Albert Jennings Fountain, lawyer, legislator, and Indian fighter, was born on Staten Island, New York, on October 23, 1838, the son of Solomon Jennings, a sea captain. His mother was from a colonial Huguenot family. Fountain was reared in the Episcopal faith and educated in New York public schools and at Columbia College. He moved to California in the 1850s and worked as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. While he was with the newspaper, he went to Nicaragua to cover the filibuster expedition of William Walker. Fountain read law in the office of N. Greene Curtis and was admitted to the California bar in 1860.
In 1861 he enlisted in the First California Infantry Volunteers, commanded by Col. James H. Carleton. Fountain advanced from private to lieutenant in this Union force as it marched from the Pacific coast over mountains and deserts of the Southwest to the Rio Grande. After arriving too late to intercept Gen. Henry H. Sibley's retreating Confederate army, the California Column became an army of occupation for New Mexico and Arizona territories. Fountain was assigned to the garrison at Franklin (El Paso) and at nearby Mesilla in the New Mexico Territory. At Mesilla he met Marianna Pérez, whom he married on October 26, 1862. They had four sons and two daughters. Fountain participated in the Mescalero Indian roundup and the relocation of this group to Bosque Redondo under the guns of Fort Sumner and then commanded volunteer New Mexico cavalry against the Mimbreño and Chiricahua Apaches. Wounds received in the Western Apache campaigns led to Fountain's hospitalization at Fort Bliss, El Paso, where he recovered and was discharged from federal service.
After the Civil War he and his wife made their home in El Paso, where he established a law practice and became a civic leader, a founder of the local Episcopal church, and a leading organizer of the Republican party in western Texas. Articulate and forceful, Fountain advocated "militant Republicanism" during the Reconstruction of Texas. His early political appointments included county surveyor and collector of customs for El Paso.
Fountain's oratory at the Radical Republican convention at Corpus Christi in 1868 led to his election as vice chairman of the convention and a major role in drafting the Texas Radical Republican platform. When the military governor of Texas authorized elections in 1868, Fountain supported Radical Republican Edmund J. Davis for governor and was himself elected state senator from the El Paso district. When the Twelfth legislature convened in Austin, Fountain was elected majority leader of the Senate. He assisted in drafting Governor Davis's radical program for reconstructing Texas, and he worked for local needs, including the "frontier protection bill" to reactivate the Texas Rangers. As the acknowledged political kingpin of western Texas, Fountain regularly was challenged by adversaries at El Paso. He killed political enemy Frank Williams in a duel after Williams insulted him in a saloon.
At the second session of the Twelfth Legislature Fountain was elected president of the Senate; in the Thirteen Legislature he served as Senate minority leader. His legislative proposals included extension of suffrage to women, which was defeated, and incorporation for the town of El Paso, which was approved. As the force of Reconstruction in Texas diminished, Fountain's political base at El Paso evaporated. In 1873 he moved his family back to Mesilla.
He became a powerful Republican leader in New Mexico Territory, where he served as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives. In 1879 he became captain of the Mesilla Scouts, a militia unit raised to defend the town against Indian raids. Fountain published the Mesilla Independent and was one of New Mexico's most prominent attorneys for nearly twenty-five years. His success in obtaining indictments and convictions of rustlers in southern New Mexico-he had twenty convictions in 1894 alone-earned him a number of enemies. On February 1, 1896, Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry disappeared between Tularosa and Las Cruces; their bodies were never found. Three men were tried for the murders but acquitted. The disappearance is still the most famous unsolved murder case in that region.