Lucien Maxwell

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Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell
Born (1818-09-14)September 14, 1818
Kaskaskia, Illinois
Died July 25, 1875(1875-07-25) (aged 56)
Fort Sumner
Resting place Old Fort Sumner Cemetery
34°24′13″N 104°11′37″W / 34.40361°N 104.19361°W / 34.40361; -104.19361 (Billy the Kid's Gravesite)
Occupation Rancher and entrepreneur
Spouse(s) Luz Beaubien

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (September 14, 1818 - July 25, 1875)[1] was a rancher and entrepreneur 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, the son of Hugh Maxwell, an Irish immigrant, and Odile Menard, daughter of Pierre Menard, a French Canadian fur trader who had served as the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. Lucien Maxwell learned something of the fur trading business from his grandfather during his early teens. And, like his famous grandfather, Maxwell left home at the age of fifteen and traveled 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 he returned to Taos, New Mexico, where he married Carlos Beaubien's daughter, Luz Beaubien. It was a dual wedding as Carson 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 New Mexico. Beaubien's wedding gift to Maxwell was 15,000 acres (61 km2).

In 1847, Maxwell was at Fort Bent when Governor of New Mexico Charles Bent was killed in the Taos Revolt. Maxwell's wife survived but her brother (Beaubien's son), Narciso Beaubien was killed. Miranda was wounded and fled to Mexico. Maxwell began more active management of the 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, New Mexico, on the Santa Fe Trail. Maxwell built a large house and Carson had a smaller adobe hut.

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, which was on the Cimarron River.

Maxwell Land Grant[edit]

In 1858 Miranda, who was still in Mexico, sold his 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 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 where he died and was buried in 1875.

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.

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]


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]