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Uncle Dick Wooten Erects a Toll Gate. Major Pendelton Carries Cash in Coach to Pay Troops.

In August of 1864 the scenery along the route from Kansas City, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was grand. Kansas City at that time was a very small place. Its inhabitants may have numbered two or three thousand. Santa Fe with its narrow streets looking like alleys was built mostly of doby (mud bricks). Crowded up against the mountains, at the end of a little valley, through which runs a tributary to the Rio Grande, boasted of healthful climate. Santa Fe had a public square in the center, a house known as "the Palace." There were numerous gambling houses there and these gambling houses were considered as respectable as the merchants' store houses. The business of the place was considerable, many of the merchants being wholesale dealers for the vast territory tributary. In the money market there were no pennies,--nothing less than five-cent pieces. The old palace about which I have called your attention is an old land mark of Santa Fe and is to Santa Fe what "The Alamo" is to Texas. The postoffice at that time was a small building, 14x24, with a partition in the center. It was one-story with a dirt roof, as were all the houses of that old Spanish city at the time my narrative opens.

On my first trip from Santa Fe to Kansas City in 1864 there was little to note except that when I got up on the Raton mountain about thirty miles from Trinidad, Colorado, Uncle Dick Wooten had a large force of Mexicans building a toll road. Originally the road was almost impassable. Saddle horses and pack mules could get over the narrow rock-ribbed pass and around what was known as the "devil's gate," but it was next to impossible for the stages and other caravans to get to Trinidad. This was the natural highway to southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. Uncle Dick was a man of considerable forethought and it occurred to him that he might make some money if he bought a few pounds of dynamite and blasted the rock at "the Devil's Gate" and hewed out a good road, which, barring grades, should be as good as the average turnpike. He expected of course to keep the roads in good repair at his own expense and succeeded in getting the legislatures of Colorado and New Mexico to grant him a charter covering the rights and privileges of his projected toll road or turnpike.

In the spring of 1865 Uncle Tom built him a tolerably pretentious home on the top of the mountains--the house on one side of the road and the stables on the other and swung a gate across the road from the house to the stables. I believe some historians say that Uncle Dick Wooten continued to live at this place until the year of 1895, the date of his death. But as to the veracity of this assertion I will not vouch.

The building of this road with great hillsides to cut out, ledges of rock to blast out and to build dozens of bridges across the mountain streams, difficult gradings, etc., was no easy task. Neither was it an easy task to collect toll from all the travelers. People from the states understood that they must pay toll for the privilege of traveling over a road that had been built at the cost of time and money, but there were other people who thought they should be as free to travel over Uncle Dick's, well-graded roadway as they were to follow the "pig paths" through the forest.

He had no trouble to collect tolls from the stage company, the military authorities and American freighters, nor did he experience trouble with the Indians who pass that way. However, the Indians who did not understand the matter of toll generally seemed to see the consistency of reimbursing the man who had made the road, and the chief of a band would usually think it in order to make him a present of a buckskin or buffalo hide or something of that sort. The Mexicans, however, held different views. They were of course pleased with the road and liked to travel over it, but that toll gate was as "a dash of cold water in their faces." They called it Dick Wooten's highway robbery scheme.

After Uncle Dick's road was completed and the stage coaches began to travel over it his house was turned into a stage station and you can guess that Uncle Dick Wooten had many a stage story to relate to the "tenderfoot" who chose his house to order a meal or sleep in his beds.

Kit Carson was one of the lifelong friends of Uncle Dick and two men for whom I have great respect. They were both friends to the Indians and both have told me that they would never kill an Indian. The Arapahoes knew Uncle Dick Wooten as "Cut Hand" from the fact that he had two fingers missing on his left hand. This tribe had a great veneration for the keeper of the tollgate, and he was perfectly safe at any time in their villages and camps. One of the dying chiefs made as a dying request, that although the nation be at war with all the whites in the world, his warriors were never to injure "Cut Hand," but to assist him in whatever way they could if he needed them. Uncle Dick Wooten's Christian name was "Richen Lacy Wooten" and lived at Independence, Missouri, before venturing to the frontier.

Before I leave Uncle Dick to go on to another journey across the Old Santa Fe Trail I will relate the story of the death of Espinosa--Don Espinosa. The Mexican aristocracy are called "Dons," claiming descent from the nobles of Cortez' army. We will see how cleverly Uncle Dick won the reward of $1000 offered by the governor of Colorado for the life of the bandit, dead or alive.

Espinosa living with his beautiful sister in his isolated farm house among his vast herds of cattle, sheep, goats and other animals lived a life of luxury. There was a government contractor living in his vicinity buying beef cattle for the consumption of the soldiers. Espinosa came to believe that he was losing beef steers and thought that the contractor was getting them, and when this contractor was shot and killed by an unknown at Fort Garland it was generally supposed that Espinosa had murdered him.

I have heard there was a very rich American living at the home of Espinosa and that he was enamored by the bewitching beauty of the dark-eyed sister of Espinosa and they were engaged to be married. The American had told Espinosa that he possessed considerable money, etc., and one night after the American had gone to bed he was awakened by a man feeling under his pillow for the purpose of robbery, and shot at the intruder, who was no other than the treacherous Espinosa. When Espinosa found that he was "caught in the act" he killed the American with a dirk. His sister cursed him for having killed her lover, the only child of a rich New Englander. This deed is said to have stimulated in Espanosi a desire to reap in the golden eagles faster and faster, so he determined to become a bandit, a robber. Several Denver men met death along near the home of the famous Espinosa and the governor accordingly offered a reward of $1000 for his body, dead or alive.

After this reward was offered I was passing through Dick Wooten's toll gate on my way to Santa Fe and one of my passengers had a copy of the Denver Times in which he read of the reward out for Espinosa in the presence of Uncle Dick. Uncle Dick fairly groaned with satisfaction and made this reply, "I will get that man before many suns pass over his head."

About two weeks later Wooten was hunting and he heard a shot ring out on the air, and decided he would go in the direction of the shot and see what was up. He got on his stomach with his rifle fixed so he could shoot any hostile intruder and stealth-fully crawled up to within a few yards of where he had discovered a small camp smoke. There he espied Espinosa in company with a small twelve-year-old boy, ripping the hind quarter out of a beef steer he had killed. Wooten kept watching and crawling nearer--Espinosa unsuspicious of the watch of the old trapper, prepared to cook his supper and had beef already over the fire cooking, answering the many questions of the hungry lad near him, when Wooten, getting a sight on him, sent out a shot that ended the life of the fearless and revengeful Mexican bandit, the terror of the Mexican and Colorado border, Espinosa.

The boy hid under a log, but after being assured by Wooten that he would not be harmed came out and answered Uncle Dick Wooten's inquiries. The child said he was a nephew of Espinosa. When asked what the notches on the gun of the bandit denoted, he told him they denoted the number of men killed by his uncle, for whose life he had paid the forfeit by his own at the hands of Dick Wooten, the famous trapper of the Rocky mountains and keeper of the toll-gate of the Santa Fe Trail.

Uncle Dick, a kind-hearted old fogie, in spite of the fact that he had just killed a bandit, gently pacified the little lad and finished cooking the supper. When it was all ready they both ate ravenously of the beef, bread and coffee; then Uncle Dick cut off the head of Espinosa and placed it in a gunny sack, took the rifle of the beheaded robber and placed the little boy on his horse behind him and started for the toll-gate; from there they went to Denver and collected the ransom. Besides the $1000 reward for the potentate of the Rocky mountains which Uncle Dick received, he was also the recipient of a very fine rifle, mounted in gold and silver, and a small diamond. This rifle was said to be worth $250. Uncle Dick showed the "fire-arm" to me and I considered it a very beautiful instrument of its kind. Old Uncle Dick proudly invited inspection of his beautiful "fire-arm," but woe to the man who criticised its wonderful mechanism. I do not know of Espinosa's being on the Santa Fe Trail but twice during my travels.

The drivers used to have lots of fun with the passengers and after we left Trinidad they would solemnly warn the passengers to examine their Winchesters and revolvers, that it was not unlikely that we would be accosted by some of the gang of the Espinosa's robbers, and tell them that the Texas Rangers would often hide in the mountains and extract money and other valuables from the passengers crossing over to the states.

Uncle Dick Wooten's wife was a Mexican and they had a very beautiful daughter who married Brigham Young. However, this Brigham was not the great Brigham of Utah and Salt Lake fame. He was only an employee of the stage company in charge of the stage station at Iron Springs, about half way between Bent's Old Fort and Trinidad. This station was situated in a grove of pinyon trees and other fine timber and infested by mountain bear. Sometimes if we were passing along in the night the mules would smell the bear and become unmanageable.

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One time I had a passenger, Joe Cummins, a marshal of New Mexico, en route to Washington to get extradition papers for a man who had run away to Canada, Joe was as full of mischief as a "young mule." I had three other passengers and Joe Cummins kept them laughing all the way into Bent's Old Fort, the junction of the Denver road. There we were met by Major Pendleton and his clerk. Major Pendleton was paymaster of the Union army on their way to Fort Lyon, Fort Larned and Fort Zara to pay off the soldiers. He rode with me to Fort Lyon and from there he either had to go with me by stage or take a Government conveyance, i.e. the militia, which would take him eight or ten days. He decided to go with me if I would agree to wait for him until he paid off the soldiers at Fort Lyon and get an escort of soldiers. He said he had $96,000. He gave me his package containing the $96,000 to put in the company's safe. I was busy with my coach at the time he handed me the package and I laid it down by the front wheel. A few minutes later he discovered the package on the ground by the wheel of the coach and picked it up and told me he would like for me to take care of it. I told him I would attend to it as soon as I got loaded--we were fitting up two coaches with mail and baggage to cross the Long Route and I would soon be loaded, and I laid the package down again. Pretty soon the major came around and picked up the treasured package and quite sternly asked me, "Are you going to take care of this?" The third time he entrusted it to me, at which time I asked him to come to the office of the stage company with me. When I got there I drew an express receipt, signed and handed it to him, stating that it would take $400 to express it. By paying that amount I told him that I would place it in the safe. "Oh!" he said, "the government would not allow me to pay express." I handed it back to him and told him that the government then would have to be responsible for it, not the stage company. Then the major said he would order a strong escort to go with us across the long route. I told him that if he rode with me he would do nothing of the sort, that if an escort went with me I was the man to order it, then they would be under me and travel with the same speed I traveled. I told him if he ordered the escort he would have to stay with them, so the major told me to "fire away." I went to Major Anthony and told him that I thought twenty men would be sufficient, but that the old paymaster wanted thirty-five men, so I yielded to him in this, and with thirty-five soldiers we started. At daylight the next morning I yelled "All aboard," and the lieutenant in charge of the escort, who was a regular army officer, told his cook to get breakfast. I told the lieutenant that we always made a drive of from ten to fifteen miles before we breakfasted. He said he wouldn't do it, that the regulations of the army were to make two drives a day and not over thirty miles without food. The lieutenant said he wouldn't drive the way I wanted him to and they would have breakfast before they started. I told him "All right, stay and have your breakfast, I don't object, but then go back to Fort Lyon." I did not need an escort unless they complied with my orders. I had orders from my headquarters and they were supposed to be at "my service" as escort of the mail and express. Well, Major Pendelton was in a "pickle"--it was a predicament he did not know how to get out of. He wanted to get through as soon as possible and knew that if he went back with the Lieutenant, he would be delayed. He thought he had too much money to be left with me without the escort. He remembered Major Anthony's words to him before we left the fort. Major Anthony had told him, "you are safe in Billy's coach, he never has trouble with Indians." However, while Pendelton pondered, Joe Cummins thought he would fix matters with the Lieutenant and took him to one side and told him that he was under the orders of the conductor of the Government Mail and Express, that I was in the service of the United States Mail and that my orders would supercede any orders about traveling. Mr. Cummings told him that I would make my 50 and 60 miles a day and he would have to make his mules travel that fast, or go back. "If you leave," Joe says, "Major Anthony will report you to headquarters at Leavenworth." The Lieutenant finally decided to go, much to the relief of Major Pendelton. After we had gotten straightened out and on the road' once more, Joe Cummins thought that the fun had tamed down too much, so he winked at me, then asked me, "Billy, where do those Texas rangers hold out along this road, do ye know?" "Yes," I told him, "they generally hold out right across the river in the hills, which afford them such good hiding places where they can ambush without being discovered." At this, Major Pendelton suddenly woke up, "what's that, you fellers are talking about?" Joe, casually remarked that they were discussing that band of robbers that lived on the route across the river from us. He kept on until Major Pendelton was feeling "blue." When we camped for breakfast--dinner as the Lieutenant called it. Cummings told the paymaster many a bloody tale of the lawlessness of that trail, and ended by telling him and his clerk that while I was getting breakfast ready that they had better practice up on their marksmanship. The clerk had a four-barreled little short pistol. The first time he shot at the mark he struck the ground about four feet from it. The four barrels all exploded at once. The paymaster jumped about six feet in the air, thinking that we were surely attacked from the rear. Cummings was tickled to death. He handed the paymaster his revolver, which was a 12-inch Colts, and told him to shoot toward the board. The paymaster fired and missed the mark. "Well," Cummings said, "Billy, it's up to you and me, if we are held up by the Texas rangers on this trip." "But," Cummings said, "the Major here is a first-class shot, but a little weak in the knees." After we again resumed the road, the paymaster began to feel a little easier, and a little like I should think a "donkey" would feel. He knew now that Joe Cummins had been "prodding fun at him" and had no defense. At Ft. Larned the next day, I accommodated the paymaster by waiting four hours for him to pay off the troops. He asked me if we had better take an escort, but I told him I was sure we had no use for an escort since it was only a five hour trip to Ft. Zara, where Larned City now stands. I told him that the last escort we would need would be from Cow Creek and that we could get one from the commanding officer there. When we reached Kansas City the paymaster took the steamboat to Leavenworth and Joe Cummins went to Washington and made application for extradition papers to go to Canada for a man who had done some damage in New Mexico. Cummins told me that Lincoln told him to go on back home and let the man in Canada alone, that the officers in New Mexico had all they could attend to without another man.

Joe Cummings went back to Santa Fe with me and had many a laugh about the old gentleman, meaning Major Pendelton, getting so "riled up" over a possible encounter with Indians, Texas rangers, etc.