Losing Your Head in Taos…



At 60 years of age Arthur Manby had solidified his reputation as the most disliked man in Taos. Ten years later, July of 1929, his decapitated body was found swollen and stinking and riddled with blue flies and maggots on a cot in his beautiful Spanish Colonial hacienda near the Taos plaza.

Manby was a talented con man. Advanced by an easy smile and comfortable manner he quickly roped in one sucker after another. Everyone in Taos knew him. Most hated him. A few tolerated him. Many feared him. He spent most of his adult life conning, thieving and accumulating a fortune on the backs of everyone who had anything in northern New Mexico, and beyond. Real estate was his primary game. He also dabbled in mining schemes and even art cons.

Until things began to unravel, and while Manby was still thought to be legitimate, he ruled that part of New Mexico like a bad emperor. He took money for land he had no right to sell. He summarily evicted those who may have had a legitimate claim to the land. He sold stock in worthless mines. He had no conscience. He trampled the poor and conned the rich and he did it with the protection and encouragement of the corrupt government in Santa Fe. He had friends in high places and thugs in low places. But by the time he was 60 his luck and thugs were running low. He was in trouble financially. His schemes and the law were beginning to catch up with him.

By 1929 Manby was laying low, dodging lawsuits and victims of his schemes. He was beginning to look a tad frayed around the edges. His thinning white hair stuck out from his floppy hat in all directions. Signs of his syphilis were beginning to show. What goes around comes around!


The garden gate to the Manby hacienda in Taos

On a warm, late spring afternoon I stopped in at the old Manby hacienda out of  plain, morbid curiosity in the place. It’s now an art center where artists and tourists accumulate. They also have a coffee bar there and a fridge full of bottles of lemonade. A young man, 14 going on 20 and of dubious alertness was running the espresso machine. I asked him if he knew which room Manby’s body was found in. He looked up at me utterly confused.

“What body?”, he nearly yelled.

“Arthur Manby’s.” I said. “The guy who built this place and whose headless body was found here in 1929.”

“Jeez!” The kid replied. “I don’t know anything about Manby or a body.”

Once again it seems incomprehensible to me that a person would work in a place and not know all the juicy details about it. Where is this kid’s sense of curiosity and enthusiasm in macabre history?

My own fascination in the place stems from my interest in the location of Forrest’s hidden chest. Let me explain-

One of my first search locations was in a place on the Rio Grande known as “the box”. This is a deep gorge (canyon) with the Rio Grande at the bottom that starts where the river enters New Mexico and extends all the way past Taos. Up until this point the Rio is a warm running stream but once inside the box it gets fed by cold springs and it’s volume increases significantly. There are two very nice streams with Brown trout  that enter the Rio in the box. Each could be considered not far, but too far to walk from the start of the gorge. One is the Red and the other is the Hondo.

My first expedition to New Mexico was to search the confluence of the Red and Rio Grande rivers. This area matched up so well to the clues in the poem that I could not believe it wasn’t there…maybe I just missed it…

The one flaw in this area is access. The steepness and depth of the gorge gang up to make this a hike that’s a level of difficulty which doesn’t sound like Forrest’s game. The only access at that point is by foot and it’s at least a mile in and a thousand feet down…Would Forrest have carried 40lbs of treasure down into that hole…in retrospect, I doubt it.

So in June I wanted to check out the other confluence…the Rios Hondo and Grande. This area of the box is also steep and deep but the mitigating factor is the road that dives in and out with a bridge at the bottom. The John Dunn Bridge. The Hondo is apparently a great Brown trout fishery. The box is the canyon and all the other clues could be twisted to point here as well. “If it isn’t at the Red it must be at the Hondo”, I told myself.


The John Dunn Bridge across the Rio Grande is a spot once coveted by Arthur Manby

Now, what all this has to do with Manby is that at one time Manby  owned this area down at the confluence of the Hondo and the Grande. He built two bridges down there and later, when he needed some money, sold them to a tall, skinny fellow from Taos named John Dunn. John had a streak of bad luck when according to legend both of Manby’s bridges were washed away in a flood soon after he bought them. So John rebuilt one of the bridges and constructed a hotel down on the river. Served fresh trout for dinner every evening, improved the road on both sides of the river and charged a toll for people using his bridge. This was a pretty lucrative business because if you didn’t use John Dunn’s bridge you could add an extra hundred or so miles onto your trip to or from the railroad at Tres Piedras.


Black Rock Hot Springs next to the Rio Grande

But bridges were not the only calling card to that spot. Manby also tried to improve a natural hot spring a few miles further down stream from the Dunn Bridge. It had been used by Indians and Spaniards and everyone else going back hundreds…maybe thousands of years. By “improve” I mean put a building around the spring and charge people to use it. What he ended up building was dark and frightening, so few people went there. Years later the building was torn down. The open-air spring is still there. It’s called Manby Hot Springs and is just down river from Black Rock Springs which is near the John Dunn Bridge.  Anyone can go down there and relax in either Manby or Black Rock…or just watch the river. They are both free and when I was there only one other person came by Black Rock.  An easy trail takes you past a cave and over to the pools of hot water at Black Rock. It was at one of these springs that I knew Forrest had hidden his treasure. It was here that I was intent on searching.

Being a fan of the “form follows function” adage I wanted to see Manby’s hacienda and conjure up some of his destiny before I started searching. I wanted to sit in the room where his headless torso was discovered and drink a lemonade and soak up the atmosphere… minus the blue flies and maggots. Karma to karma. Maybe Manby would tell me where, exactly to look.

So now I am in Taos, in Arthur Manby’s hacienda cum-art center cum-lemonade stand. I brought along an old map of the building showing where his body was found and where the dismembered head was ultimately discovered back in 1929. I was hoping the kid would allow me to explore the rooms. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to work out. He seems a bit upset by the whole notion of a headless body in his establishment. He keeps an eye on me like he’s ready to dial 911 if I should pull out a knife or start speaking in tongues. I can see the windows and a door across the garden that lead to the room I want to be in. I look around. Its right after school and three high schoolers are hanging out but that’s about it. They look like they are readying up to leave. I wait. They leave.

I place a couple bucks under my lemonade glass, pick up my camera and walk over to the door across the garden. There is no sign reading “keep out”, or “employees only”. I twist the knob. It opens. I walk in and close the door behind me. The room is narrow and long. Windows along the garden side let in soft light. Cafe tables and chairs mean this room is now used as an eating space. I wonder if the folks who dine here sense it’s ghoulish past.

I find a chair in a spot I identify as the most likely location of the infamous cot. I sit. I think Manby thoughts. I try to conjure him up. Nothing! I try harder. I close my eyes.  I focus.


The room – looking out toward the garden

Something happens. I hear a noise around my head. What is it? Flies! One is trying to crawl into my mouth.They are all over me. Something smells putrid. This is disgusting. I force my eyes open. My heart is pounding against my rib cage. The flies are gone. The air in the room smells like air in a room. What just happened? Did I actually slip back to 1929? I don’t want to do that again. I am a little freaked. I take a couple of pictures in the room and quickly leave the way I came in. I figure the whole episode up to an over achieving imagination. I find my truck over near the cemetery, hop in and drive away from Taos and stinking blue flies a little faster than the law allows.


29 thoughts on “Losing Your Head in Taos…

    • I have decided that sometimes an overactive imagination can be a terrible thing…
      And how come that worked so well with the flies but not the treasure?
      Manby works in mysterious ways…

  1. Hey Dal, I once found a human skull outside Taos up on Ute mountain while hunting for Elk, I wanted to keep it, but my guide turned it into the Sheriff’s Department. I had heard it was from someone that had been missing almost 70 years, this was around 1997 or 98…I wonder if it was the head of Arthur Manby? What a trip? The wild thing was it was on a full moon evening on Halloween. I just learned about this story today and am seriously going to be looking for the Treasure of Mr Finn sometime soon in the near future. When I read the story and the poem, my first thoughts were of the Rio Grande Gorge, but near the Stagecoach hots prings and maybe near the Taos gorge bridge. He probably just threw it over and drove back to Santa Fe….that sounds like something an 80 year old man would do. May be heading to Taos in a few weeks to ski, as well as planning on moving back there again soo. The search is on. Former 12 year resident of Northern New Mexico, Nick

  2. He didn’t know about Man by because they don’t teach Man by in our history. He was so hated that many older Hispanic families try and just wipe him from history. In fact, his tombstone has been vandalized many times by descendants of those he cheated.

    I know because my paternal grandfather is a local historian and my maternal great great grandfather was one of Manby’s victims. There are many who believe he was killed, beheaded and his head fed to his dobermans. In addition, those who do know the story are from families that are from Taos mainly Hispanics and native Americans. If the young man was not of this descent or if his family located to Taos after Mamby’s death it is doubtful that he would be aware. Your curiosity lead you further than most residents even know of.

    • cassandra-

      Forrest is writing a book about Manby…I don’t believe it will offend anyone. He includes first and second hand reports that have never been printed before.

      • I personally feel his story should be told more. His crimes were not unique and the people of this area have long been scammed due to illiteracy and language barriers. I did like your blog and the book seems like it’ll be a good read. I wish you and Forrest the best.

  3. I really like your writing style. The past is all around us, we just have to learn to find it. Your adventures and photographs are inspiring. Thank you for all your hard work.

      • I really think Taos is included heavily in the solve…..just have to find out how, it could be linked to Fechin or even Manby. I’m just started looking at Manby so not too sure if or indeed how he links in.

    • Thanks Steve..I had seen that..The John Dunn Shops are a shady respite on a hot day in Taos. I sat under a tree licking an ice cream cone while Kathy looked at unusual material in the fabulous and unique fabric shop…Common Threads..
      Then I went out the John Dunn Road and searched like crazy for two days…

  4. If you think the John Dunn mystery is good read about the Heberer Lorius Case 1935 one of the Ten Greatest Unsolved Mysteries in the United States rivaling with Amelia Earhart and the Lindbergh Baby. Type Pintada Kid Stories on any search site and read my 10 part story on this Great Mystery that im sure I can solve. Be sure to look at my pictures and read about the the Pintada Kid. el pintada kid

    Yesterday a searcher who became disoriented and eventually lost in the Gallatin National Forest was rescued and flown out of his predicament by a search and rescue helicopter.

    All the facts are not in, but apparently our fellow drove up a Forest Service road and got stuck in snow and ice. He left his truck on the lonely road to go in on foot and somehow got off the road and lost his way.

    His family was desperate when our fellow didn’t make contact for more than a day and they contacted Forrest. Forrest made the decision to contact his nephew, Chip, in West Yellowstone.

    Chip checked our fellow’s motel room and discovered that he had not spent the night in his bed. This was very bad news because of the cold weather exposure this fellow would have experienced to well below freezing weather and snowfall. They spotted his truck on the icy road and attempted to follow his tracks through the snow but animal tracks and difficult terrain made it impossible to track him.

    Chip activated a rescue team on snowmobiles and mobilized a helicopter to scan the area in the direction they assumed he traveled.

    Before the end of the day the helicopter crew spotted our fellow and plucked him from his predicament. It is reported that he told his wife on the phone after his rescue that he would not have survived another night out there.

    Diggin Gypsy and her sisters and daughter, who were searching nearby, also went to help and located this fellows truck…

    Kudos to Forrest and Chip and Diggin Gypsy’s crew. Had they not acted quickly our fellow certainly would have been in a much worse situation.

    It might be almost June. It might be only 6 weeks til summer. But it’s important to remember that the mountains are still having nightly temperatures in the 20’s and snow is still likely to fall….Please be prepared. Cell phone coverage simply does not exist in most wild places.

    Among other precautions, take a hand held GPS with you if you start walking around in the wild. A person can get very disoriented very quickly.

    • Thank you to all the brave ones mentioned who helped locate and recover our fellow searcher from a troubling situation.

    • That’s an amazing story!
      Great reminder too; of how human and neighborly the Fenns, and Thrill/Chasers, can be — Regular folk, extraordinary heart.
      Reminds me a little bit of that search & rescue that HarrisonFord helped out on a few years back, and he ended up being the actual rescue vehicle. 🙂

  6. Love this story Dal. Believe it or not I heard this story almost word for word before I dread it :). Just re reading before sending, was that a fruedan slip/ typo or what?

  7. First time reading your story and wow you do have a talent with telling a story. If there is a link hear it is probable the hot springs imo. Of course everyone needs to check things out for themselves.

  8. Hey Dal,
    I was born in Arroyo Hondo and know this area very well. I too made a trip to the cafe in Taos. I was not looking for it but was drawn there almost magnetically. No flashbacks to report but I felt a strong connection to Forrest here, I feel like I definitely stood in his footsteps. I have heard of Manby but didn’t know about the book Forrest is writing, has written already? I love Taos and I think that I may be trying to make my special place fit the poem, but hearing others plucking the same string gives me some reassurance. Thanks for doing what you do

    • Blazeone-
      Forrest has decided that he will not write that book now. I know he has a lot of research material, notes, recordings about Manby and that period in Taos. I hope they go to someone who has an interest…

  9. I am a descendant of Aurthur Manby, and I can tell you that the stories I heard of him from the family, he was hated by all of them as well. he was a JERK ( other words would better describe him) no one in the family was saddened or surprised that he was murdered.

  10. Dal,
    Wow! The story is worthy of a book AND film. You might want to pitch it to Hollywood agencies. HOB is connected to FF from past colleagues. I have linked 2 corrorborative elements. One invovles Leon Gaspard. Wanna trade some clues?

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