[Colored Portrait Photograph of Richard D. Russell]. Richard D. Russell.

[Colored Portrait Photograph of Richard D. Russell].

Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory: N.P., 1865 (but likely printed and colored later). 19 7/8” x 15 ¾”. Hand colored photograph with “Stonewall” written in pencil in large script on verso as well as a pasted-on sheet adhered to verso with handwritten ink inscription, “For Ollie E. Russell/Richard D. Russell/taken in Santa Fe. N. M. in 1865.” Very good: lightly bowed at edges; light to moderate edge wear and dust soiling; 2” x 1.5” patch of staining, along with several smaller stains, none of which affect the subject.

This is a large portrait of a Colorado frontiersman who died leading a group of homesteaders against a giant land company that attempted to evict them from the town they spent nearly 20 years building. Richard D. Russell was born in Canada in 1839, raised in Illinois, and ran away from home to California at the age of 16 where he became a rancher. He joined the First California Volunteers early in the Civil War, ultimately ending up at Fort Union in New Mexico, serving with the New Mexico Volunteers. While at Fort Union, Russell assisted Colonel Andrew Alexander in his battles against Ute Chief Kaniache and befriended Kit Carson.

This portrait was taken when Russell was stationed at Fort Union in 1865. In February that same year, he married Marion Sloan after a six month courtship. Soon after they were married, Russell assisted Kit Carson in setting up Camp Nichols (which was located in what is now Cimarron County, Oklahoma) to protect travelers on the most dangerous part of the Cimarron Cut-off of the Santa Fe Trail from raids by the Kiowa and Comanche Indians. Marion joined him there as the only officer's wife at the camp. In 1871 they moved to the area that was then known as St. John's Valley, Colorado and settled near the Dakota wall. The land was part of the Maxwell Land Grant—an 1841 Mexican grant that was one the largest contiguous private landholdings United States history. Over the next several years Russell and his family established successful businesses including cattle ranching, timber sales, and a general store. Several other families also contributed to area's growth and the locale was renamed “Stonewall,” which is written in large script on the back of the photo. Its post office opened in 1878 with Russell as postmaster and according to one source he was also responsible for the name change. The town grew to include a school and churches, even a literary society, but in the late 1880s title disputes led to bloodshed.

There are several accounts of “The Stonewall War” and portions of the stories conflict, but we find the most detailed in an article written by Nancy Christofferson for the World Journal (https://worldjournalnewspaper.com/the-stonewall-war/):

“In 1887, [the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company (“MLGRC”)], then owned by a Dutch syndicate, had apparently exaggerated its purchase agreement of the original Maxwell Grant, supposedly limited by law to 96,000 acres, by claiming no less than 1,714,764.94 acres, more than 250,000 of them in the Purgatory Valley of Colorado . . . The company began informing settlers they were not homesteaders, but squatters and transients. It offered to allow them to remain on their properties . . . if they agreed to sign over ownership to the company and pay rent. Some did, but many saw this as a fraudulent land grab.

In March 1888, Richard Russell faced a jury in Trinidad defending himself against MLGRC claims of theft of cattle and timber. He was found not guilty. MLGRC reacted by informing the settlers they could keep their cattle but would have to pay pasture rent of 75 cents per head, per year. The situation worsened daily. In July 1888, the Dutch owners began sending eviction notices to all 'squatters' on its land. In response, the Stonewall Alliance No. 1 was formed. Russell was elected vice-president. The new group was based on the existing Colfax County alliance that was modeled after, but not identical to, alliances formed elsewhere to defy foreign ownership and huge landholdings . . .

To compound difficulties was the formation of the Stonewall Summer Resort syndicate, which obtained 5,220 acres from MLGRC. This included the Stonewall Hotel, a two story frame affair with 16 rooms. The villain of this piece was the MLGRC's general manager, M.P. Pels. Pels had appealed to federal authorities as well as the governors of both New Mexico and Colorado for military assistance to deal with the trouble makers. He received no assurances but continued to bear pressure on the settlers to either pay up or move on. The settlers only became more belligerent. Soon employees preparing the new summer resort began reporting confrontations with the settlers, as well as threats . . . [and] the county sheriff sent six deputies to Stonewall to prevent trouble. He also deputized no fewer than 35 men, who were apparently so gung ho they left for Stonewall immediately. Around August 24th, Russell and others had dispersed throughout the country, warning settlers of the presence of the deputies and possible reinforcements. The deputies meanwhile made themselves comfy in the hotel. On August 25th, some 50 settlers, all armed and masked, converged on the hotel . . . Russell, representing the settlers, with several others, demanded the deputies surrender. They refused. The settlers surrounded the hotel. Someone fired his weapon. When the shot was heard, Richard Russell, standing by the hotel door, took the only shelter available, between the door and a window. As gunfire continued from both sides, he fell to the ground. Bullets were still flying an hour or more later when a flag of truce appeared from the hotel. The employees wanted to leave, and firing ceased. During the lull, the fallen Russell and the body of 18-year-old Rafael Valero, a settler, were removed. Late that afternoon a rider reached Trinidad with news of the bloodshed. Seems those 35 deputies had dwindled to zero, and no one else was volunteering for a posse.

Finally, two of the county commissioners . . . declared they would go to restore order. The settlers that night had burned a barn across the road from the hotel, which illuminated the front of the hotel and left the rear in shadow. The deputies escaped out the back and disappeared. Early on August 26, the commissioners arrived by buggy and entered the hotel. Empty. As they were dealing with this surprise, a large group arrived from La Veta with wagon loads of supplies. Now there were 400 or 500 armed gunmen. Russell died of his injuries the next day, leaving his wife and eight children. It was found he had been shot from above, by the deputies. The settlers burned down the hotel in revenge.”


Richard's widow, Marion, insisted that Richard was murdered while carrying the white flag of truce. She would live another 48 years and dictated her memoir to her daughter-in-law prior to her death in 1936. It was initially published serially in The Colorado Magazine in 1943 and 1944, and published in book form in 1954 under the title The Land of Enchantment. The portrait on offer, or another copy of it, is shown between pages 82 and 83 of the illustrated facsimile edition of Marion's memoir (Land of Enchantment. Memoirs of Marian Russell Along the Santa Fe Trail As dictated to Mrs. Hal Russell. (University of New Mexico Press, 1981)).

A rare survival depicting a lesser known Western frontiersman who lost his life defending the town he built, and whose wife preserved their story in a detailed memoir. Very good. Item #4709

Price: $2,500.00

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