The St. James was first built in 1872, on the recommendation of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, by Henri (later Henry) Lambert, personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln. Lambert moved west and settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, with hopes of making a wealthy strike. When he found little gold, he opened a restaurant and saloon. At this time, Elizabethtown, Cimarron, and much of the surrounding area was owned by Lucien B. Maxwell and was a part of the huge Maxwell Land Grant. Maxwell enticed Lambert to come to Cimarron, whereupon he founded the Lambert Inn (later to become the St. James).

Built during a time when law and order was non-existent, the saloon quickly gained a reputation as a place of violence, where it is said that 26 men were shot and killed within its adobe walls. The first question usually asked around Cimarron in the morning was: "Who was killed at Lambert's last night?" Another favorite expression following a killing was: "It appears Lambert had himself another man for breakfast." 

Around 1872, Henry Lambert added four bedrooms onto the saloon as living quarters for his family. However, by 1875 Lambert’s skill with food along with overnight lodging was advertised in the Cimarron News and Press:

Saint James Hotel and Restaurant
Old and Well Established House
Neat, Clean, and Airy
Fine Billiard Room and Bar

The hotels was lavishly furnished with four-poster beds, marble topped tables and English china. However it appears that Lambert had a bigger vision of the hotel.  In 1879 the same newspaper printed the following article:

“Having made a satisfactory arrangement for the purchase of the building he is now occupying four lots adjoining each other on that block. Mr. Henry Lambert will proceed to erect a handsome building for a hotel. He informs us that as soon as spring opens he will raise the present building one story higher. It will have a north front 90 feet long extending to the alley. He will probably expend six or seven thousand dollars in improving his present property”.

(Cimarron News and Press, 20 November 1879)

Oldest photograph of the hotel dated to around 1900

The St. James Hotel in 1915

The territorial style, two story, adobe building with 30 guest rooms celebrated its grand opening in 1881. The grand opening was attended by several well known people in the territory including Governor Lew Wallace. The hotel was soon considered to be one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi.

Many well-known people stayed there over the years. 
Jesse James stayed there often, always in room 14 and always signing the registry with his alias, RH Howard.

Buffalo Bill Cody met Annie Oakley in Cimarron and they both stayed in the hotel while planning and rehearsing their Wild West Show. They took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them when they took the show on the road.

Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives spent 3 nights at the St. James on their way to Tombstone. After leaving the hotel they made their way to the small town of Las Vegas, NM (about 30 miles southeast of Cimarron) where they met, and became friends with, a gentleman named JJ "Doc" Holliday.

Train Robber “Black Jack” Ketchum, who shot Franciso Griego in the saloon of the hotel.

Zane Grey penned his novel "Fighting Caravans" while staying at the hotel.

Lew Wallace, Governor of New Mexico Territory, wrote part of Ben Hur there.

Other famous, and infamous, guests included Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, Kit Carson, Clay Allison, and Pat Garret.

Jesse James’ nemesis and would be killer, Bob Ford, also stayed at the St. James.

When the railroads came through, the Santa Fe Trail died, and soon after, the gold in the area began to play out. Cimarron's population began to dwindle and the elegant St. James Hotel fell into disrepair.

When Henry Lambert's sons, Fred and Gene, replaced the roof of the hotel in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar. A double layer of heavy wood prevented anyone from sleeping upstairs from being killed. Today, the ceiling of the dining room still holds 22 bullet holes.

Henry Lambert died in 1913. His wife, Mary E. Lambert died in 1926.

F.W. “Will” Haegler bought the hotel from Lambert’s heirs in the early 1930’s. He removed and sold some of the original furnishings such as light fixtures and mantels.  He converted the saloon into a dining room and renamed the hotel “The Don Diego” (Diego means James in Spanish). Because Cimarron did not have a bank during the depression years, Haegler had a safe put in the hotel and became the town’s unofficial banker.

Haegler sold the hotel in the late 1940’s to the William J. Gourley family of Fort Worth. Gourley’s stepdaughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Abernathy, managed it for several years before selling it to another member of the family, Vera Gourley.
Since the 1950’s most of the hotel remained dormant. Only a bar and a pool room remained open.

In 1985 the hotel was bought by Ed and Loree Sitzberger. The couple did extensive renovation to the hotel.

“We stripped everything back to the walls and ceiling and started over. We put in new electrical, new floor and new equipment.”

A few  pieces of the original 1880’s furniture was also discovered and refurbished. Some walls were removed and others constructed to turn several smaller rooms into larger ones and to create bathrooms.

Ed Sitzberger sold the hotel to Champion Family in 1993 and Perry Champion became the general manager. The hotel changed hands again in 1995 when it was bought by Rodger and Sharon Smith. They owned the hotel until 2008 when it was bought by the corporation Express St. James.

In 2009 the hotel again underwent a massive renovation. The saloon returned to its original location, the kitchen was moved and the wood floors were redone on the ground floor.

Historical Curiosities

Reverend Tolby
This story is paraphrased from articles by William Keleher in Maxwell Land Grant: A New Mexico Item (Sante Fe: Rydal Press, 1942, pp. 75-82), Sandra D Lynn in Windows on the Past, Historic Lodgings of New Mexico (University of New Mexico Free Press 1999), and Ruth Armstrong in her book, The Chases of Cimarron (New Mexico Stockman, 1981, pp. 39-41).

One evening, Francisco “Pancho” Griego, a deputy sheriff and strong political supporter  of several powerful politicians of the Santa Fe Ring, killed three soldiers in an argument over a monte game at the St. James Hotel. Although there were many witnesses to the murders, Griego was never indicted for any of them.

At that time the first minister of Cimarron was Reverend Tolby, who was renowned for criticizing the courts in his sermons. After hearing of the murders of the three soldiers, Tolby was appalled. Several days later, while walking down the street, he ran into the local judge.

"I tell you, sir, that I intend to see that Griego is brought to trial, not only for the murder of the three soldiers, but another murder to which I was a witness." He told the judge spitefully.
A few days later Tolby's body was found in a thicket in Cimarron Canyon. He had been shot twice in the back.

Reverend O. P. McMains , a friend, and fellow preacher of Tolby's, soon made it his mission to track down Tolby's killer. He learned that a substitute mail carrier had been hired for that one day when Tolby was shot. It turned out that the substitute was Cruz Vega, a nephew of Franciso “Pancho” Griego. After investigating further, McMains became convinced that Vega had killed Reverend Tolby.
On the evening of Oct. 6th, 1875, McMains and Clay Allison led a group of men to find and question Cruz Vega. After Vega refused to confess to the murder or give his captors any information about those involved, things got out of hand. Vega's body was eventually found hanging from a telegraph pole. He had been badly beaten and was missing clumps of hair from his scalp.

On November 1st, 1875, Griego made a few remarks in the St. James bar that implied Allison may have had something to do with Vega’s death. Then, as if he were fidgety or overheated, he began to fan himself with his hat.  Allison suspected the hat to be a cover for a draw, preempted it, fired two shots and killed Griego.  He then ran everybody out of the St. James bar and locked Griego’s body inside until the next day. Allison turned himself in and was later acquitted on a plea of self defense.

Reverend Tolby's body was recovered from the Canyon and buried in Cimarron's Mountain View Cemetery.

Sometime over the passing years, his original headstone was broken and was replaced with a large, modern headstone which still stands today.

The two pieces comprising the original headstone now rest in the first floor hallway of the St. James Hotel.



Left: the tombstone in the lobby.

Charles Kennedy
This story is paraphrased from an article by Tom Hilton in, Nevermore Cimarron, Nevermore (Ft. Worth: Western Heritage Press, 1970, pp. 37-43), and Sandra D Lynn in Windows on the Past, Historic Lodgings of New Mexico (University of New Mexico Free Press 1999).

Charles Kennedy drifted into the Moreno Valley of Northern New Mexico around 1865. He chose an isolated area on the Taos Trail, at the foot of Palo Flechado Pass, to build a dilapidated cabin as a home for himself, his wife Rosa, and their 3 year old son. Soon afterwards, rumors started about lone travelers, last seen headed for the pass, never to be seen again.

In September of 1870, Kennedy’s wife suddenly appeared in a saloon in Elizabethtown. She had escaped from him and had made her way on foot over the mountain pass to seek help. The men at the saloon listened in horror as she told her story. Kennedy had been robbing and killing travelers on the pass for several years and in a recent fit of rage, he had just murdered her son. She also told them that there were the bones of twenty men buried on their property, and told them that Kennedy had killed their other two children before moving to the area.
Overcome with terror and grief, she finally mustered up the courage to flee the house and stop her husband’s murderous exploits.

The men at the saloon quickly saddled up and rode back down the mountain to Kennedy’s homestead. They seized Kennedy and searched the property, finding the remains of a body and several human bones.
Back in Elizabethtown, Jose Cortes, who had stayed at Kennedy’s a few months earlier, reported that a fellow guest had been shot during his stay and a Taos Native told the sheriff that he had found a skeleton in Kennedy’s cabin. Outraged the local citizens forced a “trial” on the spot. After finding Kennedy guilty, they hauled him from the jail to the slaughterhouse where they lynched him.
Clay Allison, who was with the lynching party, then beheaded Kennedy with the blade of a long knife, threw it in a burlap bag, and headed off to Cimarron.

When he arrived in Cimarron he took the head to Lambert's Saloon. Allison tried to convince Henry Lambert to hang the head over the door of the Saloon but Lambert refused. He was willing to compromise, however, and the head was secured to a pike pole and stuck at the southwest corner of the building where it resided for over a year.

Kennedy is said to have murdered between 15 - 100 men before he was discovered. He always took their belongings, but he was never known to spend much money. Most likely he buried the money, waiting for a time when he could spend it without suspicion - a time which never came for him. They say the money is still buried somewhere near the rubble of his shack, deep in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Sources and References:
The Chases of Cimarron by Ruth Armstrong  (New Mexico Stockman, 1981, pp. 39-41).
Maxwell Land Grant: A New Mexico Item by William Keleher (Sante Fe: Rydal Press, 1942, pp. 75-82),