“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
July is a month fraught with meaning in connection with Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, the man who controlled almost 2 million acres of New Mexico Territory land in the 1860’s.
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell died on this day, July 25, in 1875, five years after the sale of what was known as the Maxwell Land Grant to a consortium of London investors was recorded in the Colfax County, New Mexico Territory’s record books. It was his daughter Odile’s sixth birthday.
The Beaubien Miranda land grant had come into Maxwell’s hands through his wife’s inherited portion, their purchase of her Beaubien sibling’s sections, and their acquisition of the remainder from the Miranda heirs. There was still some question about the actual size of the grant when Maxwell died, a question which would be settled by the United States Supreme Court in 1887, when they confirmed it at just under 2 million acres.
A portion of the money from the sale, went to the purchase of the decommissioned Fort Sumner from the Federal government. Located in the southeastern part of the Territory, Fort Sumner had been the site of the infamous detainment of Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the 1860’s. Following their return to their homeland, the Fort had little use to the military control of the Native population. Maxwell purchased it in 1870, renovated the buildings, and ranched and raised race horses there until his death in 1875.
Lucien Maxwell’s family continued to live at the old Fort after his death. Six years later, again in July, another death became associated with the site. Billy the Kid was visiting the Maxwell home at Fort Sumner the night that he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
On January 6, 1868 Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, co-owner of the Maxwell land grant, announced a public auction of 400 lots in Virginia City, a new town six miles east of today’s Elizabethtown. The new town was located along Willow Creek on Baldy Mountain’s southern slopes and named after Maxwell’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Virginia.
Unfortunately, the town got off to a slow start. Only fifteen houses were in the next two months. Due to poor sales, the town had collapsed by the time Virginia married U.S. Army officer A.S.B Keyes two years later without Maxwell’s permission. What little remains of Virginia City is now on private property.
Sources: Urban, Jack. C.. Lure, Lore, and Legends of the Moreno Valley. Angel Fire, NM: Moreno Valley Writers Guild, 1997: 32. Murphy, Larry R. Philmont. A History of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country. Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1972: 90. Freiberger, Lucille. Lucien Maxwell: Villain or Visionary. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1999: 103.