The year was 1927 and as Zane Gray walked into the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico he was thinking about his next book. Unlike Gray I am here not to start a book but to finish one. I am drawing inspiration from writing in the same room where he stayed (number 22) and overlooking the Santa Fe trail as he did, I feel his spirit all around me.
Gray’s novel was called The Fighting Caravans and it was published by Harper & Brothers in 1929. The colorful figures in this story were based on famous Indian fighter and scout Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell who at the time was the largest private landowner in the western hemisphere. The novel was later turned into one of the first talking motion pictures and starred Gary Cooper.
Gray’s spirit along with that of author Lew Wallace who wrote part of Ben Hur at the hotel have long been said to wander the hallways. As I sit in Room 22 their spirits and the spirits of others who have stayed here have been heavy on my mind. Buffalo Bill, Jesse James, Annie Oakley, Pat Garrett and the Earp brothers were all frequent guests at the St. James. There were also many gunmen who stayed here such as Clay Allison and Bob Ford both of whom killed several men on the premises.
Whenever I take a break from writing I have been reading up on the history of the St. James which I learned was built by Henri Lambert in 1873. Henri had served as President Lincoln’s personal chef in 1864 before heading west, first to Elizabethtown and then to the village of Cimarron. In Spanish Cimarron means wild or unruly and the walls of the hotel are covered with the stories of the violent men who settled their arguments with bullets here.
Historically there is no other place like this hotel and with Zane Gray’s help Footprints in the Dew, the Chub Anderson story, is being completed and I can only hope for the same success that The Fighting Caravans had.