Realms of the past come to us only through the eyes and ears and pens of those who were there.
Today, we place our twenty-first century standards on a man and in a place that existed a hundred and fifty years ago. Villain or visionary? Who is to say? What establishes something as a fact? What information can we count upon as truth?
Legalities have beleaguered what became known as the Maxwell Land Grant since the date of its beginning under Mexican law in 1841 and well into this twenty-first century under governing strictures of the United States, specifically in northeastern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Conflicting details of Lucien Maxwell’s acquisition of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant appear in even the most carefully researched books and articles, Was he the “largest single landowner in the entire United States? Was Luz only a stepping stone to ownership of the “empire”? The story has been told and retold.
The Transcript of Title, the original and a few copies now in possession of well respected libraries, relates absolutes of the past.
On April 7, 1858, Pablo Miranda sold his share of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant to Lucien Maxwell for $2745. Later in that same year, Charles Beaubien and his wife formally conveyed title to their son-in-law for the Rayado Ranch where he and Kit Carson had begun a successful settlement eight years earlier. Maxwell’s payment of $500 gave him official sole ownership of land “stretching two and a half miles in every direction from what was termed Maxwell’s Plaza.”
Six years later, Carlos Beaubien died, leaving half of his remaining share of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant to Lucien Maxwell and the other half to be divided among his six children.
Following Beaubien’s death in January, 1864, LM began purchasing Luz’s siblings’ interests. In April of the next year, he paid Frederick and Teodora Beaubien Muller $500; Joseph and Juana Beaubien Clouthier, $3500. In July of the same year, he paid Vital and Eleanor Beaubien Trujillo, $3000.00. Three years passed before he paid Petra Beaubien and Jesus Abreu $3500 for their share, and another three years until, in 1870, the $3500 payment to Luz’s brother, Paul Beaubien completed transfer from all the descendants.
In the meantime, a lawsuit filed on the part of Charles Bent’s heirs for recognition of their interest in the Grant resulted in Maxwell’s payment of $18,000. In total, Lucien Maxwell paid $35,245 for the lands he and Luz subsequently sold and left behind. The dollar amount hardly reflects the amount of capital he invested during the course of two decades
According to the transfer of title to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, Lucien and Luz Maxwell, on April 30, 1870, conveyed title pending receipt of the agreed upon price. On July 5, 1870, in New York City, Lucien signed the final document that evidenced the sale of “about two million acres of land.” A little more than two weeks later, on July 23, when she was notified that full payment had been received, Luz Beaubien Maxwell appeared before the Clerk of Probate Court, Colfax County, New Mexico. He witnessed and acknowledged that”on examination separate and apart from her said husband that she had executed the same free from any compulsion or undue or illicit influence of her said husband, and that she is still satisfied therewith.”
The sale price was $1,350,000. Different sources claim different amounts actually received by the Maxwells, but $600,000 is the generally accepted figure. Specifically excluded from the contract of sale were the home ranch, several mining properties and specific acreage already deeded to others. Then, when under separate contract the last of their properties in Colfax County was sold for $125,000, the Maxwells departed for a new home one hundred fifty miles to the south.
Twelve years after Lucien Maxwell’s death, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the claim and extent of the Beaubien and Miranda Grant, 1,714,764.94 acres in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Nineteen years after Lucien Maxwell’s death, in 1894, the Supreme Court of New Mexico finally denied and dismissed a claim of fraud on the part of Lucien Maxwell.
How differently things might have worked out had the U.S. government followed the advice of New Mexico Superintendent of Indian Affairs A.B. Norton’s advice in October 1866 to purchase the Grant and keep the land for Utes and Jicarilla Apaches. ( 2600 square miles: think of driving in a rectangular path shaped from the Capitol in Denver, west to Georgetown and south to Colorado Springs ) How differently that might-have-been would have shaped the future if agricultural families then in residence had been protected. Lucien Maxwell had sustained a prosperity and an equilibrium that all enjoyed, but, without his supervision, it could not continue.
Twenty-six hundred square miles belonging to Lucien and Luz Maxwell have brought into focus the imposition of measurement upon the wide-open spaces of the American West.