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P.G. Scotts diary continues Colorado trail
raton pass colorado
Courtesy photo Crossing Raton Pass was the hardest part of the journey along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Wagons crawled along the edge of steep drop-offs to pass the overhanging rocks.

P.G. Scott’s diary and David Clapsaddle’s commentary supplements Clapsaddle’s Rendezvous article that appeared in an issue of Wagon Tracks.

By David K. Clapsaddle

The Kansas Pacific Railway pushed westward out of Kansas in 1869, extending its tracks into Colorado Territory where the fledgling town of Kit Carson, Colo. was in its first stage of development.
P.G. Scott’s report:
“Monday, Aug. 29, 1870. Camped at dark last night and had supper about 9 p.m. I retired near ten and slept well though it was quite cold. Got up at daylight and had a good wash and so had one of the hunters. Since yesterday noon the land is more rocky, the bluffs higher and more abrupt and covered with a denser growth of trees, mostly cedar. The lower land has greener grass and there are more dry watercourses.
“The road is much more uneven and looks as if it had been very wet some time ago. The look of the country has improved today. It is fully as rocky but the trees are in patches and strips in the plains and their short stems and round bushy tops reminds me of an old orchard; while perhaps a pile of rocks nearby answers for houses. Saw a shepherd’s fire last night; heard the sheep bleat and the shepherd shouting and singing, and in this forenoon’s travel we saw 4 large flocks of sheep.
“These men must have a very lonely time. I don’t envy them a bit. This morning I saw the mountain at the foot of which Trinidad is situated. It is 2 1/2 or 3 days distant and seems quite high. I wonder what luck lies at the foot of it for me.”
Clapsaddle’s commentary — Scott’s reference to the “plains” is instructive.
The plains are populated by short grasses as opposed to the prairie which is the home of the tall grasses. Prairie is derived form the French with reference to meadow, a place of tall grass. Generally speaking, the short grass country begins in central Kansas and extends westward to the Rocky Mountains.
“Camped after 3 1/2 hours’ travel near a little shanty, but built of stone. I drove all forenoon, the boss being hunting. We drove the cattle to water at a hole beside a pile of rocks. We saw some rabbits and the boys killed one with a stone. Our gang seems fully as dirty, ill supplied with provisions, and careless about cooking as any I see. We often get only two meals per day, a piece of cake in the hand being the third. I feel the pain in my breast today pretty bad.”
Notice that Scott made a mistake in dating the diary. He wrote Monday, Aug. 28. He should have written Aug. 29.
Notice he complains again about his health.
“Tuesday, Aug. 30, 1870. Drove the oxen all day yesterday, the boss being hunting. He and one of the men who joined us the other day brought in three antelope, nice and fat they were. Camped for supper and had some half-cooked antelope and started again and drove part of the night. After about an hour the boss drove and I went to sleep in the wagon and slept until day.
“Had more antelope for breakfast, started and drove 4 1/2 hours. I got a sight of Trinidad, Colorado. The boss pointed it out to me at the foot of a mountain and by the side of a stream. Killed a rattlesnake on the road and saw snow near the top of a mountain. Had an invitation from the boss to go to his place when I pleased and stay as long as I liked.
“As we came down into the valley we saw corn and wheat by the side of the river, the first I have seen since I left Lawrence. There are no fences that I can see. Gave the boss 50 cents with which he bought curds and they are busy eating them now. The land has been more destitute of grass today than it was yesterday. There are patches of wild sunflowers now right beside the grain but not half so large as I saw in Kansas near the Missouri River. Drove all forenoon and feel very much fatigued. Still I am a good bit better than I was. Lots of mountains to right, left, and in front, peak rising beyond peak.”

Clapsaddle’s commentary — The mountains Scott mentioned were the Raton Mountains. Trinidad, which Scott saw at a distance, had its 1859 origins with a saloon operated by Gabriel Gutierrez and blacksmith shop run by Joe Walker. In 1861, John Witlock, Chief Surgeon of the New Mexico Volunteers, laid out a town site of five streets.
Once more, Scott expressed displeasure with his health, “feel very much fatigued.”

(To Be Continued)