Heroes of the Old Santa Fe Trail

He afterward kept a store at Taos, New Mexico under the firm name of Maxwell & Carson, but was not adapted to mercantile life, and did not succeed very well, so he returned to sheep raising, and remained on his ranch until the rebellion, when he volunteered as a private, and rose to the command of a Colorado regiment, performing gallant and valuable service for the Union.

After the war, “General” Carson, as he was then called, was appointed agent for the New Mexican Indians, and served in that capacity until his death, making a journey to Washington with a party of Apache chiefs in 1867.

He died in 1868, at Fort Lyon, Colorado, near where Bent’s old fort used to be, and across the river from the town of Las Animas, in the 60th year of his age. The cause of his death was traced back to a fall he received eight years before when his mule slipped and threw him upon a pile of rocks. He was originally buried at Fort Lyon, but his body was afterward removed to the old cemetery near Taos, New Mexico.

San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico

San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico

The story of the Santa Fe Trail that has been told more often than any other, is about the famous ride of François (Frank) Aubry from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Independence, Missouri, 780 miles, in five days and 16 hours, his own beautiful mare, “Nellie,” having carried him the first 150 miles without a stop, except for food and water. Aubry was a French Canadian, first a guide, then a trader. Like Kit Carson, he was a man of medium stature and slender proportions, but he had iron nerves, great resolution, and indomitable persistence. As a pioneer, guide, and trader, he did much that is worthy of mention, but the great feat for which he is remembered was his famous ride. The circumstances were as follows:

Aubry had gone out early in the spring of 1848, with a large amount of goods to Santa Fe. As the American troops were then in possession of the country, our merchants, relieved from the interference of those unscrupulous plunderers, the Mexican customhouse officers, found increased competition, but greater facilities for their trade. Business was, therefore, “booming,” and Aubry found no difficulty in getting rid of his stock at an advance of over 100 percent upon his original investment. ‘Knowing the favorable state of the market, and the description of merchandise best suited to its wants, he determined to attempt a hitherto unheard-of enterprise, by making a second trip to St. Louis, and bringing out another stock before cold weather should cease the communications between Santa Fe and the settlements. To accomplish this, Aubry allowed himself but eight days to traverse the whole Santa Fe Trail, most of which was dangerous on account of the Indians. Having laid his plans and announced his scheme, he, with four companions, and a small but carefully selected herd of horses, set out upon their trip. They rode hard, but the leader outstripped his men, and by the time Aubry had reached the “crossing of the Arkansas River,” which is generally considered about half-way, he found himself, with his last horse given out, alone, and on foot. Undaunted, however, he pushed on, and reached Mann’s Fort, some 15-20 miles from the ford. Here, he procured a remount, and then, without waiting to rest, or scarcely to eat, he once more took the trail. Near Pawnee Fork he was pursued and had a narrow escape from a party of Indians, who followed him to the Creek; but finally he entered the city of Independence, Missouri within less than the time he himself had specified. It is said that upon being assisted from the saddle, it was found to be stained with his blood. The entire ride was made without sleep, and it was the most remarkable instance of human endurance on record. He made the trip once before in 13 days, which was considered wonderful, but on this trial surpassed even his own expectations. Aubry was killed in a saloon fight at Santa Fe in 1854.

One of the prominent hunters and guides along the old Santa Fe Trail in early days was Colonel A. G. Boone, a grandson of the famous pioneer of Kentucky. He was one of the most accomplished plainsmen in the country, could speak all the Indian languages, and always enjoyed the confidence of the tribes. He could go among them in the midst of a war dance, without fearing the slightest injury, and was very useful from time to time in aiding in the rescue of captives.

Santa Fe Trail Caravan

Santa Fe Trail Caravan

Another notable character was John Smith, known as “Uncle John,” an old trapper and guide, who figured a great deal in frontier history. He had a remarkable experience if only the truth were told, but as the old gentleman got along in years, his imagination became more fertile and his tongue looser, and he spent most of his time in drawing long yarns for the benefit of “tender-feet.” He was a perfect guide, and an excellent hunter; he was acquainted with every fort of the west, and, as he used to say, had drunk out of every spring from the mouth of the Yellowstone to the Red River of the South. One of his characteristics, as described in Colonel Inman’s charming stories, was never to eat quail, and thereby hung a story. The old man was on the plains at one time, with some of his companions, and was about to shoot at a buffalo, when a little quail lit on the barrel of his gun and obstructed his sight. He shook it off, but it returned again. Just at that moment, the party was attacked by the Indians, and the fact that he had a load in his gun saved his life. He always believed that the interference of that quail with his buffalo shooting was a special interposition of Providence.

Some of the eyes that cross these pages perhaps have seen an Indian romance of a wild and gory character called “The Wild Huntress of the Plains,” or by a name akin to that, and read the story without suspecting that it was founded upon fact. It is true that there used to be a wild woman roaming over the plains of Kansas, riding the most intractable of mustangs, and carrying danger wherever she went. Her eye was black and wild and glittered like that of a snake, and her long, uncombed hair, which the wind had tangled, floated out behind her as she rode, like a cluster of writhing vipers. She lived in an old dug-out and ate herbs and roots and the meat of buffalo she killed. The Indians feared her, as they had a superstitious terror of all insane persons, and her presence in the neighborhood of one of their villages was a sufficient reason for immediate and hasty removal. She was known as Crazy Ann and was formerly the wife of a railroad contractor by the name of Peters, who was killed in the most brutal manner by the Indians before her very eyes. She became a maniac, and for several years roamed on the prairies unrestrained, but was finally taken to an insane asylum, where she died.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *