Uncle Dick Wootton Marries Again!

Uncle Dick Wootton Marries Again!

On Saturday, June 17, 1871, Richens Lacey “Uncle Dick” Wootton married for the fourth time. He had recently turned 55. His bride was sixteen-year-old Maria Paulina Lujan of Mora, New Mexico. They would have ten children together, six of whom lived to adulthood.

Wootton had arrived in the Rocky Mountains at age twenty as a member of a Bent Brothers and St. Vrain wagon train and promptly turned his hand to trading with the Sioux. Following that venture, he went on to trap as far west as Fort Vancouver, serve as a hunter for Bent’s Fort, raise buffalo for sale to Eastern zoos, and scout for Colonel Doniphan during the U.S.’s 1846 invasion of Mexico. 

Richens Lacey Wootton. Courtesy: http://www.legendsofamerica.com

In 1848, Wootton married Dolores Lefebvre of Taos, where he was based until 1854. When she died in childbirth in 1855, he went into business freighting goods between Kansas City and New Mexico. Around 1857, he married Mary Ann Manning and they moved to Denver, where he ran a saloon and hotel along with a general trading and loan business. After Mary Ann died in 1861, he sold out and built a house at Pueblo, where he farmed on the east side of Fountain Creek.

In 1863, Wootton married again, to Fanny Brown, who died just over a year later, leaving an infant daughter. The following year, he settled in the mountains between Colorado and New Mexico, and got permission from both legislatures for him and his partner to build a toll road through Raton Pass. By the early 1870s, he was also operating a stage station out of his log-and-stone home there.

All of this was going on when Wootton married the teenage Maria Paulina. Unlike her predecessors, she seems to have had little problem with childbirth. Wootton finally had a life partner and a steady business—the road itself averaged roughly $600 a month.

Then, in ­­­­­1878, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad came calling. The toll road was in the way of the new track they wanted to lay. On the face of it, Wootton doesn’t seem to have made a good deal with them. He settled for $50 a month, with the stipend to continue to Maria Paulina after his death. However, she lived until 1935.

He may have gotten the best of that bargain after all.  

Sources: LeRoy R. Hafen, Fur Trappers and Traders in the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West: Stagecoach Lines on the Santa Fe Trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.

Chasing the Santa Fe Ring: Book Review

Chasing the Santa Fe Ring cover
by David L. Caffey
University of New Mexico Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8263-1947-0

In New Mexico, the words “Santa Fe Ring” convey the same concept as the words “Tammany Hall” in New York. The Ring is synonymous with collusion by a few to suppress the many, the use of political power for private ends, and the accumulation of wealth by unsavory means.

In Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, David L. Caffey describes the beginnings, height, and end of the Ring and the people involved in it. The major figures he discusses include, of course, Thomas Catron, Governor Samuel Beach Axtell, Stephen Benton Elkins, and William Breeden. But there were a number of less well-known figures that had links to the ring—Colfax County men like physician Robert Longwill and attorney Melvin W. Mills and Santa Fe merchants like Lehman Spiegelberg and Abraham Staab. Caffey places the activities of these men in context and also provides a helpful summary of their activities in the back matter.

One of the pleasures of reading this book is learning about the connections between the Ring and the various events in New Mexico Territory that tend to be treated as stand-alone eruptions—for example, the Lincoln County War and the Colfax County War. Chasing the Santa Fe Ring is actually a great way to obtain a comprehensive history of the Territory from the lens of the Ring and its particular chronology of events.

Catron and his allies seem to have had their hands in any and every opportunity that appeared to promise a monetary return. This included something as large as using their legislative power to “open up” the land grants to acquisition by outsiders and as small as arranging for jury members to be paid in script with little or no monetary worth, buying that script up, and then forcing a law through the legislature which increased its value.

But this book isn’t just a record of the wrongs perpetuated by the Santa Fe Ring. It’s also the story of how a few people took action and brought an end to its power. One of those people was Mary Tibble McPherson, a woman who didn’t actually live in New Mexico. But her daughter did. By the time McPherson was finished raising hell, even Washington D.C. was taking notice.

Mary McPherson wasn’t the only person involved in the fight against the Ring. But to find out more, you’ll have to read the book. If you’re interested in New Mexico history in the Territorial period, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring is a great resource. I recommend it!