New Mexico Santa Fe Trail Sites:
The Santa Fe Trail, in the days of its greatest fame, extended from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, the capitol city of the province of New Mexico. Between these points, there were practically no settlements of white people, and, indeed, few permanent Indian towns. The City of Santa Fe was founded about 1610, the exact date is unknown. In the prosperous days of the Santa Fe trade, it contained about 3,000 inhabitants.
The first successful venture to Santa Fe over the Santa Fe Trail was made by Captain William Becknell. With him, were four trusted companions, who left Arrow Rock, on the Missouri River, near Franklin, Missouri on September 1, 1821. After arriving in Santa Fe on November 16, 1821, and making an enormous profit, Becknell made plans to return, thus blazing the path that would become known as the Santa Fe Trail.
In New Mexico, there were two main routes — the Cimarron Cutoff, and the Mountain Route. From these two paths, several other alternate routes formed to accommodate the numerous communities that sprang up along the way in order to provide goods, services, food, shelter and water to the many wagon trains passing through. The many smaller trails merged again along the Las Vegas-Santa Fe Corridor into New Mexico.
The Santa Fe Trail New Mexico National Scenic Byway follows today’s highways and roads near the original Santa Fe Trail paths.
The Cimarron Route entered New Mexico north of present-day Clayton. New Mexico Highway 406 intersects McNees Crossing, where the trail forded the North Canadian River. The byway travels west out of Clayton on U.S. 56 past the Rabbit Ear Mountains, an important landmark on the trail. Another notable marker, Point of Rocks, is north of U.S. 56 about 22 miles east of Springer. The party of Santa Fe merchant J.W. White was attacked near here in 1849, and 11 graves are located at the site. Now a private ranch, it is open to the public. Springer, located six miles west of where the trail crossed the Canadian River, is home to the Santa Fe Trail Museum, housed in the 1882 Colfax County Courthouse. The byway leaves Springer on the east I-25 frontage road and bound for Wagon Mound, the last major landmark on the trail, named for its resemblance to the top of a covered wagon.
Crossing Raton Pass was the hardest part of traveling the Mountain route. Richens “Uncle Dick” Wootton established a toll road through the pass-through here in 1865, charging $1.50 for wagons, 25¢ for horses, and 5¢ for each head of stock. Indians used the road for free. Interstate 25 parallels the old road. The byway follows Moulton Street southeast to Second Street in Raton, first known as Willow Springs. It became a water stop for stagecoaches and a freight stop on the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway picks up south of Raton on U.S. 64 and runs through Cimarron. Settled around 1844, it became the headquarters of the 1.75-million-acre Maxwell Land Grant in 1857. Wagon trains entered the plaza from the east after crossing the Cimarron River. Lucien Maxwell built the Aztec Mill, which survives as the Old Mill Museum in Cimarron. It is located on 17th Street and is open in the summer.
Ultimately, travelers reached the end of the trail, the Santa Fe Plaza. Established in about 1610 by Don Pedro de Peralta, the Plaza has long stood as the commercial, social, and political center of Santa Fe and would have teamed with carts, goods, livestock, traders, and townspeople during the 19th century at the height of the Santa Fe Trail. Buildings constructed in the Pueblo, Spanish and Territorial styles ring the Plaza, reflecting the diverse cultural history of this historic place. One of the most noted historic buildings on the Plaza is the Palace of the Governors. Constructed in 1610, the Palace of the Governors served for 300 years as the seat of the Spanish, Mexican, and American territorial government in New Mexico. The Palace of the Governors is the oldest extant public building in the United States and now is part of the Museum of New Mexico.
Extensive use of the Santa Fe Trail ceased by 1880, but its legacy, lore, and influence live on. Goods, ideas, and diverse cultural interactions traversed the Santa Fe Trail for nearly 60 years, and the mixing of cultures and ideas that followed created a unique experience that lives on today.
Sources: See Santa Fe Trail Site Map & Writing Credits