Colfax County War

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Colfax County War
Date 1873-1888
Caused by Land disputes
Resulted in Maxwell Land Grant Company won over the disputed land through court.
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
<templatestyles src="Infobox/Columns/styles.css"/><templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Units involved
Casualties and losses
200 killed
Script error: No such module "Infobox mapframe".
Script error: No such module "Infobox mapframe".

The Colfax County War was a range war that occurred from 1873 to 1888 between settlers and the new owners of the Maxwell Land Grant. The land owners planned to remove what they perceived as squatters who were indiscriminately jumping on pieces of land that now belongs to them.[1] The farmers and miners who had settled and invested their livelihood in the grant did not abide to the new owners and so violence erupted in 1875.


The arrival and purchasing of the Maxwell Land Grant Company over land in New Mexico spurned controversy and hatred over the settlers already living in the area. Men working on the land complained about miners and farmers, who they believed were squatters, were disturbing and even harassing their work, causing various problems to the company's production. Many of these settlers were white, Spanish and Indian people and they believed that the land was in public domain and that they already had the right to settle there before.[2] Soon a large meeting between the settlers happened in March 30, 1873, in which they agreed to arm themselves to protect their homes and property if necessary.[3] Because of the presence of a large lawless element at Cimarron and the inability of local authorities to keep the peace, the attorney general of New Mexico Territory, under directions from Governor Marsh Giddings, requested troops from Fort Union to help Sheriff Isaiah Rinehart restore order at Cimarron.[4] No troops were sent at that time, but troubles continued at Cimarron that eventually required military intervention. The company were also allied with the powerful Santa Fe Ring, a group of influential lawyers and politicians who controlled many Western states.[5] The settlers did not like the incursion of these soldiers into the land, and this caused a great deal of violence between them. Black soldiers of the 9th Cavalry was one of those units sent, and on one occasion, some of them had a shootout with a group of Texas cowboys in the St. James Hotel. Three soldiers died during the shootout and a few months later one of the cowboys involved was killed by the local sheriffs.[6]

The event that triggered the war was the murder of Rev. Franklin J. Tolby, a staunch ally of the farmers. He was found murdered in Cimarron Canyon on September 14, 1875. It was quickly assumed that someone from the Land Grant company did the deed and the blame was pinned on a gunman named Cruz Vega. Cruz and his family were once originally sided with the Hispanic settlers in the area, and Cruz's uncle, Francisco Griego, was one of the leaders among the Hispanic people during the conflict. However, they soon shifted sides when Francisco and his family were faced with the charges of killing three cavalry men in an alteration in a card game, and also on the suspected murder of another soldier on June 1. The Santa Fe Ring was said to have blackmailed Francisco and his family in exchange for dropping the charges the family would have faced.[4][7] With his family's reputation of violence and betrayal, Cruz was an easy prime suspect and soon the townspeople formed a mob to hunt him down. After apprehending Cruz, they tortured and hanged him by a pole. Notorious gunfighter Clay Allison, who was an advocate supporter of the settlers, was one of those who lynched Cruz. The Vega family mourned Cruz's death, and his uncle Francisco swore to avenge him by killing Allison. On November 1, Griego managed to trap and confront the gunfighter in the saloon of St. James Hotel. As Griego drew his pistol, Allison drew faster and shot Griego twice in the chest, killing him.[5] Days later, Allison was charged with the murder but after an inquiry, the charge was dropped and the shooting was ruled as self-defense. Allison also killed another gunman by the name of Chunk Colbert in the county the previous year.[8] Soon, Grant gang members retaliated by doing nighttime raids on these settlers; destroying their property as well as murdering those who fought back. A man named Cardenas eventually confessed to the murder of Tolby, and he was subsequently hanged by a group of 20 gunman on November 10. It was estimated that as many as 200 people were killed in the Colfax County War.[1]

Finally in 1885, the lawn of the Colfax County Courthouse was the site of one of the last gun battles of the Colfax County War. A group led by George Curry was assaulted by a group of sheriff's deputies on the courthouse lawn. Curry's brother and one of his followers were killed in the gun battle. Curry pleaded guilty to unlawfully caring firearms, and was fined five dollars. On March 8, 1887, the company finally sent their plea to the US Supreme Court. Five weeks later in its ruling, the Court concluded “We are entirely satisfied that the Grant, as confirmed by the action of Congress, is a valid grant, that the survey and the patent issued upon it are entirely free from any fraud.” The settlers lost and either settled with the company or moved elsewhere, and many of them were also evicted in 1894.[2] Two years after Reverend Tolby's murder, the conflict calmed down between some of the settlers who were allowed to remain, and the Maxwell Grant Company who won over the property.[3] One of the last victim of the war, Richard Russell, was killed in a shoot-out with company enforcers near his ranch in Stonewall, Colorado, in 1888.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colfax County War Colfax County War: Legends of America
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Montoya, Maria E. Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict over Land in the American West, 1840-1900. University of California Press (March 29, 2002). pp. 107–113. ASIN B003AU4HFQ.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. Frank Springer and New Mexico
  8. Chunk Colbert