Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elizabethtown, New Mexico

From what I can tell, people who read City of Dust are pretty much split between those who enjoy the historical content and those who prefer the fiction/prose. I like to mix them up myself, but for the next few posts we’ll be firmly in the former category, visiting a few ghost towns around New Mexico. Last post we stopped by Pinos Altos (not REALLY a ghost town) and this time we’ll head in the opposite direction and go to Elizabethtown, which is just north of Eagle Nest, on the "Loop of Enchantment," not too far from the Colorado border. If you aren’t a history buff, you can always just look at the photos. Those are the remains of a ’46 Mercury in the photo above, if you’re wondering.

Elizabethtown is fairly well-known, as far as ghost towns go, and there is even a museum on-site. However, there isn’t much left of the place. Like most ghost towns in New Mexico, Elizabethtown came into existence because of shiny rocks. In 1866, Captain John William Moore helped a wounded Indian get medical attention at Fort Union, near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Later, the Indian returned to Fort Union to trade and ran into Captain Moore whose previous kindness the Indian now repaid with a few decorative stones which Mr. Moore immediately realized bore copper. Moore asked to be taken to the source of the rocks, which turned out to be high on 12,441 foot Mt. Baldy, just across the Moreno Valley from Wheeler Peak which, at over 13,161 feet, is the highest point in New Mexico. Even better than copper, it turned out that the mountains and valleys were rich with gold. And thus another western gold boom began. That's Mt. Baldy in the distance in the shot below.

Elizabethtown, named after Captain Moore’s young daughter, was incorporated quickly, becoming the first officially incorporated town in New Mexico, and a post office opened before 1866 was out. By the time Elizabethtown celebrated its first birthday, the population had ballooned to 3,000. Or 5,000. Or maybe 7,000. No one really seems to know for sure, but a lot of people showed up in a short period. Just before 1870, E-town, as miner’s referred to it, boasted over 100 buildings, including a couple hotels, seven saloons (some 200 feet long), three dance halls, and a drugstore.

You don’t have to dig too deep into a town’s past to find something unsavory, and Elizabethtown is no exception. In late 1870, the Ute wife of Charles Kennedy, who lived on the road between E-town and Taos, entered a saloon bleeding and crying. She told those gathered around that her husband had been killing travelers. Depending on whom you believe, he may have killed up to fourteen people and might even have killed two of his own children after they got on his nerves. Whatever the case, the last of his kids truly did raise the old man’s ire when Kennedy lured a traveler into his home only to have the man ask if there were any Indians in the area. Kennedy’s son is said to have replied, “Can’t you smell the one papa put under the floor?”, a retort which displeased the boy’s father so much that he shot the traveler immediately and then bashed his son’s head against the fireplace. After that he threw the bodies in the cellar, locked his wife up, and started drinking. Eventually he drank so much that his wife was able to escape up the chimney.

As seems to have happened fairly often in the Wild West, a mob quickly formed and went and found Kennedy drunk at his home, along with some bones, a human skull, and another eye-witness. The mob was led by the notorious (and dangerous) Clay Allison and Kennedy was summarily taken back to Elizabethtown and dragged through the streets with a noose around his neck for a very long time.

It has been said that Allison removed Kennedy’s head and gave it to Henri Lambert, owner of the Lambert Inn (later the St. James Hotel) in Cimarron, now considered one of the most haunted hotels in the U.S. Lambert apparently was told to hang the head outside his establishment as a warning and it eventually mummified on the corral fence before finally disappearing. The St. James Hotel is on the short list of future City of Dust destinations. But as much as I like stories about the St. James Hotel, Lambert was actually living in E-town when Kennedy was killed, not Cimarron, and so, if the story is at all true, the head would’ve surely been placed outside Lambert’s Elizabethtown saloon, not taken to Cimarron.

The building in the photo above is considered to be Froelick's Store, which survived a fire and, while slightly modified, is essentially the only original building left standing in E-town. Below is the final resting place of a Froelick.

Aside from the Kennedy affair, E-town was a notoriously rough place. When one defendant was asked to be tried in a different city because he figured he couldn’t get a fair trial in Elizabethtown, some citizens just took the man from the sheriff themselves and hung him, pinning a note to his coat that read, “So much for change of venue.”

By 1875, Elizabethtown was basically abandoned, but the ATCHISON TOPEKA AND SANTA FE RAILROAD (and the newfound ability to both transport ore long distances and commence dredging operations) brought the town back to life. E-town became a musical hotspot, with people traveling from all around to hear fiddle playing on a Saturday night. In 1903, Remsberg’s store went up in flames and a large part of the town went with it. Dredging ended in 1905 and E-town’s massive dredger, named “Eleanor” was left to sink deeper into Moreno Creek with each passing year. It’s still in the creek, but entirely buried now. Then it was a long, slow fade until 1917 or so, by which time hardly anyone was left in E-town. The post office hung on until 1931.

As I said, there’s not a whole lot to see nowadays. The above photo shows the remains of what was a two-story building which some say was the Mutz Hotel. However, Ofelia Barber, who was married in the building in 1872, stated that it was not the Mutz, but another facility, supposedly with rooms to rent on the first floor and a dance hall on the second. However, judging from other photos, even this ruin is a shadow of what it was 7 or 8 years ago. The Elizabethtown Cemetery, however, seems to still be quite active and not surprisingly. Who wouldn’t want their final resting place to be on a hill overlooking the Moreno Valley, with Mt. Baldy to the east and Wheeler Peak to the west? Mrs. Barber left not only her husband there but two daughters as well when she moved from E-town in 1936, one of its last remaining residents.

Once again New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns: A Practical Guide by Philip Varney (1981, Northland Press) provided not just information but inspiration, as well. LEGENDS OF AMERICA has a pretty in-depth piece on Elizabethtown and some great historic photos, as well. I tried my best to separate fact from fiction based on the accounts I read, but things get hazy down through the ages. If anyone has anything to add, please do.

Next time we’ll go to Hagan. Or what’s left of it.


ryan said...

nice photograph,.. the picture tells the story

Promotional Pens said...

I love your photos and the slice of American history lost. Like the old Mercury or the old store, it won't be long and all we'll have are your photos.

NG said...

Nice work!
The feeling is that your City`s of Dust seems to be your regrets regarding ...
Well, you know better.

Nathan said...

This is really interesting. I came across this post because I grew up going to Elizabethtown every couple of years. My dad's stepdad grew up in Elizabethtown, moved back there in the 90's with my grandma, and lived there until the early 2000's. My great uncle is Robert Mutz (Mutz Hotel), and still lives on a ranch, essentially, in Elizabethtown. My grandparents lived in a mobile home directly at the bottom of the hill that holds the Elizabethtown cemetary when I visited them in the 90's. I loved going there as a kid and would really like to go back now as an adult. Thanks for doing all this research. While I've heard some of this history from my grandfather, I've never heard the "whole story"... I really enjoyed the stories and pictures you relayed.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comment, Nathan. It's much appreciated. That's cool that you're related to the Mutz Hotel family. Maybe one of them would know whether the walls in the photo are really chunks of the Mutz Hotel. In any case, Elizabethtown (and northern New Mexico in general) certainly warrants a return visit. You might be interested to know that there's still a mobile home below the cemetery. Of course, whether it's the same one your grandparents lived in I couldn't say.

Thanks again. JM

Nathan said...

jmhouse, thank you for your reply. I have very fond memories of Eagle Nest/Elizabethtown, and northern New Mexico in general. The mobile home that currently resides at the base of the hill is my dad's cousin's (a Mutz daughter), but that's the exact spot where my grandparents lived before they moved away. I'll have to ask about the Mutz Hotel and if the ruins are actually from the hotel. However, I've always been told, and led to believe, that the remains you have pictured are from the Mutz Hotel. And you're right, there used to be a lot more of the building; I think people have taken pieces of the building as souvenires over the years.

jmhouse said...

That'd be really cool if that was the Mutz Hotel. Even the most official records (i.e., Philip Varney's ghost town guide) have been uncertain on that point. Now if people would just stop taking chunks of it home.

Anyway, I hope you can make a return trip sometime. Thanks very much for your comments. JM

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for the history of the family of Benjamin Franklin Myrick and Mary Elizabeth Ward Myrick who moved from the east coast and lived in Elizabethtown, New Mexico in the 1880s or so. A daughter Myrick, Florence May, b. 10 July 1880- whitish stone marker on stone base, "In memory beloved daughter", "Ben F & Mary,
d.21 February 1889" is buried in the Elizabethtown cemetery. They had several more children there including my grandfather, Lester Wilson Myrick. Does anyone know why they move to Elizabethtown and what were their experiences were while they lived there?

jmhouse said...

I'm afraid I don't know anything about the Myrick family's history in Elizabethtown. However, someone else might and hopefully they'll leave a message. Keep checking this page periodically or, if you like, you could leave a method of contact here (i.e., e-mail, website, etc.).

Thanks for your comment! I hope there's someone out there that can give you some information. JM

Anonymous said...

Anyone with information about the Myrick family's history is invited to contact me, Nancy Myrick Gill, at I appreciate having this opportunity to learn more about my family.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a contact for the museum? It seems it is always closed ...

jmhouse said...

The information below was current as of August 2010. Of course, things might've changed, but at least it's something. Let us know if you're successful in visiting the museum. It was closed when I visited, as well, but it was pre-Memorial Day. I'd like to have a look at it myself.


"The museum is open daily 10-5 between Memorial Day and Labor Day and by appointment after Labor Day. Gold Rush Days are held every year July 3-5, which include a trade fair and entertainment. Gifts and souvenirs are available in the gift shop. The museum is solely supported by donations, which can be made when visiting the site or contacting the museum at 505-377-3420."

Anonymous said...

Nathan: I used to go to Elizabethtown all the time, but moved away, and have lost their phone number. I was the best friend of the boy who grew up in the house next to the museum. I was wondering if you had his phone number anymore? I just really want to talk to him again, and maybe catch up on the time I have been away. Is there any way you can help me? Thank you in advance! -W.S.

jmhouse said...

Nice to hear from an old local, W.S. Are you looking for the phone number of a boy that lived next to the museum? If so, I'd think your first best shot is to call the museum at: 505-377-3420. You can also try to e-mail at: I believe the owner of the museum has been there many years.

If you want to leave your contact information here, feel free to do so. Someone who can get you in touch just might read this post.

Best of luck! JM

Anonymous said...

Can you put me in touch with Nathan.We are realeted if he is realeted to Robert Mutz and uncle Georgie.

jmhouse said...

Hi Anonymous,

I don't have direct contact information for Nathan, but there is a chance he receives e-mail updates whenever a new comment is left for this post.

If either you or Nathan don't want to post your e-mail publicly, you can send me a message at the e-mail you'll find in my profile and I'll pass them along. Otherwise, feel free to leave a contact method here.

Hope you two can get in touch! JM

Anonymous said...

Thank you! And, he is the owner's son, and we have not seen each other since 2005. I lost his number during the move. I will try the email and/or phone! Whatever works, because I really miss him :) I just want to say, as a photographer and travel enthusiast (or whatever you want to call me), I really like the blog you do J.M. Thank you for sharing your Adventures and knowledge! -Whitney S.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the kind words, Whitney. They're much appreciated. I'm glad you enjoy City of Dust.

Best of luck in your efforts to find Nathan. He's stopped by at least a couple times. He might come back again! JM

jmhouse said...

I recently received a very interesting e-mail from a Mrs. Mazelis of Davis, CA relating her family's close connection to Elizabethtown. She's kindly agreed to have her message posted here so everyone can read it:

"My father, Joe Beimer, was born in E-town in 1918, the youngest of the five children of B.J. and Marie (Svenson) Beimer. A few years thereafter the Beimer family moved to Taos.

"My grandmother, Amalia Swanson, is buried in the E-town cemetery. I have visited her grave there; it is near a tree and is marked by a stone, carved by my grandfather B.J., which reads 'MOTHER.'

"On the weekend of July Fourth, 2010, I attended a Swanson family reunion at the Swanson Ranch, a few miles west of Eagle Nest. The ranch is presently run by my cousin Judy (Swanson) Piper and her husband Berk.

"Noreen (Beimer) Mazelis
Davis, CA"

Many thanks to Mrs. Mazelis for allowing me to pass that along. I'm sure it will be of great interest to others with family connections to E-town. JM

alyssa mutz said...

I actually know for a fact that it was the Mutz hotel as I have seen pictures of my great great grandparents working in the hotel and my great grandmother dancing there.

jmhouse said...

Thanks, alyssa mutz. I can see just from your name that there's a family connection to the hotel! You wouldn't happen to have digitized copies of those photos that you could submit, would you? They sound wonderful, and if the building is identifiable in them then that would solve the mystery once and for all. I guess it's a little late to ask Ofelia Barber if she has pictures of her wedding in 1872.

Thanks again, JM

catherine mortensen said...

My father's grandfather ran (possibly owned) a saloon in Elizabethtown in 1900. He got married there and had several children before leaving E-town sometime between 1918-1920. His name is Luis (perhaps Luigi) Leonard (perhaps Leonardi). He had a wife named Mary who was much younger than he was. If anyone has ever heard of him, I would love to know more about him and what life was like in E-town during those years. My email is:

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comment, catherine mortenson. I'm afraid I can't provide any real information about Luis or Mary Leonard, but maybe somebody will read this and be able to tell you something. You've probably seen it already, but I did find this e-mail from the Colfax County, NM listserv archive which contains some genealogy regarding a Louis Leonard and Mary Johnson:

"Mary Johnson (Source: 1910 Dist 32, Elizabethtown, Colfax County, New Mexico Census), wife of Louis Leonard, age 18, married 3 years, 2 of 2 children living...was born 05 Jan 1892 in Taos, New Mexico, and died 20 Dec 1929 in Trinidad, Las Animas, Colorado. She married Louis Leonard I (Source: 1910 Dist 32, Elizabethtown, Colfax, New Mexico Census), Head of Household 26/27 Aged 40 years, second marriage, married 3 years, born Austria, as well as parents, laborer, immigrated 1887, naturalized 01 May 1906 in Springer, Colfax County, New Mexico. He was born 1870 in Austria.

"More About Louis Leonard and Mary Johnson: Marriage: 01 May 1906, Springer, Colfax County, New Mexico. Children of Mary Johnson and Louis Leonard are: 20 i. Louis Leo 3 Leonard II (Source: 1930 Dist 61, Prec 53, Chautauqua, Las Animas County, Colorado Census), Aged 21 years, living with cousin Edward Johnson and family born in New Mexico, states father from Italy, mother New Mexico, laborer on farm, born 1907 in New Mexico."

The e-mail address for the sender is still there, but the message itself is 10 years old. But there does indeed appear to be a pretty interesting story of settlement to be found there. If I'm reading it correctly, Louis is referred to as being from both Austria and Italy!

Anyway, best of luck, and thanks for stopping by City of Dust! JM

Lynn Dean said...

Since Elizabethtown was the first incorporated town in New Mexico, you can call or write to the Colfax County offices for a copy of the plat--the surveyor's layout for the town. Lots may show the names of early owners.

jmhouse said...

That's a good point, Lynn Dean. A copy of that plat may be quite useful.

Thanks for the tip! JM