the most famous toll gate in western history belonged to Uncle Dick Wooten, located
in Raton Pass on the line between the New Mexico and Colorado territories. Seeing
a good deal to make money and having the money for financing after having sold
his saloon in Denver, Uncle Dick built a nice rock home, hotel and saloon beside
the trail, installed a toll gate and charged for all to pass.
the charge, he claimed to have “built and improved” the road over the pass. The
bridges turned out to be narrow culverts with many curves so sharp the wagons
could not negotiate the turns. Many hills were so steep, the wagons had to use
double teams for the assent. The truth was, the 27-mile journey required five
days to traverse, and the route and improvements were so poor that many wagons
were wrecked in their journey. With few alternatives, the public almost had to
use the Wooten Road.
In addition to the improved trail, Uncle Dick offered
to accommodate the public with board and lodging during the passage, at a price
of course, bragging he kept a good stock of liquor always on hand at the saloon
bar. He also had good graze and grain, at a price, for recuperating traveler’s
stock while they rested for the second half of the trip.
On August 1,
1865, before either territory became a state, Uncle Dick ran an ad in the Las
Vegas, N.M., Territory Gazette listing charges at the toll gate. Wagons pulled
by one span (two) of oxen, horses or mules cost $1. Wagons pulled by two span
(four) cost $1.50. Wagons pulled by more than two spans cost $2. One man on horseback
or afoot cost 25 cents. Loose cattle, horses or mules, swine or sheep cost 5 cents
each. The ad told of the many accommodations available at the Wooten Ranch if
you had cash or something to barter.
Somewhat questionable was his statement
that his charges were regulated by The Board of County Commissioners because at
the time there was no organized state or county governments in either New Mexico
or Colorado territories. Without laws and rules to go by, Uncle Dick seemed to
do as he pleased in all matters, as there was no one around tough enough to tell
There were other trails going over the mountains to the west of
the toll gate. Times were hard and money scarce. Vast herds of cattle were being
driven north to the gold fields and Army forts. And Uncle Dick’s improved road
was almost a joke. Many rumors and testimonials by travelers who tried to use
these trails told of suffering harassment and stock stolen by night riders and
raiders whom they believed to be paid by Uncle Dick in retaliation for not using
No doubt, Uncle Dick was a smart, tough, wily old reprobate who
had a good thing going and did everything he could to protect his business. Though
many incidents happened and complaints were made, history shows no charges were
ever filed for such harassment and mayhem.
Trew - August
16, 2011 column
Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164,
by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by email at trewblue@centra media.net.
For books see delberttrew.com. His column appears weekly.