Note: Priscilla received the Marc Simmons Writing Award from the Santa Fe Trail Association for this article.
If you happen one day to find yourself in Clayton, New Mexico you might inquire about the old boot prairie cemetery where one of the key, yet little-known figures in Southwest history is buried along with his wife. Thomas Oliver Boggs, although mentioned in the historical record of well-known figures such as the Bent brothers, Lucien Maxwell, and Kit Carson, remains virtually unknown by many Western history buffs. By all accounts, Boggs was in fact a contemporary and close friend of many famous men and their families during the pivotal years preceding the Mexican-American War and the subsequent decades afterward. Boggs, during the course of his life, played an important role in the history of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. His is a remarkable story that indeed illustrates the adage, “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Boggs was born on August 22nd, 1824, at the Harmony Mission on the Marais des Cygnes River near current Papinville, MO. At the time of his birth, his father, Lilburn Boggs was a trader amongst various tribes in the area. His mother, Panthea Boone, was the granddaughter of the famous frontiersman, Daniel. He was the eldest of 10 children from her marriage to Lilburn, who later served as the governor of Missouri from 1836 to 1840. Lilburn Boggs secured a place in Mormon history when he issued the infamous executive order of 1838 ordering their expulsion from the state.
Thomas' mother, Panthea was Lilburn's second wife. His first wife, Julianna Bent; was the daughter of Silas Bent, whose siblings included William and Charles, the brothers who would later build their adobe castle on the plains and become so intimately entwined with the Santa Fe Trail and the history of both New Mexico and Colorado.
For a time, Thomas lived with his mother's brother, Albert G. Boone, who was a trader at Fort Osage on the Missouri River. Later Boone opened up a trading post farther west near present-day Fort Scott, KS. From an early age, Boggs demonstrated a keen curiosity and drive to see what was on the next horizon. During his stay with Uncle Albert, Thomas became fluent in several Native languages, as well as experienced in the trading business.
At the age of 16 or 17, a new horizon was in the cards. Boggs headed west on one of the Magoffin brother's trade caravans, bound for Chihuahua, Mexico. When the caravan departed Bent's Fort, they left Thomas with his Uncle William. To no one's surprise, Boggs began working for the Bent brothers, and continued in their employ to some capacity for the next 16 years. His younger brother, William also worked as a trader for their uncles for a short time. While trading for the Bents out on the southern plains, Thomas came to be known as “White Horse” among the Cheyenne and other tribes who traversed the area.
According to his own dictated manuscript, Boggs entered Mexican territory for the first time in 1844 as part of a pack train of goods that the Bents and St. Vrain were freighting over the Santa Fe Trail. However, some sources such as Murphy and Garrard, have him farming with John Hatcher on the Poñil north of Cimarron as early as 1842. Given Boggs' date in his dictation, he could not be the one referred to by Murphy or Garrard. However, there is reason to believe an older Thomas Boggs, likely related to our subject, was on the Poñil in 1842. Rayado and Poñil were on the extreme frontier of the vast Beaubien-Miranda-Maxwell grant on the east side of the Sangre de Cristos. While rich in bottomlands for cattle, as well as game to hunt, Native tribes such as the Ute, Apache and Comanche were a constant threat. They'd used the area as hunting grounds long before the White population showed up and resented the intrusion. Anyone willing to settle the area faced the risk of not living long enough to enjoy the effort.
In any event, Boggs made several trading forays into Mexican territory, then wound up in Taos as an employee of the Bent-St. Vrain enterprise. In Taos, he became acquainted with the customs and language of the country, thanks in large part to his Uncle Charles Bent, who resided in town. Charles was in charge of the goods that were to be sold at the Bent-St. Vrain stores in town and in Santa Fé. Kit Carson, already close friends with Boggs, had married into the well-established Jaramillo family in Taos, and had a residence there a short distance from Charles' home. His wife Josefa, was sister to Charles' common-law wife, Ignacia. Boggs likely would have stayed at either home, and at the very least would have spent time socializing at the Bent home. Boggs also began learning the Spanish language, which became handy when dealing with Mexican officials as well as customers.
He became known as Tomás Boggs. His Spanish would soon come in handy in other ways…
It was during those visits to the Bent home that Thomas became familiar with Bent's step-daughter Romalda Luna. Made a widow by the death of her first husband, Juan Rafael Luna, Ignacia had brought her young daughter Romalda to live with her when she moved in with Charles. During his time with Charles and family, Thomas became quite taken with the petite, 14 year-old señorita. Given her beauty, grace and a lineage that included Cornelius Vigil of the Vigil-St. Vrain grant in southern Colorado, Romalda was considered one of the premier belles of the town, along with her Aunt Josefa, now a bride.
Since Romalda did not speak English, and Thomas was still learning Spanish, communication between the two must have been a struggle. However, the language of love prevailed and in May, 1846 they were married. Romalda considered her Tomás the “cleverest” person she'd met and their union would prove to be a mutually beneficial match that would endure for the next 50 years. And the Vigil-St. Vrain grant would later provide Thomas and Romalda with an opportunity to lay the foundation for the community of Las Animas, as well as a place for Josefa and Kit to play out the last days of their lives.
Shortly after Thomas and Romalda's marriage, the United States declared war on Mexico.
President Polk had set his eyes on the Mexican Territory and used the “acquisition” of it as part of his platform for his recent win. Not surprisingly, strong resentment against Americans quickly escalated in Taos and Santa Fé, with public speeches advocating violence against them. It quickly became clear that Taos was no longer a safe place for Americans and anyone associated with them. Rumors of the possibility of invasion by the United States swirled around the country, only added to the mistrust. Alarmed over events, Boggs left Taos and brought his young bride to Bent's Fort in July for safekeeping along with Charles' family and Josefa Carson.
While the U.S. Congress was voting to annex the Mexican territory, the Boggs, Bent, and Carson families settled at the fort. Late in July, 1846, Stephen Watts Kearney and the invading Army of the West overtook the fort and its environs. A large fandango was arranged to welcome the officers. Also at the fort at the time was Susan Magoffin, the young pregnant bride of Samuel. The tumult of events would prove too much for the young girl and on her 19th birthday she miscarried her child.
The Boggs-Bent families spent several more weeks in safety on the Arkansas. With Kearney's arrival and the imminent take-over of the Mexican territory, the men were eager to witness the invasion, assuming things would quickly settle down. They couldn't have been more wrong. As the families made their way back along the trail, little did any of them realize how tumultuous events that lay before them would be and how quickly life would change, not necessarily for the better.
When Stephen Watts Kearney entered Santa Fé in August, 1846 and declared it part of the United States, the world that the Boggs, Bent, Jaramillo and Carson families knew was thrown into confusion. They found themselves in the middle of military strategizing, and the formation of a new government under the United States. Charles Bent was put in place as the governor of the new territory. In short order all of the prior customs charges were abandoned with seemingly endless possibilities for profit for the American traders.
While these events were unfolding, Thomas' younger brother William, along with their parents, were en route to California in a wagon train. Early in the journey, William was elected head of the group of emigrants. A few weeks after starting out, the wagon train was joined by the infamous Donner and Reed families. At the Little Sandy on the Wyoming River, the group split. The Boggs family headed north to Fort Hall while the Donner and Reed families headed for Langsford Hastings' disastrous shortcut. The decision would cost most of them their lives.
In December, Colonel Sterling Price, the commanding officer from Santa Fé, sent Boggs to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas with mail and dispatches. Along the way, the group met up with Lewis Garrard near the Arkansas. Garrard was returning to Bent's Fort from a winter Cheyenne camp. The snow was already waist-high in some places, and the frigid temperatures had frozen the Arkansas solid enough to walk upon. Near Coon Creek, KS, Boggs' and the soldiers who accompanied him were caught in a “norther” blizzard that almost killed them. After two weeks of wandering in snow drifts, they stumbled into an Osage camp that Thomas knew. The Indians rationed out some meat for the starving men and gave them moccasins to replace their worn out boots. Boggs made it to Leavenworth mid-February and remained there until mid March of 1847 awaiting orders. He was finally able to return to Taos in April.
What Thomas learned upon his arrival stunned him. His uncle, employer, and friend Charles Bent was dead, a victim of the Taos Rebellion. For many of the native Mexicans, as well as the Taos Indians, the recent take-over of the territory by the United States was too much to digest. Tempers continue to simmer, and the rising resentment finally erupted in bedlam and violence on the night of January 19th, 1847. An angry mob broke into the Bent home off the plaza, and attacked the newly appointed governor, who had just returned from Santa Fé.
As he lay dying, head scalped and his body riddled with arrows, the young Romalda had held her step-father, tears running down her face. The family, including Ignacia, Josepha, and the young Teresina Bent, daughter of Ignacia and Charles, spent a horrific night huddled together with Bent's body in a small room, freezing in the cold temperatures. Family supporters managed to whisk them out of the house to safety almost two days later disguised as Indian servents. Romalda's Uncle Cornelius was also among those killed during the violence.
The enormity of events and his absence during the family's ordeal must have been staggering to Boggs. Moreover, with Bent dead and Carson away with Kearney in California, it was up to him to take on the role of guardian and head of the related families. For the next several months, with Boggs in the lead, they tried to pull themselves together and move on with life amidst the turbulent trials and hangings of the convicted leaders of the rebellion. Boggs surely also took an active role in guarding the interests of the Bent brothers' business in the absence of Charles' leadership.
Later that year, Boggs was asked to accompany John C. Fremont to Los Angeles. While in California, Thomas headed north to visit with his brother and family, who were living in the Bodega Bay area of Napa County. Thomas stayed with his family until August and then returned to New Mexico via Sonora and Chihuahua. He was so impressed with California that upon his return to Taos, he began to consider a move there. Once back in New Mexico territory, Thomas opened up a mercantile store in Santa Fé on Main Street. His brother William, was a long-distance partner in the business. A series of ads in the Santa Fe New Mexican were placed by Boggs advertising the business, which moved from 5 Main Street to 78 Main Street, and included a variety of dry goods and hardware.
After 3 years of planning, Thomas was finally ready to make his move. He sold his interests in the mercantile store, and with Romalda and his young son, Carlos Adolfo in tow, Boggs headed west, joining his brother and parents in the Bodega Bay. Thomas would remain in northern California with his wife and son for the next 5 years.
In 1855, Thomas got the itch to return to New Mexico and brought his family back to Taos. Not long after his arrival, Thomas went into business with Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell. They joined Maxwell at Rayado, with their respective families eventually moving to the settlement. Maxwell had contracted with the U.S. Government to supply Indians with flour and cattle and was running a lucrative business there.
But danger from Natives was still very much an issue. One day a group of Comanches rode up to the settlement demanding food. Maxwell happened to be away on business and Carson, still an officer in the Army, was stationed at nearby Fort Union. Boggs quickly assessed the situation and decided to hold a feast “in honor” of their visitors while he quietly sent for help at Fort Union. The women quickly got to work cooking and began serving the food. The chief of the Comanches became smitten with 12-year old Teresina Bent who was living with her Aunt Josefa at the time and insisted on buying her. Teresina, terrified cried every time she came near the Natives. Her tears in front of the chief filled him with laughter, increasing his desire for her. Fortunately for the settlement, Boggs' spur-of-the-moment plan worked. Carson and troops arrived from Fort Union in the nick of time – the chief had issued an ultimatum to deliver Teresina to him and it was sure to end in a fight.
Boggs and his family remained at Rayado until the late 1850's when they accompanied Maxwell a few miles north to the settlement of Cimarrón, which seemed to hold promise. Both men built homes for their families. Maxwell's was a grandiose affair fronting the town plaza. Boggs' home, much simpler, was just down the road from the Aztec mill that Maxwell had built. Remarkably, both the mill and Boggs' home still stand to this day. The mill has been turned into a museum, while Boggs' home is now a private residence.
By 1863, Boggs and Maxwell had already begun running cattle in the lush bottomlands on the mouth of the Purgatoire River where it joins the Arkansas near present-day Las Animas, CO. William Bent's stockade was nearby – 15 miles upriver from the site of Fort Lyon and Boggs likely found food and lodging at Bent's place whenever he was in the area.
Around 1864 or 1865, Boggs decided once again it was time to move. His choice was to return to the Purgatoire and begin a settlement there. Given the death of their Uncle Cornelius, both his wife Romalda and her aunt Josefa had claim to part of the Vigil-St. Vrain grant. Ceran St. Vrain, acting as the sole remaining grant landowner and as Romalda's godfather gave her and Thomas a 2,040 acre share of the Purgatoire bottomlands.
Boggs built 2 adobe structures and hoping to ensure his name to posterity, the new community was formerly established as Boggsville. William Bent was a frequent visitor to the community which included Bent's daughter Mary and her family. John Prowers and his Cheyenne wife, Amache built a home and store at the settlement. Josefa, pregnant with her seventh child also joined the group. Kit was posted at Fort Garland where he was the acting commander.
In 1868 Carson retired from active duty and made his way to his family on the Purgatoire. Increasingly debilitated by injuries incurred during his many adventures, Carson moved with Josefa and their children into a small adobe on Boggs' property where his health continued to falter. Josefa's death shortly after childbirth on April 27, 1868, was the final bullet in Carson's quickly fading star. He died a month after Josefa at nearby Fort Lyon, leaving the 5 underage Carson children orphans. Their other two children were old enough to fend for themselves. Upon Carson's death, Boggs not only became the executor of his will, he and Romalda became the guardians of the 5 Carson orphans and raised them until they were able to go out on their own. The trust that Carson placed in Boggs by leaving his children in his care, as well as Boggs' commitment to his old friend speaks volumes about the integrity of the man. Romalda, who had remained close to Josefa throughout their lives must have equally felt the weight of responsibility for caring for her beloved aunt's children.
While living in Boggsville, Romalda gave birth to a daughter, Minnie Boone Boggs on December 9, 1868. Minnie's birth surely eased the sorrow of losing Kit and Josefa. She would be the last child Thomas would sire. Their oldest, son Carlos, now known as Charlie, was a grown man and one of the most promising bachelors around. In 1873, he married an Eva Matheny from Kansas.
Thomas became actively involved in sheep raising and to this day is widely considered the “father” of the sheep business in Bent County, Colorado. His colleague and friend John Prowers is considered the father of the cattle business. By 1875, Boggs had an impressive 17,000 head of sheep. Every year, in addition to shearing his own flock, Boggs would invite his neighbors to bring their own heads of sheep to his facility to be sheared. However, success in his business ventures wasn't his sole path while at Boggsville. Thomas also was the first sheriff of the county and in 1871 was elected to the state legislature.
In spite of his vital role in establishing the area, and in spite of Romalda's claim to this part of the Vigil-St. Vrain grant; in 1877, the U.S. Land Grant office decided that Boggs could not sufficiently prove title to the 2,040 acres that St. Vrain had given Romalda. Fed up, even after learning that President Grant had intervened in their favor, Thomas decided it was time to move. Perhaps that drive to see what was on the next horizon influenced the decision leave. They sold their successful sheep ranch and moved briefly to Willow Springs, the site of present-day Raton where they opened a boarding house at the foot of Fishers Peak (then known as Raton Mountain) that was known for its hospitality and Romalda's fine cooking. However, a short time later, problems with land grants forced them to leave once again. The Maxwell Land Grant Company, now owned by investors from England, were able to prove that Boggs had no legal claim to Willow Springs and forced his eviction.
Boggs packed Romalda and Minnie up, and and moved them to Springer, NM, just to the southeast of Rayado. With several thousand head of sheep in tow, Boggs made his way to the Pinavetitos River about 35 miles south of Clayton where he set up a ranch with two-foot thick adobe walls, and heavy solid oak doors, as well as a shed to shear his sheep. The only windows in the place were port holes through which a gun barrel could be thrust out. The area was still untamed and Natives were a very real threat – the Apaches were on the warpath and the Clayton area comprised part of their territory.
Eventually, the years began to take their toll on Thomas and he realized it was time to join Romalda and daughter Minnie in Springer. He sold his land near Clayton for $10,000 to a cattle company, and the boards he used to build sheep sheds became the lumber for the first buildings erected in Clayton. While in Springer, Thomas took employment as a receiver and agent for the Maxwell Land Grant Company – the very group that had forced him out of Willow Springs. The company expected Boggs to help convince the Mexicans who had been living on grant land for years to relinquish their property. Often he would find himself staying at the St. James Hotel in Cimarrón, using it as a base while he traveled the grant properties, visiting with the Mexican “squatters,” many of whom he knew from the days when he lived in the area. However, his sympathies for the Mexicans quickly became apparent to the officers of the Maxwell Land Grant Company, and Boggs was fired after 2 years for incompetence.
Daughter Minnie, now a lovely 14-year old who attended school in Missouri, caught the eye on her visits home of one George Alexander Bushnell, a British man who worked as an auditor for the Maxwell Land Grant Company. The young man fell head over heels in love with Minnie, but was forced to wait until she graduated to marry her. While allowing the couple to become betrothed, Thomas was insistent that Minnie finish her schooling first.
On December 9, 1884, Minnie married George. He purposefully picked her birthday as their wedding date. The wedding took place in Springer and was such a major event in the area that it made the news in the Las Vegas Optic
newspaper. After the wedding, Minnie and her husband moved to Ratón, where George began operating a mercantile business. The first grandchild, Charles Lilburn Bushnell, was welcomed into the world in April, 1887. Bogg's greatest joy in his final years would be this first grandson, whom he spoiled “shamelessly,” and about whom Thomas loved to boast to friends and acquaintances.
That same year, George and his brother Charles established a ranch on the Tramperos River near Clayton that became known as Beenham. Both men became important pioneers of the area and contributed much to the development of the town of Clayton, which was officially established in 1888. George became the first merchant to establish a business in Clayton and was instrumental in establishing the school system in town.
Sadly, tragedy struck deep once again in early June, 1887 when Boggs' son, Charlie was gunned down in his home five miles east of the Bushnell ranch after just returning from Raton with supplies. His body was taken to Springer for burial. Details about the murder are sketchy but the prime suspect in the murder was his good-looking wife. Boggs and his family, in spite of suspicions, refused to prosecute and his son's widow left the country for parts unknown.
Over the next few years, Minnie and George had 4 children together: Charles Lilburn, born in 1887, Thomas George, born in 1891, Rose May, born in 1893, and George, who was born in 1896. George Sr. built a beautiful home in Clayton for his family, complete with servants. Nothing was too good for his Minnie. And the house was big enough to accommodate Thomas and Romalda, who moved in. As the years passed, and his brood of grandchildren grew, he and Romalda became known as Uncle Tom and Gramma Boggs.
After a lingering illness that left him paralyzed for months, his lungs began to fill with fluid. The illness proved fatal. Thomas Oliver Boggs passed away at Minnie's home on September 29, 1894. Romalda Luna Boggs survived him by 12 years, doting on her grandchildren and living quietly with her daughter, who became a widow herself when George passed away from pneumonia at the age of 33. Romalda passed away on January 13th, 1906. In her obituary the local paper, the Clayton Citizen, referred to Romalda as one of the town's most respected citizens and the last “oldtimer.”
Thomas Oliver Boggs and Romalda Luna Boggs were extraordinary individuals who led extraordinary lives during extraordinary times. Both left their indelible marks upon a wide swath of the history of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Their names, although not well-known to many, are intimately entwined with William and Charles Bent, Kit Carson, Ceran St. Vrain, Lucien Maxwell, and other individuals who played major roles in shaping the history of the Southwest. Both Thomas and Romalda played an important part in shaping said history. What an ironic twist of fate it is that their graves, unmarked for years are now lost somewhere in Clayton's boot prairie cemetery…hardly a fitting end for such a remarkable man and his equally remarkable wife.
Boggs, Thomas O. (1885) Dictation from Springer, NM.
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Albert W. Thompson Collection
. MSS 79BC. Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico.
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(4). Pp. 152-160.
Women of Boggsville. http://members.tripod.com/~boggsville/women.htm
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