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Old Fort Sumner
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell of Cimarron had bought the old post in Oct., 1870, for $5,000
and had moved there the following spring with his wife and four children, along with
servants and ranch hands (25-
Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving drove 2,200 head of Texas Longhorn cattle west
from Fort Belknap, Texas to the Pecos River and north to Fort Sumner to feed the
As the U.S. Government realized that the Navajo relocation effort was a failure, it allocated fewer funds to keep the old post repaired. The worst buildings were left to neglect. The best ones were adapted to new uses. By the time the Maxwells arrived, the old post, vacant for about 20 months, had deteriorated further.
By 1872, however, as Maxwell continued to spend $10,000 to repair, renovate, and expand the salvageable homes and buildings, the place had already become home for 250 residents. He also had irrigation ditches dug, introduced Merino sheep, built up a herd of 9,000 cattle, and with the Roswell cattle baron John S. Chisum started a weekly mail service. Maxwell still had the golden touch, and his operations flourished.
But after Maxwell died of kidney failure in July, 1875, his only son, Pete, took over his family’s affairs. After ensuring his mother would live a carefree widowhood, he retired to an unremarkable life to spend the rest of his father’s fortune. Pete lived at Old Fort Sumner until 1884, when he sold out to the New England Cattle Company and moved 1½ miles (2.4km) south into a home near his mother’s place.
In 1889 the adjacent Pecos River flooded, washing away the first of the buildings
on the southwest corner of the former parade ground. The cattle company cannibalized
the post, then let the locals take anything else. By the early 1900’s, only some
low adobe walls and rock formations remained. But a few years before the last of
it disappeared in a 1937 flood, tourists in motor cars had already begun to arrive
at the Kid’s grave. Some were clutching Walter Noble Burns’s best selling book, The
Sage of Billy the Kid (1926). Some had also seen it adapted to a Hollywood talking
film, Billy the Kid, a King Vidor-
Old Fort Sumner, 6½ miles (10.4 km) southeast of the village of Fort Sumner, the De Baca County seat, became a state monument in 1968.
Long before Billy the Kid fled the village of Lincoln after his daring jailbreak in April, 1881, Old Fort Sumner had become a second home. He had plenty of friends there, plus no meddlesome lawmen lived within a day’s ride. Locals spotting strangers would alert Billy, who could slip away into the countryside. There, among the campsites of Hispanic sheepherders, he’s wait until an amigo told him it was safe to return.
Pat Garrett knew Old Fort Sumner, too. After his buffalo-
If Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett could return to the site of the Maxwell settlement
at Old Fort Sumner today, they’d find the buildings lining the 300’ by 400’ parade
ground, the outlying buildings, and nearly all the cottonwood trees along the Fort