A Wild West Town
Established within a 1.7 million acre land grant, Cimarron was built on what was originally the lands of Ute and Apache Indians. Later the Comanche hunted in the area and then in the 1800s a few Mexican families settled in. After the Santa Fe Trail came along the new town attracted trappers, mountain men, outlaws, gold seekers and cowboys. The town also attracted gunslingers like Clay Allison who landed in Cimarron in 1870. By 1875 the place was wild with gun play and lawlessness was at an all time high. A local war resulted in 200 deaths. Cimarron was a town of the wild west.
The way it got started is like this, Charles Beubien and Guadaloupe Miranda of Taos applied to the governor in 1841 for a grant of land east of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Mexican Governor Manuel Armijo liked the idea and he approved the grant, believing the new settlers would ward off hostile Indians and foreign intruders from the United States. For certain considerations a couple years later an additional parcel was added to the grant in the name of Beubiens son Narciso and son in law Stephen Lee. Unfortunately Narciso and Stephen were killed in the Taos Revolt of 1847. Beubien then inherited their portion of land. The Beubien-Miranda Land Grant now encompassed almost 2 million acres.
Enter Kit Carson and Lucien B. Maxwell who set up a ranch and sheep operation near Rayado Creek. Maxwell also a fur trapper and guide often stopped at the Beubien-Miranda Ranch. He began courting and married one of Beubiens 6 daughters-Luz, who was only 15 at the time. In 1850 the U.S. Army set up a post at Rayado and Maxwell recieved rent of $200 a month from them which he used to build a hacienda that grew to 16 rooms. In 1857 Maxwell bought the interest of Guadaloupe Miranda in the grant for $2,745. He continued to upgrade the facilities and livestock that included cattle, horses, sheep and a large goat ranch that was managed in later years by Buffalo Bill Cody.
Aztec Mill – Maxwell constructed a water driven grist mill about 1860 for grinding corn and wheat. The building also served as the Indian agency headquarters for the Utes and Jicarilla Apache from 1861-1876. Cornmeal and flour were sold to nearby Fort Union and to supply government contracts to the Indians.
In 1864 after the death of his father in law, Maxwell and his wife bought out the other heirs to the property for several thousand dollars each. With luck, circumstance and $35,245 Lucien B. Maxwell had become the proprietor of the largest tract of land ever owned by a single individual in the United States – 1,714,765 acres. The property was renamed the Maxwell Land Grant and Cimarron was the headquarters.
Schwenks Hall – originally built in 1854 as a brewery, the property was converted to a gambling hall and saloon by Henry Schwenk in 1875.
Gold was discovered in 1866 a year after the Civil War ended and the value of the Maxwell Land Grant increased dramatically. Maxwell’s vast wealth swelled from the rents and royalties of the burgeoning boom town which now hosted a number of trading stores, 4 hotels and 16 saloons. Gamblers and cowboys made Cimarron a regular Saturday night ” shivaree” with rebel yells and drinks at every stop, pistols shooting out lanterns, windows and mirrors. The place was building a reputation.
Barlow, Sanderson & Company Stage Office – this building was a stage stop for the Barlow, Sanderson & Company line from 1870-1880.
Lucien Maxwells house in Cimarron was as large as a city block. It also included a hotel, gambling rooms, saloon, dance hall, billiard tables and four pianos. He lived an extravagant lifestyle, but after several disastrous investments in an irrigation aquaduct, banking and a failed railroad Maxwell sold his interest in the Maxwell Grant and the assets of the property for $750,000 in 1870. He used the money to purchase the buildings and improvements of the Fort Sumner army post which had been demilitarized. Five years later Lucien B. Maxwell died in poverty.
Stage Office – the building was later used as a Wells Fargo & Company office. It was converted to a mercantile store in the early 1900s.
Senator Chafee of Colorado and two other investors that had purchased the Maxwell Land Grant immediately sold the property to an English firm for $1,350,000. Within 6 months it was sold again, to a Dutch firm. The new owners began to aggressively exploit the resources of minerals, timber and rental revenues. Squatters were ordered to be removed.
The new Maxwell Land Grant Company hoped to tame the rowdiness of Cimarron and invested in a newspaper and enticed Henry Lambert who had a restaurant in Elizabethtown to open a business there. The civilizing plan backfired. Lamberts Inn became popular with cowboys, traders, miners and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Pistol fire often punctuated the evenings and 26 men were killed within the adobe walls.
Old Jail – The Colfax County Jail was constructed in 1872 when Cimarron became the county seat.
23 year old Davy Crockett II (nephew of the Tennessee frontiersman) and his ranch foreman Gus Heffron were making the rounds of saloons one evening and made a final stop at Lamberts Inn to get a bottle of whiskey for the ride home. As the drunken Crockett was leaving, he had trouble exiting the door as someone on the outside was trying to open it at the same time. On the other side of the door was one of the U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers. Crockett in a fit pulled his gun and killed the man then turned and shot three more black troupers sitting at a table, killing two of them.
At his hearing before the justice of the peace Crockett was acquitted of the murders, reason being he was drunk at the time. The judge fining him only $50 and court costs for the crime. Having gotten away with murder Crocket became more brazen than ever in his antics. He and Heffron would ride their horses into saloons firing in the air and ceilings and forced people at gunpoint to buy them drink. One day the two forced the sheriff to drink liquor until he passed out.
By 1876 the violence of the Colfax County War had escalated and Cimarron was out of control. Land Grant officials hired gun slingers in an effort to remove settlers from their property and had come in league with a corrupt ring of lawyers, businessmen and politicians in Santa Fe. Sheriffs served eviction notices and vigilantes retaliated, cattle rustling increased and homes, crops and fences were torched. On January 19, 1876 Clay Allison and two others upset over a newspaper article that insinuated Allison was a leader of mob violence broke into the News and Press office and set off a charge of black powder. Then they threw the printing press into the Cimarron River. Allison later came back and paid the newspaper office $200 for damages.
Lamberts Inn – later renamed the St. James Hotel.
French Chef Henry Lambert, at the recommendation of General Ulyssus E. Grant had been the personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln untill his assasination. Henry then moved west to search for New Mexico gold but found more profit operating a restaurant in Elizabethtown. The Maxwell Land Grant Co. convinced Henry he would be even more successful if he started a restaurant in Cimarron. He opened the Lambert Inn in 1872 and in 1880 added a hotel. It was considered to be one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River.
Over the years many western notables stayed at the finely appointed hotel. Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan and their wives spent three nights on their way to Tombstone. Jessie James, Blackjack Tom Ketchum, Annie Oakley, General Sheriden, artist Fredrick Remington and writer Zane Grey all registered at Lamberts.
Fourteen of the original rooms have been named for the man that used it. Clay Allison, Marc Bowman, Tom Boggs, Dick Liddil, Gov. Lew Wallace, Bat Masterson, Pancho Griego, Zane Grey, Sen. Stephen Dorsey, Jessie James, Bob Ford, Davy Crockett II.
When Henrys sons were replacing the roof of the Inn in 1901 they found more more than 400 bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar. A double layer of heavy wood prevented anyone sleeping upstairs from being killed. There are still 22 bullet holes in the dining room ceiling today.
Reverend Franklin J. Tolby a 33 year old minister that had sided with the settlers against the Land Co. and had been critical of the Santa Fe Ring was found shot to death September 14, 1875. The new Cimarron constable Cruz Vega was suspected as being involved. On October 30th a masked mob confronted Vega and he was pummeled and hung by the neck from a telegraph pole.
Making threats on November 1st Pancho Griego, Cruz Vegas uncle, and the 18 year old son of Vega went looking for trouble at Lamberts Inn. Clay Allison was in the saloon at the time and Griego accused him of leading the mob that had hanged Vega . Griego began fanning himself with his hat to distract Allison while he tried to draw his gun, but Allison was no fool and pulled his six-shooter firing two shots that killed Griego. The saloon was closed until an inquiry was held the next morning. It was found Allison had shot in self defence and the accounts of the day say the saloon closing early was most inconvenient.
Buffalo Bill Cody who worked as the goat ranch manager for Lucien Maxwell for several years still frequented Cimarron. When Henry Lamberts’ son Fred was born, Buffalo Bill was named the godfather. As Fred grew older he learned how to handle a gun from Buffalo Bill. Fred Lambert became the youngest Territorial Marshall in New Mexico, being sworn in at the age of 16.
Annie Oakley met Buffalo Bill at Lamberts Inn and they began to plan and rehearse an idea for a wild west show. When they left to take their show on the road they took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them. The Wild West Show from Cimarron played in countries around the world and lasted for 30 years.
The Colfax County War which had claimed 200 lives came to an end when the United States Supreme Court upheld the 1887 survey as legal. The ruling in favor of the Maxwell Land Grant Company forced many of the homesteaders to pack up and leave – others purchased or leased their own ranches from the Land Co. For several decades the Maxwell Land Grant Company thrived extracting resources from the grant.
Cimarron, New Mexico 2000 Census: population – 917