My Present Past
A genealogical experience
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Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad
On returning to Pueblo, Mr. Strong found President Nickerson whose conservatism now presented a new
obstacle to the managers ambitions. The president was willing enough to secure the right to build southward
but a very cautious man, he was disappointed because Strong, after overcoming insurmountable odds, had not
secured a subsidy from the New Mexico Legislature. He felt, perhaps with reason, that the traffic to be
gained from building into New Mexico would not justify the outlay, at least not for some time. Mr. Nickerson
reasoned that with the current amount of freight coming into the state and the amount going out, would only
amount to a couple of hundred rail cars a year. It is a singular fact that the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe, in
common with our Western railroads, prospered and became powerful by building straight into undeveloped or
thinly settled country through which they passed, thus creating their own business and by establishing through
transportation routes to the Pacific Coast over which much traffic necessarily had to pass. It took courage to
drive the Santa Fe road over the Rocky Mountains and perhaps Mr. Nickerson, the good and prudent Bostonian,
need not be blamed for counseling the delay.
But Strong was always for immediate action and he generally got what he wanted. His fondness for action had a
lot to do with the phenomenal growth of the Santa Fe during those years. After much haggling Strong got
Nickerson's permission on February 26, 1878, to go ahead "in the spring" with some preliminary surveys
through Southern Colorado and over Raton Pass into New Mexico. Only a nominal sum, not more than $20,000,
would be allowed for this work. This was all the manager wanted, for with a sufficient leeway as a beginning, he
at once started a series of operations that even the president failed to stop. As soon as Strong had been
authorized to begin work "in the spring", he went, without a moments delay, to
Chief Engineer A. A. Robinson,
who likewise just "happened" to be in Pueblo and ordered him to proceed at once to Raton Pass,
to occupy the pass and hold it.
Raton Pass offered the only practicable means of getting a railroad into northern New Mexico. Situated on the
border between Colorado and New Mexico, its north entrance just sixteen  miles below Trinidad, it lay directly
on the Santa Fe trail, the logical route of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. Raton Pass enabled  the
Santa Fe traders to cross the Rockies at an altitude of about 8,000 feet. It was, in short, the gateway to
Northern New Mexico and had for years been a famous toll road created by
Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton.

The
Denver Rio Grande railroad at the same time was pushing farther south from Cuchara into Fort Garland in
1877. Although a local affair, still confined to Colorado, the Denver Rio Grande was a prosperous and aggressive
railroad line. It had ambitions of further expansion and resented the intrusion of its larger rival, the Atchison
Topeka & Santa Fe. The "little road," though  doing a good business, had by the spring of 1878 strained its
finances in costly extension work through the mountains.. By May of that year it was having trouble to meet the
interest on its bonded indebtedness. This stringency was intensified by a falling off of in traffic, much of which
the Santa Fe was getting at Pueblo, which did not conduce to good feelings. Likewise, the Denver Rio Grande
feared that the Santa Fe would radiate lines from Pueblo into its most profitable territory in the interior of
Colorado, such as South Park, the upper Arkansas and San Juan districts and Denver. Finally, it might be feared
that the Santa Fe would tap northern New Mexico via Trinidad and rob the Rio Grande of any prospective
traffic she was likely to get through the development of that territory. Having built through El Moro to La
Veta in southern Colorado, the narrow gauge therefore felt the necessity of crossing the state line into New
Mexico, where it would for a time at least be safe from outside competition. During this same month of May,
its finances were patched up by General Palmer and the company was ready for an encounter with the Santa Fe.
Once over Raton Pass, the very momentum which must be expended in crossing the mountains was bound to
carry the first railroad to pass the divide down the easy stretches of northern New Mexico and over the
Glorietas to Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Having gained either of these points, the railroad was quite likely to be
lured on to Old Mexico or the Pacific.
It so happened that A. A. Robinson of the Santa Fe and Chief Engineer McMurtrie, of the Rio Grande, field
leaders of the rival forces, were on the same Denver & Rio Grande train from Pueblo to El Moro to accomplish
the same goal, gain control of Raton Pass. Arriving at El Moro that evening Mr. McMurtrie went to bed while
Engineer Robinson hurried overland to the house of
"Dick" Wootton, near the north slope of the mountain.
Wooten was a famous old scout, who operated a toll road over the Pass. About 11 o'clock that night Robinson was
informed by a special messenger from Trinidad that the Denver Rio Grande people had organized a force of
graders and were moving across the country back of Trinidad to the Pass. There was no time to lose. Hurrying
with all speed to Trinidad, Robinson, accompanied by a staff engineer, William Morley, got together a crowd of
men with shovels and returning had detailed this party at several strategic points through the Pass and were
busily grading for the Santa Fe railroad by 5:00 A. M. One of the workers was sturdy old "Dick" Wootton, who
began shoveling by lantern light near what now is the north approach to Raton tunnel. Not long after daybreak
the Denver & Rio Grande forces arrived only to find their rivals in complete possession of Raton Pass, a defile
that held the destinies of a great railroad. Some loud and bitter words were exchanged but the Santa Fe men,
thought threatened, declared they had first possession and would fight to retain their ground if necessary.
After much blustering, their opponents withdrew and setting up camp nearby began locating a rival line over the
mountain, following a stream known as Chicken Creek. But this route eventually proved wholly impracticable and
within a few weeks, on April 18th, the Rio Grande people withdrew and went north to Canon City, leaving the
Santa Fe graders in undisturbed possession. Building the Santa Fe southward was now to proceed steadily.
Had it not been for the invincible determination of Strong and the intelligent cooperation of Robinson, along
with "Dick" Wootton and the people of Trinidad and vicinity, it is quite possible that the Denver Rio Grande, not
the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe would have first crossed New Mexico and become a transcontinental railroad.
The scene now shifts to the struggle for another strategic pass, the Grand Canon of the Arkansas in South
Central Colorado, commonly referred to as the Royal Gorge, which struggle was to last nearly two years,
creating a situation unparalleled in the annals of American railroads. The Royal Gorge is only a sharp constriction
of three or four miles where the Canon walls come very close together and rise with scenic grandeur nearly
three thousand feet above the Arkansas River. Because of the narrowness of this Gorge, very little room is
left between the stream and the rocky walls, so little in fact, that in places a single track railroad was
constructed with difficulty. Building two lines was out of the question. Whereas the Raton Pass was the natural
gateway to northern New Mexico, the Royal Gorge led through the Rockies to the interior of Colorado.
Now Fremont County and Canon City, the county seat, greatly needed more railroads because of the lack of
good transportation facilities.
In 1867 a group of Fremont County citizens had tried to induce the Kansas Pacific Railroad, then building across Western Kansas,
to extend their line through South Central Colorado.
General W. J. Palmer, afterwards of Denver Rio Grande fame, was then the
managing director of the Kansas Pacific, along with
W. H. Greenwood, chief engineer, who was in charge of construction. In
compliance with the requests of Fremont County and Canon City citizens, Palmer then organized and directed an expedition that
surveyed a line which in 1868 Palmer advocated. The route thus recommended ran southwestward from Ellsworth, Kansas, through
the Canon to the headquarters of the Arkansas and thence through the San Luis Valley to the 35th parallel and beyond to the
coast. Had the Kansas Pacific followed this line it would instantly have tapped some of the richest portions of Colorado. But the
Eastern managers of the Kansas Pacific finally decided to build to Denver, which was done and as a result, that road never became
a factor in Colorado. After the Kansas Pacific had finally been diverted to Denver, Mr. Palmer seems to have conceived of building
a narrow gauge line, the Denver Rio Grande, from Denver southward along the foot of the mountains. Chagrined at not having
secured an eastern outlet through the Kansas Pacific, Fremont County gladly voted $50,000 in county bonds to aid the narrow
gauge railroad. In October of 1872, the Rio Grande had reached Pueblo and had built a spur to Lebran in the Canon coal fields, eight
miles from Canon City. Then without stopping to extend their lines to Canon City, hurriedly they built southward to El Moro, where
more good coking fields were. In the meantime the $50,000 in county bonds that were voted on were lost to the Denver Rio Grande
on a courtroom technicality. Almost in despair the people of Fremont County held a public meeting in Canon City in January of 1873
and formally invited the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe to construct a line into their locality, along the route proposed by the Kansas
Pacific. Unfortunately the Santa Fe was at a virtual standstill from 1873-74 so Fremont County this time voted $100,000; but the
bond only carried by a two vote majority and the County Commissioners refused to issue the bonds. Finally, in 1874, an issue of
$50,000 in bonds carried, which was supplemented by a gift of $25,000 worth of property in Canon City and in that year the long
sought narrow gauge railroad reached the county seat.
Upset with the delay in getting a railroad to Canon City, the people of Fremont County decided to make an
effort to secure their own road. In 1876, silver had been found in profitable quantities near the source of the
Arkansas, at what is now
Leadville. This prompted the people of Fremont County to seek a western outlet. To
that end a railroad company, the Canon City and San Juan, was organized by local citizens in February of 1877
and projected westward through the Canon. In July, 1877,
Leadville, the noted "City of the Clouds" was
started. By the close of the year it was a village of 300 miners and prospectors and in January of 1878 it was
organized as a town. In early spring of 1878 started what was to become the "Leadville boom," which lasted two
years. People flocked by the thousands to Leadville where fabulous wealth in rich silver and lead ore was to be
found. This turbulent mining camp with its increasing numbers and keen demand for supplies of all descriptions
made necessary a railroad through the mountains; almost as if by magic a great traffic prize had sprung up in
the interior. The prize was Leadville and both the Rio Grande and Santa Fe railroads decided to build
extensions to the new town. But Leadville could only be reached through the Royal Gorge through which but one
railroad could pass, hence the struggle that followed
Both companies had already made surveys through this region and the Denver Rio Grande claimed it had secured
a right of way by acts of Congress in 1872 and 1875. However the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe new that the
Denver Rio Grande had never tried to utilize those rights and with the tactless policy of the Denver Rio Grande
towards the people of avoiding established places and not colonizing land along its lines, the railroad had fallen
out of favor with many in Colorado.
In April of 1878, W. B. Strong would show his hand again to the Denver Rio Grande but the Rio Grande had
possession of the telegraph lines and deciphered the coded messages Mr. Strong was sending. Determined not
to be forestalled as they were at Raton, the Rio Grande assembled one hundred men at Pueblo and were made
ready to leave on the morning of April 20th. News of this scheme reached Mr. Strong on the 19th at El Moro.
He tried to get a special train over to Pueblo but was quickly refused by the Denver Rio Grande people. To
reach Pueblo over his own lines, meant he must travel overland 77 miles northeast to La Junta and then 64
miles north and west. Delay meant defeat and Mr. Strong could not risk delay. William R. Morley was at La
Junta and to him Strong sent a telegram with instructions to hurry to Pueblo as soon as possible and then by all
means beat the Rio Grande crowd to Canon City.