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Albert J. Fountain

Albert Jennings Fountain (October 23, 1838 - disappeared February 1, 1896) was a lawyer, Indian fighter, and Republican politician in Texas and New Mexico.


Fountain was born on Staten Island, New York on October 23, 1838 to Solomon Jennings and his wife Catherine de la Fontaine. He went to California as a young man and began calling himself by an Anglicised version of his mother's family name. (Accounts differ as to why he did so.) He studied law in California, and was admitted to the bar in 1860. Working as a reporter for the Sacramento Union, Walker travelled to Nicaragua in 1860 to cover the filibustering expedition of William Walker. Angering Walker by his reports, Fountain was arrested and sentenced to be shot. However, he escaped and returned to California.[1]

In August 1861, during the American Civil War, Fountain enlisted in the Company E of the 1st California Infantry Regiment of the Union Army and was elected first sergeant of his company. He took part in the 1862 Union conquest of the Confederate Territory of Arizona as member of the California Column. In October 1862 he married Mariana Perez of Mesilla. They would become the parents of 4 sons and 2 daughters. Later commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, he would be discharged on August 31, 1864. Fountain almost immediately joined the New Mexico volunteers because of the ongoing Indian wars. In June 1865, he was seriously wounded while pursuing hostile Apaches. He spent a night trapped under his dead horse, with a bullet in his thigh, an arrow in his forearm, and another arrow in his shoulder. On his recovery, he was discharged as a brevet captain.[2]

Fountain settled in El Paso, Texas, working for the United States Property Commission, which investigated and disposed of former Confederate property. He performed so well that he was made the Customs Collector for the El Paso region. He was next appointed an election judge, and finally became the Assessor and Collector of Internal Revenue for the Western District of Texas.

In November 1869 he won a seat as a Republican in the Texas Senate, serving in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Texas Legislatures. Fountain was elected as president pro tempore during the second session of the Twelfth Legislature and served as Lieutenant Governor ex officio at the same time, since that office was vacant. His most notable accomplishment was pushing through the bill that reestablished the Texas Rangers, which had been abolished after the Civil War.[3]

Fountain's Radical Republican views angered Texas Democrats, and he was challenged to several duels, killing at least one man, Frank Williams, because of them. These same views may have also lead to his disappearance and presumed murder nearly 30 years later. At the time of Fountain's disappearance, he was prosecuting suspected cattle rustlers and land-grabbers, specifically Oliver M. Lee, and he found himself at odds with Lee's associate, the corrupt attorney Albert Fall.

In 1873 Fountain decided to move back to his wife's home of Mesilla, New Mexico. He became a lawyer in Mesilla, using his fluent Spanish to good advantage in jury trials. He was appointed assistant district attorney and also served as probate judge and a deputy court clerk. In 1877 he founded a newspaper, the Mesilla Valley Independent, which also was issued in Spanish.[4]

Fountain practiced law in Mesilla and his most famous client was the outlaw Billy the Kid.[5] Fountain lost the 1881 case and Billy the Kid was convicted of murder, though he later escaped from jail. Fountain was a leading figure in the Republican Party in New Mexico, serving a term in the state legislature. Unfortunately, he acquired numerous political enemies, which probably was the reason behind his disappearance.

In 1888 Fountain was elected to the New Mexico State Legislature, defeating Albert Bacon Fall. Two years later, however, he was defeated for reelection by Fall.

Disappearance and (probable) murder[]

On February 1, 1896, Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry disappeared near the White Sands on the way to their home in Mesilla. They were returning from Lincoln, New Mexico, where Fountain had been assisting the prosecution in bringing charges against Falls' employees Oliver M. Lee and William McNew.[6] All that was found at the murder site were Fountain's buckboard wagon, several empty cartridge cases, his cravat and papers, and two pools of blood. The only sign of Henry Fountain was a blood soaked handkerchief with two powder-blackened coins, the handkerchief still carefully knotted in one corner. Missing were the victims' bodies, a blanket, a quilt, and Fountain's Winchester rifle.

Some speculated that outlaw "Black Jack" Ketchum and his gang were involved. Most, however, were convinced disappearances could be attributed to Lee, a noted gunman, rancher, cattle rustler, outlaw, and a part-time Deputy U.S. Marshal. Lee's employees Jim Gililland and William McNew were also suspected of involvement. Lee and Gililland were pursued by lawman Pat Garrett and a posse, which engaged them in gunfight near Alamogordo. After Deputy Sheriff Kent Kearney was killed, however, Garrett and his posse fled. Lee and Gililland would later surrender to others. They were defended by Albert Bacon Fall, who years later would become the first United States presidential cabinet member to go to prison. They accused were acquitted of participation in the Albert Jennings Fountain case because of lack of evidence.

Lee's involvement in Fountain's disappearance, as well as Fall's own guilt, were obvious. Fountain was a powerful rival to land owners Oliver Lee and Albert Fall. Fall was also known to hate Fountain as a political rival. Fall's association with Lee began when he had defended Lee in a criminal case.

Nevertheless, Fountain had shown little fear of Albert Fall. He had repeatedly challenged Fall and his men in the courts and the political arena.

As the bodies of Fountain and his son were never found, the proescution was greatly hampered. Charges were never filed for the murder of Albert Fall or Deputy Sheriff Kearney. The charges against McNew were dismissed, while Lee and Gililland were both acquitted.[7]

See also[]

  • Texas Senate
  • Twelfth Texas Legislature
  • Thirteenth Texas Legislature
  • Missing person
  • List of people who have mysteriously disappeared
  • San Elizario Salt War[1]
  • Thomas B. Catron
  • Mary Fountain
  • Clyde Everett Crouse Jr.
  • Kathrine Mary Crouse


  • ^ Ollie Reed, Jr. of the Albuquerque Tribune in an article on May 25, 2001 refers to the fact that in 1900, charred bones were found in an unmarked grave in the Sacramento Mountains. The killings may have been carried out by outlaw Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum. Reed quotes Tribune reporter Howard Bryan as saying if Ketchum did the killings he did it for hire, but does not say who may have hired him. Mr. Reed's source for the Ketchum connection is Bryan and Bryan's book "True Tales of the American Southwest" 1998, Clear Light Publishers. Mr. Bryan mentions the bones in an April 22, 1965 Albuquerque Tribune column in which he writes about A.M. Gibson's book "The Life and Death of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain." 1965 University of Oklahoma Press.
  • ^ Issue of Albert Jennings Fountain: Albert (December 1863), Marianita (1865), Edward (1868), Maggie (1871), Thomas (1873), John A. (1876), Fannie, Catarina, and Henry (1888) Fountain.

Further reading on Fountain's life and death[]

  • Gibson, A. M., The Life and Death of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965)
  • Owen, Gordon, The Two Alberts: Fountain and Fall, (Las Cruces: Yucca Tree Press, 1996)
  • Recko, Corey, Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain, (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2007)
  • Sonnichsen, C. L., Tularosa: The Last of the Frontier West, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1960)


  • Gibson, A. M., The Life and Death of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965)
  • Recko, Corey, Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain, (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2007)
  • 1880-1910 United States Federal Census


External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | Texas Senate Template:TXSenateSuccession box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
David Webster Flanagan |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|President pro tempore of the Texas Senate
1871 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
David Webster Flanagan |- |} Template:Governors of Texas