obtaining the appropriate citizenship papers. In addition, the letter asked officials to record the activities of all non-Mexicans in New Mexico. This governmental policy of monitoring the Americans continued into the next decade, including after Abreú himself was appointed Governor in 1831. His duties included enforcing the laws that governed the americanos’ activities, including the regulations related to trapping and trading.

Jesus G. Abreu.Meketa
Jesus Abreu, Santiago Abreu’s son and Lucien B. Maxwell brother-in-law Source: Louis Felsenthal by J. D. Meketa

Ironically, Governor Abreú  was the father of Jesús Abreú, the man who would become Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell’s brother-in-law and fellow heir (through their wives) of a substantial portion of the Beaubien-Miranda land grant east of Taos. Although Canadian-born Carlos Beaubien, Jesus Abreú’s and Lucien Maxwell’s respective wives, had become a naturalized Mexican citizen prior to the grant’s being made, there is no record that Lucien Maxwell, ultimate owner of most of the land, was ever a naturalized Mexican citizen. However, by the time Beaubien died in 1864, Maxwell’s citizen was a moot point. The thing Santiago Abreú had feared, that the Americans would eventually take over, had occurred 18 years before and many of his countrymen were in eminent danger of losing their patrimony to the men who were flooding in from the eastern States.

 

Sources:   J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015; David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, U of Oklahoma, 1971; Stephen Zimmer, ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999.

Reverend Tolby Assassinated!!!!

On Thursday, September 16, 1875, 142 years ago today, the body of Methodist missionary Franklin J. Tolby was found lying beside the Cimarron Canyon road near the mouth of Clear Creek, shot in the back. He’d been there two days, killed while returning from church services at Elizabethtown. His horse was tethered nearby and none of Tolby’s goods were missing. It was clearly a case of assassination and many people believed they knew why he was killed. But who did it and who’d ordered the killing? Those were the burning questions that some people believe were never answered.

Tolby had begun preaching vehemently against the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Company almost as soon as he’d arrived in Colfax County in early 1874. The Company had bought the Beaubien-Miranda Grant from Lucien B. Maxwell and his wife four years before. The fact that the Grant boundaries were disputed wasn’t going to stop them from maximizing their profits from every bit of its roughly 1.9 million acres. They would use whatever means necessary to keep anyone they deemed a squatter off the Grant, even people the Maxwells had work/share agreements with prior to the sale.

Tolby murder illustration.9 18 1875 Las Vegas Gazette
Source: Las Vegas Gazette, Sept. 18, 1875

The 33 year old Reverend Tolby preached that the farmers and ranchers were more in the right than the Grant people. After all, the U.S. Department of the Interior had ordered the grant land to be treated as public, which made it available to homesteaders.

In addition, Tolby advocated that part of the grant be set aside a reservation for the bands of Utes and Arapahoes who traditionally hunted there. And he said so quite strongly.

Tolby became increasingly annoying to the Company, whose board of directors included Dr. Robert Longwill (Colfax County Probate Judge), Stephen B. Elkins (New Mexico Territorial delegate to Congress), and Thomas B. Catron (U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Territory), all members of the Santa Fe Ring and working hard to extract as much money as possible from the Territory in general and the former Maxwell Grant in particular.

Any of these men and their associates, including Cimarron Attorney Melvin W. Mills and its part-time Justice of the Peace (who was Mills’ office clerk) had reason to wish Tolby dead. After all, the Reverend was interfering with their business interests! But consensus among the anti-Grant folks in the County was that none of the Ring men were likely to dirty their hands with the actual deed itself. In fact, many suspected substitute mail carrier Cruz Vega of killing Tolby. After all, Vega’s Tuesday, September 14 mail route took him through the Cimarron Canyon, but he hadn’t reported seeing a body. This seemed mighty suspicious. Clearly, he knew something.

But Vega spoke only Spanish, which was a problem for the primarily English-speaking men who suspected him. They couldn’t find out what he knew. And they weren’t getting much help from the County’s Spanish-speaking population.

But there was another stubborn Methodist minister in Cimarron, and this one would prove to be even more tenacious than his predecessor. Rev. Tolby’s assistant Rev. Oscar P. McMains was now in charge, and he was hell bent on finding out what Vega knew. It would take six weeks before that confrontation occurred, and when it did it would create even more havoc. Stay tuned . . .

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press, 2014; Moreno Valley Writers Guild, Lure, Lore and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Columbine Books 1997; Chuck Parsons, Clay Allison, Portrait of a Shootist, Pioneer Book Publishers, 1983; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Stephen Zimmer, Sunstone Press, 1999.