Uncle Dick

In the summer of 1836, 18 year old Richens Lacy Wootton arrived in Independence, Missouri. He had spent a couple years in Mississippi on his uncle’s cotton plantation and decided to head to the West to see new sights and meet with what adventures he may.

It was at Independence that he found a wagon train consisting of seven wagons belonging to Bent and St. Vrain loaded and ready to head out for Ft. Bent. At that time, each wagon required 10 to 12 mules to pull the load. Wootton had no difficulty in getting on as a wagon man for his first trip out west. This train was to catch up with a larger train of 57 wagons and about 150 men that had started a couple days earlier. This would be Wootton’s first trip to the Council Grove, and certainly not his last.

The reader may not recognize the name of Richens Wootton, but it’s likely the nick name of ‘Uncle Dick’ Wootton would ring a bell. It appears that he was christened Uncle Dick upon his first freighting trip to Ft. Bent, and the moniker stuck ever after.

Uncle Dick spent the rest of his life, over 50 years, in the West and is well known as a mountain man, trapper, freighter, Indian trader or fighter (as the occasion called for), farmer, rancher, toll road builder/operator, shop keeper and whatever else he needed to be. His accuracy with a gun, particularly the old flintlocks, is nigh fantastic. Uncle Dick has admitted to missing shots, but those were seldom. Once he was chased by two Indians on foot when all he had was a flintlock rifle to defend himself. He stopped, took aim and dropped the leading Indian at 100 yards, then continued to load his gun for the second Indian while running.

Uncle Dick was known by practically everyone west of the Mississippi River and he knew anyone who was worth knowing. Dick hobnobbed with such notables as Kit Carson, August Claymore, Chief Conniach, James Denver, Chief Ouray, Chief Uncotash, Col. Ceran St. Vrain, Lucien Maxwell, brothers Charles and William Bent, John Fremont and even Seth Hays.

In a book about Uncle Dick Wootton written by Howard Conard in 1890, Wootton shares a short story about Seth Hays that can only tickle our fancy. It was the 1st of March 1856 that Uncle Dick started out on his first freighting trip from Fort Union to Kansas City. I’ll give you Wootton’s account in its entirety;

“When we reached Council Grove, we found the Kaw Indians about to go on the war-path. Seth Hayes (sic), who was there as a government sutler, had gotten into some trouble with one of the Indians, and killed him. The Indians swore vengeance, and things looked very warlike. I stopped there two days, waiting for matters to quiet down, and helped Hayes patch up a truce. I was better acquainted with the Indians than he was, and knew better how to settle a quarrel of that kind. He asked me what should be done, and I told him that the way to make peace with the Indians, was to pay them for the one that had been killed. I knew that this was what they expected, and that they would not be satisfied until the affair was fixed up that way. He requested me to go ahead with the negotiations, and I invited the chief to hold a conference with me. We sat down together, and after we had had a long talk, it was agreed that if the sutler would give the Indians a pony and a hundred dollars worth of goods out of his store, they would be entirely satisfied, and peace would be established. My friend the sutler was satisfied with this arrangement, the Indians got the pony and their goods, and I left them smoking the pipe of peace with Hayes, when I went on my way, congratulating myself on my success as a peace commissioner.”

Upon first reading this story I thought it may be another account of the incident Hays had with the Kaw in June of 1859; resulting in two Kaw being hanged. However, if Uncle Dick is not mistaken about the date (1856), the incident he relates above is most certainly a different episode. Given this morsel of information, it appears Seth Hays may have had more problems with the Kaw than our local history has been willing to admit to us.