Colfax County, New Mexico

The territory included within the present limits of Colfax County was detached from the original county of Mora in 1869, and the county seat "permanently established" at Elizabethtown by legislative enactment in 1870. In 1872 it was removed to Cimarron, and by act of January 26, 1882, it was again transferred to Springer, where it remained "permanently" until changed to the town of Raton in 1897.

The Last County Seat Fight

Following the act of the legislature removing the county seat from Springer to Raton, John E. Codlin, then chairman of the board of county commissioners of Colfax county, and Manuel M. Salazar, clerk of the board, in pursuance of the dictates of public sentiment in the southern part of the county brought an action against citizens residing in Raton, raising the claim that the chapters of the law authorizing such removal and the issuing of bonds for the erection of a court house and jail were invalid, in that they were local and special laws and therefore in conflict with the act of Congress of July 30, 1886, forbidding the enactment of special laws locating or changing county seats on the part of territorial legislatures. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided that "Congress has the power to modify or nullify laws enacted by the legislative assembly of a Territory; but if Congress fails or refuses to act, such laws remain in force so far as congressional action is concerned. There was no action by Congress as to these laws." It did not appear, according to the opinion of the Supreme Court that the legislature intended to limit the operation of this specific act to Colfax County, but that, on the contrary, the act at the time of its passage applied to at least three counties, and had unlimited future application to all counties similarly situated. The court therefore decided in favor of the contention of the citizens of Raton.

County Officers

As the result of the repeated removals of the county seat, and the gross carelessness or criminal negligence of officials and citizens participating in the contests for changes in the location of the court house, nearly all the official records of this important county have been either lost or stolen. It is believed they are not now in existence. So far as the records at Raton show, the officials have been as follows:

County Clerks
1898, M. M. Salazar;
1895-6, A. C. Gutierrez:
1897-8, M. M. Salazar:
1899-1900. A. L. Hobbs:
1901-2, M. M. Dawson:
1903-6, J. P. Brackett.

County Commissioners
1895. Juan C. Lucero. E. F. McGarvey, Jesus L. Abreu, also (same year). Thomas Fisher. Edward McBride, Pedro Y. Santistevan;
1896. Thomas Fisher, J. F. Ruffner. Pedro Y. Santistevan;
1897-8. John E. Codlin, W. R. Griffin, J. F. Ruffner (resigned, and John B. Schroeder appointed to fill vacancy):
1899-1900, E. M. Hastings (resigned, and Frederick Brueggeman appointed to fill vacancy). J. H. Nash. Enrique Chavez;
1901-2. Edmond N. Burch. Harry Brainard, John C. Taylor;
1903-6. Edmond N. Burch, Pedro Y. Santistevan, John C Taylor.

The New Court House

At a meeting of the county commissioners, held August 3, 1897, the board ordered an advertisement for bids for a new court house at Raton. The bid of the Morrison Contracting and Manufacturing Company for $22,350 was accepted, and the court house completed during the following year at a total cost of $28,000.

Colfax County in General

Colfax is in the upper tier of counties, the second from the eastern boundary of the Territory, bounded north by the state of Colorado, east by Union county, south by Mora and west by Taos. Its territory, embracing 3,784 square miles, lies on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, beyond the Taos range, and the industries of the county are divided between mining and the raising of livestock. It has a population of more than 10,000 people, of which Raton has 3,600. About one-half the lands of Colfax are prairie and lie in the southern and eastern portions, while the northern and western sections consist of mesas or table lands and high hills or mountains. The mountain range which forms the western boundary is a continuation of the Sangre de Cristo range, and in the northern part of the county the mountains are called the Vermejo peaks; in the southern portion, the Taos range. Some of these mountain peaks are over 12,000 feet in height. The soil in both the prairie and mountain regions is unusually deep, and capable of producing immense crops.


In the western half of the county are the following streams, tributaries of the Canadian, the valleys of which afford the most natural farming lands: Sweetwater, fifteen miles; Rayado, twenty miles; Cimarroncito, twelve miles; Cimarron, thirty-two miles; Poñil, twenty-five miles; Vermejo, forty miles; Red, seventy-five miles; Una de Gato and Chicarica, each fifteen miles in length. There is also much fine agricultural land in Moreno valley, Ute valley, Valle de Piedra and Poñil and Vermejo parks, these districts being in the mountains. The mountainous region is especially adapted to the production of onions, beets and cabbage, and Irish potatoes also do well. In the absence of irrigation, large portions of both the prairie and mountain districts are devoted to the grazing of cattle and sheep. The deciduous fruits do finely in Colfax County, and its horticultural interests generally are becoming yearly more reliable sources of income. There is an abundance of timber for building and fuel, the slopes of the Raton, Sangre de Cristo and Taos mountains embracing nearly half a million acres of yellow pine and cedar. It is in the great area of its coal beds, however, that Colfax County will in the future find its greatest commercial importance. It has been estimated that it contains 600,000 acres of coal land, which, for all commercial purposes, compares favorably with the best soft coal of Pennsylvania.

Much of Colfax County, including the towns of Maxwell City, Springer, Cimarron, Gardner and Van Houten, lies within the famous Maxwell land grant. (See elsewhere.) The original tract, comprising 1,750,000 acres, was given by the Mexican government to Beaubien and Miranda for colonization purposes. No settlements were effected, but Carlos Beaubien finally purchased the interest of his associate, and when he died his son-in-law, Maxwell, inherited the grant. Many fortunes were sunk before the Supreme Court of the United States firmly established the title with the present owners, a syndicate of Amsterdam capitalists, who are represented at Raton by J. Van Houten. During the past five years 700,000 acres have been sold to ranchmen and mining companies and the projectors of new towns-a great portion of this within the limits of Colfax County.

The Colfax County Pioneer Society

Organized at Raton, on the 20th of March, 1900. According to its constitution those eligible to membership are persons who came to New Mexico prior to December 29, 1884, or those persons who were born in Colfax County prior to that date. The membership rolls contain the names of the following persons, in most instances the place from which they came and the date of their location in the county being given:

List of 63 Pioneer Society Members

The Town of Raton

The thriving town of Raton, the county seat, is situated at the northern entrance of the famous pass by that name, nearly 8,000 feet above the level of the sea. The tunnel through which the Santa Fe trains pass the Great Divide is half a mile in length, and was opened in 1878, before there was any settlement at this point. When it became known that here was to be located a division headquarters of the railroad company, settlers were naturally attracted to the locality. John Jelfs was one of the number, and when he reached the place, in July, 1880, he found that three inhabitants had already pitched their tents before him. By this time the line had reached Santa Fe, and there were a number of box cars standing around Raton. Jelfs, who was employed by the railroad, was one of the first to utilize one of them as a residence. Pending the erection of more permanent and stationary structures, not a few followed his example. Work on the railroad shops continued briskly during 1880-81, the first large building, the roundhouse, being completed' in the fall of the latter year, and the entire plant was opened by the end of 1881. The roundhouse then built is now being torn down to make way for a much larger structure. The present repair shops employ about 600 men and constitute a strong feature in the local prosperity of die town.

In the founding of Raton, several of the first buildings occupied were removed from Otero, five miles south, some of these houses being still standing. By the summer of 1881 the settlement numbered fully 400 people, which" made quite a respectable community. Among the pioneers in business may be mentioned W. C. Clark, who opened a small grocery and boarding house, and did not neglect the sale of liquor; George J. Pace, general merchandise; AT. A. McMartin, dry goods, next door south, Clark occupying the site of the present Remsberd store.

The Raton Water Works

In the early days of Raton the town was supplied with water from a spring under the rim rock of Barela Mesa, the pumping station being situated east of town on Willow creek. This crude system, which was put in operation in 1882, was afterward improved by the Santa Fe Railroad. Immediately after the organization of the town, in 1891, Dr. J. J. Shuler organized the Raton Water Company, of which Colonel J. W. Dwyer was president; Charles A. Fox, secretary and superintendent; other stockholders. Dr. V. E. Hestwood, E. D. Sowers and George J. Pace. Ex-Senator Stephen A. Dorsey, of Star Route fame, was also interested in it.

The franchise to the new company was granted by Mayor Tindall July 20, 1891, and provided that the works were to be completed July 1, 1802. Thus authorized, the company started the construction of the first reservoir, damming Sugarite creek for their supply; but before the completion of the works they were sold to eastern capitalists, including E. D. Shepherd, of New York, who became president; ex-Governor Cleves, of Maine, and William E. Hawks, of Bennington, Vermont. Under this management the works were completed as a gravity system, but were rebuilt in 1905, with a new dam and wooden pipes. They have a present capacity of 3,000,000 gallons per day, 120 pounds pressure to the square inch.

Town Government of Raton

The first organized town government of Raton was instituted in 1891. Prior to that year the community had been under the general county government, the chief resident officers being a justice of the peace and a deputy sheriff.

1891: At the first regular meeting of town officers, held May 12, 1891, were the following: Mayor, William Tindall; recorder, Charles A. Fox; marshal, Theodore Gardner; trustees, John Jelfs, James Walker, Sr., Dr. J. J. Shuler and Pedro Padilla.
1892: Mayor, William Tindall; recorder, Harry W. Carr; marshal, James Howe; trustees, John Jelfs, Dr. J. J. Shuler, Chester D. Stevens, C. C. Wray.
1893: Mayor, J. J. Kelly; recorder, Jules H. Kleinz; marshal, J. Russell Doyle; trustees,' Dr. V. E. Hestwood, F. F. McAuliffe, J. J. Murphy, B. F. Houts.
1894: Mayor, W. E. Symons; recorder, J. H. Kleinz; marshal, J. Thomas Thatcher; trustees, G. W. Dwyer, James McPherson, John W. Crouse, Celso Chavez.
1895: Mayor, P. P. Fanning; recorder, J. H. Kleinz; marshal, Charles Gray; trustees, E. J. Gibson. J. J. Murphy, F. P. Canton, A. K. Letton; school trustees, J. R. Givens, James Walker, W. D. Hays.
1896:-Mayor, P. P. Fanning; recorder, Charles E. Hornell; marshal, Edward Coker; trustees, J. J. Murphy, C. M. C. Houck, F. R. Canton, O. B. Jewett.

The City of Raton

Under the general legislative act of 1897, providing for municipal corporations in New Mexico, the citizens of Raton held their first election under a city charter on the first Tuesday in April of that year, at which time the following officers were chosen:

Mayor, William M. Oliver; clerk, Charles E. Howell; aldermen. Tames R. Smith, W. W. Twyman, J. J. Murphy. C. E. Ellicott, Joseph R. Gaines, Albert E. McCready, Abran Cardenas, Francisco Salazar.

Mayor Oliver appointed C. B. Thacker, marshal, and at the regular meeting, held April 26, Jeremiah Leahy was appointed city attorney. The chief municipal officers elected and appointed for succeeding years were as below:

1898: Mayor, J. J. Murphy; clerk, P. P. Fanning; aldermen, J. R. Smith, W. W. Twyman, John Coyle, J. W. Dwyer, Abran Cardenas, F. P. Canton, G. M. Fetter, J. R. Gaines; marshal, James Welsh; attorney, John Morrow.

1899: Mayor, M. B. Stockton; clerk, David G. Dwyer; treasurer, S. W. Clark; attorney, D. T. Leahy; aldermen, W. B. Thompson, T. F. McAuliffe, J. C. Orin, T. D. Pacheco; school trustees, E. O. Jones, J. J. Shuler, W. M. Oliver, T. B. Hart, T. F. Schwachheim.

1900: Mayor, J. J. Shuler; clerk, W. N. Morris; treasurer, A. Jelfs; marshal, Robert Kruger; attorney, A. C. Voorhees; aldermen, J. C. Orin, T. F. McAuliffe. W. B. Thompson, Charles Kline, D. Gasson, C. O. Madoulet, G. E. Lyon, Milton Tomlinson.

1901:-Mayor, J. J. Shuler; clerk, J. C. Orin; treasurer, A. Jelfs; marshal, Robert Kruger; attorney, John Morrow; aldermen. W. B. Thompson, Charles Klein, G. E. Lyon, George J. Pace, M. Tomlinson. Henry Schroeder, D. Cassan, J. C. Miller.

1902: Mayor. C. M. Bayne; clerk, J. C. Orin; treasurer, C. M. C. Houck; marshal, Robert Kruger; attorney, D. J. Leahy; aldermen, C. O. Madoulet, Alfred Peterson, George J. Pace, H. C. Jones, Henry Schroeder, J. C. Miller, M. Naravis, Con Murray.

1903: Mayor, C. M. Bayne; clerk, J. C. Orin; treasurer, George B. Frisby; marshal, Robert Kruger; attorney, D. J. Leahy; aldermen, C. O. Madoulet, Alfred Peterson, George J. Pace, G. E. Lyon, J. C. Miller, Henry Schroeder, M. Reybal.

1904: Mayor, John C. Orin; clerk, R. H. Carter; treasurer, George B. Frisby; chief of police, J. J. Duncan; attorney, D. J. Leahy; aldermen, J. A. Rush, F. C. Nash, J. J. Shuler, G. E. Lyon, H. C. Jones, J. M. Sandoval, Patrick Boyle, Daniel Sandoval.

At a meeting of the common council, held June 7, 1904, John C. Orin was removed from office as mayor, and G. E. Lyon was elected mayor pro tern. At the same meeting D. J. Leahy resigned as city attorney, and William C. Wrigley was appointed to succeed him. At the session of June 30th J. P. Brackett was appointed secretary pro tern, R. H. Carter, the city clerk, having refused to act with G. E. Lyon, the acting mayor. The council by vote requested Mr. Carter to leave the records, seal of office, etc., with that body, but he refused to do so, locking the records in the vault. Samuel Ruffner was thereupon appointed clerk by the mayor pro tem, and the appointment was unanimously confirmed.

After his removal from office the deposed mayor, John C. Orin, issued a proclamation calling for a special city election, which was attested by the deposed city clerk, R. H. Carter. At its meeting on August 29, 1904, the city council adopted a resolution declaring this alleged proclamation null and void, and instructed the city attorney to publish a notice to that effect, which was done. Mr. Carter was subsequently reinstated as clerk by tacit consent of the council.

1905: Mayor, G. E. Lyon; Clerk, R. H. Carter; Treasurer, George B. Frisby; Aldermen, Josiah A. Rush, F. C. Nash, Dr. J. J. Shuler, H. C. Jones, Patrick Boyle, Daniel Sandoval, J. M. Sandoval.

Other Towns and Localities

The town of Springer, the former county seat, is one of the most important shipping points for sheep and cattle along the Santa Fe road. It is also a trading center for the ranchmen for many miles around. Although the removal of the county seat retarded its growth, it is a brisk town of 1.500 people, and still developing. In the region tributary to Springer are a number of fine residences and ranches. Near the town stood the palace built by Frank Sherwin, of Chicago, when he was manager of the Maxwell grant, which was burned a few years ago. About fifteen miles away, in the mountains, Charles Springer has a fine ranch and a stone mansion of half a hundred rooms, while Frank Springer is raising cattle on 100,000 acres, and also lives like a king. Further away, nearer Raton, is the tuberculosis sanitarium, an imposing structure which was formerly the palatial residence of Stephen Dorsey, standing in the midst of his former gigantic ranch, which he lost through his government peculations and which is now owned by Sol Florsheim, of Las Vegas. Some forty miles from Springer is also the chateau of a Chicago business man, Mr. Bartlett, of the firm Bartlett, Frazier & Carrington which is one of the most attractive country homes in the United States.

Cimarron, the old county seat, is better known as the headquarters of the Maxwell grant, in the days of Maxwell himself, and was for many years a United States army post, as well as one of the principal stations on the Santa Fe Trail. During the exciting period between the early days of American occupation and the advent of railroads, Cimarron and the notorious "Clifton House,"' south of Raton, were the headquarters of some of the most notorious bands of criminals which ever afflicted the western frontier. Murders were of almost daily occurrence, and it is believed that many Mexican inhabitants who mysteriously disappeared in those days met death at the hands of their implacable enemies, the soldiers of the United States army. Among the noted characters who have visited Cimarron, in years past,' was Paul du Chaillu, the African traveler, who visited the town for six months, in 1880, while collecting notes for a "write-up on the Maxwell land grant,'' his companion being Frank R. Sherman.

Elizabethtown, the first county seat, lies in the midst of a gold region in the western part of the county, and years ago was the center of a great mining boom. The Aztec mine, which first attracted population to this locality, was in its time famous throughout the west. The neighboring streams abound in placer gold, and the entire region is still productive.

Maxwell City is on the railroad midway between Raton and Springer. It was projected by the Maxwell Grant Company as the headquarters of its operations and the location of the central offices. Blossburg, to which there is a railroad spur from the main line of the A., T. & S. F., is a large shipping point for coal, while Gardner and Van Houten are mining towns.

Colfax County Biographies


Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

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