Monday, December 31, 2012

Raton Pass toll road tales see no justice

Possibly 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.

To justify 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 him no.

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