Road to Santa Fe - Over the Pass / Santa Fe Trail Country - "Uncle Dick" Wootton Historical

Road to Santa Fe - Over the Pass / Santa Fe Trail Country - "Uncle Dick" Wootton Historical (HM1UBM)

Location: Trinidad, CO 81082 Las Animas County
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Country: United States of America
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N 36° 59.633', W 104° 28.794'

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Panel 1
Road to Santa Fe

"...for it begins upon the outside line of the outside State (Missouri) and runs directly toward the setting sun..." - Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, following the Santa Fe Trail survey, 1825

For twenty-five years - 1821 to 1846 - the Santa Fe Trail was an important trade route linking the United States and Mexico. Caravans of wagons traveled the 800-miles route across the plains between Missouri and Santa Fe, then the capital of northern Mexico. Drawn by teams of oxen and mules, the wagons carried textiles, tools, and household goods south, and brought wool, fur, mules and silver north. American and Mexican traders often formed alliances to keep the trade caravans rolling. But at the outset of the Mexican-American War in 1846, the Army of the West marched down the trail to invade Mexico. At war's end two years later, New Mexico became part of the United States. The Santa Fe Trail remained a vital trade route until 1880, when the railroad reached Santa Fe.

The Mountain Route
Early travelers on the Santa Fe Trail had a choice of two routes. They could follow the Cimarron Route to the southwest, a diagonal shortcut through semiarid, exposed land, or take the Mountain Route which twisted and climbed through "a rough notch in the
mountain." The trail over Raton Pass was treacherous, but water could be found along the way. After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the U.S. Army established first in the vicinity, which offered protection to travelers on this route.

Also found on this panel:

(Caption) The Santa Fe Trail preceded the Oregon and Mormon Trails by twenty years. Unlike those two routes, this trail was predominantly a highway of commerce.
Courtesy Long Distance Trails Office, National Park Service

Photo of two men
(Caption) Hispanos, such as Jesus Vialpando and his son Avelino, traveled the Santa Fe Trail transporting trade goods.
Courtesy Colorado Springs Museum

Drawing of trail near Raton Pass
(Caption) South end of the Raton switchback and tunnel near Trinidad, also showing the old Santa Fe Trail over Raton Pass
From a sketch by H. Worrall, courtesy Public Library District

Panel 2
Over the Pass

Crossing Raton Pass was the hardest part of the journey along the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail. An early traveler said the road climbed through a narrow defile filled with boulders and "sudden turns that gave you a glimpse of the green valley below." To pass the overhanging rocks, wagons crawled along the edge of steep drop-offs. Thunderstorms were often violent,
and summer rains washed out whole sections of road. While making the trip with her trader husband in 1846, Susan Magoffin wrote in her journal: "...almost every fifty or [one] hundred yards there are large stones, or steep little hillocks, just the things to bounce a wagon [wheel] up, unless there is the most careful driving."

Wagons West
As they crossed the open plains, wagons rolled side by side, usually in four columns. But the trail over Raton Pass wound through a narrow valley, and the wagons formed single columns for the ascent. They had to be strong and sturdy for the rough trip. In the early days, the vehicles were manufactured in the East, but by the 1840s Missouri manufacturers were building them for the trail. Drawn by teams of oxen or mules, the wagons each carried about 6,000 pounds of trade goods as they lumbered back and forth between Missouri and Santa Fe, their white canvas tops snapping in the wind.

" an early hour, the advance was sounded. Our route led up a narrow defile through the mountains...called the Raton Pass. This day's march was extremely arduous." - John T. Hughes, August 7, 1846.

Also found on this panel:

Photo of a restored covered wagon
(Caption) Typical example of a freight wagon that traveled the Santa Fe Trail
Courtesy National Park Service

Photo of Susan Magoffin
Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1827-1855. In 1846 Magoffin accompanied her husband and his trade caravan along the Santa Fe Trail. Her diary of that journey offers a rare glimpse into daily life on the trial.
Colorado Historical Society

Panel 3
Map: Santa Fe Trail Country

Panel 4
"Uncle Dick" Wootton

Wootton's Toll Road

Today's highway over Raton Pass parallels the toll road built by "Uncle Dick" Wootton in 1866. Wootton improved some twenty-seven miles of the toughest part of the road. "There were hillsides to cut down," he said, "rocks to blast and remove, and bridges to build by the score. I built the road, however, and made it a good one." He erected a tollgate in front of his house and initially charged $1.50 for one wagon of buggy and 25 cents for a "horseman," priced that he changed from time to time. But Wootton always allowed the Indians to use the toll road free of charge. In 1879 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad bought the right of way from Wootton. The following year, the railroad built all the way to Santa Fe, and the era of the Santa Fe Trail came to an end.

"Uncle Dick"

Richens Lacy Wootton, known as "Uncle Dick," was born on May 6, 1916, in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Those who knew him
said he was a natural-born frontiersman who needed room and breathing space. "He did not like towns said an acquaintance. "He did not like being jostled on wooden sidewalks." At age nineteen he traveled west and hired on with William Bent to move a caravan of wagons down the Santa Fe Trail. For the next fifty-seven years, Wootton earned his living in Colorado as a trader, trapper, hunter, farmer, freighter, merchant, and road builder. In the home that Wootton built near his toll road, stagecoach passengers always found a hot lunch waiting, along with an abundance of good stories."

Also found on this panel:

Photo of Richard Lacy "Uncle Dick" Wootton, 1816-1893
Colorado Historical Society

Photo of the Wootton ranch, 1881
Colorado Historical Society
Year Placed1997
Placed ByColorado Historical Society
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, September 12th, 2016 at 5:03pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)13S E 546280 N 4094320
Decimal Degrees36.99388333, -104.47990000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 36° 59.633', W 104° 28.794'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds36° 59' 37.98" N, 104° 28' 47.64" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)719
Closest Postal AddressAt or near I-25, Trinidad CO 81082, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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