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Wild West Towns...Cimarron, Rayado, Springer, Las Vegas...along the Santa Fe Trail Next Stop -Fort Union
Cimarron was a wild town, the haunt of such notables as William (Buffalo Bill) Cody who planned his Wild West Show here; Kit Carson, the legendary guide; and Davey Crockett, the nephew of the famous frontiersman.. As a measure of the violence which this town saw, 400 bullet holes were found in the roof of the St. James Hotel when it came under renovation. This hotel has been restored and is found off Hwy 64 in Cimarron, 1 block south on Hwy 21.
Cimarron was once home to Lucien Maxwell, the one time owner of the long contested Maxwell Land Grant of close to two million acres. Part of the grant encompassed the area of northern New Mexico where Cimarron sits, and part of the grant extended into Colorado. Imagine one family owning property the approximate size of Ireland. He was the largest single land owner in the world at the time.
He made Cimarron, which had been settled first in 1844, the headquarters for the land grant and lived in splendor in a sprawling hacienda he built in the town in 1857. One visitor compared his living standard to that of English nobles. Lucien did not finish out his life here but died later in relative poverty in another part of the state.
Land disputes were the reason for the perpetual unrest in this area. Before this area became a part of the United States, Mexico encouraged settlement in their frontier by making grants of land to wealthy citizens who promised to bring in settlers to develop the land. In 1841, only a few years before the Mexican War, a French Canadian trapper by the name of Charles Beaubien who had been in the New Mexican area for 9 years, and a businessman from Chihuahua named Guadaloupe Miranda applied to Governor Armijo for a grant of land.
This grant took on more owners when two years later; a fourth interest was given to the same Governor who had granted to them the land. Another interest was deeded to Charles Bent, a Taos merchant and brother to the founder of Bent’s Fort. This all happened before the Mexican War of 1846, but when General Kearney of the Army of the West marched across this territory, both Governor Armijo and Guadaloupe Miranda fled to Chihuahua, Mexico. Charles Bent, one of the grant owners, was appointed to be the civilian governor of New Mexico.
The share of the grant Beaubien deeded to his son reverted back to him.Having lost interest in the project, Beaubien gave oversight of the grant to his son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell. In 1848, Maxwell brought in William Cody to be the ranch manager. Horses, sheep, and goats became the mainstay of the ranch.
Maxwell founded Rayado the same year and built a home here, the first settlement to be established
Maxwell bought interest in the grant in 1857 and the next year moved from Rayado to Cimarron where he built another home. At the end of the Civil War in 1864, Maxwell bought out the other 5 owners and became sole owner. This same year he built the grist mill to supply Fort Union with wheat. In all about 1,000 men worked for him.
But he was a harsh taskmaster, treating some of his workers brutally.
As his fortunes began to turn, he sold the grant, through its title and boundaries remained unclear. In fact, the Secretary of the Interior approved only part of the grant, but this was ignored by Maxwell who sold it to Senator Chaffee of Colorado in 1870.
Chaffee immediately sold it to an English syndicate who in 6 months sold to a Dutch Firm.. The Dutch company owners saw the settlers on the land who had come 30 years before to settle here under the Mexican land grant, as a deterrent to their success in selling the land. But these homesteaders would not leave.
Gunslingers were then hired by the Land Grant Company in the Cimarron area to force these families off their land and the Colfax County War exploded. False allegations were made against the locals by what came to be called the “Santa Fe Ring”. One of these land grant partners later became a senator. Governor Samuel Axtell was also a member of this ring. The courts ruled in their favor allowing the owners to legally boot the settlers from their homes. Retaliation ensued and by 1875, Cimarron was completely lawless. In 1878 Governor Axtell was removed from office. It was reported that 200 people were killed in the violence.
Fighting went on for many more years. Bat Masterson’s brother, Jim Masterson, tried with a posse of 35 out of Trinidad, to march to Cimarron to bring order but was turned back at Raton.
It was not until 1887 when the US Supreme Court legitimized the Maxwell Land Grant Company’s efforts to drive out the settlers, that the fighting stopped.
Though the land was then subdivided among several owners, large chucks still remained.
In 1970, another of the large chunks of the land grant was sold to Penzoil who in turn donated 100,000 acres of it to the Forest Service in 1982. A third large holding of this grant is owned by Ted Turner.