Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Before attorney Albert Bacon Fall became a U.S. Senator from New Mexico and, later, Secretary of Interior, he was connected to several infamous violent incidents in the state.
At Interior, he steered the lease of lucrative oil fields in Wyoming and California to his wealthy cronies and, in 1929, aged 68, he was convicted of bribery in the Teapot Dome scandal, which began to unravel in 1921. On hearing the jury’s verdict, Fall, now “the first cabinet member in U.S. history to be convicted of a felony, slumped forward in his wheelchair,” author Laton McCartney wrote in his book “The Teapot Dome Scandal.”
Fall had once disarmed gunfighter John Wesley Hardin, according to McCartney. “Angry, he was as dangerous as a diamondback rattler,” he wrote of Fall.
Paul Hutton, a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico who specializes in American history and history of the American West, said Fall was infamous.
While an attorney, Fall represented Jessie Wayne Brazel, who had admitted killing Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid’s killer, in 1908 near Las Cruces.
“He (Brazel) said he shot Garrett in a dispute over grazing land, he shot him in the back while Garrett was urinating and Fall got him off on self-defense,” Hutton said, in a recent telephone interview.
“Everyone knew the fix was in and it was all a sham. Brazel may not even have done the killing, it may have been a hired killer that Garrett’s enemies had brought in,” according to Hutton. “Obviously, Fall was a good lawyer, I guess.”
The Garrett killing was not the only southern New Mexico crime in which Fall’s name is mentioned.
“Garrett was investigating the murder of Albert Jennings Fountain from many years before, which was New Mexico’s most famous unsolved murder, and that was making a lot of the ranchers down there uncomfortable,” said Hutton.
Fountain, also an attorney, was a wealthy rancher and served in the New Mexico House of Representatives, and according to McCartney’s book, was an enemy of Fall.
“Fountain and his young son both went missing one summer day in 1896 as they rode home on a buckboard, never to be seen again,” McCartney wrote.
Proof of Fall’s involvement was lacking, but “to this day the Fountain family believes that Fall was somehow responsible for the disappearance of father and son,” he wrote.
In 1923, former New Mexico Territory Governor Miguel Otero wrote to a Senate investigation of Fall’s involvement in Teapot Dome,
“‘The bodies of Colonel Fountain and his little son were never found, and the case was never tried,'” McCartney reported.