The Santa Fe Trail

We will loosely follow the 869 mile Sante Fe Trail east through New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. What will take us about 14 hours by car, took a wagon train 8 to 10 weeks. In the early years, the Missouri River frontier was the last place people could buy supplies for their journey. The Missouri “jumping off” town economies depended on selling goods to emigrants.

Becknell, the engineer who developed the Santa Fe Trail used long-established trails made by Native Americans , Spanish and French colonial explorers and traders. The trail served as a vital commercial highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. (Wikipedia) Later it was also used by fortune seekers during the gold rush and other emigrants seeking new opportunities.

Photo credit: Santa Fe Trail Museum

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and commerce flourished between the U.S and Mexico. The Santa Fe trail was an international commercial route bringing goods, such as woolens, cottons, silks, linens, china cups, whiskey, champagne, combs, forks, spoons, watches, dry goods, hardware, razors, and jewelry to trade in Mexico (Sante Fe was part of Mexico) and supplies for western forts. Silver, furs, and mules were brought back to the east. But ideas were also exchanged across this route along with culture. African Americans emigrants, Mexicans, European American emigrants and Native Americans all crossed paths on the trail.

Photo credit:
Wagon ruts are preserved at various locations on the Santa Fe trail.

Life on a wagon train was difficult. The number one killer on the trails was disease and serious illnesses, which caused the deaths of nine out of ten pioneers who died en route. The hardships of weather, limited diet, exhaustion, unsanitary conditions and polluted water supplies made travelers very vulnerable to infectious diseases. Cholera spread quickly through an entire wagon camp and also Indian villages. In spite of what we learned from watching old Westerns, very few people were killed by Indians.

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