The Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail was used as the mail route between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico from 1846 to 1861. The first four-year contract to carry mail over the trail was awarded to Dr. David Waldo of the Waldo, Hall, and Company in 1846.
In addition to providing monthly mail service, the company also provided passenger service, which including meals cost $150. Light carryall Dearborn or Jersey wagons, pulled by mules, were probably used. Thirty days were allowed for each trip and passengers slept on the ground. The capacity was nine passengers inside and two on top. When soldiers were available they sometimes escorted the mail express.
These were dangerous times along the Santa Fe Trail as the area Indians were upset with the increasing number of people along the trail. Though the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834 recognized the area between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains as permanent Indian country, the act was not being respected as traders and travelers disrupted their way of life, destroyed their game, and infringed upon their lands. As a result, a number of attacks were made upon Santa Fe Trail travelers.
On April 18, 1850, Frank Hendrickson, James Clay, and Thomas E. Branton left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas carrying mail bound for Santa Fe. At the time of their departure, they carried no passengers. About a week into their journey, the three-man party overtook a wagon caravan in central Kansas and was joined by Thomas W. Flournoy and Moses Goldstein. A few days later they came upon an eastbound ox train. Five members of that group decided they wanted to turn around and go back to Santa Fe. Benjamin Shaw, John Duffy, John Freeman, John Williams, and a German teamster then joined with the others of the mail express.
By May, the group had made their way to New Mexico where they were caught up in a two-day running battle with a combined force of over 100 Jicarilla Apache and Ute Indians near Wagon Mound. The bodies of all ten men were found near Santa Clara Spring, which is in the canyon northwest of present Wagon Mound, on May 19, 1850.
At the time of this encounter, it was called “the most daring murder ever committed” by the American Indians and posed a serious threat to small-party trail traffic.
This event called the Wagon Mound Massacre, coupled with another attack about six months previously called the White Massacre underscored the need for some sort of military presence, and in 1851, Fort Union, New Mexico was established. From their new base of operations, troops stationed or marshaled at Fort Union spent much of the 1850s engaged in active and aggressive campaigning against the Comanche, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, and Ute people.