Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mountain Man Maxwell: One of the Largest Private Landowners in U.S. History

Lucien Maxwell

Mountain Man Maxwell owned more land than anyone else in the world! Maxwell was a well-known mountain man before he married and inherited his wife's land, received numerous land grants from the government, bought Fort Sumner in New Mexico, and built the home where his son, Pete Maxwell, entertained his close friend, Billy the Kid. 

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (September 14, 1818 - July 25, 1875) was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois. His father was an Irish immigrant and his mother was the daughter of Pierre Menard, a French Canadian fur trader. Maxwell learned the fur trading business from his grandfather. When his father died, Maxwell left home to begin his career. He was 15, which seems awfully young to me, but the more I read about Mountain Men in the West, the more I realize they often left home in their early teens. His grandfather left home at the same age to start his work in the fur trade business.

The Fremont Expeditions

Maxwell was lucky in his early adventure because one of the first men he met was someone we've already discussed in depth on this blog--Kit Carson. Carson was only in his mid-twenties, but Maxwell viewed him as an older mentor, which he probably was. Both young men signed up with John C. Fremont for the 1841 Western Expeditions--remember, Carson had already established his reputation before he reached his early 20s, so he was hired by Fremont as a guide. Maxwell, surprisingly, was hired as Chief Hunter due to his experience and training with his well-known grandfather. 

A Double Wedding 

The expeditions were rough. The men had many dangerous encounters with hostile Native American Indian tribes and wild animals, but Maxwell returned to New Mexico safely with Kit Carson. The two men worked to establish themselves and build homes in Taos. In 1844, Maxwell married Luz Beaubien, daughter of Carlos Beaubien, in a double wedding with Kit Carson and Josefa Jaramillo. 

Kit Carson

Though I'm sure Maxwell married for love, the marriage was also a wise and profitable decision for Maxwell. Maxwell's father-in-law, Beaubien, and his business partner, Guadalupe Miranda, received land grants of over $1 million acres in northeast New Mexico. As a wedding gift, Carlos Beaubien gave Maxwell 15,000 acres. 

Kit Carson's married life is a confusing mess. There is conflicting information in every source I own and consulted. However, I did find information on a genealogy website that stated Carson was married three times, and genealogists are often careful with their research. Apparently, Carson was married first to Waa-nibe, an Arapaho Indian who died during childbirth and as we know, Carson took his daughter, Adeline, a "dark-eyed beauty with long black hair who excelled in the use of a rifle" to his brother's house where she could be raised with a family. He then married Making-Out Road, who was Cheyenne, and she left him. This marriage is not mentioned often in sources, though there are two women who claim to be the children of this union. Then, in 1844, Kit Carson married Josefa Jaramillo in the double wedding with Lucien Maxwell. 

When I was driving through a small populated area near Taos once I stopped to photograph an old church and was told this was the church where Kit Carson and Josefa were married, but I'm still trying to verify this information. When they married, Josefa Jaramillo (1828-1868) was 15 years old and Carson was 33, but again, this would not be considered inappropriate in those times.  

Mexican-American War

During the Mexican-American War, the Mexicans and local Pueblo tribes joined forces for the Taos Revolt in 1847. Maxwell and his wife were at Bent's Old Fort when Charles Bent, the Governor of New Mexico was killed. Josefa and her children were also at Bent's Fort. 

Both Carson's and Maxwell's wives and children survived, but Maxwell's brother-in-law, Narciso Beaubien was killed. Miranda was wounded. She escaped to Mexico to seek protection from her family. Perhaps she was too young, or tired of the threat of Native American Indians. Regardless of the reason, she did not return. Carson's wife and family rejoined him and Carson and Maxwell both started spending more time at home to guard their property. The following year, Maxwell was ambushed during a supply run, but he insisted on staying at his ranch to show his support to the other land owners in the area. 

Maxwell Becomes Largest Landowner in America in his Time

The Mexican-American War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848. It is the oldest treaty still in force between the U.S. and Mexico. With renewed hope for peace, Maxwell and Carson proposed building a fort on the Rayado River at Rayado, New Mexico, which is on the Santa Fe Trail. Maxwell built a large house on the site and Carson, a small adobe hut. A year later, Maxwell sold his house and move to Cimarron, New Mexico. 

When Miranda's father, Carlos Beaubien, died in 1864, Maxwell inherited his father-in-law's land, which combined with his wedding gift of 15,000 acres totaled 1,714,765 acres and is known as the Maxwell Land Grant. This made Maxwell the largest landowner of his times and one of the largest land owners in history, just behind contemporary landowners, Americans Ted Turner and Archie Emmerson.  

The Great Horse Race of 1866

Maxwell wasn't much of a gambler, but he did love his horses and one in particular, Fly, was reputed to be one of the fastest horses around. According to The Old West: The Gamblers, in 1866, Maxwell decided to issue a challenge to anyone who thought they had a horse that could beat Fly. The race would take place in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the wager would be $1000, $5000, or $10,000, challengers choice. 

Two men, Foster and Rogers, decided to bet that their horse, Bald Hornet, could beat Fly. They knew something about Bald Hornet that Maxwell did not--Bald Hornet was a distance runner, and although Fly was awesome with short distance races, the Las Vegas Track was not a short distance track. 

Lucien Maxwell

The day of the race, thousands of people from all around arrived at the track placing bets totaling $300,000. Maxwell's old friend Kit Carson was by his side. The crowd was betting on Fly. They had seen this great beauty run and they were confident she would win. 

Fly took off like a rocket and held the lead for a remarkable length, then suddenly grew tired and to the great embarrassment of Lucien Maxwell, lost the race. Maxwell lost $15,000 in cash and a large amount of sheep, horses, and cattle in his numerous bets. Many of the townsfolk lost large amounts, as well. One of the big money losers threatened to kill Maxwell and Kit Carson stood between the men to rescue his friend. In an attempt to soothe their financial wounds, Maxwell paid for a large banquet to feed the crowds. 

Maxwell Sells his Land and Moves to Fort Sumner

Keep in mind that Maxwell was a Mountain Man and fur trader, not a business man. Nevertheless, he did his best to use the land wisely and increase his wealth. At the end of the American Civil War he leased his Baldy Mountain, New Mexico property to miners and sold them necessary supplies. In 1870 he sold most of his land for $1,350,000 to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company and a portion to Mathew Lynch. However, he still owned a large portion in northern New Mexico. This portion of his land grant included Fort Sumner, which was abandoned after the failed "experiment" with the Navajo and the Bosque Redondo was exposed and the Navajo made the Long Walk Home

Bosque Redondo Memorial. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Although Maxwell was a very wealthy man he was still a Mountain Man and went into semi-retirement at a rather young age (by my standards anyway!) He purchased Fort Sumner from the U.S. Army for $5000 and turned the officer's quarters into a 20 room mansion. He then remodeled the other quarters and buildings into homes for his friends and Mexican-American and Indian employees so their families could move onto the ranch and stay with them. During this time he became friends with Charles Goodnight, who once made cattle sales to Fort Sumner during the Bosque Redondo "experiment." He was friends with Oliver Loving before Loving's death and helped Loving when he was held by the military during the American Civil War. And he was friends with cattle baron John Chisum. His son, Peter, took over Maxwell's business dealings. 

Gravestone of Lucien Maxwell.

On July 25, 1875, at 56 years old, Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell died at Fort Sumner. He is buried at the Fort Sumner Cemetery. 

Pete Maxwell and Billy the Kid

After the death of his father, Maxwell's son, Pete, took over the cattle and sheep ranching business at Fort Sumner, but like his father, he preferred a quiet life, which is surprising considering one of his closest friends was the notorious Billy the Kid. Maxwell also had a daughter, Paulita, and it is believed she is one of the reasons Billy the Kid enjoyed spending time at the Maxwell Ranch. It was also isolated, and peaceful, and Billy the Kid liked the New Mexico territory. It was familiar to him. 

Billy the Kid

Pat Garrett also knew of Billy the Kid's friendship with Pete Maxwell and his sister, Paulita, and he knew this would be a likely place to find the Kid. On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was visiting Pete Maxwell when Garrett and his men arrived at the ranch. Again, there are variations on what happened next. The Maxwell genealogy source claims Garrett was in Pete Maxwell's room, woke him up and asked for Billy the Kid just as Billy the Kid stumbled through the door and was shot by Garrett. In his autobiography, Garrett claimed he was waiting in Billy's room when Billy came through the door and saw someone by the bed. Billy asked "Quien es?" or "Who is it?" Garrett then shot and killed Billy the Kid. 

The Maxwell Ranch

According to the genealogy website Clan Maxwell, other than establishing the First National Bank of Santa Fe, Maxwell's other business ventures did not fare well. As I said before, he was not a business man. He concluded most of his business transactions with his word and a handshake without signatures on paper. There were claims on the land by Native American Indian tribes who stated that the government wrongfully confiscated their property, or gave it to them after they left the Bosque Redondo, and these claims are most likely true. They were supported by priests who worked with the tribes. Maxwell's wife, Miranda, also filed a claim on the land. 

The ruins of the former Maxwell ranch home. Photo by Jerrye and Roy Klotz, M.D.

The Maxwell Land Grant Company was bogged down for years in a mess of expensive legal battles that went all the way to the Supreme Court, but in 1887, title of the land was confirmed for the Maxwell Land Grant Company. This did not end the claims or the legal battles, though, which continued for nearly a century. By 1960, the company sold off most of its land in New Mexico to avoid the continuous legal battles. 

Memorial to Maxwell

The Maxwell Genealogy page has a memorial to Maxwell that was published as an editorial in the Las Vegas, NM, Gazette: “Against Lucien B. Maxwell, no man can say aught, and he died after an active and eventful life, probably without an enemy in the world. Of few words, unassuming and unpretentious, his deeds were the best exponent of the man. He was hospitable, generous and upright, and dispensed large wealth acquired by industry and genius with an open hand to the stranger and the needy.”

Memorial for Lucien Maxwell. Photo by Billy Hathorn

  • "Fast Horses, Tough Boxers and Big Time Betting." The Gamblers: The Old West. Compiled by Time Life Books Editors. Alexandria, Virginia: 1978.
  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard. "Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: War's End." Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  • "Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell: Old West Emperor." The House of Maxwell. The Clan Maxwell Society of the United States of America. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  • "Oliver Loving” The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association.
  • Whitlock, Douglas. "Kit Carson's Wives & Kids." Posted January 10, 2004. Retrieved April 19, 2013.  


Sylvia Ney said...

Such an awesome reason for a blog! I'm so glad I found you - this is SUPER cool! New follower here. I'm stopping by from the "A to Z" challenge and I look forward to visiting again.


Darla Sue Dollman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darla Sue Dollman said...

Thank you, Sylvia! I have the best time researching this blog, but it takes a lot of research and it's always so encouraging to receive positive feedback. Thank you so much!

Kathy said...

Wow I just love all the information on all the American 'wild west ' characters.
Such detail and the photographs are amazing. We have a local gentleman named William Bonney. I'm sure he gets teased a lot and probably wished he'd been named George!! lol
Kathy at Oak Lawn Images

Darla Sue Dollman said...

That is funny! I wonder if his parents chose that name intentionally? Poor guy!

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...