This bizarre and long forgotten mystery in Taos is still unsolved

Taos is mainly known for its art community, the Pueblo, skiing, and stunning scenery. But once, an evil man lived in Taos. He went by the name of Arthur Rocheford Manby. 

Manby had read in British newspapers about rich resources and opportunities in the untamed Territory of New Mexico. But, once he arrived there, he spent the next 20 years acquiring properties by conning, stealing, lying, begging, and bribing Native Americans and Spanish families. He aggressively sought investors from England, New York, Chicago, and Maryland, promising profits on investors’ money. He founded four corporations that served primarily as financial fronts, often to defraud investors. Manby’s ultimate goal was to obtain the vast Antonio Martinez Land Grant (61,605.48 acres) near Taos. 

In 1913, Manby finally acquired 58,867 acres of the Land Grant that included the hot springs on the Rio Grande. It was his plan to build a grand hotel and gardens at the hot springs. But instead, Manby used the investors’ money to improve his personal estate rather than improve land grant properties. As transcribed in a 2017 Taos News article entitled “Taos’ Unsolved Mystery: The Fallen Emperor,” the New Mexico State Archives search reveals at least 30 filings for civil or criminal cases associated with Arthur Manby between 1902-1913. 

Within three years, the Land Grant was sold at public auction due to Manby’s debt growth. However, he retained the 23 acres of land that included his hacienda and its surrounding gardens. He became more bad-tempered and elusive, basically hiding in his hacienda. 

In December of 1919, Mable Dodge Stern and her husband Maurice Stern appeared at Manby’s front door and asked to rent his home, to which he agreed. A friendship of sorts developed between Mabel and Manby. She respected his architectural skill and tasteful gardens and loved the hot springs. However, she eventually became wary of Manby and moved out once she and Lujan built their own home near the Taos Pueblo. 

Manby was characterized as having a brilliant mind, refined taste, and an appreciation of the visual beauty of the Taos Valley. But, on the other hand, he was devious, calculating, greedy, manipulating, and a murderer. He was a loner and had few if any friends in Taos.


Manby’s body was found in 1929 when a US Deputy from Santa Fe tried to serve legal papers related to a lawsuit. When no one answered, the Deputy went to the courthouse in Taos Plaza and asked the Taos Deputy Sheriff if anyone had seen Manby. Apparently, the Taos Deputy Sheriff was told that Manby was likely dead because of flies swarming on his screen door. 

The end result was that these two law officers, plus others who appeared at Manby’s residence, found his body in one of the front rooms of the house and his head in the adjoining room along with his German police dog. It was rapidly concluded that Manby died of natural causes, assuming that the dog had chewed off Manby’s head. 

Manby was buried that same day at the back of his property. The gruesome story of Manby’s death soon reached national headlines, accompanied by questions concerning the manner of his death and the authenticity of the body. In response to letters from Manby’s family and the British consulate, the New Mexico Governor R.C. Dillon had Manby’s body exhumed in late 3 August 1929. Experts (Manby’s dentist, a blacksmith, a detective sent by the Federal government, and Doc Martin) concluded:

  1. That the body was indeed that of Manby, identifying his dentures and jewelry.
  2. That he had been shot numerous times in the chest and face.
  3. That his head had been severed from his body with a sharp object.

Manby was later reburied at his current gravesite just outside of Kit Carson Cemetery. While people were questioned about the murder, the case was dropped in 1930. But was this really Manby’s body? A set of presumably Manby’s dentures was found at Manby’s bedside by a private detective hired by the Attorney General of New Mexico ~ July 9th, 1929, and the dentist who identified Manby’s body by his dentures in August later recanted his story. But, unfortunately, Doc Martin destroyed his autopsy results because the state never paid him. And, there were reports that Manby was sited both in Mexico and Italy after his “death.” So, the mystery continues on.





Grave robbers desecrate and loot Fort Craig, N.M., cemetery (Bob was right)

In 2001, my team went to Fort Craig to investigate several paranormal claims that had been reported by the caretakers of the historic site. After hearing their accounts, my co-investigator, Bob, remarked that the described phenomenon was typical of a graveyard that had been desecrated. He was told that it was simply not possible, because the graves in the cemetery had been moved.

This seemed to be true. Records from the National Archives show that in 1878 the graves from the post cemetery were exhumed and re-buried at national military cemeteries at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe. But shortly after this, in 1880,Victorio and his Warm Springs Apache fled the reservation and began an extensive raiding campaign against the Army and civilians in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Fort Craig was re-garrisoned until 1886 when it was abandoned and auctioned off. One more time, the graves from the post cemetery were exhumed and re-buried, this time at Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas.


Bob at the ruins of the Commander’s Quarters in 2001.

In November of 2004, Dr. Don Alberts, a professional historian, walked into the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Area Office in Albuquerque. We had met Alberts the previous month at the Fort Craig
Conference, in Socorro, New Mexico. We had agreed to provide him with reports from Reclamation’s archaeological investigations at another Civil War era fort, Fort McRae. While at the office, Alberts, unsolicited, related to us an incredible story. He said that he knew a man, who subsequently turned out to be collector and amateur historian Dee Brecheisen, who had in his possession the “mummified” remains of a Buffalo Soldier, and that Brecheisen was keeping the remains in his house.
Alberts said that the well preserved remains, still dressed in a Civil War era uniform, were clearly African American due to the prevalence of kinky hair and patches of brown mummified flesh on the facial bones. The historian revealed that he had first seen the remains approximately twenty years ago, and knew that the remains had come from the cemetery of Fort Craig. According to Alberts, Brechheisen had admitted to digging up the remains in the early 1970s. Alberts ended by saying that Brecheisen was dying and he was urging him to give up the remains.

A looted burial. The white plastic garbage bag contained military issue shoe parts from several individuals.

Following the conversation with the historian, the BLM decided to check the land status of the Fort Craig cemetery. Once it was established that the cemetery was on Reclamation land, they visited the site in late January of 2005, accompanied by an archaeologist from the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that had management responsibility for the ruins of Fort Craig.

Three things became apparent during the field trip. First, the discovery of several clearly defined looter holes indicated that the cemetery had been vandalized in recent years. Second, the BLM archaeologist repeated the mummy story and, furthermore, had known about the remains for approximately one year. Third, the BLM were informed that Brecheisen had died without indicating the whereabouts of the human remains.

In light of the fact that the cemetery had been vandalized on at least two or more occasions and human remains had been removed, Reclamation made the decision to hire an archaeological contract firm to conduct a geophysical survey of the cemetery. Despite the fact that Fort Craig had been abandoned in 1886 and the Army had conducted two sets of exhumations and re-interments at national military cemeteries (discussed below), it was possible that there might still be intact graves in the ground.

So, whether it was by pure coincidence or by the Bob’s assumption of the paranormal claims, it turns out that he was right.

By February of 2005, the mummy story had gotten the attention of Federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management, and a case file was opened in Albuquerque. Even though Brecheisen was dead, those remains were still unaccounted for and it was unclear whether or not any associated artifacts from the cemetery had passed into the possession of other individuals. What was clear was that Private Smith did not show up on any of the registries of soldiers from Fort Craig who were re-interred at either Santa Fe or Fort Leavenworth. The subsequent investigation and aftermath would result in the intersection of law enforcement techniques, historical research and archaeological excavations at the cemetery.


Check out the full report below for more fascinating details and what was discovered at the fort’s cemetery.





Constructed in the mid 1870s, the building served as a residence, general store, post office, and warehouse. Grzelachowski may have been influenced in his choice of style by his familiarity with Fort Union, an important precedent for the post Civil War, New Mexico Territorial style. The domestic section was occupied by Grzelachowski, his common-law wife Secundina C. de Baca, and
their nine children. The large room at the south end contained Grzelachowski f s store and the post office. The now demolished adobe rooms at the back of the building are thought to have contained warehouse rooms for goods and a basement jail. The building and gardens were a local showplace, having it is said the first metal roof in Puerto de Luna and one of the largest orchards in the area.
The store was a popular stop for area ranchers and travelers through the Pecos Valley. In 1877 Captain J. G. Clancy drove 3,000 head of sheep from California to New Mexico bringing with him fifty thousand dollars in gold. The coins were placed in the large safe at Grzelachowski’sqstore, for a long time the only safe of its kind and size in the territory. Billy the Kid frequented the Grzelachowski store. A.J. Padilla, who was married to Grzelachowski f s daughter, was the source of many stories told to him by his mother-in-law. Billy, she said, was fascinated by Grzelachowski’s learning and by his tales. He would listen intently and beg Grzelachowski to speak Latin, Polish, or Greek. Billy would stand in front of the store and shoot at tin cans, shifting his gun from hand to hand and shooting as well with either. Grzelachowski instructed his clerks not to argue with Billy and to give him anything he wanted. Once when Grzelachowski was away, the clerks saw Billy riding into town with a few of his companions and immediately ran out the back door. Finding the store deserted, Billy and his friends took what they needed and rode on. Several days later when he returned through town, the Kid asked Grzelachowski what he owed. Grzelachowski replied that he didn’t think that the Kid owed anything. Another time a clerk noticed the Kid taking ammunition and accused him of trying to steal from a friend. Whereupon Billy put the boxes back.

Pat Garrett also passed through Puerto de Luna often and stopped at Grzelachowski’s store. In his ghost-written and self-justifying Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, he describes an incident that took place on December 9, 1880 when he was passing through with a deputy and two prisoners.

“I was sitting in the store of A. Grzelachowski, when…a Mexican named Mariano Leiva [Marino Leyba], the big bully of the town, entered, his hand on a pistol in his pocket, walked up to me and said he would like to see any d——d Gringo arrest him. I told him to go away and not annoy me. He went out on the porch, where he continued a tirade of abuse, all directed against me. I finally went out and told him that I had no papers for him and no business with him…With an oath, he raised his left arm in a threatening manner, his right hand still on his pistol. I slapped him off the porch. He landed on his feet—the second shot went through his shoulder, when he turned and ran, firing back as he went, way wide of the mark.
I entered the store and got my Winchester. In a few moments Deputy Romero came in and informed me that I was his prisoner. I brushed him aside and told him I did not propose to submit asking him the cause of my arrest. He said it was for shooting at Leiva, and reached for my gun. I told him I had no intention of evading the law, but he could not disarm me…and I proposed to keep my arms and protect myself…My friend, Grzelachowski, interfered in ray defense and the bold deputy retired. I went to an Alcalde the next morning, had an examination, and was discharged.”

Deputy Romero in a sworn affidavit gave his own more detailed account of the same incident which took place when he was sent from the Las Vegas to meet Pat Garrett at Puerto de Luna to take possession of fugitives from the San Miguel County jail whom Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, had captured.

We left Las Vegas about 12 o 1 clock noon and arrived next day at Puerto de Luna but did not meet Pat; he had not yet arrived. The following day…we went out to meet him…we drove back and when we arrived at Puerto de Luna we met a group of people who were trying to find out what was going on. When we got to A. Grzelachowski f s store we still found a larger group. There I presented my credentials to Pat and he delivered the prisoners to me…I left with Ortiz and Sandoval, taking Webb along with us to a blacksmith shop nearby to get some fetters…Pat and Mason remained at Mr. Alejandro Grzelachowski’s store. And when we were in the blacksmith shop I heard shots in succession, whereupon I…went towards where I thought the shots had been fired and at the same time seeing many people that were going in a hurry toward Mr. Grzelachowski’s store…While going towards Mr. Grzelachowski f s place, I met Marino [Leyba] on horseback …with his
right hand he opened his shirt and found a wound in his left shoulder and kept going on his horse, galloping. When I arrived at Grzelachowski T s store, I saw a lot of people gathered there in a group trying to get into the store and many other people running towards the same direction. Having arrived at the store I made my way in and told the people not to come in. Within about eight or ten feet from the door Pat was sitting upon the counter with his gun in his hand…he discharged the gun without hurting anyone; at that time and up to the present I never did think that he shot at me, for the shot hit under the counter. I got to him, took the rifle away from him and told him that he was under arrest, to which he inquired by what authority I was arresting him…I took out my credentials from my pocket and showed them to him, he giving up his weapons which I handed to Mr. Grzelachowski…the people all in a group wanted to come into the store, but at once I raised up my gun and aimed it toward the door saying that no one should enter, whereupon all kept back. All the people were alarmed and it seemed as though they wanted recourse to violence. I told Mr. Grzelachowski to close the door and I was informed how and why the shots had been fired upon Marino. I told Pat and Mason to remain in the house…Next day I took them over to a Justice of the Peace and after a hearing he set them free. After that we got ready to leave for Las Vegas.

Leyba was later accused of being the leader of a gang of bandits that had robbed and killed Colonel Charles Potter the preceding October. Because all of the other witnesses to the murder had already been lynched by vigilantes, Leyba was indicted on charges, among others, of “assault with intent to kill and murder” Pat Garrett. Convicted, he was fined $80.

On Christmas day, a week after the incident with Leyba, Garrett stopped off at Grzelachowski f s store on route to Las Vegas with seven deputies and four prisoners including Billy the Kid who had been captured near Fort Sumner. According to Garrett,

“We reached Gayheart’s ranch with our prisoners about midnight, rested until eight in the morning, and reached Puerto de Luna at two o f clock p.m. on Christmas Day. My friend Grzelachowski gave us all a splendid dinner.. 2JJith a fresh team we got away from Puerto de Luna about four o 1 clock.

The following summer, on July 14, Garrett shot Billy the Kid in Pete Maxwell T s house at Fort Sumner.

After Grzelachowski f s death the house continued to be used by his family. His son Adolph took over management of the general store and occupied the house with his family until about the time of World War I- His brother, Oscar, then lived there with his family until about 1926. The house was eventually acquired by Cipriano Flores. He and his wife lived there until their deaths in the mid 1960s. During the time the Flores occupied the house, the floors were covered with linoleum, (now removed), the ceilings in the first two front rooms on the north were lowered, and electricity was put in. There was, and still is, no running water in the house. Cabinets (now removed) were put into the first room on the north which served as a kitchen. The room that had contained the Grzelachowski store and post office was used for storage. The Flores 1 granddaughter, Margie Abeyta, who lived with them, inherited the property which she then sold to. Cipriano’s son, her uncle and the present owner, Victor Flores.
The building has been empty since the mid 1960s. In 1970 the Grzelachowski House and Store was listed in the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties as SR 176. In the late 1970s the badly deteriorated, adobe storage rooms extending from the back of the store were torn down. In the fall of 1991 and again in 1992, celebrations at the house featured reenactments of Billy the Kid’s last Christmas dinner at the Grzelachowski House.



Source: National Register of Historic Places

Quoted in full by Adams, A Fitting Death for Billy the Kid (1960):

Garrett, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid (1954); 107-8. Quoted in
full by White, “The Murder of Colonel Charles Potter (1987):

Adams, Ramon F. A Fitting Death for Billy the Kid. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1960.
Albuquerque Tribune. September 25, 1955.
Anderson, George B. History of New Mexico; Its Resources and People, II. Los
Angeles: Pacific States Publishing Company, 1907.
Chaves, Fray Angelico. Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. 1678-1900.
Washington, B.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1957.
Garrett, Pat. The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1954.
Illustrated History of New Mexico. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company,
Kajencki, Francis C. “Alexander Grzelachowski: Pioneer Merchant of Puerto de
Luna,” New Mexico Historical Review 26 (Autumn 1984): 243-260.
. “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: Was the Guide Ortiz or
Grzelachowski?” New Mexico Historical Review 62 (January 1987): 47-54.
_______________________. Poles in the 19th Century Southwest. El Paso, Texas:
Southwest Polonia Press, 1990.
Keleher, William A. The Fabulous Frontier, Albuquerque: University of New ;
Mexico Press, 1982 (orig. 1945, rev. 1962).
New Mexico Business Directory, Denver, Colorado: The Gazetteer Publishing Co.,
Parish, William J. The Charles Ilfeld Company. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1961.
Rittenhouse, Jack D. “Alexander Grzelachowski store, warehouse, and home (one
structure)” Application for Registration. New Mexico State Register of
Cultural Properties. April 23, 1970.
Stanley, F. The Puerto de Luna, New Mexico Story. Nazareth, Texas: By the
author, 1969.

La Posada, Santa Fe, NM (History)

Abraham Staab was fifteen years old when he came to the United States from Germany. He arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, where he worked for two years.

In 1856, he and his brother Zadoc took a job in Santa Fe with the Spiegelberg Brothers. There they honed their skills in the wholesale trading business. By 1858 the brothers went into business for themselves, forming a company called Zadoc Staab and Brother. Their venture quickly became very successful and soon became the most significant wholesale trading and merchandising establishment in the American Southwest. According to a book by Henry Tobias called A History of the Jews in New Mexico, (1990), the Staab brothers brought in $600,000 just from the wholesale trade of their business from 1874 to 1875.

By 1865, Abraham was quite wealthy and decided to travel back to Germany to marry Julia Schuster. The couple returned to Santa Fe where they lived in an average adobe house on Burro Street. However, Abraham made a promise to his new bride that he would build her a grand mansion in the European style.


The mansion was finally finished in 1882 and was located in a fashionable residential area of Santa Fe on East Palace Avenue. It was a three-story structure that was constructed in the French Second Empire style. It had a Mansard roof, and a widow’s walk which were favorite embellishments in the upper-class neighborhood where the mansion stood.

Author Paul Horgan described the inside of a mansion, much like the Staab’s; in his book “The Centuries of Santa Fe” (1956)

“It was one of the first brick structures in town. There was much ornamental ironwork on its roof ridges. The woodwork throughout was massive. Doors and windows had fluted frames with curved tops set in plaster moldings.  The social rooms were large and high-ceilinged. Their effect was doubled by a number of floor-length mirrors framed in gold leaf. Everything in the house came “from the East,” and was meant to reflect the richest taste and best style. It was a style with a long history of travel behind it-from Prince Albert’s Germany to the England of his married life, and from the England of his widow to the Atlantic United States, and from there across the country, until by wagon train, it reached even to Santa Fe.”

Horgan also described Julia in the same book.

“She was an exquisite and dignified creature in a rugged outpost starved for urbanity. Her skin was white. Her clothes were beautifully made in the highest of fashion. She animated them with something of the effect of a small girl dressed up playing queen. She could make everybody smile simply on meeting them. Wait till she played the piano for them, and then she would make them sigh, or even weep.”

As Abraham Staab became more prosperous and became involved in the political life of Santa Fe. He was the first president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, and he was instrumental in bringing the railroad, the gasworks, and the territorial prison to Santa Fe.

Julia found her place in Santa Fe society and was a gracious hostess that was well liked in the town. Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was among the Staab’s many friends.

Ralph Emerson Twitchell described the Staab’s role in Santa Fe society in his book “Old Santa Fe.”

“The social life of New Mexico’s capital, the brilliant functions of frequent occurrences given by the ladies and officers of Old Fort Marcy are wondrous memories with those who were privileged to participate. In those social sidelights of Santa Fe history, the Staab Mansion on Palace Avenue played prominently. Unostentatious, but magnificent in their simplicity were the contributions of Abraham and Mrs. Staab, with their older daughters…”

Julia bore seven children and lost an eighth, a daughter named Henriette.  The news of the child’s death was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on August 9th, 1883.

“Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Staab’s home was made glad only a few weeks ago by the coming of a new life and a new joy, a tiny girl babe. Today He who gave it called it home to His “mansion in the skies not built with hands, eternal in the heavens,” and sorrow reigns instead of joy. The infant daughter was but three weeks old.  Its death occurred at 3 o’clock this morning, and at 8 o’clock this afternoon its white-robed form was laid away in the Masonic cemetery amid the tears and regrets of the sorrowing parents and their large circle of friends.”

Julia’s other pregnancies were plagued with difficulties.  She also suffered several miscarriages and had other chronic health problems.

Whenever she became too ill, she traveled to Germany to recover. Living with one of her eight sisters, she visited various German doctors and visited health spas. Once she had sufficiently recovered, she returned to New Mexico. One such trip was recorded In a 1949 memoir by Sister Blandina Segale. Entitled “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail,’ the Santa Fe nun writes about accompanying a sickly Julia to a railroad depot in 1877. Her journeys were also reported in the local newspapers. On October 19th, 1891 the Las Vegas Daily Optic published a small piece in the community news section of the paper. It read;

“Mrs. A. Staab and daughters, of Santa Fe, are in Jianover (sic), Germany. Mrs. Staab has been quite ill, but is slowly recovering and gaining strength.”

However Julia did not completely recover and soon returned to New Mexico. Eventually, because of her deteriorating mental and physical health, Julia stayed upstairs in her bedroom and rarely

ventured out.  She died in her room on May 14th, 1896 at the age of 52. On May 16th, the Las Vegas Daily Optic reported the news of her death.

“Mrs. A. Staab, wife of the well known Santa Fe merchant, died quite suddenly after a protracted illness extending over a period of five years. The deceased was about fifty two years of age, and leaves a husband, seven children and a large circle of friends to mourn her loss. She was a native of Lugade, Westobahs, Germany, and was one of twelve children. Her maiden name was Schuster, a notable family whose descendants are scattered all over the world. Mr. Staab was absent in New York at the time of her death.”

Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (History)

In the early 1800s, the town of Chama was not only exciting but downright dangerous. As the youngest of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant’s historic villages, Chama was established at a time in New Mexico’s history when much of northwestern New Mexico was without adequate law enforcement.’

Outlaws and other disreputable types, along with businessmen and hard-working settlers, were drawn to frontier towns like Chama, which sprang up along the railroad path, in this case, the Denver and the Rio Grande.  One of the earliest descriptions of Chama appeared within weeks after the railroad reached the site, which was to become the new town. A March 9, 1881, article in the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican reported the little town of Chama was “Fast-growing a reputation for lawlessness.” Holdups, murders, and shootings were so frequent that few people paid attention to them.

In another newspaper story, this kind of lawlessness earned this fledgling railroad settlement the label of “The Hurrah town at the front of the Narrow Gauge.” In territorial New Mexico, the term “Hurrah” was not intended as a compliment. Foster’s hotel was in existence at this time.

View looking west from D&RG Railroad tracks showing original frame hotel (left-center) on corner of 4th Street and Terrace Avenue with original two-story porch.


However, by the middle of March, a group of Chama’s more respectable citizens, fed up with matters, formed a vigilante committee. Members paraded around the town with a prominently displayed rope and explained to all the “bunko steerers, thieves and murderers” that they had two hours to leave. Apparently, they were persuasive, for most of the original element “left gratefully,” at least temporarily.

Another reporter who visited Chama later that month observed that although the roughest criminal element had left, many other undesirables remained. Large numbers of “soiled doves” and “tinhorn” gamblers were making themselves quite obnoxious, but fortunately, were generally too tame to be considered dangerous.

At that time, Chama was still a typical railroad town consisting mainly of tents. Except for a few railroad offices and some commercial businesses, one being Foster’s Hotel Bar and restaurant, every tent, and the building were utilized as a saloon or dance hall where the gamblers and “soiled doves” plied their trade.

As the town grew, other and more dangerous elements made their appearance, not only at Chama but at other towns further along the railroad, such as Bloomfield and Durango. Gangs led by desperadoes such as Ike Stockton, Charlie Allison, and other hardened refugees of the Colfax County Wars in northwest New Mexico vied for control, not only of the towns but for the entire northwest region of New Mexico. The situation deteriorated so severely that Governor Lew Wallace was forced to send Adjutant General Max Frost to Rio Arriba in early April 1881 to investigate. Frost’s report described Chama as “very lawless and disorderly.” It concluded that the average citizen risked his life simply by walking the streets in broad daylight. General Frost also reported that the situation was aggravated by a lack of local law enforcement. Chama itself had no constable, and very recently, a person appointed as deputy sheriff had been involved in the shooting of two railroad employees and had nearly been lynched.

One tongue-in-cheek report indicated Chama had no mosquitoes but that the bullets which passed through the tents at night served the purpose of keeping residents from sleeping as well as those little pests. The writer also suggested that if anyone was tired of life and had scruples about committing suicide, he could go to Chama and easily find someone quite willing to do the job for him. In the meantime, excitement remained the order of the day in Chama. It was reported that every man who dared walk the street in Chama had to be armed, and some were described as “walking arsenals.” The report added that most of the population “spend their time at night” rioting, gambling, drinking, loafing, and seem to take a particular delight in firing off six-shooters and Winchester rifles.

Foster’s Hotel was a known saloon, dance hall, and brothel during its past. The building has undergone several changes over the years. The most notable is the 1920’s when a second wing was added on. This second section is what houses the contemporary hotel. The second floor of the original building is closed to the public due to safety concerns. The wallpaper and several pieces of furniture date back to its “old west” days.


This article was prepared from material found in several of New Mexico’s historic newspapers. However, much of the information came directly from original documents found in the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe collections. It was written by Robert Torrez (Local Historian).

Foster’s Hotel, Chama, NM (Building Details)

The Foster Hotel is an assembly of the original circa 1881 frame building plus two later major additions constructed of frame and adobe. All three sections have moderately pitched corrugated metal roofs and are all in the Northern New Mexico vernacular style.

The overall structural condition of the Hotel is good to fair. The condition of the interior ranges from good to poor, the latter condition being primarily where the original hotel guest rooms have been closed. The interior detailing and finish throughout the Hotel are simple and non-decorative. Following the Hotel’s historic development pattern, each of the major building sections is described below separately.

View looking northwest showing the Hotel’s original frame section behind the 1927 two story adobe addition.

SECTION 1 The original section of the Hotel (circa 1881) is a two-story structure with an unfinished attic. It is cement stucco over frame construction and has a pitched metal roof with an east/west ridge. The primary elevation of this section is on the south. This elevation has a covered porch running from the east end of the elevation to a projecting five-sided addition at the west end of the first floor. The first floor of the south elevation has two entrances, one into a restaurant, and one into the hotel lobby. The five-sided addition has one wood, double hung, two-over-two sash window on each of four sides, with a glazed panel door on the southeast side. Five irregularly spaced windows exist on the second floor.

These windows are wood, double hung and have a two-over-two sash pattern. The second-floor window frames are of simple construction with beveled trim at the heads.

The west and north elevations of Section 1 were originally constructed as secondary, or rear, elevations and have minimal detailing. The first floor of the north elevation is obscured by a shed roof addition running its entire length. The second floor of the north elevation has four wood windows matching those on the south elevation. A fifth window has been enlarged to provide access to Section 3.

The most major alteration to Section 1 occurs on the east, originally the front, elevation, Early photographs show a wood two story porch on this elevation which was removed to allow for construction of Section 2.

The first; floor interior of Section 1 includes a kitchen, restaurant, hotel lobby, storage and rest rooms. A stairway leads from the lobby to the second floor at the northeast corner of Section 1, with an intermediate landing at the access hall to Section 3.

South elevation of original frame section of Hotel.

SECTION 2 Section 2 of the Hotel (added circa 1927) is a two-story structure with unfinished attic. It was constructed of cement stucco over adobe and has a pitched metal roof with an east/west ridge. The roof ridge of Section 2 does not align with that of Section 1. The primary elevations of Section 2 are on the east and south. The east (front) elevation has a full-length two-story porch supported by six heavy square tapered columns that rest on square bases. Four of these columns are free standing and two are engaged at the east elevation wall. Shallow stucco arches fill in between the columns at the second-floor level. The second floor of the porch is covered with a corrugated metal shed roof that is probably an altered version of an earlier shed roof treatment. The first floor of the east elevation has two doors and a window which have been replaced with newer doors and sash. The second floor has two windows and a door all of which are original. The door has a single paned window with one horizontal wood panel above and three horizontal wood panels below. The second-floor windows are wood, double hung and have a one-over-one sash pattern. The window frames are simple wood construction with no detailing of note.

View looking northeast showing rear (west) elevations of original Hotel section and 1932 frame addition.

The Foster Hotel is significant as one of the first commercial facilities in Chama, New Mexico, and as the only commercial survivor of several disastrous fires that have eliminated all other original commercial structures in town. The Hotel was constructed circa 1881 to help satisfy a sudden need in Chama for facilities to support the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad’s construction, ongoing maintenance and operation. The railroad passed through the northern New Mexico Territory on route from Denver to Santa Fe, opening this portion of the country to trade and commerce for the first time. The Hotel stands today as the only commercial structure in Chama dating directly to the construction of the railroad and the settlement of Chama that is not directly part of the railroad yards. Since its construction, the Hotel underwent continuous improvement and expansion until 1932, when the last of a series of additions was constructed. While serving as a major community landmark in its present form for approximately 53 years, the original portion of the hotel has been a landmark in Chama for over 100 years.

The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad system of the 19th and 20th centuries was the result of an ambitious project to connect Denver and Mexico City by rail. Although the southern terminus of the proposed system only reached as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico, the construction of the railroad opened the northern New Mexico Territory and southern Colorado to trade, commerce and visitors for the first time. Along the routes of the various branches of the railroad line, numerous small towns and villages were settled to accommodate the construction and maintenance needs of the railroad, in addition to providing services for railroad travelers. Chama was settled as one of these towns and the Hotel was established to help satisfy these needs.

The Hotel was one of two permanent hotels built during the original settlement and development of Chama. Records show that these two hotels initially provided housing facilities for the construction workers building the railroad. Prior to the construction of the hotels, workers lived in ‘tent cities’ provided by the railroad, and in privately owned cabins. Following the completion of the railroad and its associated yard facilities in Chama, the Hotel began providing more typical hotel accommodations and dining facilities for travelers on the railroad, in addition to continuing services to railroad personnel. A surviving previous owner of the Foster Hotel verifies that she maintained annual contracts with the railroad company to house and feed the railroad crews.

Interior of first floor bar in 1927 adobe addition.

The Hotel property consists of Lots 1,2,3,4 and the south 18′ of Lot 5, Block A of the Chama, New Mexico Townsite. The Chama Townsite falls within the original boundaries of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant, an area of 594,515.55 acres in the northern New Mexico Territory and southern Colorado, petitioned for by Manuel Martinez in 1832. The Tierra Amarilla Grant was recommended by the Surveyor General of the Territory of New Mexico on September 10, 1856, in favor of Francisco Martinez (and his heirs and assigns) as the son and heir to Manuel Martinez who died |n J844. The land Grant was subsequently confirmed by an act of Congress on June 21, 18&0, and patented by President Rutherford B. Hayes on February 21, 1881. Francisco Martinez died in 1874 before the land patent was issued.



Title Abstract, prepared 1954, by Rio Arriba County Title Abstract

Company, Chama, New Mexico.

Title Abstract, prepared 1954,by Tierra Amarilla Title Abstract Company,

Rio Arriba County, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Supplemental Title Abstract, prepared 1977, by Northwest Abstract

Company, Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Medina, Benny. Private interview held June 28, 1985.

Johnson, Servilia. Private interview held August 1, 1985.

Daggett, Elanor. Chama. Albuquerque. Starline Corporation, 1973.

Grigg’s House, History

In 1850, the Mesilla Civil Colony Land Grant was established by the Mexican government to give settlers in Mesilla land ownership. The grant was later honored by the United States Government. The Civil Colony Land Grant was established to govern the entire town and to distribute the common lands. Father Ramon Ortiz was the Commissioner of Lands in 1851 and in 1853, Guadalupe Miranda filled the office. The Civil Colony Grant Board does not exist today. The Town of Mesilla was incorporated in 1861. In 1882, the year after the railroad was constructed, Mesilla lost its position as the county seat, which it had held since 1855. The county seat was transferred to Las Cruces. In 1958, Mesilla became re-incorporated and became governed by a mayor and Board of Trustees. 

The wrangle of politics caused a situation unlike any other known, for the residents of La Mesilla took their politics as seriously as Texas regarded cattle and the branding iron. The fight between the Republicans and the Democrats was called “battle of the bands.” It began in August, 1861 and spread with astounding rapidity. Citizens were thrown into confusion. Many, panic stricken with the sudden outbreak, took up arms, or ran in every direction seeking safety for their families.
The Republicans gathered at the house of Johnny Lemon; the Democrats met in the Plaza where they listened to Padre Gallego and other loyal Democrats warn them of the fearful fiends that would ravage and devastate the village.

General Gregg arrived with a full detachment of armed soldiers from Fort McRae after Washington had been informed of impending trouble between the two factions. They camped in those lands cut by erosion into odd shaped hills with a few level places near the prairie lands for several days. The temperature was hot enough to melt ball bearings. Perhaps their presence avoided trouble. In any case, when it became evident that matters would be settled without gunplay, the General took his troops and galloped back to Fort McRae.


No sooner had the troops disappeared over the horizon than danger hung over La Mesilla like a vast funeral pall. The Democrats decided to antagonize their inhospitable neighbors by marching their band around the Plaza singing a song they knew would irritate the Republicans. The words were sung to the tune of Marching Though Georgia.

The Republicans retaliated by lining up their own band, led by Antonio Garcia playing heartily on his “flica” horn. They marched around the Plaza in one direction while the Democrats marched in the opposing direction, playing and singing just a loudly as their enemies. When they met at the end of the Plaza, the result was as volatile as a lighted match thrown into a can of gasoline.

It started with shouts of insults and curses and eventually erupted into flashes of sabers and revolvers. Before the sun set over this new and growing town, ten men lay dead in the streets, their wives and children rendered homeless without a bread winner. The dusty street in front of Grigg’s store was strewn with forty bleeding, wounded men. One individual lost his eyesight during the skirmish. Another had to have a leg amputated when gangrene set in and threatened his life.

Thinking fast, Old Man Griggs sent one of his clerks galloping hell-bent-for-leather on his fine Kentucky gelding, to overtake General Gregg and his regimental horsebackers. The general and his troops galloped the hard-packed soil back to La Mesilla with breakneck speed, but the damage had already been done.

A detachment of troops was left in town to discourage any further outbreak and the town quieted down. The dead were buried. Families rendered destitute depended on the charity of their neighbors. Both republicans and Democrats suffered; none escaped without experiencing a loss of some kind.

La Mesilla was in the third judicial district and no judge was appointed to the bench at this time; so no one on either side was ever tried for murder.

Among La Mesilla’s eminent visitors was Lew Wallace, whose greatest fame actually came from his novel, Ben Hur, which he wrote while governor of the Territory of New Mexico. Another was Kit Carson, famous Indian Scout and guide. Carson was a familiar sight on the dusty streets of La Mesilla where he carved his name on a tree that was carelessly cut down by a thoughtless resident and used for firewood. It is said that Carson ate regularly in the old La Posta Inn, a thick-walled fortress against rampaging Indians.

The house was built in the early 1800’s and is now used as a storage area for honey which is produced near the house.



Political History of Mesilla New Mexico.

The story of Governor Bent’s massacre as told by his daughter Teresina Bent Scheurich

He was killed on January 19, 1847, at about six in the morning. We were in bed when the Mexicans and Indians came to the house, breaking the doors. Some of them were on the top of the house, tearing the roofs, so we got up, and father stepped to the porch asking them what they wanted. They answered him, we want your head gringo. We do not want for any of you gringos to govern us, as we have come to kill you.
Father told them, “What wrong have I done to you? When you come to me for help, I always help you and your families. I have cured you people and never charged you anything.”
“Yes, you did, but you have to die now so that no American is going to govern us.” Then they commenced shooting with the arrows and guns while he was talking to them.
Mother went to him and said, “Why don’t you jump on one of those horses that you have in the corral and go somewhere?”
Father told her, “It would not do for a Governor to run away and leave his family in danger. If they want to kill me, they can kill me here with my family.”

Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Boggs, and an Indian slave dug a hole to the next house; so between the four women, they took him where they had dug out the wall. So he commenced putting all of us children first, then Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Boggs. He wanted my mother to go next, but she told him, “You go first, as I do not think they want to kill me but you.”

Governor Bent Museum
Governor Bent Museum, location where the hole was carved into the wall.

So she had him go first, but when he was going through, the arrows he had in his head hurt him, so he pulled them out and crushed them against the wall. Then, he went through the hole into the next house. Then mother was going, and an Indian had found where they went. He was going to shoot Mama, but the slave woman stood in front of mother, and the poor Indian was killed. Then he struck mother on the back with the butt of the gun.

Father went with all of us to a little room, and he sat and took his memoranda book. I suppose he wanted to write something, but by that time, the whole crowd of Mexicans and Indians got to the room where we were. They commenced to shoot at him, scalp him and strip him of his clothes. When they had killed him, some of the crowd wanted to kill all the family, but some of the Mexicans said, “No women folks, and children.” We must not kill, but we will not help them in anything.

So they left us about three o’clock. A man by the name of Manuel Gregorio Martin came to see us. He asked mother, “What are you going to do about the burial of the Governor?
She said, “I have nobody to see about it. I have no clothes for him nor nothing.” So this man told her that he had a pair of trousers and a vest. So he went to his house and brought the clothes and then he went to see if he would find somebody to make the coffin.

The next day, he had the coffin, and he buried him. So we stayed in the Lashones house for three days till Mrs. Catalina Lovato de Valdez sent for us. Before we went to a man by the name of Juan Bautista vigil, one of the best to do gentlemen. He came to the house of Lashones about three o’clock in the morning and brought us provisions and clothes as we did not have anything, as they stole everything from our house and all of us were with our nightgowns.
We stayed at the house of Mrs. Valdez till the Americans came. That was 15 days after Father was killed, and the American soldiers got here on the 3rd of February 1847. They went to fight the Mexicans and the Indians on the 4th of February. They killed about 250 there in the Pueblo and had 6 Mexicans hanging here in the middle of the Plaza. If I am not mistaken, 16 Indians were hung too somewhere neat Mr. Phillips Studio.
At the same time that father was killed, they also killed the town Sheriff Luis Estaven Lee, Cornelio Vigil, Mother’s Uncle, Provote Judge Lawyer Lea, Pablo Jaramillo, mother’s brother, and Narcizo Beaublen. In Arroyo Hondo, they killed Turley, the owner of the Distillery, and seven men that were working there.
This is my recollections, as a child of 5 years.


Bents’ Stockade: Hidden in the Hills by Hurd, C. W.: Very ….

Voces de Santa Fé – The Murder of Governor Charles Bent ….

Luna Mansion, Los Lunas, NM (History)

The home of members of the politically powerful Luna family, the Tranquilino Luna House was constructed in the early 1880’s. This house is probably the best example of an extant adobe Victorian residence in New Mexico and has retained most of its original design. Tranquilino Luna, son of merchant-farmer Jos£ Antonio Luna and his wife Isabel Baca, was a direct descendant of Domingo de Luna who settled in the Los Lunas area shortly after the Reconquest of New Mexico in 1693 by General Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujcin Ponce de Le6n. Born in Los Lunas on February
25, 1849, Tranquilino attended public schools and was graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia. Politically and commercially active, he engaged extensively in stock raising and was delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1880 and 1888. Elected as a Republican Delegate from the Territory of New Mexico to the Forty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1881- March 3, 1883), he also presented credentials as a Delegate-elect to the Forty-eighth Congress and served from March 4, 1883 until March 5, 1884, when he was succeeded by Francisco A. Manzanares who contested his election.

Tranquilino also held the office of sheriff of Valencia County from 1888 until his death on November 20, 1892. He was survived by his wife, Amalia Jaramillo and a son, Maximiliano, who as captain of Troop F, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, served in the Spanish-American War and later drowned in November of 1899 while serving in the Philippine Islands.
The Lunas, Oteros and Chaveses were the three most influential and politically powerful families of the Rio Abajo (lower river) region during the Mexican and Territorial periods. In addition to Tranquilino, the family also included Solomon, Jesus Maria, Luz and Eloisa. His famous brother Solomon, also a wealthy sheep raiser and president of the Bank of Commerce in Albuquerque, held various important political offices including that of Valencia County probate clerk in 1885, sheriff in 1892 and treasurer in 1894.

He was also delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1910 and from 1896 until his death in 1912 was a member of the National Republican Committee. Jesus Maria was a captain in the New Mexico militia, an Indian fighter and politician. Luz married Jose” Maria Romero and little else is known about her. In 1879, Eloisa, the youngest daughter, married Manuel B. Otero thus uniting the Otero and Luna families into an even more powerful alliance.

Solomon Luna

However, this marriage was short-lived since in the summer of 1883 at Estancia Springs, Otero was shot and killed by James G. Whitney over a land grant dispute. Three years after her husband’s death, Eloisa married leading citizen, merchant and later clerk for the district court, Alfred M. Bergere.
The Bergeres moved to Santa Fe where their home became the center of manysocial events held in the capital city. Although Tranquilino and his wife constructed this ten-room adobe house
early in the 1880 ‘s, the first recorded mention of the structure does not appear until April 21, 1885 in a deed of conveyance from Tranquilino to his wife. On August 15, 1887, Tranquilino and Amalia transferred the deed to the property to William B. Childers as trustee. Two years later, Childers sold the Luna residence to Solomon who owned most of the adjoining property and he, in turn, placed the property in his wife’s name on July 15, 1893.

The latter, Adelaida Otero de Luna, was the daughter of Manuel Rito Otero and the granddaughter of Judge Antonio Jose” Otero who in 1846 had been appointed by Brigadier-General Stephen Watts Kearny as justice to the first New Mexico territorial supreme court.
There is no evidence, however, that the Solomon Lunas, who were childless, actually utilized the house as their residence. Solomon was found dead at one of his sheep camps on August 30, 1912 after he apparently had suffered a heart attack and fallen into a sheep dipping vat. Five years later, on June 28, 1917, Adelaida conveyed the house and land to their nephew and heir, Eduardo M. Otero. Eduardo, a prominent sheep raiser in the Los Lunas area, was the son of Manuel B. Otero and Eloisa.