Footloose: Drifting Along with Tumblin’ “Uncle Bob” Winders

Like many men of his time, Robert Jackaway “Uncle Bob” Winders was a tumbleweed. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1822 but soon followed a southwest wind down into Texas. He fought in the Mexican-American War under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnson in Mexico and in 1847 joined Colonel John Hays’s Second Regiment of Texas Rangers. After leaving the Army in 1848 Winders returned to Texas but soon drifted out to California for a look-see. He drifted back to Texas in time to enlist in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

winders 76In 1865 Winders, then forty-three, married Margaret Collins, age fifteen, in Brownsville. Bob and Maggie began working the saloon and gambling circuit in Texas, leaving the Rio Grande Valley to drift over to Houston and Galveston. By July 1876 Bob and Maggie had drifted up into north Texas. Something about Fort Worth snagged tumbleweed Bob.

saloon opening winders exchange 11-29-76On November 29, 1876, just a few months after the Texas & Pacific Railroad reached Fort Worth, “Uncle Bob” Winders opened his Cattle Exchange Saloon on the corner of Houston and 2nd streets. Clip is from the Fort Worth Democrat.

77 cdThe Cattle Exchange was an uptown saloon, located near where the White Elephant would open in 1884. (“Cattle Exchange,” like “White Elephant,” was a common name for saloons.) The Cattle Exchange may have been “the finest of its kind in the state,” in contrast to the saloons of Hell’s Half Acre, but it could still be a lively place. For example, on January 26, 1878, the Democrat reported that on the previous night Wyatt Earp had fought a Mr. Russell in the Cattle Exchange Saloon, the result being that “Mr. Russell was the recipient of a first class pounding.” On September 10, 1878 the Democrat reported that gambler “Jake Johnson was in a fight at the Cattle Exchange late last night and had a large part of his right cheek bitten out by a man named Hardin.”

Two clips are from the 1877 city directory.

james earpOne of Winders’s first bartenders at the Cattle Exchange was Wyatt Earp’s older brother James, listed in the 1877 city directory as living on Main Street.

CattleExchangeFtWSaloons (and other businesses) often gave tokens to customers in lieu of money as change because tokens (1) served as advertising for the businesses and (2) motivated customers to return to the businesses. (The Brunswick & Balke company would eventually make bowling equipment.) (Image courtesy of Jerry Adams.)

peak 7-16-22In 1922 Fort Worth pioneer Howard Peak remembered how cowboys celebrated in Winders’s saloon. Clip is from the July 16, 1922 Star-Telegram.

chichester 3--14-92In 1878 Winders was still in Fort Worth. On March 14, 1892 the Fort Worth Gazette reported the death of Colonel John T. Chichester and recalled the day in 1878 when Chichester presided at the inaugural run of the stage coach from Fort Worth to Fort Yuma on the Star route. Winders was among those present.

But Bob and Maggie sold their Fort Worth interests in early 1879 and drifted on—to the mines of Arizona. In 1879 mining was all the rage in Arizona. By 1880 silver was selling for $1.20 an ounce ($28 today). Their wagon caravan, which included several other prospectors, took almost two months to reach the Promised Land.

winders 80

By 1880 Winders had drifted into Tombstone, Arizona. Prospecting didn’t pay the bills, so Winders and Charlie Smith ran the gambling tables at Danner & Owens Hall, much as Luke Short was running the gambling tables at the White Elephant when Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright called Short out into the street in 1887. Danner & Owens Hall was one of Tombstone’s first saloons, opened in 1878 to provide beverages to parched miners.

censusIn Tombstone Winders was reunited with James Earp. In fact, Winders became partner with James Earp and brothers Wyatt and Virgil in several Arizona mines. In the 1880 Tombstone census Winders listed himself as a miner. Wyatt and Virgil Earp listed themselves as farmers. Brother James listed himself as a saloonkeeper. Winders lived on Fremont Street. Virgil, James, and Wyatt Earp lived on Allen Street. Located between Fremont and Allen streets was the O.K. Corral.

mine claim 10-30-81On October 21, 1880 Winders and the Earps filed a patent to the first north extension of the Mountain Maid mine. That patent filing was published October 30 in the Tombstone Citizen.

sanbornThe Earp brothers’ gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred October 26. The corral is outlined in white on the Sanborn map.

ok recapOn the same newspaper page with the Winders-Earp mine patent filing was a recap of the “tragical termination” of October 26. I have included only the beginning and end of the long article here.

bond 11-6-81The Arizona Citizen of November 6, 1881 reported that Winders was among those men who supplied bond for Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday after the “recent tragedy.”

Wyatt and docThe blog post O.K. Corral: 5 Cowboys, 4 Lawmen, and 1 Brother Who Said, “I Think I Can Hang Them” has more on Fort Worth’s tie to the McLaury side of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. (Photos of Wyatt Earp, left, and Doc Holliday from Wikipedia.)

closing 12-12-85 dmnOn December 12, 1885 the Dallas Morning News announced the closing of the Cattle Exchange Saloon in Fort Worth. A. J. Anderson soon moved his sporting goods store into the building.

pickwickIn 1887 Winders left Tombstone and drifted into Nogales. By September 1889 he had drifted back into Fort Worth, but he was just passing through, stopping at the Pickwick Hotel. Although he still listed himself as a resident of Tombstone, he was probably on his way to San Antonio. Perhaps he stopped in Fort Worth to say hello (or goodbye?) to old friends.

obit 5-3-90During his footloose lifetime, “Uncle Bob” Winders had drifted from Pennsylvania into Texas, Mexico, California, New Mexico, and Arizona. But in San Antonio he drifted to a halt. On May 3, 1890 the Tombstone Epitaph lived up to its name when it reported the death of R. J. Winders on April 24 at the age of sixty-eight. Tumblin’ tumbleweed Robert Jackaway “Uncle Bob” Winders finally put down roots in section C of lot 16 in San Antonio City Cemetery no. 1.

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7 Responses to Footloose: Drifting Along with Tumblin’ “Uncle Bob” Winders

  1. louise says:

    Thank you for your reply to my question on R. J.’s possible Civil War service. As you stated in your information, R. J. did serve in the Mexican-American War in Capt Ostrander’s Company First Reg’t Texas Foot Riflemen enrolled at Houstion May 10, 1846 and mustered out Aug 24, 1846. He reinlisted and served under Hays but this was still the Mexican-American War. If I ever run across proof of Civil War service I will forward that information to you.

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