An overland trail from the eastern United States to the Southwest was first popularized by the trading venture of William Becknell in 1821.
Others soon followed, bearing textiles, printed materials and a host of manufactured items, then returning with Mexican gold and silver, blankets and furs. The earliest cross-country trips were made by pack horse, but later trade was carried in wagon trains. Forty to 60 days was the period typically required to complete a one-way trip.
The Santa Fe Trail's eastern terminus lay in various locales of western Missouri, most frequently in Independence or Westport. For a short distance it followed the same route as the Oregon Trail, then headed southwestward to Council Grove, Kansas. At Dodge City the trail forked.
A northern route extended almost due west along the Arkansas River into present-day Colorado at Bentís Fort (near present-day La Junta), then south through the Raton Pass to Santa Fe.
The southern route (or Cimarron Cutoff) headed across the plains and Cimarron Desert to Fort Union and Santa Fe. The southern approach was shorter and covered less difficult terrain, but was much more dangerous. The travelers were subjected to intense heat and lack of water in summertime, experienced few opportunities to find game and were the frequent target of attack by Native Americans.
The Santa Fe Trail was essentially abandoned during the Mexican War and the Civil War, but later continued to be an important trade artery until it was superseded by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880.
The trail had played a vital role in integrating the Southwest into the American economy. Among those who contributed to that integration included Jedediah Smith, who left his home in St. Louis, Missouri, and began the trek in 1831, before meeting his death at the hands of a band of Commanche Indians at a watering hole in New Mexico.
- - - Books You May Like Include: ----
The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore by David Dary.
From 1610, when the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, to the 1860s, when the railroad brought unprecedented changes: here is the full, fascinating...