William Workman Orders Still For Taos Lightning

On Monday, February 13, 1826, William Workman of Taos, New Mexico sent a letter to his brother David in Franklin, Missouri. William asked David to have two 80-gallon stills shipped to him from St. Louis. Copper stills were essential in the production of hard liquor like the wheat-based Taos Lightning that William produced and sold.

Not only did William Workman’s letter ensure that Taos residents would have more liquor available to them, it also may have triggered one of the American West’s most famous runaway stories.

David Workman, a saddle and harness maker, had a teenage apprentice named Christopher “Kit” Carson. The letter from New Mexico may have reminded the young Kit that there were more exciting ways to earn a living. When he took off for New Mexico that August, he may well have traveled in the same wagon train as the stills that William Workman had ordered.

Workman manufactured Taos Lightning until 1841, when he himself had to run away, this time from—rather than to—New Mexico. Workman and his distillery partner John Rowland fled Taos for California that September, after rumors spread that they were collaborating with a Republic of Texas expedition to annex New Mexico.

feb-13-illustration-workman-william-1855-mnm-13492.jpeg
William Workman, 1855. MNM 13492

While Carson stayed in New Mexico and made him name for himself, Workman, in California and still partnering with John Rowland, obtained a Mexican land grant of over 48,000 acres and founded  Rancho de la Puente, now a cultural landmark in Southern California.

In both cases, running away seems to have been the best move either Workman or Carson could have made. They both made a name for themselves as a result.

 

Sources: Samuel P. Arnold, Eating up the Santa Fe Trail, University Press of Colorado, Niwot, 1990; Leroy R. Hafen, editor, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State University Press, Logan, 1997; Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder, Doubleday, New York, 2006; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson, and His Three Wives, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2003.

 

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Shoot out at Fort Stanton Over Indian Deaths!!

In mid October 1862, troops led by Captain James “Paddy” Graydon of  Fort Stanton killed at least eleven Mescalero Apaches at Gallinas Springs, on the west slopes of New Mexico’s Gallinas Peak. The circumstances were murky, but Graydon was thought to have gotten the Mescaleros drunk and then shot them down in cold blood.

Whatever had occurred, Graydon’s fellow officer Major Arthur Morrison believed Graydon had acted improperly. He demanded an official investigation. But when Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson took command at the Fort Stanton later that month, he declined to get involved. After all, he wasn’t sure what had actually happened at Gallinas Springs.

However, Carson knew what happened next. Dr. John Marmaduke Whitlock of Las Vegas and Santa Fe arrived at Fort Stanton in early November and he wasted no time forming an opinion about Gallinas Springs. He heard all about it from Major Morrison, who he knew from Las Vegas. Whitlock was outraged at the news of the purported massacre, and he wasted no time in jumping into action. He excoriated Graydon at the Fort and also wrote a letter to the Santa Fe Gazette condemning the Captain.

Nov 5 illustration.Arthur Morrison.Felsenthal book.
Major Arthur Morrison, Museum of New Mexico Photo Collection

Graydon was not pleased, to put it mildly. On the evening of Thursday, November 4, he  confronted Whitlock and demanded an explanation. Whitlock put him off, saying he’d give Graydon the “satisfaction you desire” in the morning.

They were both apparently ready to render ‘satisfaction’ the next morning. The two men fired simultaneously. Although they were just yards apart, neither was hit. They continued to exchange shots, with Graydon behind a wagon and Whitlock crouched behind a nearby soldier’s tent in true gunfight style. Eventually, they managed to hit each other at the same time. Graydon was wounded in the chest and Whitlock took bullets in his side and his hand.

Soldiers carried Graydon into a nearby tent while Whitlock retreated into the sutler’s store, pursued by thirty of Graydon’s men,  Lt. Philip Morris in the lead. When bullets started breaking through the store windows and door, Whitlock exited through the back door toward headquarters and Colonel Carson’s protection.

He didn’t make it. He was shot down, thrown into an icy ditch, and then shot some more. Lt. Morris was so beside himself with rage that when he ran out of bullets, he began pelting Whitlock’s body with rocks.

Three days later, 31-year-old Captain Graydon was also dead. One of Whitlock’s bullets had pierced his left lung.

In Carson’s opinion, the men responsible for Whitlock’s death deserved to “swing before sunset.” They got a court-martial instead, a somewhat pedestrian outcome to a bloody deed, especially the one at Gallinas Springs that precipitated the whole episode.

Source:  Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

Uncle Dick Wootton Dies in Colorado

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.

Aug 22 illustration

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.

When “Uncle Dick” Wootton died in August 1893, he’d lived a full and adventurous life. For more detailed information about this unique mountain man from an author with access to family material, see No Time to Quit: Pioneer America Seen through the Life of Rocky Mountain Man Uncle Dick Wootton.

.Source: Leroy R. Hafen, ed. Fur Trappers And Traders Of The Far Southwest, Utah State University press, Logan. 1997;

Navajo Exile Finally Ends

In late June 1868, after five years of exile, the Navajo people began their return to their homeland.

Five years earlier, also in June, U.S. Army General James Henry Carleton had ordered Colonel  Christopher “Kit” Carson to march west to starve out the Navajos and move them 450 miles east to Bosque Redondo. Although Carson argued that his health was poor and that he’d joined the Army to fight Confederate Texans, not Indians, Carleton ordered him to go him anyway.

Carson did as he was told. The majority of the Navajos residing in the Southwest were gathered up and marched east to Bosque Redondo, and old meeting ground for Indians of the southern Plains along the Pecos River.

The experience was a disaster.

The Navajos were incarcerated alongside their long-time enemies, the Mescalero Apache, so that was difficult enough.

Then the crops failed, not only at Bosque Redondo, but also in the Taos and Mora Valleys, which reduced the food supplies that could be purchased to feed the captives. In fact, there were so few supplies that General Carleton suspended operations against the Navajos still at large. He didn’t have enough to feed those he had, much less more.

June 23 illustration.Carleton.nuevomexicano homeland

And Kit Carson, who went with the Navajo to Bosque Redondo, proved an inadequate administrator. Not only was he hampered by his illiteracy, but he found that he had no real power or control. Between Carleton’s micromanagement and Army bureaucracy and corruption, he was as overwhelmed with his Bosque Redondo tasks as the captive Navajos were with the miserable conditions there. Carson left in mid September 1864. The Navajo would remain until June 1868.

Finally, two years after Carleton had been relieved of his military command, General Tecumseh Sherman arrived. He agreed with the Navajo leaders’ rejection of the idea of moving to a new reservation in Oklahoma and negotiated a peace with them that would send them home. Three weeks after the treaty was signed on June 1, the People began the 450 miles or more journey home.

You can find more information about the Navajo Long Walk at http://newmexicohistory.org/people/navajo-long-walk-to-bosque-redondo-1864

Sources: Hampton Sides, Blood And Thunder, an epic the American West, Doubleday, New York, 2006; Jerry D Thompson, A Civil War History Of The New Mexico Volunteers And Militia, U of New Mexico P, Albuquerque, 2015

JUST A MAN

“I seen him! I seen him!” The boy stopped, breathless, just inside the kitchen door.

“You mean you saw him.” His mother shook her head at him as she lifted the lid from the Dutch oven in the fireplace to check the biscuits. She smiled. “Who did you see?”

“Kit Carson! He was on the other side of the street, going into the Governor’s house.”

She nodded. “I heard this morning that he was back. What is he like?”

His shoulders sagged. “He didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book Grandpa gave me when we left Kansas City.”

“That was just a story,” she pointed out. She turned to stir the great pot of venison stew.

“I know,” he said. “But he wasn’t what I expected at all. He’s just a man.”

Copyright © 2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Kit Carson and Friends invest in Coyote Creek Copper Mine

On this day, Sunday, January 21, 1866, Kit Carson and nine other men filed a Kit Carson Mining Company claim for El Coyote Copper Mine near the town of Coyote on Coyote Creek, Mora County.  Carson’s partners were Colfax County sheriff Andrew J. Calhoun, H.J. Farnsworth, Charles McClure, J.C. Collier, Vicente Romero, George W. Ashenfelter, M. Calhoun, E.A. DeBreuils, and T.J. Donahue. The paperwork was witnessed by a John Gibbs and a John Moore, who may have been the sutler at Fort Union.

Carson had just turned 57 and was in poor health. The El Coyote mining claim may have been part of an attempt to provide for his family after his inevitable demise. The copper claim wasn’t his first venture into mining. He and Ceran St. Vrain had also invested in Arroyo Hondo mining claims near Taos as part of the 100 or more claims registered there by 1865.

Carson.Simmons.3 Wives

Source: Kit Carson and his three wives, Marc Simmons 2003

Unfortunately, the Arroyo Honda ore was low grade and unevenly distributed and that mining boom seems to have gone bust fairly quickly. It’s unknown whether any ore was ever actually extracted from the El Coyote Copper Mine, so Carson’s investment there may have been even less successful than those  in Arroyo Hondo and therefore of little benefit to his family. At any rate, he likely didn’t see much benefit from any of his mining ventures: he was dead by the end of May 1868.

Sources: Source: July 9, 2015 email from Mitch Barker, NPS archivist for Ft. Union; Harriett Frieberger, Lucien Maxwell: Villain or Visionary, Sunstone Press, 1999; J. Rush Pierce, Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, JRP Publications, 2008; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, 2015.

John Fremont Stumbles Into Taos

On this day in 1849, Saturday, January 13, celebrated explorer John C. Fremont stumbled into the Taos plaza so battered by exposure and starvation that no one recognized him.

Fremont had left what is now Pueblo, Colorado, 52 days earlier on a mission to identify a practicable railroad route across the Rockies to California. He had 32 men and 120 supply-laden mules with him.

Even before he’d left Pueblo, there was trouble. He’d already lost a guide. When former mountain man “Uncle Bill” Wootton took a look at the signs and realized just how bad the coming winter was likely to be, he backed out. But former Army Colonel Fremont refused to give up. He’d been forced to resign from the military in a cloud of disgrace two years earlier and was determined to redeem himself. Come hell or high water, he was determined to prove that a year-round transcontinental railroad operation across the mountains was feasible. If men and mules could cross the path he had in mind under winter conditions, then surely trains could, too.

Fremont hired “Old Bill” Williams to take Wootton’s place. While Williams was a brilliant tracker, he  wasn’t exactly known for his tact. Since Fremont was known for his stubbornness, the partnership seemed destined for trouble. And trouble happened pretty quickly. When Williams announced that the expedition should veer from the route Fremont had laid out, trouble ensued. Fremont relieved Williams of his guide duties and gave them to men who Fremont had worked with before but who didn’t know the region.

As Wootton had predicted, the weather turned treacherously nasty and grew increasingly difficult as Fremont’s men tried to force their way through snow-bound canyons and across icy mountainsides. All of the mules either died of starvation or froze to death. Frostbite and snow blindness plagued both the animals and the men. Not only was the expedition’s goal doomed, but the conditions were so bad that the men feared for their lives. In a desperate attempt to make it to safety, Fremont divided his company into small groups and sent them south to try to reach Taos.

John C. Fremont.Simmons 3 wives

Only 21 men of the original 32 would make it out alive and Fremont himself would need weeks of nursing by Josefa Carson before he fully recovered from the ordeal. Even with the survivors in Taos and whole, the loss of life would continue. Williams would die trying to retrieve valuable records and medical equipment  that had been left behind in the rush to escape the winter conditions Uncle Bill Wootton had warned Fremont about.

Although a year-round transcontinental railroad was eventually built across the Rocky Mountains, it was not constructed on the route that Fremont tried to blaze that winter of 1848/49. The glory of that deed would go to other men.  Fremont’s exploring days were over .

Sources:  Alpheus H. Favour, Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man, U of Oklahoma Press,  Norman, 1962; Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest, Utah State U Press, Logan, 1972; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2003.