Today is the 125th anniversary of the Fountain murders.
On February 1, 1896, Colonel Albert J. Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry were travelling by horse-drawn buggy to Las Cruces, New Mexico. They had stopped the previous night at a friend’s house in the little village of La Luz. The two were on the final leg of a three-day trip from Lincoln, New Mexico, where Colonel Fountain, an attorney, had obtained arrest warrants for 23 men for cattle rustling and brand defacing. Colonel Fountain had his son with him on the trip at the insistence of his wife. She knew that Colonel Fountain had been threatened repeatedly in the days preceding his appearance before the grand jury in Lincoln, and she thought that by taking his young son, Colonel Fountain would greatly reduce his likelihood of being assaulted.
Colonel Fountain knew his life was in danger. When he had walked out of the courthouse in Lincoln, a stranger had handed him a folded sheet of paper. When he opened the paper, he read:
“If you drop this, Fountain, we will be your friends. If you go on with it you will never reach home alive.”
This kind of note was known as a “coffin note.” Colonel Fountain was being told that if he dropped the note to ground, signifying that he would drop or not pursue the rustling charges, he would be fine. If he did not drop the note, he would be killed.
For the two days prior to his ambush, Colonel Fountain was aware that he was being shadowed by three men. The men, however, stayed just far enough away from him to not be visually identifiable.
The site where Colonel Fountain and Henry were ambushed was about 40 miles east of Las Cruces. The evidence at the scene indicated that Colonel Fountain was killed while trying desperately to flee with the buggy, and that after his death, Henry was taken alive. Evidence found five miles from the ambush site indicated that Henry was killed the next day. Their bodies were never found.
These details are drawn from “The Stolen Pinkerton Reports of the Colonel Albert J. Fountain Murder Investigation.” Additional details on the crime, the men charged, and the trial are provided in the book, as are the verbatim reports of the Pinkerton Detective Agency which was hired to investigate the killings. The reports of the Pinkerton Agency were stolen two months after they were submitted to the Governor of New Mexico and only recovered decades later.
These Reports are important historical documents, not only for what they reveal about the Fountain murders, but also as a fascinating window into how the most famous detective agency went about investigating a murder, at a time when scientific forensic evidence was virtually non-existent.
Video – The Stolen Pinkerton Reports
The trial of the men indicted for the Fountain killings was held May 25, 1899, in Hillsboro, New Mexico.
On February 29, 2020, this trial was re-enacted at the Rio Grande Theatre during the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival.