The Mysterious Disappearance of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain & His Son Henry

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Albert_J._Fountain.jpg

Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain
(Public Domain)

All they found was a pool of blood, a blood-soaked handkerchief with a nickel and a dime tied carefully in its corner, an abandoned wagon and the horse tracks of six riders but they never found Albert Jennings Fountain and his eight-year old son Henry. The date was February 1, 1896 and a search was on to solve this mysterious disappearance.

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Albert Jennings was born on October 23, 1838 to Staten Island’s residents Solomon Jennings (a sea captain) and Catherine de la Fontaine. He attended Columbia College (now known as Columbia University) and traveled as a tutor and eventually settled in California working in a newspaper before he studied law in San Francisco. It was at this time that he took an Anglicized version of his mother’s family name as his last name and for the rest of his life he would be known as Albert Jennings Fountain.

On July 24, 1861 after the Battle of Bull Run the Governor of California John G. Downey received a request from Simon Cameron the Secretary of war for:

"The War Department accepts, for three years, one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the Overland Mail Route from Carson Valley to Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie.” {4}

This was the first official request for the organization of troops in California and Fountain heard and answered the call as he enlisted in the Union Army as an officer in the “California Column”. They mustered in at the Presidio in San Francisco originally formed with approximately 1,500 men and ended with 2,350. The California Column began to march east. Fountain found himself fighting the Confederates in Arizona at the Battle of Apache Pass. In October of 1862 he met and married Mariana Perez. He continued his service in the war and when he was discharged he and his wife settled in El Paso, Texas where he found work with the United States Property Commission which was in charge of investigating and disposing former Confederate property. He and his wife were the parents of nine children.
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In 1869 he served in the Texas Senate as a Republican and his views did not make many Texas Democrats happy. On December 7, 1870 he killed B. Frank Williams after a shootout during the El Paso Salt War (a “range” war concerning the control and ownership of the salt lakes at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas). In 1875 he moved his family to his wife’s home in Mesilla, New Mexico. It was here he practiced law and in 1878 he became captain of the New Mexico first company militia waging campaigns against Chief Victorio and Geronimo. It was during this service he received the rank of Colonel and was often referred to as “Colonel” for the rest of his life. In 1881 he was the appointed lawyer to his famous client Billy the Kid.

By 1885 he served in the New Mexico legislature. He was a special prosecutor of various livestock associations and in 1894 convicted twenty men for cattle rustling. His dual roles as politician and attorney gave him numerous enemies (some in influential levels) that finally caught up with him in the early days of 1896.

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Colonel Fountain was in Lincoln, New Mexico Territory in January of 1896. He had brought along his young son Henry and the young boy was thrilled to be journeying with his father. Mariana Fountain believed that having a small child along would keep her husband safer for certainly no one would dare hurt her husband in front of an eight year old child. Colonel Fountain was seeking an indictment against Oliver Lee and his men including Bill McNew. These men were close friends with a powerful man Judge Albert Fall. Fountain was the investigator and prosecutor for the Southeastern New Mexico Stock Growers’ Association and cattle rustling was a problem that needed to be stopped. In the Lincoln courthouse in January, Fountain secured 23 indictments including one for Oliver Lee.

Fountain felt that he had a target on his back during this time and it was proven to be true when on the final day of court an anonymous messenger delivered a note warning:

‘If you drop this we will be your friends. If you go on with it you will never reach home alive.’” {3}

On January 30 the Colonel and Henry loaded up their wagon to make the trip home. Included in his packing was all the evidence against the 23. It was approximately 150 miles trip to Mesilla, and would take them into the Sacramento Mountains. The first night they stopped in the village of Mescalero and it was during this stop when an Apache friend gave Fountain a pinto pony. The next day they made the trip down the western slope of the Sacramento Mountains and crossed Tularosa and stayed the night at La Luz. His son Henry began to feel poorly so Fountain gave his son a quarter to buy some sweets at the store. He spent ten cents and carefully tied his change of a nickel and dime in the corner of his handkerchief.

On February 1 Fountain and Henry headed home. What a special treat for Henry as the eight year old boy rode the pinto pony along side the wagon. They soon met a stagecoach and the driver mentioned to Fountain that he had seen three riders on the road. Later that day Fountain met another stagecoach and this drive also said he saw three riders up ahead. Saturnion Barilla the driver testified that he suggested Fountain and Henry turn around and return to the mid-way stage stop to spend the night and journey along with him the next morning but Fountain was eager to get home for he wanted to get Henry home and in the care of his mother. He and Henry headed on to a spot called Chalk Hill and were never seen again.

Ironically it was Saturnion Barilla the stagecoach driver that discovered the tracks of Fountain’s wagon and nothing else. He alerted the authorities of his concerns. Two search parties were formed and with the help a trackers they began piecing the puzzle together. They followed the wagon tracks twelve miles and one trail led to one of Oliver Lee’s ranches where the search party was not welcomed, were threatened and left. Oliver Lee was well known as a man with a less than stellar reputation. In fact he has been described as a part-time deputy U.S. marshal, rancher, and gunfighter.

They never found the bodies of Fountain and his young son. The local paper printed:

“A devoted wife and loving family await longingly and hopefully the coming of a kind husband and father and a dutiful son and brother upon whose living faces they may never look again. Many friends hope against fate for the return of an honored friend while many other search the plains for his living or dead body. If dead there can be no question as to at whose door the blame lies.” {3}

Although Oliver Lee (1865-1941) was arrested and charged with the disappearance and presumed murder of Fountain and his son many believed the instigator behind the murder was Albert B. Fall (1861-1944). Fall met Oliver Lee when he helped him in a criminal case and eventually became a land owner neighbor of Lee’s. Fall was an influential attorney, politician and it was reported that he helped Lee avoid criminal charges with his side business; cattle rustling. Fountain had made it his job to clean-up the very crime that was making Lee and Fall rich men. When the trial against the three men started Fall was ready to lend his legal expertise. There were no bodies making this case already difficult to prosecute. There was also the fact that during the trial witnesses went “missing” and other witnesses were intimidated as Lee packed the courthouse with his armed supporters. There was no doubt as to the outcome. The charges against Billy McNew were dismissed and after an eight minute deliberation Jim Gilliland (a known hired killer) and Oliver Lee were found “not guilty”.

Albert Fall did very well for himself. When the territory of New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912, he was elected to serve in the United States Senate and on March 5, 1921 became the 28th Secretary of the Interior under the Harding administration. The crime was never solved, the bodies never found nor were the horses including the pinto pony little Henry was riding. Tragically Mariana Fountain discovered that men will kill an eight year old child and leave a calling card when they left behind Henry’s bloodied handkerchief with the dime and nickel folded safely within.


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Sources
1. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-albertfountain/
2. http://newmexicohistoricalmarkers.blogspot.com/2014/03/disappearances-of-albert-j-fountain-and.html
3. http://www.desertusa.com/mag06/mar/murder.html
4
. http://militarymuseum.org/CaliforniaColumn2.htm
5. http://gililland.net/Stories/jimgililland.html
6. https://truewestmagazine.com/article/who-killed-col-fountain-2/
7. https://www.headstuff.org/culture/history/albert-fall-american-politician-criminal/
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
That's a heckishly awful story, has to have been hard to research!

one trail led to one of Oliver Lee’s ranches where the search party was not welcomed, were threatened and left.

You just know somewhere on that property is the grave of a small boy and his father. Like to think one day they'll be discovered, maybe laid to rest with the rest of their family.
 

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
There was one report, supposedly by a participant during a death-bed confession, that stated Fountain and his son after they were killed were tied to their horses and sent off in the mountains, but I’m not sure I believe this for you would think they would have found something after all this time. Two of Fountain’s oldest sons were part of the search party - Albert, Jr. (1863-1936) and John (1876-1949). James Gilliland in his old age also claimed to know where the bodies were buried but when he took authorities to the spot - no bodies were found.

Some historians believe that sheriff Pat Garrett (1850-1908) was killed because he was getting close to solving the Fountain disappearance.

I can understsnd the hiding of bodies by burying but horses too?
Well it was the "wild west".
 
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