It is approximately 1000 miles of pure freedom…driving from Northwestern Wyoming to a town in Eastern New Mexico where my parents live. I relish these times by myself stopping when and wherever I get the notion. It was on one of these trips that I made an overnight stop at the historic St. James Hotel located in the village of Cimarron, New Mexico, located approximately 20 miles East of Interstate 25 on NM-58. Not only is Cimarron located close to the scenic Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts of America’s premier High Adventure™ base, but it is also situated along the historic Santa Fe Trail and is full of stories about men like William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who is said to have stayed with acquaintances in Cimarron and occasionally at the St. James Hotel.
Established sometime between 1872 and 1880 by Henri Lambert, a trained French chef, the St. James Hotel was originally called Lambert’s Place when it was just a saloon, and then Lambert’s Inn when hotel rooms were added. The brochure says that “it was a favored place for lawmen, outlaws, and everyone in between” to stop in for a cold drink, get a bite to eat, and/or stay the night. Twenty-two bullet holes still reside in the saloon’s tin ceiling, attesting to the rowdiness of the place. A common question asked was: “Who was killed at Lambert’s last night?”
Locals and paranormal aficionados claim it is haunted with the spirits of folks who visited the Hotel—including the likes of the Earp brothers, Jesse James, Black Jack Ketchum, Mary Lambert, Buffalo Bill, and others. The rooms where these well-known folks supposedly stayed bear their name and are available for rent. My work as the Group Tour Coordinator at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, made my choice a no-brainer. But my budget for the trip was nearly depleted and the price difference between Buffalo Bill’s room with a bathroom and other rooms with no bathroom was $50. So with that in mind, I opted to stay in Room #22, the room in which Zane Grey is said to have written chapters to his book, Fighting Caravans. No bathroom, but that was no big deal, the bathroom was just down the hall; luckily I had it to myself. It was late October and no one else seemed to be staying in my end of the St. James.
Since I wasn’t going to spend the night in Buffalo Bill’s room, I asked the front desk hostess if I could just take a quick peek. She graciously offered me the key. William F. Cody’s room #19 did not feature any special artifacts to actually connect it with this world renowned man of the West, but it was spacious and featured a four-poster bed, and the bathroom had a big claw foot bathtub. Just getting to see this room and taking a photo of the nameplate adjacent to the door was special enough for me.
Before calling it a night, I made a few trips up and down the 1st and 2nd floor hallways and stairway to see if I could find more information about Buffalo Bill’s visits there. The hotel was a treasure trove of history about Cimarron and the St. James, but I was disappointed to find nothing about William F. Cody’s visits.
Once back in my room, I opened up one of Zane Grey’s books that had been left on the dresser for guests to read, but I just couldn’t quite get into it. I kept thinking about all the stories of ghostly encounters in this place and if they were actually true.
Nothing uncanny happened during my stay that night. I attributed the creaking floorboards and doors opening and closing to several late arriving guests. Before crawling into bed though, I checked to make sure I had my room’s key (I have been known to accidentally leave the key hanging out of the door’s key hole) and then tested the door to make sure that it was actually locked. Once in bed, I pulled the bedcovers up under my chin, tucked the blankets tightly around my body and closed my eyes. Relaxation was hard to come by in this supposedly haunted hotel. Then I remembered some sound advice a preacher friend gave me years ago about one’s bedtime ritual: “Just keep prayin’ ‘til you fall asleep.”
Works every time.