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Once inhabited by Jicarilla Apache and Moache Ute Indians, Philmont was the site of one of the first pioneer settlements in northeastern New Mexico. The present ranch is part of the original Beaubien and Miranda Land Grant that was granted to Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda by the Mexican government in 1841. Beaubien's son-in-law, mountain man Lucien Maxwell, led the first settlers to the grant in 1848. With the help of his friend Kit Carson, Maxwell's settlement on the Rayado River prospered despite frequent Indian raids and harsh wilderness conditions.
Maxwell moved his ranch north to the Cimarron River in 1857, the site of present-day Cimarron. There it became a famous stop on the Santa Fe Trail, bringing U.S. trade goods into New Mexico. Ten years after Maxwell moved to the Cimarron, gold was discovered on his ranch near Baldy Mountain. For years afterward, the mountains and streams of Maxwell's Ranch swarmed with prospectors and miners.
In 1870, Maxwell sold his ranch to an English land company known as the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company. After several years the land was again sold to a Dutch-based company that tried several development schemes, but eventually it sold the land in tracts for farms and ranches.
The Philmont Ranch became a showplace. Immense herds of Hereford cows and Corriedale sheep grazed its pastures. Phillips built a large Spanish Mediterranean home for his family at the headquarters and named it the Villa Philmonte. He developed horse and hiking trails throughout the scenic backcountry along with elaborate fishing and hunting cabins for his family and friends.One of those interested in the New Mexico tracts was Oklahoma oilman, Waite Phillips, who had become interested in developing a ranch out of the old land grant in 1922. He eventually amassed more than 300,000 acres of mountains and plains in a ranch he named Philmont (derived from his name and the Spanish word for mountain, "monte").
After observing the enthusiastic response of the first Scout campers, Phillips augmented his original gift in 1941 with an addition that included his best camping land, the Villa Philmonte, and the headquarters of the farming and ranching operation. The second gift was made so that "many, rather than few" could enjoy his rich and beautiful land. Phillips was quoted in the Tulsa Daily World saying: "That ranch represents an ideal of my youth ... and has meant a lot to my son and his pals. Now I want to make it available to other boys. ... I'd be selfish to hold it for my individual use." The property, now totaling 127,395 acres, was renamed Philmont Scout Ranch.Waite Phillips believed in sharing his wealth with people outside his family. In this spirit, he offered 35,857 acres of his ranch to the Boy Scouts of America in 1938 to serve as a national wilderness camping area. The area was named Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp (after Phillips' name and the Scout slogan "Do a Good Turn Daily"). Fees for the first summer were set at $1 per week per camper, and 189 Scouts from Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma arrived for the first experience at a national backcountry Scout camp.
Phillips realized that the cost for maintaining and developing the property could not and should not be derived entirely from camper fees. As an endowment he included in the gift his 23-story Philtower Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The first season of Philmont Scout Ranch in 1942 welcomed only 275 Scouts, and attendance remained low during the war years. But 1946 saw Scouts arriving from all 12 regions across the country. Programs and backcountry camps were continually being developed, and in 1949 workers began rebuilding Kit Carson's adobe home at Rayado—a project that Phillips had urged the BSA to undertake.
By 1950, campers were attending Philmont from almost every council; attendance was over 1,700. But in 1951, it jumped to more than 5,200 and topped 7,000 in 1954. Also during the 1950s, adult and family attendance increased, with the establishment of the Philmont Training Center in 1950.
In 1963, through the generosity of Norton Clapp, vice president of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, another piece of the Maxwell Land Grant was purchased and added to Philmont. This was the Baldy Mountain mining area consisting of 10,098 acres. Today, the ranch's total area is approximately 214 square miles.