Elizabethtown, Colfax County, New Mexico Genealogy

Elizabethtown, Colfax County, New Mexico Genealogy

Location:                         5 miles north of Eagle Nest

GPS:                              Latitude:  36.6192 N;      Longitude: -105.2845 W.

Elevation:                        8,481 feet (2,585 meters)

Map:                               Interactive Map.

Photos:                           Southern view 1901; Southern view 1974; Ruins of Rembergs store; Hydraulic mining in the Moreno Valley, 1900; Advertisements for Maxwell House Laundry, Harry Brainard’s, Remsbergs, Uncle John’s Saloon, Henry Pritchard’s store; Elizabethtown c.1890; Fourth of July Program; program for Closing School exercises, 1900; New Years Day celebration in front of Henry  Pritchard’s store and the Mutz Hotel, 1896; drugstore and post office, 1899; Church, 1943. Sherman pp.72,74-77. Etown today, views from the highway, Mutz Hotel, church museum and general store. Google images of Elizabethtown. Two vintage photos in 1890’s.

Post Office:                     Established 1868, discontinued on 1931.

Cemetery:                       Elizabethtown Cemetery

Census Data:                  1870 Census: Precinct #1 A-E, F-M, N-Z;

Precinct#2 A-Z

Precinct #3A-E, F-M, N-Z

1880 Census details 

1900 Census details

List of persons  mentioned in The Elizabethtown Story.


General James H. Carleton, responsible for the Establishment of Elizabethtown by encouraging his “indian fighters” and “confederate hunters” otherwise Union soldiers, to look for gold on their off time. Elizabethtown was the first town in the territory to be incorporated, reached a population of 5,000, and established the first newspaper in the county, “The Lantern”. By 1873 the population was down to 2,000. In 1903 fire wiped out all but one business. There were a few mines in operation by WW II until a shortage of supplies and manpower forced them to close.Not all people who came to Elizabethtown were squatters, court records show that Lucien Maxwell sold land to a few persons.

Launched by a feverish gold rush in the middle 1860’s, Elizabethtown, or E town as it was more often called, exploded into a raw, lusty, vigorous, camp of 7,000 residents. Today, however, only shabby suggestions of E town’s long and indelible life have survived. Half a dozen old buildings and a cemetery stand guard over a silent town.

Elizabethtown’s beginning followed the frantic discovery on Willow Creek in 1866. Thousands of hopefuls converged. During the next year, gold was found in every creek and gulch around Baldy Mountain, and the Moreno Valley was turned into a frenzy of mining activity.

About 1868, John Moore, and others established a townsite and named the new settlement in honor of Moore’s daughter, Elizabeth. It was the first incorporated town in New Mexico, and in 1869 it became the first county seat of the newly formed Colfax County.

After surveying and naming the camp, the next problem to be tackled was an ample water supply to profitably work the gold fields. Captain N.S. Davis, a United States Army Engineer ws employed by parties from Fort Union and Las Vegas to investigate diverting water from the  Red River. The outcome was the organization of the Moreno Water and Mining Company and the commencement of the big ditch project. Certainly, a most remarkable engineering feat of its day, the ditch was built between May 12 and November 13, 1868, with as many as 420 men working at a time. Cocering a distance over 40 miles and costing $300,000, the aqueduct bridged arroyos, was suspended from steep walls, and was even lifted 79 feet over a valley floor by 2,300 feet of trestle. Because of evaporation and seepage, however, the completed ditch was never as successful as had been anticipated.

In March 1868, Elizabethtown reported 100 buildings. John Moore is credited with erecting the first house and first store in the town. Other businesses quickly sprang up, so that by 1869 the increasing population patronized five stores, 7 saloons, 2 hotels, 3 dance halls, and a drugstore. That year, E Town published its first newspaper, “The Lantern”.

A certain amount of notoriety is linked with E town because of some unsavory characters and desperate crimes committed there. Joseph Antonio Herberger, a member of the vigilantes, committed his atrocities under the guise of that organization. In the Spring of 1868, Herberger and other vigilantes, captured, hanged, and riddled with bullets murderer, “Pony” O’Neil. This act seems to set off Herberger’s latent violence and unbalanced nature. A few months later, in a saloon, Herberger beat Captain Keefer to death with a piece of stove wood because of a disagreement over a whiskey bill. His next victim was saloon keeper Greeley, whom he shot twice and killed because of a petty jealousy. Arrested and convicted of murder, Herberger, spent 2 1/2 years in the Santa Fe penitentiary.

An act of self defense turned “Wall” Henderson into a pathetic victim and a notorious character of E Town’s history. In 1869 a number of men jumped Henderson’s mining claims. When Henderson told the men to leave, one of them sprang at Henderson and attempted to beat him with a shovel. Henderson stopped his assailant with a well placed bullet, instantly killing him. Tried for murder in Mora County, Henderson was acquitted and soon returned to E Town, where he was plagued by continued abuse from friends of the man he had killed. One day in a saloon, New O’Hara threatened to smash Henderson’s head with a rock, and again, acting in self defense, Henderson shot his attacker. Although O’Hara did not die, Henderson was guilt ridden and remorseful for his deeds and began drinking heavily, becoming violent and argumentative. He soon joined up with a gang of desperados and further increased his notoriety by killing saloon keeper Joseph Stinson. Although Henderson killed only 2 men, and both circumstances were probably justified under the loose code of those days, he nevertheless gained rank among the desperate characters of E Town.

No doubt the most macabre of E Town’s stories revolved around the gruesome activities of Charles Kennedy, owner of a traveler’s rest stop on the road between Elizabethtown and Taos. Several people who stopped there, mysteriously disappeared and were never heard from again. Finally, one day, Kennedy’s wife fled in terror to E Town and reported that her husband had killed their baby. Officers were sent to arrest Kennedy. While others, acting upon information supplied by his wife, began searching the house. A variety of partially charred human bones were found burning in the fire, and further investigation unearthed 2 skeletons beneath the house. When the rumors began circulating that Kennedy’s lawyer was going to buy his freedom, an irate mob snatched Kennedy from custody, threw a rope around his neck, and dragged him through the streets, strangling him to death.

In 1871, E Town’s prosperity began to slacken. People moved on and the houses were torn down. Soon the town was reduced to about 100 residents, and for a number of years it slumbered in semi-desertion.

About the turn of the century, Elizabethtown once again felt a pulse of activity with the installation of a big dredge christened “Eleanor”. The Oro Dredging Company, headed by H.J. Reiling, built a dam 3 miles from Elizabethtown, constructed a large boat, and hauled the heavy dredge machinery from the railroad at Springer. It took 2 weeks for the 21,000 pound boilers to be hauled the 55 miles to E town. In August 1901, the assembled dredge, costing $100,000, was put into production. With the dredge  handling 4,000 cubic yards of dirt a day and operating around the clock, Elizabethtown again entered a phase of prosperity.

The town was thriving well when a fire broke out in September 1903. Starting in the second floor of Remsberg’s store, the flames spread rapidly throughout the town. Losses were heavy, with only Froelick’s general store escaping destruction. The fire proved a hard blow for E Town; one from which it never recovered. Gradually E Town began to dwindle, and although mining continued until WW II, E Town’s properous era had long since passed. Vandals eventually destroyed the Mutz Hotel and the Catholic Church.  In 1956 the old schoolhouse was sold for salvage.

Family History Links:

1. Alice Bullock, Living Legend Recording #7, NM History Museum.

2. Thomas Clouser, from Anderson V.2 page 697.

3. Patrick Dugan, from Anderson V.2 page 711

4. John Gallagher, from Anderson V.2 page 711

1. Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, by James E. and Barbara Sherman. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1974.

2. History of New Mexico:Its resources and people. Volume 2. by George B Anderson. Pacific States Publishing Company. Google Books.

2. New Mexico State Historian.

Etown News