One of my favorite things to do is to visit historic western towns. In every single one of them, the energy of the last century feels alive to me. This past spring, my husband and I took a jaunt down to the wild and unruly town of Cimarron, New Mexico–a historic stop along the rugged Santa Fe Trail. We were on a mission to photograph an amazing saloon bar like the one featured in my latest story, LEAH AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER.
Over the years, Cimarron has been home to Anasazi, Apache, and Ute Indians, as well as traders, trappers, miners, and ranchers. It’s now a lovely small town with historic buildings, a few shops, a museum . . . and a very haunted hotel–the St. James.
The St. James Hotel (originally known as the Lambert Inn) was built in 1872 by Henri Lambert–formerly the personal chef of President Lincoln–after his foray into gold mining proved less than lucrative.
The St. James, an oasis of luxury in the late 1800’s, hosted many
well known western personages including Jesse James, Bat Masterson, Black Jack Tom Ketchum, General Sheridan, Kit Carson,
Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Clay Allison, Pat Garret, Fredrick Remington, Annie Oakley, and Zane Grey.
What drew us to the hotel was the gorgeous bar in the restored saloon.
The tin ceiling in the saloon still has nearly two dozen bullet holes from gun fights that erupted inside the
room in the days when carousing cowboys rode horses through saloons and settled disputes with lead.
When Henri Lambert’s sons were repairing the roof at the turn of the century, they found over 400 bullet holes in the double planked ceiling separating the saloon from the guest rooms above.
The guest rooms in the historic portion of the hotel are filled with antique and reproduction furniture. The doors of unoccupied rooms are left open but areblocked off by velvet ropes, letting visitors peek inside rooms that look like museum vignettes.
I took some pictures of the hallways, certain I’d capture a ghostly image. After all, with 26 recorded deaths on the premises, the probability for encountering an entity seemed high.
That night, I lay awake in our first floor room, listening to the music and sounds from the saloon slowly grow quiet as the hotel settled down to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Not a floor board creaked. Not a door opened or closed. No whispers from disembodied visitors echoed in our room or the hallway. The absolute silence lulled me to sleep.
The next morning, as we were loading up our car, we came across a lovely young couple in the parking lot. Theyhad stayed on the second floor, near the hotel’s infamous gambling room. The woman was looking very pale and distraught.
We asked how they enjoyed their stay and quickly learned their sleep had been disturbed all night long by slamming doors, stomping in the hallway, men arguing, and a lingering scent of cigar smoke. Her husband, a soldier, had tried numerous times to get the other occupants to settle down so that his wife could sleep.
Of course, there never was anyone to scold because hell raisers in the hallway were not visitors from the human realm…
Elaine Levine is the author of 3 books in the Men of Defiance series that take place in Nineteenth Century Wyoming. She’ll be giving away a copy of her latest release, LEAH AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER, to one lucky commenter (be sure to let her know if you prefer a paperback or a Kindle ebook version). Visit her
website www.ElaineLevine.com for more information
about her books.