Lobby of the St. James Hotel in Cimarron


      Unlike other places in New Mexico, Cimarron's reputation preceeded it. I'd heard about the town long before I ever thought of going there. Cimarron has a history of outlaws, bandits, gratuitous violence and just plain rudeness, and that legacy has shaped Cimarron into a scrappy, scruffy little place. If you wanted to pick a fight with a town, Cimarron would be the wrong one to choose.


     For many years, Cimarron was a stop along the Santa Fe Trail and a watering hole for the A-List of history's bad boys: Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, Billy the Kid. Their presence made Cimarron notorious for violence and mayhem. The word "cimarron" is a Spanish word meaning something like "rowdy place," though my Spanish-English dictionary says it can also mean "wild animal" or "runaway slave." Cimarron even translates roughly.

     So I was nervous as I drove into town. Sure, I wanted to see the place, and I'd made reservations for the fight...sorry, I mean night...at the St. James Hotel, one of the most elegant and historically-noteable hotels in New Mexico. But I worried about historical leftovers. Cimarron is a town tied up inextricably in its own past. Bullet holes in the ceiling of the St. James have been left intact for guests to...uh, admire. There's even a list of people who were killed in the hotel posted in the lobby. By staying in this town overnight, was I inviting trouble?  Was I putting a tooth under the pillow and wishing for the Violence Fairy to show up? I unpacked my Neosporin and set in on the table by the bed, just in case.

      I almost always sleep with a window open, even in winter. That night was no exception, but, unlike my bed at home, there I had no electric blanket to combat the chilly air. I knew I couldn't make it through the night in the cold, so I went to ask for another blanket. The host took me to an outdoor closet and found a warm blanket for me to use. As I thanked him, he smiled and said he was happy to help, because all men are brothers. Given Cimarron's history, this may have been the nicest thing that's ever been said there.

     I lay in bed, warm and content, listening to the voices of the other guests. They were happy, laughing. Maybe Cimarron's bark was worse than its bite. Maybe its reputation was no longer deserved. I wondered, then, if the good things that were happening in Cimarron now could act as a bandaid, covering the wounds of the past and helping them heal. Bidding my brothers goodnight, I went to sleep.

     I had my answer the next morning. Sometime during the night a steady snowfall had begun, and it continued outside my window into the morning. Every corner of the town had turned white. It looked new and inviting, and in the subdued morning glow, even gentle. I checked myself for bruises in the mirror and found none. Rowdy Place had left me unharmed.

     And I knew then that you can't change what's gone wrong in the past, but you can cover it with good things, like the snow covers the ground or an extra blanket covers a shivering person. Give the past a chance to do some healing underneath; then remove the covering and see if the scar isn't a little better. It's worth the effort because, after all, we're all brothers.


(click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture)

Lucien Maxwell's
grist mill is one of
the prominent
buildings in

The St. James Hotel in
Cimarron sits tranquilly
in a late-winter snow.