At my first meeting with Lucien Maxwell, I remember hearing the teenagers’ laughter when they spoke of the 24-year-old-mountain man who married the 14-year-old senorita. “Of course he married Luz for her father’s money. Carlos Beaubien was one of the wealthiest men in Taos, and, even if his daughter was ugly, his land grant covered two million acres.” The words came from the boys as well as the leaders of their hiking adventure in northeastern New Mexico. ( and they had absolutely no way of knowing what Luz Beaubien looked like)
Such was my introduction in the summer of 1989 to the New Mexican man who has magnetized my travel backward in time through two centuries.
As soon as I asked, “ Who was Lucien Maxwell?” I joined the legions who have asked that question before me. Romanticized, criticized, and demonized- he was for some the worst; for others, the best.
That was back in the dark ages before Google, but I found the closest library. It happened to be the perfect place to find him – Philmont’s Seton Museum near Cimarron, New Mexico. The books almost fell off the shelves into my hands. Then, like all the others before me, I was mesmerized. It was one of those moments when something happens and nothing is ever again the same.
Slowly, during the next few years, the pieces of the puzzle came together, at least as well as could be determined without letters, personal papers, diaries, photographs or actual evidence from the man himself. The journey has magnified not only a map of rivers and mountains, but also of the relationships that unite and separate families through generations.
In the hard evidence of what happened between Lucien Maxwell and his father-in-law, I confirmed their respect and mutual support. The proof lies in the Last Will and Testament of Carlos Beaubien, written and witnessed on January 16, 1864, only weeks before his death, January 16, 1864. He was sixty-four years old, only ten years older than Lucien’s father would have been had Hugh Maxwell not died during the Illinois cholera epidemic a few days before his son’s 15th birthday. Carlos Beaubien instructed “. . .Said Rayado grant to be divided fairly between my heirs & L.B. Maxwell.” Thus Beaubien left half of his remaining interest in the two-million acre grant to his son-in-law, the remaining part to his six children, including Lucien’s wife, Luz. The two men had known and relied upon each other for more than two decades.
The stories of those twenty years belie the laughter of the teenagers who introduced me to the man and his wife who lived and built community in a new place that had been called “The Great American Desert.” New Mexico was a place where East and West coalesced into a proud heritage for today’s southwestern Americans. People today usually know the name Maxwell because Billy the Kid was shot dead in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in the home of Lucien’s son, Pete. Billy was buried in the old cemetery where a small memorial stone mark’s Lucien’s grave. Visitors ask, “Who was Lucien Maxwell?”
If it’s a day when I happen to be there, I answer, “ He was a much bigger and better man than Billy.”
Next in this blog: I look forward to sharing with my readers exactly how much of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant did Lucien purchase and how much, if any, was a gift?