The Most Haunted Hotel in NM
Henri Lambert was born in 1838 in Nantes, France. At the young age of 12, he indulged his passion for gourmet food when he found work as an apprentice chef in the seaport town of La Harve. While he worked, he also studied and trained to become a chef. Lambert’s fate changed about when, at 23, he joined the French Navy where he was picked to sail on the first submarine ever produced by France. After sailing under the sea across the Atlantic ocean, he realized life as a submariner wasn’t for him, so he left the ship and joined the Union army as a cook-in-thefield for US General Grant and did such a good job he was promoted to be the White House chef for President Abraham Lincoln.
After the war, Lambert and his beautiful wife Mary moved west to try their hand at gold mining, and settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico. When he found little gold, Henri opened a restaurant and saloon. At this time, 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 Henri became Henry and built the Lambert Inn, which would later be renamed the St. James.
The hotel was a remarkable gem of sophistication and elegance in the wild town of Cimarron. The 42 room hotel was furnished with fine art, sparkling chandeliers, beautiful furniture and small marble sinks in each room. Thanks to Lambert’s culinary skills, the food was without equal.
In its day, the St. James was visited by the famous and the notorious. Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives stayed at the Inn on their way to Tombstone, Arizona. Jesse James stayed in Room 14. Other notable guests include Annie Oakley, Bat Masterson, train robber Black Jack Tom Ketchum, General Sheridan, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Clay Allison, Pat Garret, and artist Fredrick Remington. Author Zane Grey began writing his novel Fighting Caravans while staying in Room 22. Lew Wallace, former Governor of New Mexico, wrote part of his novel
Ben Hur during his visits. When Henry’s sons, Fred and Gene, replaced the roof of the Lambert Inn in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar. A double layer of heavy wood had prevented anyone from sleeping upstairs from being killed. Today, the ceiling of the dining room still holds
22 bullet holes.
After the railroad came through and effectively killed the Santa Fe trail and as the gold dwindled, the hotel passed from owner to owner. Following extensive renovations in early 2009, where the formal dining room and bar were merged into one large area and the outside deck and lawn became a walled-in courtyard and patio complete with a fountain, the hotel was re-opened, restored to its former glory.
One thing that hasn’t changed at the St. James Hotel is that it remains host to several restless spirits. Both the owners and guests will tell you that it is haunted and many unexplained events occur there regularly.
The second floor of the hotel is the most haunted, with stories of cold spots and the smell of cigar smoke lingering in the halls, despite smoking not being allowed in the hotel. A prior manager said, “You never see them, but you do feel and hear them.”
Another report from a former owner, states that she walked into the dining room and saw a pleasant-looking cowboy standing behind her in the mirror on the front of the bar. One guest even claimed to have played poker with a cast of Old West characters in the middle of the night.
Room 18 at the hotel is kept locked because it houses the ghost of an ill-tempered Thomas James Wright, who was killed at his door just after winning the rights to the hotel in a poker game. Having been shot from behind, Wright continued on into the room and slowly bled to death. It’s said that Wright is still seeking revenge for being killed in his own hotel, and is less than kind to guests and staff that he sees as trespassers.
Visiting the St. James is a remarkable experience. Rates are reasonable. There is a modern wing, but the rooms and the saloon allow you to travel back in time. Despite the fact that Henry Lambert has long since passed on, the food is delicious. Antiques decorate the hotel, and the rooms and halls offer a living museum that tells the story of the many colorful characters, and the history of Cimarron and the Lambert family.
And don’t forget, there’s the old original jail, court house, livery stable, museum mill to see in Cimarron. On August 22 to 25, the St. James will also host a gathering of Cowboy Music and Poetry. For more information visit exstjames.com or cimarronnm.com.