The St. James Hotel - Cimarron, New Mexico
Haunted Tales of the St. James Hotel
Haunted Tales of Cimarron, New Mexico
Cimarron, New Mexico, is a small town (population: 832) nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Located on the historic Sante Fe Trail, it was once known as the Cowboy Capital of New Mexico. During the mid-1800's it was home to several Southwestern Native American tribes, including the Anasazi, Jicarilla Apache, and Ute, and served as headquarters for the famous Maxwell Land Grant. Originally settled around 1844, before New Mexico became a state, it was officially established as a city in 1857.
Much of the original Old West charm is still evident in Cimarron today. It's possible to stroll along the Old Town Plaza and take a peek into the Old Stone Jail. A tour of the Aztec Grist Mill, originally built to supply grains to the Maxwell Land Grant and the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, is available, as well as a tour of Villa Philmonte, once home to oilman Waite Phillips and his family. However, if the rumors are true, Old West charm is not the only thing still inhabiting present day Cimarron. The entire area is rife with tales of haunted buildings, spooky mountains, and restless spirits that have chosen to stay. At the epicenter of ghostly haunts and happenings is the beautiful old St. James Hotel.
In 1862, upon the recommendation of Ulysses S Grant, President Lincoln appointed a young Frenchman named Henry (formerly Henri) Lambert as his personal chef, a position Lambert held until that fateful day in 1865.
After Lincoln's assassination, Henry made his way west in search of gold. However, instead of discovering gold, he discovered he could make a very good living cooking for the miners in a small New Mexico boom town called Elizabethtown (E-Town). While passing through E-town, Lucien Maxwell, land baron of New Mexico Territory, had the opportunity to taste Henry Lambert's cooking. Lucien was so impressed he offered Lambert a job cooking for him in nearby Cimarron (Spanish for "wild" or "unbroken").
Henry accepted the offer and moved to Cimarron. In 1872, while still working for Lucien Maxwell, Henry began building Lambert's Saloon and Billiard Hall. It wasn't long before Lambert's Saloon became wildly popular, catering to the cowboys, traders, miners, frontiersman, and many others traveling this last leg of the Sante Fe Trail.
The Saloon did so well, in fact, that in 1880 Henri added 30 guest rooms and the St. James Hotel was born. The hotel, considered at the time to be one of the most elegant, luxurious hotels west of the Mississippi, soon became as popular as the saloon itself.
Before long the hotel guest registry read like a who's who of the Old West;
- Jesse James stayed there often, always in room 14 and always signing the registry with his alias, RH Howard
- Buffalo Bill Cody met Annie Oakley in Cimarron and they both stayed in the hotel while planning and rehearsing their Wild West Show. They took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them hen they took the show on the road
- Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives spent 3 nights at the St. James on their way to Tombstone. After leaving the hotel they made their way to the small town of Las Vegas, NM (about 30 miles southeast of Cimarron) where they met, and became friends with, a gentleman named JJ "Doc" Holliday
- Zane Grey penned his novel "Fighting Caravans" while staying at the hotel
- Lew Wallace, Governor of New Mexico Territory, wrote part of Ben Hur there.
Other famous, and infamous, guests included Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, Kit Carson, Clay Allison, and Pat Garret.
Probably the most famous unknown person to stay at the hotel was Bob Ford. Doesn't ring a bell? Bob Ford's claim to fame was that he killed Jesse James.
Not surprisingly, with this combination of guests, the hotel boasts a violent history. At least 26 men were killed in gunfights at the hotel. The ceiling of the Saloon (currently the dining room) still has 22 original bullet holes in it. Luckily, when Henry built the hotel he had the foresight to add 3 feet of hard wood above the tin ceiling of the saloon to keep stray bullets from penetrating the floor of the upstairs guest rooms!
As times changed, railroads began taking the place of horse and buggy, mining and ranching became less profitable, and Cimarron's popularity begin to dwindle. Eventually, the once popular and elegant St. James Hotel fell into disrepair. Through the years it went largely uninhabited and passed from owner to owner until the mid 1980's when the beautiful old hotel was purchased and restored to it's former luxury.
Today, the hotel is once again a hotel, but, much to it's credit, it is far from being modern. There are no phones, no radios, no televisions. Almost all of the furniture is original to the hotel, from the antique chandeliers, to the beds and dressers in the guest rooms. A stay at today's St. James Hotel is eerily similar to a stay during the heyday of the Wild Wild West.
St. James Hotel
Route 1 (Hwy 21), Box 2
Cimarron, New Mexico 87714