The History of Colfax County, New Mexico

no matter how many times I visit this area I always learn something new……

Welcome back. This is where the plains meet the Sangre de Christos mountain range just east of the Continental Divide. Where the slopes of the mountains converge fertile valleys were formed and over thousands of years these valleys produced vegetation that attracted wildlife which was followed by man. This week I’m still camped out in one of these valleys where the stories I’m hearing about the early settlers in the area have caught my attention and I hope they interest you as well.
In 1841 the Santa Fe Trail had just been developed and it ran through New Mexico including Colfax County. At the time this new county was home to both good and bad. These are some of the good.

Lucien Maxell (1818-1878) A close friend of the famous scout Kit Carson, Maxell held a land grant from Mexico that covered most of the land east of the Rockies in northeastern New Mexico. He developed what had been just a layover spot on the Cimarron River into the town of Cimarron.

Kit Carson (1809-1868) Government scout, explorer and Indian fighter with over fifty books and biographies written about him, Carson helped tame Colfax County. Eventually he moved to Taos, NM where he later died.

Frank Springer (1848-1927) In most places around the country history has forgotten Frank Spring but not in the town that bears his name or among any of the people in Colfax County. A lawyer for the Maxell Land Grant Company, he played in a big role in the construction of schools and railroads and was also involved in timber sales and coal mining. When gold was discovered in the area Springer called the shots as to who received mining claims.

Of course these early settlers of the west were not the only ones. Manley Phaft (1842-1915) was a successful rancher whose huge herds of thousands of head of cattle and sheep are still talked about today. Fred Lambert (1887-1971) was sworn in as a temporary deputy sheriff at age 16. His first assignment was to capture three killers, two men and a woman. When he singlehandedly caught the killers he became a full time lawman which led to a legendary career.

Elliot “Chope Phillips who was the son of Waite Phillips, also called Colfax County home. A man who could have gone into any profession, his one desire was always to be a good cowboy and friends I met him briefly before he died and that’s exactly what he was.
A living legend in this area whom I’m honored to know was born in 1930 and is still busy running the famous CS Cattle Company is Linda Davis. Inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City (or as I still call it the Cowboy Hall of Fame) and a lifetime member of a dozen other organizations, her story and the history of her family’s ranch could take up a year’s worth of my weekly columns.

I’ll end with Gretchen Sammis (1925-2012). This is another woman who like Linda Davis was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame as well as many other organizations. A person I really regret not meeting, she donated her house and all her land for the Boy Scouts’ to use and also left an endowment to maintain the property.
With access to the internet and libraries there is plenty more to learn about Gretchen, Linda and the rest of these folks and I guarantee you some interesting reading.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

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