These mountainside communes housed an eclectic population of restless youth from around the world—poor kids, wealthy heirs, idealists, addicts, and self-proclaimed “dope smoking, vegetarian Jesus freaks.”
These youth wanted to live apart from conventional society; they wanted to grow marijuana if they felt like it—and, oh, they felt like it. They wanted a life without government—except, later on, for government welfare programs. And they wanted to live without leaders—though they soon found one anyway.
Donald Waskey was a Polish-American man from Chicago, Illinois. As Donald Waskey he was a professor of philosophy; sometime in the 1960s, however, he embraced the realization that he was the living reincarnation of Vulcan (the Roman god of fire), of Jesus Christ, and of former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant, whose name he adopted for himself.
As Ulysses S. Grant, he helped establish the commune of Lower Farm in Placitas, renamed the commune Manerva Nueva in 1967, and officially incorporated the place as a nonprofit organization.
Grant became famous as a local icon, riding around bearded, longhaired, and barefoot, on a white horse he claimed was the reincarnation of one belonging to the original Ulysses S. Grant. With his charisma and seemingly jovial nature, Grant rapidly became Lower Farm’s unofficial leader and an unofficial spokesman for all the communes.
He has since been remembered by various hippies as “a big-time dreamer,” “a very gifted person who was very screwed up,” “an unstable, authoritarian man,” “the craziest man I ever knew who didn’t require incarceration,” and “a wise and charismatic bully who claimed Lower Farm was a free place, while at the same time keeping total control and power over all.”
As time passed, Grant seemed to become more unstable, more despotic and more violent. He would kick a dog until it limped, beat up area residents who disagreed with him, and once almost killed a man with a machete to the head, when the man wasn’t hoeing a row of corn right.
As a natural next step for someone with his level of megalomania, Grant declared his early candidacy for New Mexico’s 1971 gubernatorial race, promising — in a 16-page watercolor presentation — that if he were elected, there would be more horse trails for all, marijuana would be legalized and, “No one would ever be forced to do anything.”
Unfortunately for Grant, his campaign was hindered by his refusal to ever step inside a car, by his inability to pay the $1300 filing fee, and by his brutal murder of two people.
Grant had been feuding with three fellow commune members, including one man who claimed Grant had hit the man’s pregnant wife with a door. After being charged by the man with assault, Grant borrowed a rifle and, according to a December 1970 Albuquerque Tribune article, surprised the men near the commune’s watering hole and shot two of the three of them two times apiece — once in the back as they ran, and once in the face to be certain they were dead. The murders undoubtedly involved drugs as well.
Grant, his wife Helen, and their one-year-old son fled the state immediately, a nationwide manhunt ensued, and Lower Farm’s hippies moved down to the commune of Tawapa.
Placitas’s hippie scene gradually imploded under the weight of cocaine and other drugs, yuppies replaced hippies, and in the mid-1990s, Ulysses S. Grant finally turned up.
His body and the body of his wife were discovered among the ashes of a burned down farmhouse in northern Idaho, each with a bullet in the back of the head. Who killed them and why may never be known.