In the days of its greatest fame, the Santa Fe Trail extended from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, the capital city of the province of New Mexico. Between these points, there were practically no settlements of white people and few permanent Indian towns. The City of Santa Fe was founded in about 1610, the exact date unknown. In the prosperous days of the Santa Fe trade, it contained about 3,000 inhabitants.
Captain William Becknell made the first successful venture to Santa Fe over the Santa Fe Trail. With him were four trusted companions who left Arrow Rock, on the Missouri River, near Franklin, Missouri, on September 1, 1821.
On November 13, they met a troop of Mexican soldiers, who prevailed upon them to travel with them to Santa Fe. Upon their arrival, they received a friendly reception, and their goods sold at such rates as to astonish the Missourians, proving for a very successful journey. The party set out on the return journey on December 13th and reached home in 48 days.
This adventure may be said to have established the Santa Fe trade, and Captain William Becknell has justly been called the father of the Santa Fe Trail.
By 1825, the Santa Fe trade had assumed sufficient proportions to attract the attention of Congress. There was also a growing apprehension about the wild Indians of the Plains. While there had been no trader killed on the Trail and no robberies of enough importance to report, there was a gathering of Indians along the way, and it was feared that outrages would be committed. In the winter of 1824-25, Congress passed a bill authorizing the President to have the Santa Fe Trail marked from Missouri to the frontiers of New Mexico. The Commissioners appointed to carry that act into effect were enjoined to secure the consent of the Indians whose lands were infringed to the survey and marking of the road. For that purpose, a treaty was entered at Council Grove with the Osage and Kanza Indians on August 11, 1825.
After the treaties were negotiated, Congress sent surveyors to mark the trail in 1825, but it was not completed until 1827.
Sources: See Santa Fe Trail Site Map & Writing Credits