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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

With change came demise of tollgates

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Most people familiar with area history know of Uncle Dick Wooten's tollgate leading over Raton Pass. The Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail passed from Bent's Fort to Trinidad, then south up Colorado canyons to the crest of Raton Pass, then down New Mexico canyons into Raton.

The crafty old mountain man and trapper knew the terrain and took advantage of the narrow passage by erecting a tollgate. This moneymaker was successful until the railroad built through the pass utilizing a tunnel and bypassing the Wooten tollgate.

Few are aware that approximately 40 to 50 miles to the east, at the east end of Johnson Mesa, another tollgate existed from 1873 to 1885. Also located on a natural passage from New Mexico to Colorado, Basil Bill Metcalf took advantage of a low-altitude passage, bought property and raised a log chain across a narrow rock canyon called Emory Gap.

Like Uncle Dick Wooten, Basil Bill knew the terrain, and when the need arose for travelers to pass from the Mountain Branch to the Cimarron Cut Off, bypassing the Wooten route, he was ready to charge for passage.

Operation of the Emory Gap tollgate was believed to have started in late 1873. As money became available, Bill went into the cattle business, built a home, a store and a saloon all at the site of the tollgate. A brother joined Bill in 1874, allowing Bill to branch out again with a freighting service to supply his store and surrounding ranchers.

Records show the Emory Gate toll charges remained the same throughout the 12 years of operation. A fee of 75 cents was charged for a wagon and four-horse team. Buggies and hacks cost 35 cents and a wagon and two-horse team 40 cents. Individual horseback riders and cattle costs have not been kept. Annual receipts of the gate averaged from $3,000 to $4,000, a tidy sum at the time.

One of the less-pleasant chores of operating the gate was arising from bed for late-night travelers, usually drunken cowboys returning home from a night at the saloons. Their arrival was usually punctuated by gunshots and loud yelling at times, requiring a lot of patience for the gatekeepers. Heavy snows closed the passage during a hard winter.

The life span of the tollgate covered American Indian uprisings, winter blizzards, extreme drought and flash floods. Various members of Bill's family died during this time and were buried nearby.

The economy continually went from boom to bust as various mines opened and closed in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. If credit were needed for toll costs, Bill required some object had to be left for security. This made for some curious items offered for sale in the store.

As the years passed, new railroads and other trails were built. Tonnage of the freight business dropped to a trickle. Bill sold out and moved his family to Buffalo Springs on the vast XIT Ranch in Texas. He signed a contract to build the northern barbed-wire boundary fence of the Ranch, and the Emory Gap Toll Gate faded into the past.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
November 23, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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