“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Trinidad in Las Animas County, Colorado — The American Mountains (Southwest)

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

Raton Pass (Panel 1) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
1. Raton Pass (Panel 1)
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.
Raton Pass (Panel 2) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
2. Raton Pass (Panel 2)
Click or scan to see
this page online
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
Raton Pass (Panel 3) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
3. Raton Pass (Panel 3)
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:
Raton Pass (Panel 4) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
4. Raton Pass (Panel 4)
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
(Caption) 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
Raton Pass Marker at Colorado/New Mexico border on I-25. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
5. Raton Pass Marker at Colorado/New Mexico border on I-25.
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
Erected 1997 by Colorado Historical Society. (Marker Number 212.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: ExplorationRoads & VehiclesSettlements & Settlers. In addition, it is included in the Colorado - History Colorado series list. A significant historical date for this entry is May 6, 1916.
Location. 36° 
View from marker towards entrance ramp back onto I-25 in Colorado. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 22, 2016
6. View from marker towards entrance ramp back onto I-25 in Colorado.
59.633′ N, 104° 28.794′ W. Marker is near Trinidad, Colorado, in Las Animas County. Marker can be reached from Interstate 25 Frontage Road when traveling north. Marker is located some 13 miles south of Trinidad Colorado at the Colorado/New Mexico border and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) pull-off on I-25. Take I-25 northbound exit 460 some 0.7 miles, staying to the left into the pull-off. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Trinidad CO 81082, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 13 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Raton Pass (within shouting distance of this marker); Trinidad: A Place to Explore and Discover… Create and Recreate..... Innovate and Invent (approx. 0.9 miles away); The Mountain Route (approx. 7.8 miles away in New Mexico); First Automobile in New Mexico (approx. 7.8 miles away in New Mexico); Raton (approx. 8.2 miles away in New Mexico); Temple Aaron 1889 (approx. 12 miles away); A Clash of Cultures (approx. 12.1 miles away); The Coal Miner's Canary (approx. 12.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Trinidad.
More about this marker. Due to weathering and sun damage the marker has suffered crazing.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .  Wikipedia article on the Raton Pass. (Submitted on September 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Credits. This page was last revised on September 12, 2016. It was originally submitted on September 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 433 times since then and 13 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on September 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.

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Jan. 27, 2022