Lucien Maxwell

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Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell
Born(1818-09-14)September 14, 1818
Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory
DiedJuly 25, 1875(1875-07-25) (aged 56)
Fort Sumner New Mexico Territory
Resting placeOld Fort Sumner Cemetery Fort Sumner, New Mexico
34°24'14.0"N 104°11'34.1"W
EducationVincentian college in Missouri
OccupationMountain man, rancher, scout, farmer
Spouse(s)Luz Beaubien

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (September 14, 1818 - July 25, 1875)[1] was a mountain man, rancher, scout, and farmer who at one point owned more than 1,700,000 acres (6,900 km2). Along with Thomas Catron and Ted Turner, Maxwell was one of the largest private landowners in United States history.


Maxwell was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory, about three months before Illinois became a state. He was the son of Hugh Maxwell, an Irish immigrant, and Odile Menard, daughter of Pierre Menard, a French Canadian fur trader who was serving on the Illinois Territorial Council and who became the first Lieutenant Governor of the State of Illinois shortly after Maxwell's birth. Lucien Maxwell learned something of the fur trading business from his maternal grandfather during his early teens, and his grandfather was Maxwell's role model. And, like his famous grandfather, Maxwell left home at the age of fifteen. Maxwell's cousin, Michel Branamour Menard established a trading post that ultimately grew into Galveston, Texas, and early neighbor Stephen Austin was the namesake of the capital of Texas. At age 17, after two years at the Vincentian college in Missouri, Lucien struck out on his own, heading west.

His father, Hugh Maxwell, had died that year, in 1834, and Lucien was ready to seek his fortune. He encountered and became fast friends with Kit Carson, who was almost nine years older. Both were to sign up with John C. Frémont in 1841 for western expeditions, with Carson serving as guide, and Maxwell as chief hunter.

Beaubien and Miranda[edit]

In 1844 Lucien Maxwell travelled to Taos, New Mexico (then part of Mexico) where he married Carlos Beaubien's daughter, Luz Beaubien. It was a dual wedding as Kit Carson was also married.[2] In 1843 Beaubien and his partner, Guadalupe Miranda, had received a land grant of a million acres (4,000 km²) in northeast present-day New Mexico. Beaubien's wedding gift to Maxwell was 15,000 acres (61 km2).

During the Mexican-American War, in 1847, Maxwell was at Fort Bent in the Republic of Texas. He was there when the newly-installed New Mexico Territorial Governor Charles Bent was killed in the Taos Revolt. Maxwell's wife survived but her brother (Beaubien's son), Narciso Beaubien was killed. Maxwell's mother-in-law, Miranda, was wounded and fled to Mexico. After that, Maxwell became more active in the management of the Beaubien land grant.

In 1848 Maxwell survived an ambush while delivering supplies to a cabin on the Ponil River.

In 1849, at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Maxwell and Carson proposed building a fort on the Rayado River at Rayado in the new New Mexico Territory, on the Santa Fe Trail. Maxwell built a large house and Carson had a smaller adobe house.

In 1850 the Army moved its fort 30 miles (48 km) further south to Fort Union on the Mora River. Maxwell sold his Rayado property and moved to Cimarron, New Mexico Territory, which was on the Cimarron River. Here he built a large adobe mansion where scores of people would often be luxuriously entertained and fed by many servants. Most everyone, servants, guests, and natives alike, seemed to hold Mr. Lucien "Max" Maxwell in very high regard; as evidenced by the fact that the house, and his desk which was always full of cash, bonds, and treasure, was never locked. When one friend suggested that he procure a safe for his valuables, Mr. Maxwell said, "If anyone would dare to steal from me, I should like to catch them!"

Maxwell Land Grant[edit]

In 1858 Miranda, who was still in Mexico, sold her share of the 1,000,000-acre (4,000 km2) land to Maxwell for $2,745. After Beaubien died in 1864, Maxwell acquired much of the original estate that he had not inherited; his landholdings then peaked at 1,714,765 acres (6,939.41 km2). The entire area is referred to as the Maxwell Land Grant.

Discovery of gold[edit]

At the conclusion of the American Civil War, gold was discovered on his property at present-day Baldy Mountain (Colfax County, New Mexico). Maxwell leased land to the miners and sold them supplies.

In 1870 he sold most of the land for $1,350,000 to a British company, which incorporated it under the name of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company. A portion of the land was purchased by Matthew Lynch who became the father of placer mining in the region.

Plaque on Statue of Lucien B. Maxwell in Mountainview Cemetery in Cimarron, New Mexico

Maxwell moved to Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory which he purchased from the US government in 1869, when Fort Sumner was abandoned. Maxwell and his family renovated the former officers' quarters into a beautiful Spanish Colonial house surroundng a large inner courtyard. Maxwell died there at Fort Sumner in 1875, and he was buried nearby.

Colfax County War[edit]

Patrick Garrett killed the outlaw Billy the Kid at Maxwell's Fort Sumner home in 1881, which was then owned by Pete Maxwell, son of Lucien Maxwell. Billy was later buried a few feet from Lucien Maxwell in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory.

After Maxwell sold the grant, the armed struggle between the new owners and squatters came to be known as the Colfax County War. Litigation over whether his land claims were legitimate would continue until 1887 when the United States Supreme Court[3] approved a clear title.

Philmont Scout Ranch[edit]

Today, the land grant is broken into many private and public landholdings. These large private landholdings include the Philmont Scout Ranch, Ted Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch, Chase Ranch, CS Ranch, Express UU Bar Ranch, and the National Rifle Association's Whittington Center.

See also[edit]

  • Cimarron Historic District
  • St. James Hotel (Cimarron, New Mexico)
  • Villa Philmonte - Built in 1926 by oil magnate Waite Phillips
  • Charles A. Curtis. Army Life in the West (1862-1865). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 20, 2017. ISBN 978-1545458785.


Further reading[edit]

  • Freiberger, Harriet (1999). Lucien Maxwell: villain or visionary. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press. pp. 160 p. ISBN 0-86534-286-5.
  • Montoya, Maria E. (2002). Translating property: the Maxwell Land Grant and the conflict over land in the American West, 1840-1900. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 299. ISBN 0-520-22744-1.
  • Murphy, Lawrence R. (1983). Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell: Napoleon of the Southwest. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 275 p. ISBN 0-8061-1807-5.
  • F. Stanley (1 March 2008). The Grant That Maxwell Bought. Sunstone Press. ISBN 978-0-86534-652-9.
  • William A. Keleher (January 2008). Maxwell Land Grant. Sunstone Press. ISBN 978-0-86534-619-2.

External links[edit]