Santa Fe Trail – Detail & Timeline

Santa Fe Trail Map 1829-1830

Santa Fe Trail Map 1829-1830

1829 – 1830

Extensive Missouri River flooding, in 1826 and particularly in 1828, destroyed Franklin as the primary Santa Fe Trail jumping-off spot. In addition, steamship traffic encouraged upriver development and during this transition period, westbound trading caravans began leaving from a variety of locations, including New Franklin, Fayette, Lexington, and Independence, Missouri. The mileage from Lexington to Santa Fe was 837 miles.

In 1929, military escorts began traveling with the traders because of the increase in Indian attacks. The first was under command of Major Bennett Riley, who escorted a Santa Fe Trail wagon train to the Mexican border, which, at that time, was in the vicinity of present-day Dodge City. This army escort used the first oxen on the Trail and these animals proved to be better able to withstand the hardships of trail travel, were less attractive to the Indians to steal, and could be eaten if needed.

1831 – 1845

Santa Fe Trail 1831-1845

Santa Fe Trail 1831-1845

By 1831, Independence, Missouri had grown into a substantial town. Given an improved connection between Independence and two Missouri River landings, the city captured most of the Santa Fe Trail traffic during this period. Rival Westport (Kansas City), Missouri was founded in 1832, and by the mid-1830s, nearby Westport Landing was attracting a small but increasing portion of the New Mexico trade. The trail length from Independence to Santa Fe via the Cimarron Route was 800 miles.

In 1833 a cavalry unit named the United States Dragoons was organized for the purpose of fighting Indians in the West, and the Santa Fe Trail became one of their most important routes.

Also occurring in 1833 was the establishment of Bent’s Fort (Fort William) on the upper Arkansas River in Colorado. Built as a fur trading post by brothers William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain. In the summer of 1834, one of their groups, with wagons, eastbound from Santa Fe, New Mexico traveled by way of Taos and Raton Pass to Bent’s Fort; then came down the Arkansas River to the Santa Fe Trail — thus opening the Bent’s Fort branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

After 1839 and until the coming of the railroad in 1880, Mexican entrepreneurs from Santa Fe and Chihuahua were active participants in the trade with the United States, driving their own wagon trains over the Trail to Missouri, and returning with manufactured goods from the eastern United States and Europe.

Santa Fe Trail near "The Caches" in Ford County, Kansas

Santa Fe Trail near “The Caches” in Ford County, Kansas

In the early 1840s, organized bands of guerrillas began to prey on the trading parties along the Santa Fe Trail. One of these bands was formed in the fall of 1842, under the leadership of one John McDaniel, who claimed to hold a captain’s commission in the Texan army. Early in 1843, McDaniel started for the trail with the intention of joining his force with that of another Texan bandit named Charles Warfield, who had plundered and burned the town of Mora, New Mexico. Before the two groups joined up, Warfield’s gang was dispersed by a party of New Mexicans. It was McDaniel’s force that robbed and murdered the trader Don Antonio Jose Chavez in the early spring of 1843. When the Warfield band was broken up some of the stragglers joined Major Jacob Snively, another Texan. These recruits gave Snively a force of some 200 men, with which he met and defeated a detachment of Armijo’s command, south of the Arkansas River in Kansas. The unsettled conditions along the trail made a military escort necessary, and in May 1843, a train left Independence under the protection of 200 United States dragoons commanded by Captain Philip St. George Cooke. Upon arriving at the Caches, Captain Cooke was visited by Snively, who with about 100 men was encamped on the opposite side of the river. The boundary between the United States and Texas had not yet been settled, but Cooke took the position that Snively was operating within the territory of the United States, disarmed his men and ordered them to disband.

In 1844 trader, explorer, and naturalist Josiah Gregg chronicled his trips over the Santa Fe Trail in his popular book Commerce of the Prairies. The two-volume set was an account of his time spent as a trader on the Santa Fe Trail from 1831 to 1840 and included commentary on the geography, botany, geology, and culture of New Mexico. The book established Gregg’s literary reputation.

In 1845, Colonel Stephen Kearny left the Santa Fe Trail east of Willow Springs and blazed a route northeastward to Fort Leavenworth, ferrying the Kansas River, near the mouth of the Wakarusa River, on flatboats operated by Shawnee Indians. The next year, Kearny would dispatch his Army of the West to New Mexico over this Fort Leavenworth branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

1846 – 1847

Santa Fe Trail Map, 1846-1847

Santa Fe Trail Map, 1846-1847

In May 1846, the US Congress declared war against Mexico. A month later, General Stephen W. Kearny’s Army of the West left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and by the end of August, his forces had gained control of New Mexico. Indian raids made the Cimarron Route increasingly dangerous, so most trail traffic was diverted to the Mountain Route. The trail length from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico via the Mountain Route was 844 miles. This new branch of the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Leavenworth was much traveled in 1846, becoming a military supply route. Much-traveled in 1846, the road seems to have had limited use after that, though some ’49ers traveled it. Kearny assured the residents that their “Indian” problems would be taken care of by the army and military posts were established in New Mexico. It was during this time that the Mountain Route or Bent’s Fort Route, over Raton Pass became popular.

Susan Shelby Magoffin, first woman on the Santa Fe Trail

Susan Shelby Magoffin, first woman on the Santa Fe Trail

That same year, Susan Shelby Magoffin became the first American woman to travel the Santa Fe Trail. She accompanied her older husband, a well-established American merchant. In her diary, she wrote of the many hardships along the trail — heat, thirst, mosquitoes, wolves, and a wagon accident. But, she also wrote enthusiastically about the scenery and the excitement of the journey. In one of her entries, she said simply, “It is the life of a wandering princess mine.” The diary was edited by Stella M. Drumm and published in 1926 under the title, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into New Mexico.

Beginning in 1847, antagonism against the Americans by the Indians and Mexicans made travel on the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail extremely hazardous.

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