She could be incandescently angry and Gerald’s trip to Santa Fe and back had taken a week longer than he’d told her it would, so he braced himself as he opened the cabin door. But Suzanna barely raised her head from the rocking chair by the fire. She wasn’t rocking. Her shawl was clutched to her chest, her face drawn and gray under the smooth, creamy-brown skin. She glanced at Gerald, then turned her face back to the flames, her cheeks tracked with tears.
Gerald’s stomach clenched. “What is it?” he asked. “The children?”
Suzanna shook her head without looking at him. “The children are fine,” she said dully. She moved a hand from the shawl and placed it on her belly. The tears started again and she looked up at him bleakly. “This is the fourth time,” she said. “There will—” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “There will be no third child,” she choked, and he crossed the room, knelt beside her, and wordlessly took her into his arms.
On Wednesday, October 3, 1866, trapper William Wolfskill died at age 68 in Los Angeles, California, where he’d emigrated from New Mexico.
Born in Kentucky, Wolfskill had arrived in New Mexico as part of William Becknell’s second (1822) Santa Fe Trail expedition and was based in Taos for the next eight years. During that time, Wolfskill trapped on the San Juan, Gila, and Colorado Rivers, and participated in mule and horse trading missions to Missouri.
On one of those missions, in late 1824, Wolfskill joined an expedition to northwest Chihuahua led by a Captain Owens. There, they purchased horses and mules to export to Missouri. Shortly afterward, Owens was killed in an Indian raid. Wolfskill and another man rounded up the mules that had escaped capture, bought more, and took them all to Alabama, where they sold for a nice profit.
But the two men didn’t keep the money for themselves. Instead, Wolfskill took it to Boone’s Lick, Missouri, where he handed over the funds to Captain Owens’ family.
In late September 1830, Wolfskill left New Mexico and never returned. He led a party of about 20 men acrossed the Great Basin into southern California, in the process opening what is today called the “Old Spanish Trail.”
Wolfskill had originally intended to trap beaver in California, but when this turned out to be impractical, he and fellow trapper George Yount turned to hunting sea otter instead. This project seems to have been lucrative, because by 1838, Wolfskill had the funds to join his brother in buying a 4,000-vine Los Angeles vineyard, which would eventually grow to 85,000 vines.
Agriculture must have been more enjoyable than trapping, because three years later, Wolfskill planted the first commercial orange grove in California. These activities formed the basis of a kind of agricultural empire that would introduce the Australian eucalyptus, the soft-shelled almond, the chestnut, and the persimmon to California.
Certainly, by the time he died, Wolfskill had traveled a long way from Kentucky and accomplished a great deal besides trapping furs.
Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Fur Traders and Trappers of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1997; Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971.
Three years after the Great Rebellion, Henry still drifted. There was nothing behind him in Georgia and nothing further west than San Francisco. Not that he wanted to go there. The California gold fields were played out.
But he needed to get out of Denver. A man could stand town life only so long and he’d been here three months. The Colorado gold fields were collasping, anyway. Played out before he even got here.
“Been too late since the day I was born,” he muttered, putting his whisky glass on the long wooden bar.
“I hear tell there’s gold in Elizabethtown,” the bartender said. He reached for Henry’s glass and began wiping it out. He knew Henry’s pockets were empty.
“New Mexico Territory. Near Taos somewheres.”
Henry nodded and pushed himself away from the bar. “Elizabethtown,” he repeated as he hitched up his trousers. “Now there’s an idea.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1846, just over a month after Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny seized New Mexico for the United States, he appointed Virginia-born Taos businessman Charles Bent as New Mexico’s first American civil governor. When Kearny and the majority of his 1700-man force headed on to California to participate in acquiring it as well, Colonel Sterling Price, as senior U.S. Army officer in New Mexico, became its military governor.
Bent had been in Nuevomexico since 1829, first as a fur trapper, then as a Santa Fe trail trader based in Taos. He occupied his post as Governor less than four months. In mid-January 1847, he died at the hands of a New Mexican mob protesting the American occupation.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, Colonel Price, supported heavily by American businessmen and trappers in New Mexico, crushed that rebellion and assured that New Mexico would remain part of the United States.
Ironically, Price’s own career would include participation in an even larger rebellion against the nation he had helped to force on New Mexico. Following a term as Governor of Missouri, he joined the Confederate Army, rising to the level of General. He died on September 29, 1867, almost exactly 21 years after he took over as military governor of New Mexico.
Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1977; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, an interpretive history, Albuquerque, UNM Press, 1988
Judge Palen flattened his palms against the rough wooden table that served as the Court bench and scowled at Sheriff Calhoun. “Are you telling me that you called twenty-one men for jury duty and only seven showed up?”
Calhoun was a big man, but he fingered the broad-brimmed hat in his hands like a schoolboy. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, go get fourteen more.”
The Sheriff nodded, turned, and crossed the creaking wooden floor.
Palen turned his attention to his seven potential jury members. “All right,” he said. “Now how many of you are going to have good excuses for not fulfilling your civic duty?”
Three of them sheepishly raised their hands. Palen nodded to his court clerk to begin taking their excuses and closed his eyes. And he’d thought this appointment as Chief Justice of New Mexico Territory and Judge of its First Judicial District was a logical step up from postmaster of Hudson, New York. He suppressed a sigh. How he missed the broad sweep of the river, the bustle of the town’s port. He grimaced and opened his eyes. Only four jurymen left. Damn this town, anyway. The whole of New Mexico Territory, for that matter.
“I don’ keer if you don’ believe me,” the old trapper said as he pushed his matted brown hair away from his eyes. He shifted the Harpers Ferry 1803 rifle impatiently. “If’n yer too smart for yer own good, it ain’t none o’ my doin’.” He stroked the maple half-stock with its short barrel, looked balefully at the younger man, and turned to place the rifle next to his pack. The metal rib brazed to the underside of the barrel glinted in the firelight. “Thinks he’s smarter’n the rest o’ us,” the trapper muttered to the wagon master, who was sitting on his heels on the other side of the fire, smoking a carved cottonwood pipe.
“I didn’t say that I disbelieved you,” the young man in the black broadcloth coat said evenly. He brushed a piece of ash from his sleeve. “I simply stated that I was unaware of any unique characteristic of the 1803 issued to Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, other than the half-stock and its excellent balance.” He shrugged a shoulder. “My father was issued an 1803 during the 1812 conflict. He recollected it quite fondly and frequently. However, he never mentioned an unusually short barrel.”
“Jest cuz yer Daddy didn’ say it, don’ mean it weren’ so,” the old trapper grumbled.
“That may be the case,” the young man said stiffly. “I was unaware that I was contradicting you. I understood that we were merely exchanging some particularly intriguing information.”
“Ten dollar words.” The old man rubbed his matted hair, unfolded himself upward without looking at the others, and stalked off into the night.
The young man in the black coat looked across the firelight at the wagon master. “I didn’t intend to offend him,” he said uneasily.
The wagon master took his pipe from his mouth. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry ’bout it,” he said. “Ol’ Matt gets himself worked up like that sometimes. But he’s like a garden snake, all fizz an’ no real fury.” He glanced into the darkness. “But don’t say I said so. Not where he can hear. He wants ya t’ think he’s a rattler.”
On Tuesday, August 22, 1893, Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton died in southern Colorado at the age of 77. Mountain man, trader, road builder, and a few other things besides, Wootton packed a lot of living into those 77 years.
The Virginia-born Wootton was about 7 when his family move to Kentucky. In his late teens. He moved to an uncle’s Mississippi cotton plantation, but at age 20 struck out for Independence, Missouri and got a job on a wagon train bound for Santa Fe.
In the next 57 years, Wootton would trade with the Ute and Sioux; trap with Ceran St. Vrain, Christopher “Kit” Carson, and Old Bill Williams; scout for the U.S. Army; operate a trading post in early Denver; and drive sheep from New Mexico to California, to name just a few of his adventures. However, Wootton is perhaps best remembered for two events: His decision not to guide John Fremont through the Rockies in the fateful winter of 1848/49 and the toll road he operated through Raton Pass between 1865 and 1878.
Wootton signed on in early November 1848 to guide Fremont’s fourth expedition in search of a winter railroad route across the Rocky Mountains. But by the middle of the month, it was clear that the coming winter was going to be unusually cold and Wootton warned Fremont not to even attempt to cross the Rockies. When Fremont refused to listen to his advice, Wootton resigned. Old Bill Williams took over in his stead and the party entered the Rockies under his guidance, but Fremont wouldn’t listen to him either. Only 21 of Fremont’s original 32 men made it out alive and two of them, including Williams, would die a couple months later, trying to retrieve records and equipment that had been left behind in the mad rush to escape the snow-bound mountains.
But Wootton lived to have yet further adventures. His toll road through Raton Pass was another inspired decision. He and a partner built 27 miles of roads and bridges along this mountainous stretch of the Santa Fe Trail and important connection between New Mexico and Colorado Territories. They charged $1.50 for wagons and 25 cents for anyone on horseback. Herded livestock cost 5 cents a head, while Indians were allowed free passage.
The road grossed an average of $600 a month and remained operational until 1878, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company track reached the Pass from Trinidad, Colorado. Then the AT&SF bought Wootton’s toll rights in exchange for $50 a month compensation for the remainder of his life and that of his fourth wife, Maria Paulina, who was some 40 years his junior.