Did noted 1920s Chicago gangster Al Capone really have a hideout in the Jemez Mountains of Sandoval County, New Mexico?
Did he visit there from time to time?
Capone (1899-1947), a native of New York City, began a criminal career at a young age and progressed through the ranks of the underworld hierarchy to become the leading gangster in Chicago and the U.S. during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s.
He had so much power, according to some, that he controlled the mayor of Chicago and the city government.
Late in that decade and very early the next, before he was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in October 1931, he may have spent time away from the turbulence of his big-city life in the remote reaches of Jemez Canyon in Sandoval County.
Several people say he did.
Historian Mike Smith, writing in “New Mexico Magazine” (July 2007), found several residents of Jemez Canyon who flatly declared that the mobster spent time there in the late 1920s, and that he stayed with a former Chicagoan named Seth Seiders and his wife, Rhea.
The Seiders are said to have owned and operated a saloon (illegal in those days) and a gambling parlor (also illegal) near Battleship Rock, up the canyon from Jemez Springs.
Smith also cited at least one source who says that Capone did not visit the Jemez Mountains, even though the criminal and Seth Seiders were acquainted back in Chicago.
Memoirist Mary Lou Heaphy reported in her book about her mother, “A Cliffie Experience,” that, as a child, she met Capone at the Seiders’ place (she spelled it “Siders”) just before the mobster was arrested for income tax evasion in 1931.
When he was in residence, she noted, men with Thompson sub-machine guns guarded the drinking and gambling facilities.
She said her mother visited the place several times.
One of Capone’s biographers noted that “Scarface” traveled widely and might have visited the Jemez area.
Aside from word of mouth, there does not seem to be any proof of the Capone connection to the Jemez Canyon.
The legend, however, will live on.
(Don Bullis is a Rio Rancho resident, New Mexico centennial historian and award-winning author. He was named the Best Local Author in the 2018 and ‘19 Rio Rancho Readers’ Choice contests. “Ellos Pasaron por Aqui” is translated as “They Passed by Here.”)
DON BULLIS’ NEWEST BOOK ‘NO MANURE ON MAIN STREET: A Historian’s Diary of Western Movies’ is now available from www.RioGrandeBooks.com.