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

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.

Kit Carson’s Home is Attacked!

On June 26, 1850, while Kit Carson was traveling home from Missouri with trade goods, a band of Native Americans attacked the Carson’s hamlet of Rayado, in the shadow of the Cimarron mountains. Despite the presence of a company of Army dragoons at Rayado, the Indians—no one was sure if they were Ute or Jicarilla Apache—drove off six horses, four mules, and 175 head of cattle valued at over $5000. Two Rayado men were killed: an unarmed Army bugler and a civilian (possibly trapper William New).

The dragoons had been stationed at Rayado in response to the Indian raids against the communities on the eastern mountain slopes and on the Santa Fe Trail on the eastern plains since the middle of 1849. Some of the violence was undoubtedly triggered by events in August 1849, when Jicarilla Apache Chief Chacón took his band to Las Vegas to make peace, but was attacked by an armed party led by Lt. Ambrose E. Burnside, the future Civil War General. Burnside’s men killed fourteen Jicarilla and  captured the daughter of Chief White Wolf, who was then incarcerated in a Las Vegas jail. She was shot and killed during an escape attempt later that year.

June 26 illustration
Source: Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest by Leo E. Oliva

Following the June attack, the army sent another company of dragoons from Las Vegas and called for citizen volunteers to assist with a campaign against the Indians. The resulting expedition doesn’t seem to have helped much, although people died. Only after Fort Union was constructed in the Spring of 1851 did things settle down a bit.

Rayado had been established in 1848 by Lucien B. Maxwell and Christopher “Kit” Carson on land owned by Maxwell’s father-in-law. The idea seems to have been to raise stock. When the military unit was stationed there, Maxwell took the opportunity to rent out living space to them as well selling them fodder for their animals.


Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Clear Light Publishers, 1988. Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, 1993; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, 2003.