First a bit of background history on the Valle Vidal (Valley of Life).
An Incredible GiftIn 1982, the Pennzoil Company donated 100,000 acres of Vermejo Park to the People of the United States, through the Forest Service. The land was traded to the Forest Service by Pennzoil Co. in exchange for $20 million in tax considerations. It was the largest and most valuable donation of private land to the Forest Service. The area became known as the Valle Vidal unit, named after what the Indians and Spanish referred to as "The Valley of Life." The area is managed by the Carson National Forest. President Bush signed legislation on December 12, 2006 prohibiting oil drilling and mining in the Valle Vidal area of New Mexico's Carson National Forest.
America's First InhabitantsIn order to understand Valle Vidal's rich history, we must go back more than 10,000 years, to the first inhabitants of the area, the Folsom people. The remains of the Folsom people were first discovered in nearby Folsom, NM. They were hunter gatherer people who hunted a now extinct species of Bison with distinctive stone arrowheads and spear points. About 400 A.D., these cultures began domesticating corn, beans, and squash, with the earliest evidence of the Anasazi Culture that spread throughout the Southwest exhibited in the area.
The early Pueblo Cultures developed about 1,100 years ago, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and upper Rio Grande Valley. By the 1500's, the Valle Vidal was settled by the peaceful Jicarilla Apache, who lived in semi-permament villages, and followed the migrating bison and antelope herds. Raiding groups of Utes and Comanches forced the Jicarilla to seek the safety of Taos and Pecos Pueblos. The Jicarilla were eventually moved to the San Juan Mountains, to the East.
Settlement and Colonization
Although the Spanish claimed New Mexico as early as the 1540's, it wasn't until the 19th century, that adventurers and colonists of any number moved in. When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican Government gave away large tracts of land of the territory, known as land grants.
In 1841 Mexican Governor Manuel Armijo gave approximately 2 million acres in northern New Mexico to Carlos Beaubien, and Guadalupe Miranda. Beaubien was a successful trader from the Hudson Bay Company who settled in Taos. Miranda was the Secretary of the Provincial Government in Santa Fe. She optioned the Mexican Governor to grant her and Bedaubing what is known as the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant.
The area later became known as the Maxwell Grant. Lucien Maxwell, a fur trapper who served as a guide with Kit Carson on General John Fremont' Western Expedition, married Beaubien's daughter, Luz. After Beaubien's death in 1864, Lucien and Luz inherited a share and bought out the other heirs. By 1865, they were the sole owners of 1,714,765 acres , a territory about the size of Rhode Island, in the heart of some of New Mexico's most beautiful country.
The Wild West
Maxwell lived in an immense home in Cimarron. He put settlers on the land to supply US Government forces in the Westward Expansion. At one time, Maxwell had over 500 people working the land, with thousands of acres under cultivation, and thousands more for sheep and cattle. Maxwell's fortunes declined, and he sold the Grant in 1866, to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company.
With the sale of the Grant, there began a turbulent and period, related to unclear title of lands. Settlers and squatters alike resisted the new landlords in violent and bloody conflicts for over 15 years. The infamous Colfax County War raged on until 1887, when the US Government ruled in favor of the the company, 46 years after the original grant to Beaubien and Miranda.
William Bartlett, a wealthy grain speculator from Chicago purchased land from the company in 1902, known as Vermejo Park. From 1926 to 1973, the area served as a sportsman's ranch and a playground for Hollywood's rich and famous. The area was frequented by the likes of Douglass Fairbanks, Herbert Hoover, FW Kellogg, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Warner, and Cecil B. DeMille.
Oil and Gas Speculation
In 1973, the area was sold to the Vermejo Park Corporation, a subsidiary of the Pennzoil Company. Pennzoil acquired additional acreage bringing the total to 588,000. After exploring the area for fossil fuel deposits over the next decade, the Pennzoil Company decided to give a portion of Vermejo Park to the American People.
In the fall of 1996 Vermejo Park Ranch was acquired by Ted Turner. It is the largest of Turner's extensive land holdings at 590,823 acres (923 square miles). It is said to be the largest privately owned, contiguous tract of land in the U.S.
The ranch is the biggest component of Turner's ranch empire of 2 million acres (3,100 sq mi/809,000 ha) that as of 2007 makes him the biggest private landowner in the United States.