Maxwell Land Grant

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The Maxwell Land Grant, also known as the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant, was a 1,714,765-acre (6,939.41 km2) Mexican land grant in Colfax County, New Mexico and part of adjoining Las Animas County, Colorado. This 1841 land grant was one of the largest contiguous private landholdings in the history of the United States. The New Mexico towns of Cimarron, Colfax, Dawson, Elizabethtown, French, Lynn, Maxwell, Miami, Raton, Rayado, Springer, Ute Park and Vermejo Park, came to be located within the grant,[1][2] as well as numerous other towns that are now ghost towns.[3]


Early days[edit]

The lands covered in the Maxwell Land Grant were originally tribal lands belonging to Jicarilla Apache Indians.[4] In 1885, Helen Hunt Jackson's report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs reported the Jicarilla Apaches numbered 850 located at Cimarron Agency, upon what is called “Maxwell’s Grant” in North-eastern New Mexico. [5] The region of northern New Mexico was claimed by Spain in 1524, but there were few settlements east of the Sangre de Cristo Range. In 1821, the government of Mexico was established, and the new government retained the Spanish policy of encouraging settlement by making land grants.[citation needed]

Beaubien and Miranda[edit]

Carlos Beaubien was a French-Canadian trapper who became a Mexican citizen. His partner, Guadalupe Miranda was the secretary to Governor Manuel Armijo in Santa Fe. On January 8, 1841, Beaubien and Miranda petitioned Armijo for a land grant.[6] They had to swear that they would colonize and cultivate the land. Three days later, Armijo granted them the land on the condition that they put it to good use. However, Beaubien and Miranda failed to prove up the grant for the next two years. On February 13, 1843, they asked the Justice of the Peace in Taos to sign an order promising them possession of the land. The justice affirmed that he had marked the boundaries of the grant and that Beaubien and Miranda were in full possession of the land grant.

Lucien B. Maxwell[edit]

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell was a pioneer, explorer and adventurer who married Luz Beaubien, the daughter of Carlos Beaubien. Beaubien hired Maxwell to manage his interests, and Maxwell and his wife settled in Rayado, New Mexico in 1849. In 1860, Maxwell built a large home in Cimarron, a stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.[7]

In 1875, a range war known as the Colfax County War soon erupted between Maxwell and the settlers whom he perceived as squatters and tried to remove. It is widely believed[by whom?] that the boundary of the original grant was expanded by Maxwell through fraud. There seems to be a discrepancy as to Lucien's middle name. A 1945 book lists it as Benjamin rather than Bonaparte.[8]

English control[edit]

In 1870, for reasons that are not clear, Maxwell decided to sell the Grant.[9] A group of financiers, representing an English syndicate, purchased the Grant for a reported price of $1,350,000. Maxwell moved to Santa Fe, and then to Fort Sumner, where he died in 1875.[10]

The new owners formed the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company. They attempted to remove the squatters from the Grant. Some of the squatters felt that they had Maxwell's unwritten permission to live on the Grant. Many people left, but some stayed and fought. This struggle between owners and squatters came to be called the Colfax County War. F.J. Tolby, a minister sympathetic to the squatters was murdered on September 14, 1875.

Dutch control[edit]

The English company was bankrupt by 1874, and it went into foreclosure in 1879. A new group of owners from the Netherlands formed the Maxwell Land Grant Company and traveled to Cimarron in 1883, dismissing Frank R. Sherwin and installing future Senator and Secretary of War Stephen Benton Elkins as president.[11] In 1885, the new owners convinced the Territorial Governor Lionel Allen Sheldon to use the National Guard to suppress the squatters.[citation needed]

Because of a variety of financial problems, the Dutch company went bankrupt in 1888. In the early 1880s, the United States sued the company for making claims of lands in the Public Domain in Colorado. In 1887, this case reached the US Supreme Court, and was decided as United States v. Maxwell Land Grant Company. The court decision affirmed the company's ownership of the land. At this point, the settlers and squatters realized that they could not obtain good title to the land, and most of them left.[12]

Early land sales[edit]

In 1867, Lucien Maxwell sold what he thought was a 1,000 acres (400 ha) claim to J.B. Dawson. When Dawson had the land surveyed it turned out to be 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) underlain by coal. Phelps Dodge bought the Dawson Homestead and underlying coal in 1906. The company named the town Dawson, New Mexico and it grew to have about 2000 people.[citation needed]

Colorado struggle and sale[edit]

The struggles over the grant continued, especially in the Colorado portion of the grant, where quite a bit of homesteading had taken place. On August 25, 1888, there was a violent incident at Stonewall, Colorado, in which several people were killed. The Maxwell Land Grant Company continued to sue homesteaders, and in many cases made them pay for their homesteads a second time. In 1894, the US Supreme Court decided Russell v. Maxwell Land Grant Company, which completely rejected the homesteaders claims in favor of the company.[citation needed]

Vermejo Park and Valle Vidal[edit]

Many other sales of lands in the Grant took place in the early 1900s.[citation needed]

In 1902, William Bartlett, a wealthy grain operator from Chicago bought 205,000 acres (830 km2) of the grant along the drainage of the Vermejo River. Under the agreement, he withheld part of the last payment until the Maxwell Land Grant Company evicted the last of the squatters. In his words, "They are given two years to get the Mexicans off and I hold back $10,000." Bartlett's Vermejo Park portion of the Grant has passed through several owners during the Twentieth Century. Pennzoil bought the Vermejo Park Ranch in 1973, and expanded its size. In 1982, Pennzoil donated a 100,000 acres (400 km2) portion of the ranch known as Valle Vidal to the US Government. This area is managed as a wilderness by the US Forest Service. In 1992, Ted Turner bought Vermejo Park Ranch (590,823 acres (2,390.98 km2) from Pennzoil. Ted Turner did not buy the mineral rights, so Atlas Energy Group, LLC produces gas on the Vermejo Park Ranch, while Ted Turner raises buffalo and operates a lodge for wildlife tours, trout fishing and hunting. Ted Turner restored Casa Grande, the mansion built by Bartlett in 2016 and now rents rooms there to guests.[13][citation needed]

Current use[edit]


Beginning in 1922, Waite Phillips, an oilman from Tulsa, Oklahoma also assembled a block of land on the Maxwell Land Grant. Phillips bought over 300,000 acres (1,200 km2), and named his ranch Philmont. In two separate gifts in 1938 and 1941, Phillips donated 127,395 acres (515.55 km2) as a wilderness camping area for the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1963, Norton Clapp, an officer of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, donated another piece of the Maxwell Land Grant to Philmont.[14] This was the Baldy Mountain mining area consisting of 10,098 acres (40.87 km2).[14]

Chase Ranch[edit]

Manley M. Chase purchased land in Chase Ranch in 1866, where M. M. Chase purchased a one-third interest in John B. Dawson's ranch (part of the Maxwell Land Grant) on the Vermejo River. Chase raised both sheep and cattle. In 1871, Chase purchased another part of the original Maxwell grant. He paid 50 cents an acre for 2,000 acres along Poñil Creek, an area which included the old Kit Carson homestead. The two-story adobe house which he built about three miles northeast of Cimarron is still the ranch headquarters and the family home.

Other important parcels[edit]

The Cimarron Canyon State Park extends along Cimarron Canyon from Eagle Nest Lake to Ute Park and along US Route 64. The park is part of the Colin Neblett State Wildlife Area, which consists of 33,116 acres (134.02 km2) acres of former Grant land. This area was purchased by the State of New Mexico in the early 1950s.

The Whittington Center, founded in 1973, is the largest shooting and hunting complex in the world. It is owned by the National Rifle Association, and covers 33,000 acres (130 km2) of the Maxwell Land Grant.[citation needed]

Supreme Court cases[edit]

Five cases involving the land grant went to the United States Supreme Court:


  1. ^ Chilton, Lance (1984) New Mexico: a new guide to the colorful state University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, page 301, ISBN 0-8263-0732-9
  2. ^ Fugate, Francis L. and Roberta B. (1989) Roadside History of New Mexico Mountain Press, Missoula, Montana, p. 162, ISBN 0-87842-242-0
  3. ^ Stanley, F. (1952) "Chapter Thirteen: Ghost Towns of the Grant" The Grant that Maxwell Bought World Press, Denver, Colorado, pages 205–230] OCLC 5868328
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Century of Dishonor: a sketch of the United States government's dealings with some of the Indian tribes. p. 441. ISBN 0-8061-2726-0.
  6. ^ Laurie, Karen P. (1976). "History of Vermejo Park". New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook. 27: 87–92.
  7. ^ Freiberger, Harriet (1999). Lucien Maxwell: villain or visionary. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press. pp. 160 p. ISBN 0-86534-286-5.
  8. ^ Marshall, James (1945). Santa Fe: The Railroad that Built and Empire. New York: Random House. pp. 160–161.
  9. ^ Keleher, William A. (1942). Maxwell Land Grant, a New Mexico item. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Rydal Press. pp. 168 p. ISBN 0-520-22744-1.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Maxwell Land Grant Case, 121 U.S. 325 (1887)".
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Writer, Rosalie Rayburn | Journal Staff. "Philmont Scout Ranch a major economic, social player in northern New Mexico". Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  15. ^ "Maxwell Land Grant Case, 121 U.S. 325 (1887)".
  16. ^ "Maxwell Land Grant Case, 122 U.S. 365 (1887)".
  17. ^ "Interstate Land Co. v. Maxwell Land Grant Co., 139 U.S. 569 (1891)".
  18. ^ "Maxwell Land Grant Co. v. Dawson, 151 U.S. 586 (1894)".
  19. ^ "Russell v. Maxwell Land Grant Co., 158 U.S. 253 (1895)".
  20. ^ [1][dead link]