Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 79

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 79


This is the grave of Lucien Maxwell.


Maxwell was born in 1818 in Kaskaskia, Illinois to a fur trading family on what was then the far frontier of white American settlement. In 1834, he went into the family business, traveling west and became friends with Kit Carson and John C. Fremont. Under Fremont’s 1841 western expedition, Maxwell became chief hunter. In 1844, he married into the tiny but growing white New Mexican elite when he wed the daughter of Carlos Beaubien, the Canadian born fur trader operating out of Taos. The year before, he and his Mexican partner Guadalupe Miranda, received a million acre land grant in northern New Mexico. The land grant system was used by the Spanish and then Mexican governments to convince people to settle the northern frontier. At first these were small, but after Mexican independence, they became quite large, such as this grant. He of course supported the U.S. conquest of the northern half of Mexico to expand slavery in the imperialist action known as the Mexican War. He moved to consolidate his holdings shortly after. Through Miranda’s eventual selling out and then his father in law’s death, his land holdings eventually rose to 1.7 million acres in 1868, making him one of the three largest landholders in American history, along with New Mexico land grand thief Thomas Catron and the modern day western land baron Ted Turner, who owns some of Maxwell’s land today in the Vermejo Park Ranch, which basically is the land to the west of I-25 for several dozen miles south of Raton, New Mexico. Maxwell sold most of the land in 1870, for $1.35 million to British investors who hoped to establish gold claims. In 1868, after the Navajos left the area to return to their home in Arizona on the failure of the genocidal project at the Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico, Maxwell bought the area and established the town of Fort Sumner. He died there in 1875. Several years later, Billy the Kid was shot and killed at the site of Maxwell’s home, which was then occupied by Maxwell’s son.

Lucien Maxwell is buried at Old Fort Sumner Cemetery, Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

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  • No Longer Middle Aged Man

    Is the middle name Bonaparte a sign that Americans in that era (born 1818) still had high regard for Napoleon? Because he started as a revolutionary or because he became an emperor or because he fought the British?

    • rea

      Lucien Bonaparte was Napoleon’s far more revolutionary younger brother, who came to prominence as a supporter of Robespierre before anyone had ever heard of Napoleon, and who fell out with Napoleon over the whole “emperor” thing.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        Thank you. Always impresses me to come across examples of how knowledgeable and even “global” Americans were, even on the frontier, back in the 18th and 19th centuries. I feel the same when I have to look up all the allusions in O. Henry that his 19th century readers would have known offhand.

        • MikeJake

          Simon Bolivar Buckner.

      • sigaba

        Che Guevara Maxwell.

        Maxwell’s mother was also of French extraction, her father had been a fur trapper in Illinois territory.

    • CrunchyFrog

      In the 1950s there was one of these occasional surveys of American schoolchildren and they were asked who the greatest non-American was in history – Napoleon won. It’s only relatively recently that Napoleon has fallen out of favor.

  • Karen24

    Owning Ft. Sumner New Mexico and having to live there for any length of time was a serious punishment. (Says the woman who really loves New Mexico. Ft. Sumner is a hole, only slightly better than Artesia.)

    • Coconinoite

      Yeah, I’m glad it’s not my work turf. Instead, I get the Sangres. Except Rio Arriba County – that’s someone else’s penance.

    • LNM_in_LA

      Artesia, CA or Artesia, NM? Though, on reflection, probably doesn’t matter . . .

      How’s Albuquerque? She Who Must Be Obeyed and I are in mourning, because our sit-com neighbor has up and decided to pull up stakes and move out there from here. Best damn neighbor I, no, we have ever had.

      ETA: He swears it’s not because of us.

  • Peterr

    1818 is when Illinois became a state, and the territorial capitol city of Kaskaskia became the state capitol city.

    Of course, this being Illinois, that couldn’t last . . .

    The first Capitol, a two-story brick building, was rented by the new State government at a rate of $4.00 a day. The House of Representatives, consisting of twenty-nine legislators, occupied the entire first floor while the State’s fourteen Senators met in the chamber directly above. The First General Assembly petitioned Congress for a grant of land somewhere in the State’s interior to serve as the site of a new Capital. After the request was granted, a committee of five selected a site located some eighty miles northeast of Kaskaskia along the Kaskaskia River. This site, then known as Reeve’s Bluff, became the city of Vandalia, our second Capital city.

    The removal of the Capital to Vandalia had been brought about by land speculators, including some of the State’s most prominent men, who felt that they could profit by instigating land booms in the unsettled areas.

    With this as its starting point, the graft employed by some of today’s most prominent Illinois politicians is clearly a tradition, not an aberration.

    Once the capitol got moved to Vandalia, Kaskaskia kind of went downhill. But before Maxwell left, maybe he learned something about the power of land grants and getting in good with politicians who can make them profitable.

  • CHD

    Much of the land that was Maxwell’s is now Philmont Scout Ranch. Some 20,000 Scouts and adults learn about Maxwell and Beaubien and many of the others that occupied the Sangre de Cristos over history. From the opening campfire to the remote camps that recreate different time periods, history is a constant theme at Philmont. While they don’t teach it with quite the depth of perspective Eric would, they don’t sugar coat it much either.
    Absolutely beautiful countryside and fascinating history

  • lee24

    I find it fascinating that Kaskaskia is west of the Mississippi river but still in Illinois

    • John F

      I saw a program on Kaskaskia awhile back, it’s west of the Mississippi because the river literally moved. Kaskakia used to be a peninsula that was attached to the east side.

      Similarly, there is a small neighborhood just north of the Harlem River (Marble Hill) that is technically/legally part of Manhattan, even though it is not part of Manhattan Island but is on the “mainland”- it used to be part of Manhattan- though in Marble Hill’s case its physical separation from Manhattan and subsequent physical attachment to the Bronx was artificially induced. First it was turned from a peninsula sticking into the Harlem River into an island in the river by a canal, the canal diverted much of the East River spur north of Marble Hill, so it began silting up, so folks speeded that process along with landfill, and voila, Marble hill found itself north of the river it used to be south of.

      Kaskaskia ended up on the other side of the river through a more natural process… rivers move.

  • paul.c.klos

    Just for consistency if you are going to call the Mexican war imperialist should that also be appended that to the Mexican Land Grant system as well?

    • I believe Eric more or less answered “yes” to your question in a different post of his a short time ago (and quite possibly several times before that, for all that I can remember).

  • Bruce Vail

    Fascinating. Thanks Erik.

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