Richard "Uncle Dick" Wootton
(May 6, 1816 - August 22, 1893)
He was born Richens Lacy Wootton in Virginia and at twenty years old headed to Independence, Missouri. Here Wootton join the wagons of Bent - St. Vrain Company headed for Bent's Fort on the south eastern Colorado plains. During his first journey, there was a fight with a Commanche party.
Striking out on his own, Wootton joined sixteen free trappers and headed to the Rocky Mountains on a profitable expedition. In 1838, Wootton joined nineteen fur trappers on one of the longest journeys recorded in the annuals of mountain men. The two year trip took them to the Wind River Range in Wyoming, to Fort Vancover in Washington, along the western seaboard to Los Angeles and through Arizona. During this arduous journey five of the fur trappers were killed. In New Mexico, Uncle Dick rescued an Arapaho woman who had been captured by the Utes. The happy reunion of this woman to her tribe resulted in a long time friendship between Wootton and the Arapahos. This band call him "Cut Hand" due to the two missing fingers on his left hand.
Uncle Dick stayed in the employ of the Bent- St. Vrain Company and established the first concept of a "pony express". Fort St. Vrain, a subsidiary of Bent's Fort operated north of Denver. A weekly ride between the two forts was established carrying mail, money and extra supplies. Wootton laid out the trail which traveled through Denver, then struck across the Colorado plains for the Arkansas fort. John Fremont was disappointed when he arrived at Fort St. Vrain. there was a lack of mail, foodstuffs and warm clothing. Fremont was told to return in a few days and this would be remedied. Wootton, with the energy and direct drive that was to make him become a famous pioneer entrepreneur charged for Fort Bent. He changed mounts with friendly Indians camped on the Arikara, and at lakes further south, but never stopped for sleep until he covered the more than 200 miles of his journey. Fremont was much impressed with the speed of this pony express and recorded the incident in his report to Washington. When he finally arrived in California, he told other authorities of the courier system between Fort Bent and Fort St. Vrain. At times Wootton carried $60,000 in silver between the two forts.
Wootton began trading with the wandering tribes, fought off a number of skirmishes, scouted for Colonel Doniphan during the Mexican war, was a guide during the Navajo campaign, was one of the few who successfully traded with the Commanche, started a ranching operation near present day Pueblo, CO, engaged in numerous freighting expeditions covering long distances in record time - this list goes on and on for this burly gentle pioneer.
Wootton is best remembered for a road he constructed over Raton Pass which connected Trinidad, CO to Raton, NM. He built twenty-seven miles of road and numerous bridges. The toll to use this safer branch of the Santa Fe Trail was $1.50 for wagons, horseman and pack animals 25 cents and herded stock 5 cents a head. When the famous Charles Goodnight brought his herd to this gate and saw the price, he turned his livestock around and found another pass over the mountains. As you drive south from Trinidad today over I-25 and just after passing the exit for "Wootton", watch for a large sign on your right indicating the area for the Wootton's home. The original building burned down years ago, but a new home on the property looks similar.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built a line over Raton Pass and Wootton received $50 per month compensation for putting him out of business.
Uncle Dick's later years were active until he became nearly blind. He went to Chicago for an operation which partially restored his sight. When he died in 1893, the Denver Republican stated "The pioneer of Colorado pioneers, he had been a maker of history".
Uncle Dick Wootton displayed a bad temper at times, but during emergencies seems to have been level headed supplementing crises with daring action.
Richard Wootton is buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Trinidad, Colorado.
Information compiled by Steve Grimm
Drawing by Richard Florence
Books About Dick Wootton
"Uncle Dick" Wootton by Howard L. Conrad
An autobiography of sorts with a few tall tales thrown in for spice. One of the classic books of the old west and worth a read.