She and her husband became the owners of the largest land grant in the history of the United States—the Maxwell Land Grant. A beautiful woman, she also was a partner in the ownership and operation of their extensive ranching and farming properties.
Maria de la Luz Beaubien was born in 1829 in Taos when New Mexico was part of Mexico, only a few years after Mexico had gained independence from Spain. By the time she married, her father owned a half interest in one of the largest Mexican land grants ever. By the time she had her first child, the land she called home had become a territory of the United States. Soon after her father died, she and her husband became the owners of the largest land grant in the history of the United States—the Maxwell Land Grant. She lived during an exciting time and saw many changes during her 71 years.
On January 11, 1841, Governor Manuel Armijo awarded a large tract of land to petitioners Charles Beaubien, a fur trapper of French origin and a wealthy merchant in Taos, and his business partner, Guadalupe Miranda. Luz was the oldest child of Beaubien, also known as Carlos Beaubien.
In the same year the grant was awarded, Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, Luz’s future husband, came to Taos as a fur trapper with the American Fur Company. Maxwell was born in Illinois in 1818 and was about age 23 when he arrived in New Mexico. Carlos Beaubien owned a store in Taos, and Lucien traded with Carlos and worked in the store on occasion. Luz and Lucien met in the store.
According to Deluvina Maxwell, her long-time personal servant, Luz Beaubien was a beautiful woman, with large hazel eyes, dark hair, and a complexion like “milk and roses.” Luz and Lucien married in Taos on June 3, 1842—Luz would have been only 13 at the time. (Some sources give the date as 1844, but that is likely incorrect.) Padre Martinez presided over the ceremony.
During the first years of their marriage, her husband was often away from home trapping, and with his friend Kit Carson, he accompanied John C. Frémont on his first expedition to Oregon in 1842 and again in 1845-46 when the United States laid claim to California.
In January of 1847, Luz’s brother, Narcisse, was killed in the Taos Rebellion, and Maxwell began management of the Beaubien-Miranda grant. With her husband no longer traveling, the couple began their family in 1848. In 1849, Lucien Maxwell and Kit Carson founded the town of Rayado, just south of present day Cimarron. The Maxwells built a large ranch and home and made it the center of their operations for almost ten years.
In 1857, the Maxwells moved to the banks of the Cimarron River 12 miles north of Rayado and established a new ranch with substantially broadened operations. They built an expansive adobe home for entertaining friends and business associates. Around this time, in 1858, the Maxwells purchased Guadalupe Miranda’s share of the grant. With the death of her father in 1864, Luz and her five siblings each inherited a share of his portion of the grant. For the next several years, the couple continued to purchase other sections from other Beaubien heirs until they had acquired the entire grant—today stated at a size of 1,714,765 acres and comprising a large part of the present-day counties of Colfax, Union, Taos, and parts of southern Colorado. They acted jointly in these purchases.
As her husband grew in prominence, Luz managed the household but stayed away from the many guests visiting their homes in Rayado and Cimarron. She also likely spoke little English. An account by Colonel Henry Inman about his visit to the Maxwell property states: “…men rarely saw a woman about the premises, though there were many. Only the quick rustle of a skirt, or the hurried view of a reboso [a scarf], as its wearer flashed for an instant before some window or half-open door, told of their presence.”
The extent to which Luz involved herself in the dealings of the grant itself is unclear but historian Maria Montoya makes a claim for her importance in the history of the grant: “Since she had inherited a share of the grant from her father, and since she and her husband had acquired other shares, she shared control over such transactions, at least to the extent that Mexican law governed them. Thus she played an important legal and social role in acquiring property from her family both through inheritance from her father and by purchase from her siblings. By stark contrast, Lucien Maxwell came to New Mexico with very little capital and no real social standing. Had he not married Luz, he would have found it difficult to generate business dealings with the wealthy and influential Beaubien and Miranda families.”
Around 1870, the Maxwells sold the grant to a group of English investors who established the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company. Luz’s signature again appears on the documents, indicating that she was the co-owner and co-seller of the property. The Maxwells next purchased the decommissioned Fort Sumner property where they resumed their ranching operations and renovated the officers quarters into a 20-room home. It was in one of the bedrooms of this home that Pat Garret shot and killed Billy the Kid.
After her husband died unexpectedly in July, 1875, she lived another 25 years. She was a partner in the Maxwell and Brazil Cattle Company, and a few years after her husband’s death, her sheep holdings numbered 17,000. The herds were managed by her son-in-law, Manuel Abreu. When the New England Cattle Co. bought out the ranching operation in 1884, she moved to a wood-framed adobe house in what became the second Fort Sumner. Maria de la Luz Beaubien Maxwell died on July 13, 1900.
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Julyan, Robert. The Place Names of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
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Maxwell Land Grant Co. Guide to the Maxwell Grant. (pamphlet) Buffalo, NY: Matthews, Northrup & Co., n.d. (approx. 1889).
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Taylor, Morris F. O.P. McMains and the Maxwell Land Grant Conflict. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979.
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