Gunfights and Deaths at the St. James Hotel

At one time gunfights in the saloon were so common the dining room ceiling was reinforced with two layers of wood to prevent guests upstairs from being killed by stray bullets. However, many of the shootings and killings that have taken place over the years have been embellished and in many cases confused. Since Lambert’s Saloon was a hub of activity for Cimarron, the bodies of slain men were often brought there for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it was too identify the body, other times it was merely to collect the reward money that was offered for a particular outlaw. Sometimes these corpses were often counted as “shootings” that have taken place inside the old hotel. Additionally, many of the reported shootings didn’t take place in the hotel itself but just outside of it. One good example is that of Manual Cardenas, who was killed by Clay Allison. The shooting didn’t occur at the hotel. Historical sources place the shooting and murder of Manual Cardenas at the Cimarron jail down the street from Lambert’s saloon.

To be as accurate as possible, I relied on two first-hand accounts. The primary source is those of Fred Lambert, the son of the hotel’s owner Henry Lambert. He did a significant amount of research on this subject, and his papers and notes are stored in the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. The Second Source was the memoirs of George E. Crocker which were published in a book called “Memories of Cimarron, New Mexico 1871 – 1882.”

It is essential to understand that the deaths that occurred at the St. James Hotel are documented in multiple sources. The shootings, gunfights and knife battles in which no one was killed are a little more obscure.


Chunk Colbert killed Charles Morris (for stealing his wife) May 21st, 1872

Morris was from Colorado. He came to Cimarron with Chunk Culbert’s wife. One day Chunk Culbert showed up saloon looking for Charles Morris. Morris was drinking at the bar when Culbert stepped up and said: “I understand that you have something that used to belong to me, naturally you need killing for enticing my wife away.” Morris tried to make a quick draw, but Culbert shot first. Morris dropped to the floor with “lead poison.”

Wall Henderson killed Pomeroy Laughlin (May 11th, 1872)

Laughlin was gambling in the saloon at the St. James Hotel when Henderson accused him of cheating and shot him dead.

Clay Allison shot Tom Sunday

Details about this event are unknown but mentioned in the Lambert papers.

Walleye Henderson shot Jim Davis

I was not able to find any details about this gunfight other than Davis survived the fight.


Clay Allison killed John Black

Details of this event are unknown but are listed by Fred Lambert in his notes and papers about the deaths that occurred in the St. James Hotel.

Sam Tipton killed Feliciano  Butarus

One day Feliciano Butarus road up to the St. James corral, he had stolen three find horses from Sam Tipton down at Watrous. He made the sale of two horses to Lucien Maxwell and was dealing Henry Lambert for the third when Tipton and another cowman rode up to the corral, tied their horses and came on into the saloon.

Butarus recognized Tipton as the owner of the horses and made a quick dash toward the dining room door. Tipton missed his first shot but took another at Butarus as he was crossing the street felling him near the entrance to the Maxwell House. They carried him back to the St. James bar and laid him out on the billiard table. They hired two Mexicans to bury him. They had a little spring wagon and after a few rounds of drinks, they started for the cemetery. Bad just crossed the Arroyo and started up the hill when one of the tires came off a wheel and spokes flew in all directions. So they decided to bury him right there on the hillside.

Clay Allison shot Charles Cooper

New Mexico Governor Samuel Axtell posted a $500 dollar reward for Allison with regard to the disappearance of Charles Cooper. Nobody collected and it is believed that Copper was shot by Allison at Lambert’s saloon.

Henry Lambert killed J. Garcia

Details of this event are unknown but are listed by Fred Lambert in his notes and papers about the deaths that occurred in the St. James Hotel.


Clay Allison shot Frank Harris

Details are unknown but Frank Harris is not listed in the Lambert papers about deaths that occurred at the St. James Hotel.


Pancho Griego killed three white soldiers (Gately, Carrol, Scgiem) June 6th, 1875

Pancho Griego was dealing Monte in Lambert’s saloon when some soldiers from Fort Union were ” bucking the game.” A dispute arose over one of the substantial bets. The Monte table was tipped over, and Griego Drew his pistol and Bowie knife and started shooting at the soldiers as he ran towards the front door. Private Scgiem dropped at the first shot. Private Gately was stabbed in the back and fell dead. Private Carrol was shot to death as he ran through the door toward their horses which were tied at the hitch Rack in front of the saloon.

Davy Crockett killed Juan Borrego (Monte Dealer)

Borrego was dealing Monte when Crockett accused him of cheating and shot him.

Clay Allison killed Pancho Griego (November  1st, 1875)

The following story is a first-hand account that was written by George Crocker and published in his book memories of Cimarron New Mexico.

“Allison came into town with a load of beef one evening. He met Donahue about in front of our house. They talked a while, then Donahue went on home and Allison started on to town. As he left Donahue, Allison saw Pancho Griego and two Mexicans coming down the road from Lambert’s. Allison put his hand on his six-shooter. He called,” hold on there, Pancho, I’m not as well armed issue. Have the advantage of me.”

As he talked, he edged toward a dry River Bank there.

Pancho said, ” don’t be afraid of me. Not going to hurt you.” he threw his Winchester to the ground. Then he came up and shook hands with Allison. He told one of the Mexicans to take his gun on home.

Pancho and Allison went on to Lambert’s bar room. It was about Sundown. Lambert was in the kitchen helping to prepare the supper. He heard someone in the bar room and went in. He waited on them and then rushed back into the kitchen. Pancho said to Allison, ” come here, talk to you.”

Allison followed him across the room and when they got to the other side, Allison shot him. Lambert heard the shot and ran into the bar room. He quickly closed up to further trouble.

Another fellow and I had just come into town and as we passed Lambert’s he remarked that it was odd that Lambert’s was closed so early. When Allison left the bar room he went into Porter’s store to see Ace Middaugh.

When Lambert opened up the next morning, found Pancho’s body. There was a big chair in the corner and he had fallen between the wall and the chair, so Lambert had missed him the night before when he hurried into the room.”


Clay Allison killed three killed five  Negro Soldiers

According to the story told Fred Lambert by his father, Henry Lambert, three members of a colored troop had stopped by the saloon in route to Fort Union. Lambert refused to serve the soldiers anything to drink. They got into an argument, and Clay Allison sided with Lambert. One of the soldiers went for a gun, and the shooting started. When it was over the five soldiers were dead, and Allison was unharmed. When the soldiers were buried, the Cowboys got into a heated argument about whether to bury them face up or face down. Finally, a peacemaker suggested they be buried face up, that among so many other variables it would be soon forgotten where they were buried anyway.

Sheriff Rhinehart killed two gringo cattle rustlers

Details of this event are unknown but are listed by Fred Lambert in his notes and papers about the deaths that occurred in the St. James Hotel.


Davy Crockett and Gus Heffron killed three negro soldiers

Three companies of colored troops were sent to Cimarron to aid in keeping the peace, which local authorities for a long time had seemed incapable of doing. Crockett started to leave the saloon. As he tried to turn the knob of the door someone on the other side was turning it too. It was almost a dual of knob turning, and it peeved the young Texan. Finally, with a quick pull, he opened the door. When he saw it was a Negro Soldier who had been delaying his exit, he pulled his pistol and shot him. That was a signal for mass gunplay between a couple of other Cowboys and two more troopers.

A couple of dozen shots were fired. One trooper fell wounded into a corner and kept on shooting until he died. The three other soldiers were also killed. Crockett and Gus Heffron, who is supposed to have played a prominent part in the gunplay, came through unscathed. And they were acquitted.



The bodies of Coal Oil Jimmie and Lon Taylor are brought to the saloon

Both were shot and killed in the Turkey Mountains by John Stewart and Joe McCready and brought to Lambert’s saloon to collect the $2000 reward offered by the stage company and Lucien Maxwell.

Charles Love dies in Room 2

Charles Love, a C.S. cowboy was with a posse that became involved in a gunfight with the Black Jack gang in Turkey Canyon. Love was shot through near the hip. Unfortunately, he had a pocket knife in his pocket that he had used in sticking Black-leg cattle. Blood poisoning set in and he died in the St. James in Room 2.  (Exact date unknown)

Anna Elizabeth “Mollie” Stepp Lambert dies

Henry’s first wife, who went under the nickname of Mary, dies in the hotel on 28 Oct 1881. The details surrounding her death are unknown but are most likely due to natural causes. Her 16 year old brother Willie died a month earlier on September 1st.



Bob Ford killed Bill Curren (in poker game)

On this particular night a poker game was in progress when an argument broke out. Ford shot Curren, who was left for dead on the floor.



Henry Lambert killed Tomas Rodriguez

Rodriguez had been drinking at the saloon and became very drunk when  Lambert kicked him out of the saloon. Rodriguez returned a few minutes later and again was shown the door. After a short time, Rodriguez returned a third time. This time, Lambert punched Rodriguez in the face, knocking him backwards. He fell against the rocks in the stone fireplace, hitting his head and killing him almost instantly.

Prairie Dog Payne shot Shook (Shook dies in Room 6)

Prairie Dog Payne shot Frank Shook three times in the breast in E. Charette’s saloon across the street. Shook came over to the St. James Saloon and died the following morning in Room 6.



Henry and Mary’s son, Johnnie, dies on February 22nd, 1892 after being involved in an accident at the hotel. The cause of death is uncertain but there are rumors that he died after running into someone carrying fried food in a large pot. He eventually died from the burns.



Mary Lambert dies in Room 17 of the hotel on December 6th. She was 67 years old.


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