Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton* (1816-1893) – American frontiersman, mountain man, trapper, and guide, Wootton was born in Mecklenberg County, Virginia on May 6, 1816. At the age of 7, the family moved to Kentucky, where Richens stayed until he was 17. He then moved to Mississippi where he worked on his uncle’s cotton plantation for two years before making his way to Independence, Missouri in 1836.
He soon took a job working on a wagon train run by the Bent, St. Vrain & Co., which landed him at Bent’s Fort, near present day La Junta, Colorado. The fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements, and as such, provided explorers, pioneers, and the U.S. Army with supplies, wagon repairs, livestock, food, water and protection.
Shortly after his arrival at the fort, the Bent, St. Vrain & Co. sent him north with a party of about 13 men and wagon loads of goods to trade with the Sioux Indians. This evidently met with his liking as, for the next several years, he became a mountain man, making his living as a trapper and trading among the Ute, Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, and Comanche Indians and traveling all over the Rocky Mountains, as far west as Washington, and later southwest to California and Arizona.
However, by 1840, trapping had become less profitable and Wootton then went back to work for Bent’s fort as a hunter, scout, and freighter. During the Mexican-American War of 1846, he scouted for the U.S. Military. One of his primary duties at the fort was hunting game and buffalo to provide food for the fort; however, within a few short years, the buffalo herds began to dramatically dwindle almost to extinction when droves of men began to hunt them only for their hides.
Wootton then briefly operated a buffalo ranch near Pueblo, Colorado, where he raised both buffalo and cattle. Three years later, he drove the herd east, along the Santa Fe Trail to Kansas City, where he sold them all for a good profit.
By 1865, Wootton had settled near Trinidad, Colorado and leased land from Lucien Maxwell, owner of the Maxwell Land Grant, to build 27-mile toll road over Raton Pass in New Mexico. Hiring Ute Indians to build the road, which required cutting down hillsides, blasting and removing rocks, and building bridges, they dramatically improved a tough stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. He then erected a tollgate in front of his home, charging $1.50 for 1 wagon or 25 cents for a horseman. However, Indians were always allowed to utilize the road free of charge. His home also acted as a stagecoach stop, where passengers could get a meal.
The toll road operated until 1879, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad bought the right of way, paying him and his wife a lifetime pension as part of the purchase price. At the age of 75, Wootton moved to Trinidad, Colorado where he lived until his death in 1893. Over the years, he had married four times and sired 20 children. He outlived all but one of his wives and 17 of the 20 children.
*Richens Lacy Wootton has also been written as Richard Lacey Wootton in some historical texts. A gravestone created after his death and attributed to him even says Richard, however his name is Richens.