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Murder on the White Sands

The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain

Corey Recko

Publication Year: 2007

On a cold February evening in 1896, prominent attorney Col. Albert Jennings Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry rode home across the White Sands of New Mexico. It was a trip the father and son would not complete—they both disappeared in a suspected ambush and murder at the hands of cattle thieves Fountain was prosecuting. The disappearance of Colonel Fountain and his young son resulted in outrage throughout the territory, yet another example of lawlessness that was delaying New Mexico’s progress toward statehood. The sheriff, whose deputies were quickly becoming the prime suspects, did little to solve the mystery. Governor Thornton, eager for action, appointed Pat Garrett as the new sheriff, the man famous for killing Billy the Kid fifteen years earlier. Thornton also called on the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, who assigned top operative John Fraser to assist Garrett with the case. The evidence pointed at three men, former deputies William McNew, James Gililland, and Oliver Lee. These three men, however, were very close with powerful ex-judge, lawyer, and politician Albert B. Fall. It was even said by some that Fall was the mastermind behind the plot to kill Fountain. Forced to wait two years for a change in the political landscape, Garrett finally presented his evidence to the court and secured indictments against the three suspects. Garrett quickly arrested McNew, but Lee and Gililland went into hiding. Lee claimed that Garrett merely wanted to kill him with a warrant for his arrest as an excuse. When both men were tracked down at one of Lee's ranches, Lee and Gililland got the best of the sheriff's posse in the ensuing gun battle, killing one deputy and forcing Garrett and his two remaining deputies to retreat. Lee and Gililland would finally surrender months later, under the condition that they would never be in the custody of Sheriff Garrett. The trial took place in the secluded town of Hillsboro. The murders of the Fountains became an afterthought as the accused men, defended by their attorney Fall, pleaded innocence. Missing witnesses plagued the prosecution, and armed supporters of the defendants, who packed the courtroom, intimidated others. The verdict: not guilty. The bodies of Albert Fountain and his young son Henry still lie in an unmarked grave, the location of which remains a mystery. Corey Recko tells for the first time the complete story of the Fountain case and, through extensive research, reconstructs what really happened to them and who the likely killers were.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series


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pp. v

List of Illustrations and Maps

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pp. vi

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pp. vii

In addition to the sources listed, I would like to thank the following for their help in making this book possible: Melissa Salazar (New Mexico State Records Center and Archives); Ed Smith and DeAnn Kessler (Lincoln State Monument); Claudia A. Rivers and the staff of the C. L. Sonnichsen Special...

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pp. 1-2

It was the end of January 1896 when the Grand Jury adjourned in the town of Lincoln, Territory of New Mexico. Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain had just worked to bring indictments against several men in order to combat the cattle rustling that ran rampant in New Mexico....

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1. Albert Jennings Fountain

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pp. 3-10

Born Albert Jennings on Staten Island, New York, on October 23, 1838, Albert was the son of Solomon and Catherine Jennings. The name Fountain came from his mother, who descended from a French Huguenot family named de la Fontaine, which later turned into...

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2. Enter Albert B. Fall and Other Men of Note

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pp. 11-19

In November 1888, Fountain ran against Democratic newcomer Albert B. Fall for a seat in the New Mexico State Legislature.1 Fountain won the election and went on to be chosen speaker of the house. While in the legislature, Fountain pushed for public education for both boys...

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3. The Disappearance

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pp. 20-29

On January 12, 1896, Albert J. Fountain left for Lincoln, but he did not leave alone. The rumors of an attempt on his life worried his family. Family members, especially Fountain’s easily alarmed wife Mariana, attempted to persuade him to cancel the trip, or at least not go alone. Family recollections disagree on whether it was ...

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4. Pat Garrett Summoned

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pp. 30-35

As the search parties returned, the newspapers ran with the story. Under the headline “Were They Murdered?” the February 4 edition of the El Paso Times reported, “Yesterday El Paso’s pleasant little neighbor, Las Cruces, was in a tempest of excitement over a report to the effect that Col. A. J. Fountain, of that town, and his little eight-year-old son had ...

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5. Bring in the Pinkertons

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pp. 36-52

Shortly after Pat Garrett began his work on the case, Governor Thornton brought in additional help. Garrett was a man of action, a man who could round up the suspected parties. What Thornton sought next was a professional investigator. He called in the Pinkertons....

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6. Assistance from Fall

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pp. 53-66

On Friday, March 13, Albert Fall called on Pat Garrett in his hotel room. When he stopped by Garrett’s room, Fraser must have been surprised to see Fall there. After Fraser and Fall had exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather, Fraser left so Garrett and Fall a deputy sheriff, regardless of the outcome of the sheriff’s contest. ...

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7. Decision in the Sheriff’s Contest

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pp. 67-74

A decision in the sheriff’s contest came down on March 19. Judge Bantz ruled in favor of Numa Reymond and instructed him to take office the next morning. Unfortunately, it did not appear to be a given that Garrett would be made chief deputy, and subsequently sheriff. Reymond told Garrett that he had made several promises ...

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8. Exit John Fraser

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pp. 75-81

Now that John Fraser had completed his investigation, he was to be, as planned, taken off the case and a new operative brought in to investigate.1 So on Wednesday, March 25, 1896, Fraser left Las Cruces by train and headed for Denver, but...

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9. William B. Sayers

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pp. 82-86

Pinkerton operative William B. Sayers then took over the investigation, arriving in Santa Fe in the afternoon on Wednesday, April 15, 1896.1 When Sayers reached the governor’s office the next morning, he found the governor was out of town and he was asked to remain in town till his return. Miss Crane, the governor’s...

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10. Ed Brown

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pp. 87-100

After arriving in Socorro, William Sayers learned that Maximiano Griego, the man Miller claimed Brown would hire to kill McDonald, was in jail at the time of the Fountain murder. This information originated from a man named Doherty, who also stated that Brown allegedly had said that he could find the bodies. Sayers reported, ...

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11. Indictments

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pp. 101-107

Garrett and Perry began the next month working on Luis Herrera (a different Herrera than was with the search party) after they received information that he might know where the bodies were, but this led to nothing.1 Not much progress...

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12. Shootout at Wildy Well

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pp. 108-116

Shortly after the hearing, Fall temporarily left New Mexico. As a captain in Company D, New Mexico Volunteers, Fall joined the Spanish-American War. Although he did not go to Cuba and fight in the war, he stayed out of New Mexico for the time being.1 An interesting side note was the endorsements Fall received in his quest to be a ...

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13. The Trial

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pp. 117-129

Hillsboro was a mining town in the mountains in Sierra County with a population of only 1,000. It was a small desert town whose most impressive building was the Sierra County Courthouse, which sat on a hill. The nearest railroad was twenty miles south and the only public transportation...

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14. Jack Maxwell Testifies

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pp. 130-138

The next day led off with the witness whom the prosecution had been waiting for. Jack Maxwell, who claimed he had been absent due to illness, was brought into town by Ben Williams. Maxwell was finally sworn in and took the stand. Maxwell stated that....

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15. Garrett Takes the Stand

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pp. 139-153

The next morning, James Gould, whose cousin was Gililland’s wife, took the stand. The witness stated that he was at McNew’s ranch about the first of February 1896. Gililland had come in a few days told him about Fountain’s disappearance, which was the first he Gould also said, “Gililland said a posse was out hunting for ...

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16. The Prosecution Closes

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pp. 154-159

Captain Thomas Branigan led off the next morning’s testimony. with Gililland, then described trailing Fountain’s buckboard, the Cruces and Tularosa road, and the area around Chalk Hill. He testified to trailing the buckboard to the spot where it was abandoned, and from there to trailing horse tracks that left that spot. He talked ...

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17. The Defense and Rebuttal

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pp. 160-171

It was now time for the defense to present their case. Their strategy was twofold: attack the credibility of prosecution witnesses and present an alibi for the accused. To open their case, the defense called Tom Tucker to the stand in their first attempt to prove an alibi for the defendants....

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18. Closing Arguments and the Verdict

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pp. 172-187

Before the closing arguments began, the attorneys argued as to whether the defendants could be found guilty of murder in the first, second, or third degree, or if it was to be first degree or nothing at all. The defense wanted only the latter option available to the jury. Judge Parker ruled, “The court...

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19. In Conclusion

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pp. 188-198

Who killed Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain and Henry Fountain? In telling this story, I’ve attempted to lay out all of the surviving evidence. Over the years, the more people spoke of this mystery, the more names have been added to the list of suspects. The following is a list of the men who have been...

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20. Epilogues

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pp. 199-203

New Mexico finally became a state in 1912. It was the forty-seventh state admitted to the Union. William McNew spent his life as a rancher. In 1915 he shot and killed Bob Raley, James Gililland’s brother-in-law. McNew died on the thirtieth day...


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pp. 205-225


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pp. 226-231


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pp. 232-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413892
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412246

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 32 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series