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 northeast 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, where, according to one Winders researcher, he smuggled contraband between Texas and Mexico during the Civil War.

winders 76In 1865 Winders, then forty-three, married Margaret Collins, age fifteen, in Brownsville. Bob and Margaret 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 Margaret 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, the Cattle Exchange Saloon, operated by “Uncle Bob” Winders, opened 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’ saloon.” Clip is from the July 16 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 in 1879 Bob felt an east wind at his back, and Bob and Margaret sold their Fort Worth interests and tumbled 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 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 (among others) 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 on his way to San Antonio. He was dying. Perhaps he stopped in Fort Worth to say 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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13 Responses to Footloose: Drifting Along with Tumblin’ “Uncle Bob” Winders

  1. Carmen Winders says:

    Louise, I am intrigued by the post above because I have been researching the Winders family. In my search, I got stuck on George Washington Winders II from Livingston County, Kentucky. He was born in 1787. Do you know of any connection between George Washington Marquis D’Lafayette Winders and my George Washington Winders II? Thanks.

    • vicky says:

      Hello Carmen. Mr. Hometown by Handlebar let me know of your inquiry. It is intriguing your George Washington Winders II from Livingston Co, KY b 1787. At this writing, I do not recall another GW Winders connection but it is greatly plausible. The father Samuel John Winders father of “my” GW Marquis D Lafaytte Winders, was closely connected to Gen’l Washington and THE Marquis d’LaFayette– Samuel having been among the Maryland 400 (if my memory calls that organization correctly.) Samuel John Winders had many siblings and with his elder brothers Henry and John, they with their father were covert operatives in Geo Washington’s spy ops. That was basically the Maryland 400 (in part with others). This said, the Maryland Winders were prolific and very likely your GW Winders II will probably fit in that group. Another avenue you may want to at least look at is the Levin Winders line.
      George Washington became popular to name children as was Marquis D’Lafayette. I cannot promise a prompt reply but you are welcome to contact me at vlhresearher@comcast.net.
      I will see what I have access to here at home but I am in the process of long distance move so you will need to be patient with me. Lastly, share with me more of what you have in names/dates/places and we will work together to see what angles and directions your efforts may want to consider. Thank you for your interest in these fascinating Americans. Yours truly, vicky

  2. v. Louise says:

    This is Louise surfacing. I have information you may appreciate being among the first-if not the first-to share in open forum. For those interested, RJ Winders was born Archibald Brashear Robert Jackaway Winders. His brother known as Lafayette, he was born George Washington Marquis D’Lafayette Winders. The father John Samuel Winders, served with/under both Washington and the Marquis.
    RJ was called “Archie” to family and friends. The use of “RJ” is mostly attributable to the way he ended up serving in the Mexican-American War. Basically, first by John Hays and later by Rip Ford, he was inducted into the Texas army as Robert Jackaway Winders.
    If you would like to dialog more on the RJ information, you have my email.
    sincerely
    Louise

    • hometown says:

      Louise, thanks for fleshing out ol’ Uncle Bob. What handles they hung on kids then! As a researcher I can imagine how much digging it took to find those facts.

  3. louise says:

    As promised in 2017, no proof exists for RJ Winders serving in the Civil War. He did not serve officially in the Civil War. He ran contraband along the rebel route between El Paso to Monterrey and other parts even as far south from Monterrey, MX to Brownsville. The contraband of highest personal value for him was Texas cotton but the outfit of teamsters also moved/smuggled other contraband over the route. The contraband was kept on the move all the way to Veracruz where the cotton was boarded onto French and British ships for their factories. In exchange, the teamsters received contraband payment from the British, French and whatever other countries as parties with the Europeans seeking to keep their textile industry operating during the Mexicans against Napoleon III and US in the North-South war.
    This is not to say RJ supported the South. He supported himself and his own interests. He did not do this alone, as stated, he rode among others. I continue to stop in here and check on your progress. We could really dialog you know.
    Your friend, Louise

  4. 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.

  5. Louise says:

    Mr. Handlebar, it is always fun to visit here and read your writing style. Your reference to R. J. serving in the War of the Rebellion caught my attention and wonder if you can elaborate. Your statement was “He drifted back to Texas in time to enlist in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.”
    It would not surprise me that he served however, after years researching him and his lines, I have yet to find any evidence he served in a formal military capacity for either the North or South.
    His brother served for the North and of course, R. J. served with honor in the Mexican-American War. My efforts tracking him went cold during those war years. I follow him from birth to Humboldt Bay, CA and his return to Iowa (via the Texas route) in time to be at his stepfather’s death bed in August 1861. R. J. returned south (to Texas), the war breaks out and I lose him until his marriage to Margaret 9 March 1865, in Brownsville. Captain John “Rip” Ford witnessed the marriage.
    Apologies for the length of this, but I want you to know that I am a serious researcher on the R J (and Margaret) lines. Do you have any further details on his Civil War service and will you share that with me? Such as his regiment/company, state he served from.
    I would be happy to hear from you and will answer any questions I can that you may have. Thank you for your website and the all that you have shared with so many!
    Sincerely
    Louise

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Louise. Most of the non-Fort Worth info came from websites of researchers such as yourself. I do not recall which one contained a reference to his Civil War involvement, but this one says he enlisted in the 1st Texas Volunteers:

  6. Brian Winders says:

    I have had my ancestors traced back to Robert Jackaway Winders. Cool to know!

  7. Louise says:

    Love your style and the story. One suggestion: In 1887, RJ and Margaret went to Nogales, Arizona Territory. Daily Tombstone, Thurs 5May1887 “Local Notes” reported Bob Winders, has come to Nogales where he will remain for some time.” RJ’s son Thomas was attending school in Nogales, Arizona Territory [Tombstone Daily Epitaph Tues, 30Mar1886, p3;Col:1, “Willie Winders Roll of Honor…children’s school in Nogales”. There were more news snips on the children and family that keeps them more in the proximity of Tombstone (such as Nogales, AT) than further away and more dangerous to travel to Nogales, NM. Winders were in Tombstone (after the “for some time”) by June1888 when Bobby wore dad’s badge earned in service. The Winders went to Nogales in A.T. versus the one in NM Territory or in old Mexico. Just a thought.

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