Famous Men of the Santa Fe Trail

At one period of his eventful career, while he lived in Missouri before he wandered to the mountains, Old Bill Williams was a Methodist preacher; of which fact he boasted frequently while he trapped and hunted with other pioneers. Whenever he related that portion of his early life, he declared that he “was so well known in his circuit, that the chickens recognized him as he came riding by the scattered farmhouses, and the old roosters would crow ‘Here comes Parson Williams! One of us must be made ready for dinner.'”

Upon leaving the States, he traveled very extensively among the various tribes of Indians who roamed over the Great Plains and in the mountains. When sojourning with a certain band, he would invariably adopt their manners and customs. Whenever he grew tired of that nation, he would seek another and live as they lived. He had been so long among the Indians that he looked and talked like one, and had imbibed many of their strange notions and curious superstitions.

To the missionaries, he was very useful. He possessed the faculty of easily acquiring languages that other white men failed to learn, and could readily translate the Bible into several Indian dialects. His own conduct, however, was in strange contrast with the precepts of the Holy Book with which he was so familiar.

To the native Mexicans, he was a holy terror and an unsolvable riddle. They thought him possessed of an evil spirit. He at one time took up his residence among them and commenced to trade. Shortly after he had established himself and gathered in a stock of goods, he became involved in a dispute with some of his customers in relation to his prices. Upon this, he apparently took an intense dislike to the people whom he had begun to traffic with, and in his disgust tossed his whole mass of goods into the street, and, taking up his rifle, left at once for the mountains.

Among the many wild ideas he had imbibed from his long association with the Indians, was faith in their belief in the transmigration of souls. He used so to worry his brain for hours cogitating upon this intricate problem concerning a future state, that he actually pretended to know exactly the animal whose place he was destined to fill in the world after he had shaken off this mortal human coil.

Uncle Dick Wooton told how once, when he, Old Bill Williams, and many other trappers, were lying around the camp-fire one night, the strange fellow, in a preaching style of delivery, related to them all how he was to be changed into a buck elk and intended to make his pasture in the very region where they then were. He described certain peculiarities which would distinguish him from the common run of elk, and was very careful to caution all those present never to shoot such an animal, should they ever run across him.

Williams was regarded as a warm-hearted, brave, and generous man. He was at last killed by the Indians, while trading with them, but has left his name to many mountain peaks, rivers, and passes discovered by him.

Tom Tobin

Tom Tobin, frontiersman

Tom Tobin, frontiersman

Tom Tobin, one of the last of the famous trappers, hunters, and Indian fighters to cross the dark river, flourished in the early days, when the Rocky Mountains were a veritable terra incognita to nearly all excepting the hardy employees of the several fur companies and the limited number of United States troops stationed in their remote wilds.

Tom was an Irishman, quick-tempered, and a dead shot with either rifle, revolver, or the formidable bowie-knife. He would fight at the drop of the hat, but no man ever went away from his cabin hungry, if he had a crust to divide; or penniless, if there was anything remaining in his purse. He, like Carson was rather under the average stature, red-faced, and lacking much of being an Adonis, but whole-souled, and as quick in his movements as an antelope.

Tobin played an important role in avenging the death of the Americans killed in the Taos Massacre, at the storming of the Indian pueblo, but his greatest achievement was the ending of the noted bandit Espinosa’s life, who, at the height of his career of blood, was the terror of the whole mountain region.

At the time of the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States, Espinosa, who was a Mexican, owning vast herds of cattle and sheep, resided upon his ancestral hacienda in a sort of barbaric luxury, with a host of semiserfs, known as Peons, to do his bidding, as did the other “Muy Ricos,” the ” Dons,” so-called, of his class of natives. These self-styled aristocrats of the wild country all boasted of their Castilian blue blood, claiming descent from the nobles of Cortez’ army, but the fact is, however, with rare exceptions, that their male ancestors, the rank, and file of that army, intermarried with the Aztec women, and they were really only a mixture of Indian and Spanish.

It so happened that Espinosa met an adventurous American, who, with hundreds of others, had been attached to the “Army of Occupation” in the Mexican War, or had emigrated from the States to seek their fortunes in the newly acquired and much over-rated territory. The Mexican Don and the American became fast friends, the latter making his home with his newly found acquaintance at the beautiful ranch in the mountains, where they played the role of a modern Damon and Pythias. With Don Espinosa, lived his sister, a dark-eyed, bewitchingly beautiful girl about s17 years-old, with whom the susceptible American fell deeply in love, and his affection was reciprocated by the maiden, with a fervor of which only the women of the race from which she sprang are capable. The fascinating American had brought with him from his home in one of the New England States a large amount of money, for his parents were rich, and spared no indulgence to their only son. He very soon unwisely made Espinosa his confidant and told him of the wealth he possessed. One night after the American had retired to his chamber, adjoining that of his host, he was surprised, shortly after he had gone to bed, by discovering a man standing over him, whose hand had already grasped the buckskin bag under his pillow which contained a considerable portion of his gold and silver. He sprang from his couch and fired his pistol at random in the darkness at the would-be robber.

Felipe Espinosa

Felipe Espinosa

Espinosa, for it was he, was wounded slightly, and, being either enraged or frightened, he stabbed with his keen-pointed stiletto, which all Mexicans then carried, the young man whom he had invited to become his guest, and the blade entered the American’s heart, killing him instantly. The report of the pistol-shot awakened the other members of the household, who came rushing into the room just as the victim was breathing his last. Among them was the sister of the murderer, who, throwing herself on the body of her dead lover, poured forth the most bitter curses upon her brother. Espinosa realizing the terrible position in which he had placed himself, then and there determined to become an outlaw as he could frame no excuse for his wicked deed. He, therefore, hid himself at once in the mountains, carrying with him, of course, the sack containing the murdered American’s money.

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