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The American fur trade of the far west ; a history of the pioneer trading posts and early fur companies… Chittenden, Hiram Martin, 1858-1917 1902

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American Fur Trade
Far West
A   History   of  the Pioneer Trading   Posts and   Early
Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and
the   Rocky   Mountains   and   of
the Overland Commerce
with   Santa  Fe.
Captain Corps of Engineers, U. S. A., Author of
"The Yellowstone."
The Santa Fe Trade—Santa Fe 483-488
The Santa Fe Trade.— Historical Sketch .       .       . 489-514
The Santa Fe Trade.— Character of the Business   .       . 515-529
The Santa Fe Trade.—The Trail 530-544
The Santa  Fe  Trade.—Incidents of the Trail       .       . 545-553
PART III. | ^ §
The War of 1812 555-5$i
The Yellowstone Expedition of 1819-1820     .... 562-587
The Aricara Campaign of 1823 . 588-607
The Yellowstone Expedition of 1825     ..... 608-618
The Smallpox Scourge of 1837 610-627
Military Occupation      ........ 628-633
Geographical and Scientific Explorations    .... 634-639
Missionary  Work .       .       .       ...       .       .       . 640-649
"The Lost Trappers" 651-656
The Battle of Pierre's Hole 657-664
The Death of Henry Vanderburgh 665-672
The Battle of Fort McKenzie .        .        .       .       . 673-677
Smuggling Liquor up the Missouri 678-683
Rose and Beckwourth, the Crow Chiefs     .       .       .       . 684-691
 'w» *»   i  imj
Alexander  Harvey,  Desperado      ...... 602-697
Miraculous Escape of Hugh Glass      .        .        .        .        . 608-706
The Treachery of Mike Fink       . .        .        .        . 707-712
The Adventures of John Colter    ...... 713-723
The Rocky Mountains 725-742
Valleys and  Plains        .       . 743-758
Rivers and Lakes.—The Missouri System   and the Plains
Rivers        . 75^777
Rivers and Lakes.—The Colorado and  Columbia  Systems,
and the Great Basin       ....... 778-798
Flora 700-808
Fauna.—The Buffalo, Beaver, and Bear       .        .       ..        . 809-825
Fauna.—Other Species of Interest in the Fur Trade      . 826-840
Native Tribes.—General  Observations
• »
Native Tribes of the Missouri Basin    .
• «
. 850-875
Native  Tribes of the  Southwest and the Tra-Montane
Country     .        .   •    .        .        •        •        •        •
Copy of Letter from Pierre Menard to Pierre Chouteau    . 893-898
Letter from Manuel Lisa to General Clark
Notes on the Astorian Enterprise
• •
. 903-911
The "Flathead Deputation" of  1832
• •
Miscellaneous Data Relating to the Fur Trade
• •
List of Trading Posts
• •
The Fort Tecumseh and Pierre Journal   .
Journal of a Steamboat Voyage from  St.  Louis to  Fort
Union 084-1003
VOL. n.
Fort Pierre in 1833
Fort Clark.   Winter View from Across the Mis-
sour:,   1833 .......        Facing page 610
Surviving Bastion of Old Fort Benton
u a
Agreement of Dissolution of the Rocky Mountain
Fur Company  "       "     864
^ffiT^pr   -
■J? J. ,-
Antiquity of Santa Fe — Early history — Description — Character of
population — Government of New Mexico — Religion — Jealous feeling
toward the United States — Backward state of commerce — Domestic
life — Allegiance of the people to their government.
^T* HE scene of our narrative now shifts from regions that
^"* had but recently come to the knowledge of the civilized world to one of the oldest settlements of European colonists upon the continent of America. Three hundred years before the close of the period covered by this
work the Spanish had entered New Mexico, Arizona, and
California. Long before any one but De Soto had entered
the almost illimitable valley of the Mississippi Coronado had
crossed many tributaries of that stream and had even penetrated to the plains of central Kansas. At the time when
Louisiana came into the possession of the United States,
there were communities upon its very borders already venerable with two centuries of history under European government, and entitled to be called " old " in a degree which
many of the United States, even a century later, can not
approach. In dealing with those scattered communities of
traders whose adventures are the subject of our present ins
quiries, we find them now wandering over unknown and unexplored wilds, treading upon ground untrodden by white
men before, and anon trafficking in the streets of a town
where Europeans had held sway for six generations. It
was a singular circumstance, this contiguity of the new and
the old, and how such a condition could have lasted so long
would be quite inexplicable without a clear understanding
of the claims of the rival colonizing powers of Europe.
Santa Fe was founded in the first or second decade of the
seventeenth century. The precise date and circumstances of
this event are not known, and may never be, but the date
itself lies between 1609 and 1617. Thus, while not the oldest town in the United States, it is one of the oldest and is
surpassed in this distinction by only two or three others.
The little village had an arduous road to travel in
its first two hundred years of existence. It was conquered by the natives and reconquered from them, but
finally arrived at the portal of the nineteenth century with its
authority fairly established, although not upon that firm
foundation which alone can ensure the stability of government. The native races, with whom its people had mingled
to such an extent as to produce a mixed class in which the
Spanish and native blood about equally prevailed, had never
become, in spite of this consanguinity, loyal supporters of
their Spanish and Mexican rulers.
Santa Fe, during the period of its most prosperous trade
with the United States, was a city of perhaps three thousand
inhabitants. It had grown up among the ancient Pueblo
towns of the upper Rio Grande, and it is even claimed by
some, although on doubtful authority, to have occupied the
site of one. The city lies on a small tributary of the Rio
Grande, some twelve miles east of the river. The valley
where the town is built is one of the most beautiful in the
West. The surrounding peaks, some of them resting at altitudes where the snow rarely disappears, engirdle it like a
mighty wall which is at once an ornament and a protection.
The climate is mild and salubrious and the situation as a
whole is ideal.
The old city presented in appearance nothing in common
with a modern American city. The streets seem to have
radiated from a central point like the roots of a tree, along
lines of least resistance, and are mostly without any pretense
of regularity, either in direction, width, or grade.   The only
marked exception was the Plaza., or public square, the central common of the town. On one side of this square
stood, and still stands, a long, low, one-story building, dignified with the name of palace, and probably the most interesting historic edifice in New Mexico or in the entire southwest. Other buildings of notable antiquity are the cathedral
and church of San Miguel, the latter being one of the very
oldest structures in the United States. The buildings were
mostly constructed of adobe and at a distance presented the
appearance of a group of brick-kilns. It is recorded of a
very intelligent and discriminating observer that upon his
first visit to Santa Fe he hailed the sight of these rude heaps
as evidences that he was near his destination, for he thought
them simply the brick yards where the city manufactured
its building material. He was greatly astonished to learn
that they were the city itself. Few of the buildings had any
glass, yet the interiors were often furnished with a considerable degree of luxury.
In the little town thus meagerly described and in others
of lesser note for several hundreds of miles along the Rio
Grande north and south, dwelt a population little enough
like that of the United States. It was not very far removed
from the ancient pueblos in whose midst it existed and with
whom it was so largely amalgamated. Art and learning
were practically unknown except among the military and
religious orders and even there they scarcely deserved the
name. An impenetrable ignorance of the outside world
pervaded nearly all classes, an ignorance in part the result of
the extreme isolation of the colony and in part fostered by
the authorities, both civil and religious, as a safeguard to
the never-sure allegiance of the subjects either to church or
state. No such thing as a public press was known. Of N
medical and other sciences there was the densest ignorance,
and even the common arts, upon which so much of everyday life depends, were in a hopelessly backward state. Agriculture rivaled its sister arts in the state of neglect which
Oppressed it.   The industry of mining, the most important
in the province, was so trammeled with government restrictions and ignorance of the art of mining that the wealth
which lay within the bosom of those mountains remained
almost untouched until that country came into the possession
of the United States.1 §
The government of New Mexico was no better than its
various manifestations that we have just described. It was,
what Gregg aptly calls it, a military hierarchy. The army
and the priests were the ruling power. Although a feeble
attempt was at one time made at representative government,
it was promptly abandoned and the conduct of affairs was
generally prescribed according to the unrestricted will of
colonial governors. Justice was administered on the basis
of open and unblushing corruption and a long purse was the
only passport to judicial favors.
The religion of the people was exclusively Catholic. No
other form of public worship was allowed and foreigners
were compelled to confine their devotions to their own
homes. The Church was the one flourishing institution in
the colony and the repository of what little learning was to
be found there.2
Here, as in all her colonies, Spain exhibited that petty
jealousy of rival powers which is born of conscious inferiority and a prescience of impending decay.    This feeling was
x James Purcell was the discoverer of gold in the mountains of
Colorado. About the year 1804, while wandering alone among the
mountains near the head of the Arkansas, he found a small amount
of gold, which he later threw away despairing of ever reaching civilization. Gregg, in Commerce of the Prairies, vol. IL, p. 185, states that
"some trappers have reported an extensive gold region about the
sources of the Platte river; yet although recent search has been made
it has not been discovered." Some reader of the copy of Gregg's work
which belongs to the Mercantile Library of St. Louis placed the following note opposite the above extract in the year 1858: " The truth of
this report has been confirmed this year."
"Governor Marmaduke, who visited Santa Fe in 1824, expressed his
astonishment at the blind religious zeal of the people. Only the Catholic religion was tolerated, but it seemed to him unquestionably the one
best suited to the people.
particularly bitter toward the United States, which to Spanish eyes was a black cloud rising on the horizon and certain
. soon to burst like a tempest over the land. Throughout the
two score years of commercial intercourse prior to the conquest of Mexico, American citizens underwent every form
of indignity at the hands of the government, from connivance at petty thefts of the trader's goods to the basest and
most unprovoked murders. The moralist may not wholly
approve of the motive behind the American cause in the War
with Mexico, but if all other motives were lacking, that
alone of expiation for the accumulated wrongs of many
years would justify the conquest of this vast territory from
a government that did not know how to rule it.
It follows as a matter of course that with a government
and a people such as have been described, commerce could
not but languish. The trade of the colony was hampered
alike by distance and government restrictions. Before the
American imports began to arrive, foreign goods came
mostly by way of Vera Cruz over a road between fifteen
hundred and two thousand miles long. By the time they
reached Sante Fe they brought a price (when people could
afford to buy) which seems almost incredible when compared with those of today. Under these conditions trade
was necessarily small and the people were forced to do without many things which others of no better means, but living
nearer the coast, could procure. It was a blessing to the
isolated New Mexican when the hated and dreaded American arrived.
From this sinister aspect of New Mexican institutions it
might be concluded that a people so circumstanced must be
unhappy and miserable as under an unjust oppression. But
this would be a great mistake. Buried in ignorance, thoy
did not know their true estate and, like the negro in
slavery, were contented with a condition which would be
abhorrent to a people of higher civilization. Devoid of the
cares that spring from an ambitious nature, content with
their daily lot, looking forward to no higher condition, they
exhibited to the foreign visitor a more serene contentment
than he was familiar with under the boasted institutions of
his own country. Their simple habits of life, their various
amusements, their fandangoes, music, and balls, their sports
— and above all their gambling, gave to their listless minds
all the exercise they needed. The Church held absolute
monopoly of their spiritual guidance and led them in blind
obedience along the devious ways of a morality based upon
ignorance and superstition. She ministered largely to their
temporal pleasures by her numerous fetes and holidays, and
at the same time held out to their minds the promise of
eternal happiness when this round of pleasure should come
to an end.
The allegiance of such a people to such a government
could not be strong. Even the dark ignorance in which
they lived did not entirely blind them to the fact that their
rulers cared more for themselves than for their people.
Gleams from the restless fires of liberty that were burning
in the outside world now and then shot into the little valley
from beyond the mountains, and there was a latent feeling
that a better state of affairs ought to exist than their government was able to give. This feeling the later intercourse
with the American traders did much to foster, and the
American government when it arrived found a people to
whom their old allegiance had become a byword, and who
were ready to welcome the liberator with open arms.3
8" These people are wonderfully improved, I am told, within the last
three years, as well in their manners, dress, etc., as in their political
advancement Liberal principles are fast gaining ground and taking
deep root and in proportion as these increase, the bigotry and tyranny
of the church are weakened." Letter from an American trader dated
Santa Fe, Feb. 7, 1826, published in the Missouri Republican, April 20,
The Mallet brothers — First commercial expedition — Morrison and
La Lande — James Purcell — Manuel Lisa—Pike's expedition — Mal-
gares' expedition — The Spaniard and the American — McKnight,
Baird and Chambers — Chouteau and DeMunn — Adventures of D.
Meriwether — Termination of Spanish sovereignty in Mexico — Baird,
McKnight and Chambers again — William Becknell — Glenn and Fowler— Becknell's second journey — First wagons on the Santa Fe Trail—
Expedition of Baird and Chambers, 1822 — Expeditions of 1824 — Becknell on Green river — Expedition of James O. Pattie — Summary of
early expeditions — Government survey of road to Santa Fe — Military
escorts to the caravans — Major Riley's escort — Obstacles to the trade
— Influence of the trade upon the War with Mexico.
PROBABLY the first expedition that ever crossed the
country all the way between Santa Fe and the Missouri river was the Spanish military force which was destroyed by the Missouri Indians in 1720. The next was
that of the Mallet brothers who in 1739 set out with six
companions to go from the French settlements on the Mississippi to the Spanish settlements of New Mexico. They
had understood that their route lay by the headwaters of
the Missouri and they consequently ascended that stream as
far as the Aricara villages, where they learned their mistake. Retracing their steps for a distance they struck
across the country to the southwest, passing the Pawnee
villages on their way, and arrived at Santa Fe July 22, 1739.
On the 1st of May, 1740, they started on their way back.
Three of the party returned by way of the Pawnee villages
and the rest went down the Arkansas and the Mississippi
to New Orleans.
The first known expedition from the upper Mississippi
country to the neighborhood of the Spanish settlements near
Santa Fe, undertaken strictly for purposes of trade, is
described by Captain Amos Stoddard in his Sketches of
Louisiana. No date is given, but it was before 1763,
though probably not long before, for one of the members
of the party was still living in 1812. Captain Stoddard's
account of the expedition runs thus: " While Louisiana was
in the hands of France, some of the French traders from the
upper Mississippi transported a quantity of merchandise by
way of the Arkansas to the Mexican mountains where they
erected a temporary store, and opened a trade with the Indians and likewise with the Spaniards of north Mexico.
The Spanish traders at or near Santa Fe, deeming this an
infringement of their privileged rights, procured the imprisonment of the Mississippi adventurers, and the seizure
of their effects; and demanded punishment and confiscation.
The cause was ultimately decided at Havana. The
prisoners were liberated and their property restored on the
ground that the store in question (situated on the east side
of the summit of the mountains, and below the source of the
Arkansas) was within the boundaries of Louisiana." From
this description it is evident that the " temporary store" was
in the neighborhood of the modern city of Pueblo, Colorado,
and was therefore the first structure known to have been
erected by white men within the limits of the state of
During the Spanish regime in upper Louisiana there
would seem to have been no reason of a political character
why a trade between St. Louis and Santa Fe should not have
sprung up. But it did not to any great extent, for there is
no record of any expedition either way during this period.
There must, however, have been some intercourse, for Lewis
and Clark incidentally refer to communication with that
country in a way to lead one to suppose that it was not an
uncommon thing.
The second commercial expedition of which we have a
positive record, occurred almost simultaneously with the
transfer of Louisiana to the United States. It was made
by William Morrison of Kaskaskia, Illinois, a leading
merchant of the Mississippi valley and later a member of the
firm of Lisa, Morrison and Menard in 1807, and of the
Missouri Fur Company in 1809. In the spring of 1804
Morrison sent one Baptiste La Lande, a French Creole, to
find his way to Santa Fe and carry thither a small assortment of goods with a view of ascertaining what kind of a
market was to be found there. La Lande traveled by way
of the Pawnee villages, ascended the Platte river to the
mountains, and then sent some Indians to Santa Fe to see
if he would be permitted to visit the town. Some Spaniards
came out to meet him and escorted him and his merchandise
to the village. He probably reached Santa Fe in the summer or fall of 1804. He told Pike in March, 1807, that he
had been there nearly three years. The goods found ready
market and La Lande quickly accomplished the purpose of
his mission. But he was a long way from home, between
which and him intervened many hundreds of miles of desert
country and many hundreds of dangerous savages. The
dread of these perils was magnified by the Mexicans, who
wanted La Lande to stay there. The government also lent
its assistance by offering him land, doubtless preferring that
he should stay rather than return with reports which would
inevitably lead to a renewal of the enterprise. Last, and
perhaps most effectual, the influence of female admirers
turned the scale of the doubtful adventurer. He shuffled off
without apparent compunction his obligation to his employer, appropriated the money to his own use, and decided
to make Santa Fe his home.
When Lieutenant Pike left St. Louis on his official expedi*
tion to the source of the Red river in 1806 Morrison seized
the opportunity to get word, if possible, to Santa Fe, and
find out what had become of La Lande, and he placed his
claims against La Lande in Pike's hands. Later Pike made
this commission an occasion for sending an emissary to
Santa Fe; but, as the student of Western history knows, he
was himself escorted thither, vi et armis, and had an opportunity to press the claim in person. In fact, La Lande was
sent to him in the character of a spy to draw from him the
motives of his visit to the Spanish frontier. But Pike
quickly fathomed his design and treated the renegade so
.unceremoniously that he was fain to beat a precipitate retreat
from the presence of the irate officer.
This is about all we know of La Lande. Pike endeavored
to secure satisfaction of Morrison's claim, but without success, and the faithless fellow was left in congenial company
among his adopted compatriots.
Less than a year after the arrival of La Lande in Santa
Fe, or in June, 1805, James Purcell, a native of Bardstown,
Kentucky, arrived. In 1802 with two companions he left
St. Louis to hunt among the Osage Indians, and when about
to depart by way of the Arkansas river for New Orleans,
was robbed of his furs by a band of Kansas Indians.
Purcell and his companions recovered their property by dint
of daring performances which excited the admiration of the
Indians and even of some of the traders who happened to be
in the vicinity. The little party now undertook to reach
St. Louis, but ill luck seemed to pursue them, for they lost
all their furs in the Missouri river near the mouth of the
Kansas. Here they met a trader on his way up the river
to the Mandan Indians and Purcell joined his expedition.
Upon arriving at their destination Purcell was dispatched
to the southwest to trade with the plains Indians in the valley
of the Platte. In the spring of 1805 the bands of Indians
with whom he was wandering were driven into the Bayou
Salade where the South Platte finds its source. The
Indians, who knew that they were not far from the Spanish
settlements, sent Purcell to get permission to come in and
trade. He arrived in June, 1805, and liked the situation
so well that he did not even return with the Indian deputies
to notify the parties who had sent him of the success of the
Purcell remained in Santa Fe for many years thereafter.
Up to the time of Pike's arrival he had been pursuing his
trade of carpenter to great profit except, as he assured Pike,
when working for officers. He was held under pretty strict
surveillance, was forbidden to write, and narrowly escaped
capital punishment for having unwittingly violated the local
law by making some gunpowder. But on the whole he
found the new situation agreeable and decided to make
Santa Fe his future home.1
In 1806 there was being organized at St. Louis by a
prominent trader a project for trade with Santa Fe. The
scheme was to form a large depot among the Osages, and
then at the proper time to push on with an escort of friendly
Indians to within 1 three or four days' travel of the Spanish
settlements." Leaving the main party with the goods under
guard of the friendly Indians, the leader was to go to Santa
Fe with a few well-selected articles and try to get permission to bring in his entire outfit. If not successful he was
to induce as many Spaniards as possible to go back with him
and trade at his camp.
Nothing more was ever heard of the venture, and it is
known to us only through a letter of instruction from General Wilkinson to Lieutenant Pike, dated August 6, 1806.
In this letter Wilkinson takes strong ground against the
enterprise and urges Pike to do all in his power to frustrate
it. The name of this enterprising trader is not mentioned,
but it is thought to be Manuel Lisa.2 The surmise is very
probably correct, for nothing could have been more natural
than that Lisa should have undertaken such a venture.    He
1 Pike is almost our only authority upon La Lande and Purcell, but I
have seen a confirmatory reference to the latter in the Missouri Intellfc
gencer of April 10, 1824, which contains an article upon the Navajo In*
dians by one James Purcell, lately returned from Santa Fe and "for
nineteen years a citizen of New Mexico." This confirms the date of
his arrival as given by Pike, 1805. The spelling Purcell is undoubtedly
correct although Pike gives it as Pursley.
8 So considered by Dr. Elliott Coues in his carefully annotated edition
of Pike's Journals, Francis P. Harper, New York, 1895.
was already in relations with William Morrison, who had
sent La Lande to Santa Fe, and who was anxious to learn
the fate of that expedition. But if it was Lisa that gentleman's attention was soon turned to other fields of activity
and his plans never materialized.
The first journey ever made by an officer of the United
States government to Santa Fe occurred in 1806-7. Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike was ordered to visit certain tribes of Indians in the newly-acquired regions to the
west and southwest of St. Louis, among them the
Comanches, near the sources of the Arkansas.and Red rivers,
and also to determine the " direction, extent and navigation ' of those two streams. It was inevitable that these
instructions should take him into Spanish territory and there
is strong reason to suspect that he had other instructions,
not in writing, that required him to push his explorations
much nearer the Spanish capital of Santa Fe than his published orders or his skilful disclaimer in his journal would
indicate. No one may ever know whether the trap into
which Pike ran, when he built his redoubt on the west
bank of the Rio Grande and hoisted the American flasr in
the very faces of the Spaniards, was a trap set by himself
or not; but every circumstance of the expedition indicates
that it was all a scheme to get into Santa Fe and learn what
he could of the country without having his purpose
suspected. Such at any rate was the outcome of the affair.
Pike and the remnants of his party, after the terrible experience of the previous winter in the mountains, were marched
as prisoners to Santa Fe. Thence, after a brief sojourn,
they were taken to Chihuahua, where they were brought
before the governor. They were then permitted to return
home, which they did via Natchitoches on the Red river,
where they arrived July 1, 1807.
It is not the purpose here to give any detailed account oi
this celebrated expedition. | It has been dealt with in the
most exhaustive manner by the latest editor of Pike's Journals, Dr.  Elliott Coues. and does not coim wkhin the
program of the present work further than to show its relations to the development of the Santa Fe trade. Pike
brought back the first definite information which had yet
been received in the United States concerning the commercial and political condition of this Spanish province, and
his expedition had unquestionably a large influence in
inducing traders to look in that direction for profitable
It is an interesting coincidence that almost simultaneously
with the United States exploring expedition into Spanish
territory there took place a much more formidable one from
Santa Fe far into United States territory. The Spanish
expedition consisted of one hundred dragoons of the regular
army and five hundred mounted militia, with two extra
horses and a mule to each man and ammunition for six
months. It was commanded by a distinguished Spanish
officer, Don Facundo Malgares. It left Santa Fe probably
about the middle of June, for that was the date of a commission carried by Malgares to the chief of the Pawnees. The
route of the party at first lay down the Canadian, thence
northeast to the Arkansas, and from that point to the Pawnee
villages where a grand council was held. The expedition
then returned to Santa Fe where it arrived in October. The
Spaniards could scarcely have been a month ahead of the
Americans at the Pawnee villages. Their expedition,
according to Pike, was intended to forestall his own, and it
is a remarkable instance of the energetic fashion in which
a Spaniard could execute an enterprise when he once really
set about it.
There is a profound significance in the almost simultaneous presence of these two expeditions upon the boundless
prairies that separated the frontier settlements of their
respective countries. One was looking into the future andN
paving a way for the irresistible expansion of his people.
The other was clinging to the past and watching with distrustful eye the too rapid progress of a rival power. Both
were visiting the wild inhabitants of the plains and seeking
with presents and speeches and grandiloquent pictures of the
greatness of their respective nations, to secure their attachment. In this preliminary skirmish between two powers,
which were even then, did they but know it, preparing the
wav for inevitable conflict, the advantage was on the side
of the Spaniard. Between the powerful and well-appointed
expedition of Malgares and the small and poorly-equipped
handful of men with Pike the contrast was great, and to the
untutored mind of the prairie inhabitant there could be no
doubt of the outcome of a trial of strength between their
governments. He could not see the forces behind these
outward manifestations — the expanding vigor of a young
nation and the decadent energies of the old; but in due time
he came to know.
It was not until several years after Pike's return that
attempts were renewed to open a trade with Santa Fe — at
least no records of such attempts have come down to us.
Public attention had been strongly attracted to the upper
Missouri by the return of Lewis and Clark. All the leading St. Louis traders had united in a company to prosecute
the trade in that region, and for the time being the southwest dropped out of consideration.3
The next expedition to Santa Fe of which there is any
record took place in 1812. It was composed of twelve men,
the leaders of the enterprise being Robert McKnight, James
Baird and Samuel Chambers. They were induced to undertake the journey in the belief that Spanish authority in New
Mexico was overthrown by the revolutionary chief Hidalgo,
and that they should find the baneful customs and regulations which were practically prohibitive of foreign trade,
removed. Their hopes were doomed not only to disappointment, but to a reality exactly the reverse of what they
expected.    The Hidalgo movement had failed, the chief had
4 In November, 1809, three men by the names of Smith, McClanahan
and Patterson, under the guidance of a Spaniard, Manuel Blanco, left
St. Louis for Santa Fe. Nothing further is known of them.—Missouri
Gazette, October, 1810.
been executed, and the Spanish authorities, intensely suspicious of foreigners and especially of Americans, seized
the traders immediately upon their arrival, sent them to Chihuahua and put them in prison. Here they remained
upwards of nine years, or until the revolutionary movement
finally succeeded under Iturbide, when they were set at
liberty. Mr. John McKnight, brother of the trader, went
to New Mexico to find his brother in 1821 and both returned
with several other traders in September, 1822.4 Baird also
returned in 1822 while Chambers made his way down the
Canadian in the fall of 1821.
The next expedition to Santa Fe, so far as is known,
occurred in 1815-17. In the summer of 1815, Mr. A. P.
Chouteau and Julius De Munn of St. Louis formed a partnership for the purpose of trading on the upper Arkansas.
They left St. Louis on the 10th of September, " in company
with Mr. Phillebert, a trader, who had gone to the mountains the year before, and who had come back to get a
supply of goods to enable him to buy horses to bring in his
furs."5 On their way to the mountains Chouteau and
De Munn purchased Phillebert's entire outfit and the time
of his men. Phillebert had appointed Huerfano creek, a
branch of the Arkansas, as a rendezvous for his men, but
when his party arrived there, December 8, 1815, they learned
from some Indians that the men, despairing of Phillebert's
return, and being destitute of necessaries, had taken everything with them and had gone over to the Spaniards. It
was accordingly decided that De Munn should go after
them. He found the men at Taos, where they had been well
treated, and upon going to Santa Fe to see the governor he
was himself very well received at the capital. This favorable reception induced De Munn to seek permission to trap
on the headwaters of the Rio Grande, which he had observed
to abound in beaver.    The governor had not authority to
* This disgraceful affair will always remain a blot upon the history of
American diplomacy.
8 See Part IV., Chapter I.
grant permission but promised to recommend it to his government. Not being able to wait for a reply, De Munn
went back, taking his engages from Taos, and returned to
Chouteau's camp on the Huerfano. It was there decided
that De Munn should return to St. Louis for an additional
equipment. He accordingly set out on the 27th of February, 1816, with Phillebert and one man and reached St.
Louis in forty-six days.
De Munn, with a new outfit and party, left St. Louis July
15, and returned to the mouth of the Kansas river, where he
met Chouteau, who had agreed to come there with the
winter's hunt. Chouteau, on his way down, had had a
severe fight with the Pawnees in which he had lost one man
and had killed several of the Indians. After dispatching
the furs to St. Louis Chouteau and De Munn returned to the
mountains with a party of forty-five men. The hunters
went on to the Sangre de Cristo mountains while De Munn
started for Santa Fe to see if the governor had yet received
authority for the Americans to hunt upon Spanish territory.
He was disappointed to learn, before he reached Santa Fe,
that there had been a change of governors and that the new
incumbent was ill-disposed to his interests. He was not
even permitted to visit the capital, but was ordered with all
his people to withdraw from the Spanish dominions. De
Munn returned with his party and all turned north to the
headwaters of the Arkansas, where they remained during
the fall and winter.
It was then planned to start early in the spring and make a
hunt on the headwaters of the Columbia; but still hoping for
some favorable concession from the Spaniards which would
enable them to pursue their adventures in their present
neighborhood, De Munn made another trip to Taos. He
found things most unfavorable. The authorities pretended
to have information that there were a fort and twenty thousand men on the Arkansas, and De Munn, instead of returning with the desired concession, was escorted back by two
hundred armed men who were ordered to cause all caches
to be raised, to investigate the question of the fort and armed
force, and if nothing of that sort should be found, to conduct
the traders a distance down the Arkansas, and then let them
go back to St. Louis. After a long train of negotiations
and an examination of the territory in question, it was
finally agreed that the party might be allowed to remain on
the north side of the river.
An attempt was made in the spring of 1817 to reach the
Columbia by crossing the mountains of Colorado, but the
snow would not permit, and the season being now far
advanced, it was decided that Chouteau should remain on
the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte for another year
and that De Munn should return to St. Louis with the furs.
Descending from the mountains to a place where a quantity of furs had been cached, both Chouteau and De Munn
made preparations for the latter's departure for St. Louis.
May 23rd, 1817, was fixed as the date of departure.
Unluckily it rained hard that day and prevented the start and
on the 24th a force of Spanish troops appeared with orders
to escort the whole party to Santa Fe. This was accordingly done, and all the furs and property of the traders were
confiscated. The party were thrown into prison and for a
time even confined in irons. After forty-eight days' imprisonment they were tried by court-martial and sentenced to
leave the dominions of Spain, forfeiting all their property
except one horse each. The party returned to St. Louis,
where they arrived early in September.6
Thus, after three years of the arduous toil of a trapper's
life, these courageous adventurers had the satisfaction of
seeing the whole fruit of their labors swept away in an
instant. After their return to the United States a formal
application for relief in the sum of about thirty thousand**
• Missouri Gazette, Sept. 13, 1817. "Mr. Auguste Chouteau, Mr. De
Munn and companions, after 48 days' confinement in the prison of Santa
Fe, returned last Sunday to their rejoicing families and friends."
For the circumstances of the Santa Fe court-martial see infra Chapter XXXI., Incidents of the Trail.
dollars was made to the United States government. The
claim was favorably reported upon, but whether ever paid
or not does not appear.
The outrageous treatment of .Chouteau and De Munn,
and the knowledge that a party of Americans were even then
languishing in the dungeons of Chihuahua, seems to have
deterred further adventure in that direction until the overthrow of Spanish power in Mexico in 1821. There is some
evidence, however, that parties must have gone to Santa Fe
during these years, for otherwise it is difficult to see upon
what the St. Louis Inquirer of September, 1822, could have
based the remark that " it is becoming a familiar operation
for our citizens to visit this capital." The only actual
record of such a journey during these years that has come
to our notice is that of a Mr. D. Meriwether, an Indian
trader, who in 1819 accompanied a war party of Pawnees
as far as to the Spanish frontier. Here they encountered a
Spanish force by which the Pawnees were utterly defeated
and Meriwether was taken prisoner, carried to Santa Fe.
and placed in confinement. Over thirty years afterward he
returned to the place of his imprisonment as governor of
New Mexico.
The period of Spanish dominion in New Mexico, which
terminated in 1821, was thus marked by total failure on the
part of American traders to gain any foothold in the Santa
Fe trade, and the commerce of the prairies, which was soon
to attain such large proportions, can not be said to have yet
The first effect of the change of form of government in
New Mexico was favorable to the American traders, who
were thereafter permitted to visit Santa Fe. As soon as
the news of successful revolution reached the United States,
John McKnight, brother of the unfortunate trader who,
with James Baird, Samuel Chambers and others, had now
been prisoners in Mexico for nine years, started for Chihuahua to see if he could not secure his brother's release.
Whether as a result of this effort or not, the whole party
were set at liberty and returned to the United States.
Chambers went home by way of the Canadian river in the
fall of 1821. Baird and the McKnight brothers returned
by way of Santa Fe. Upon their arrival at Taos they fell
in with a party under two traders by the names of Hugh
Glenn and Jacob Fowler, who had come out from the
States the previous autumn and were now about to return.7
Joining this party June 1, 1822, they reached home in July
To William Becknell, of Missouri, belongs the honor of
being the founder of the Santa Fe trade and the father of
the Santa Fe Trail. It was he who took the first successful trading expedition to Santa Fe. He first passed along
the general route later followed and he was the first to take
wagons over the route. In the Missouri Intelligencer of
Franklin, Missouri, June 10, 1822, Becknell had an advertisement calling for a company of seventy men " to go westward for the purpose of trading for horses and mules and
catching wild animals of every description." Although
Santa Fe is not mentioned, it is difficult to conceive of
any other place " westward' where mules could be traded
for. Thither in fact the party was bound. They rendezvoused at the home of Ezekiel Williams (of " Lost Trappers9' fame) on the 4th of August and crossed the Missouri at Arrow Rock, September ist. They reached the
Arkansas September 24th and Santa Fe November 16th.
Becknell's route was up the Arkansas to the mountains
where, according to Gregg, it was his intention to remain
and trade with the Indians, but having fallen in with a
party of Mexicans he was induced to take his outfit to Santa
7 See infra p. 502.
John McKnight subsequently built a post on the upper Arkansas near n
which he was killed by the Comanches in 1823. His fort was then
abandoned.—Missouri Intelligencer, August 12, 1823. Robert McKnight evidently returned in later years to the scene of his ldng
incarceration, for Kit Carson says he hired out to him as teamster
in Chihuahua in 1828. Peter's Province Life and Frontier Adventures,
P- 33-
Fe. Here he sold out at a handsome profit, and on December 13th left San Miguel with a single companion by the
name of McLaughlin and reached home January 29th, 1822.
During the same year Jacob Fowler, of Covington, Kentucky, who rejoiced in the title of Major, and Hugh Glenn,
of Cincinnati, Ohio, who was known among his acquaintances by the Blue Grass addition of Colonel, made a joint
expedition to Santa Fe. Glenn had already established a
trading post on the Arkansas river near the mouth of the
Verdigris, and hither Major Fowler made his way via Fort
Smith early in September, 1821. Colonel Glenn joined the
party, which numbered twenty persons, and, possibly by
virtue of nominal rank, assumed the command. The start
from Glenn's post was on the 21st of September, 1821.
Their course for some time was in the country to
the north of the Arkansas, but it came back to that river
near the mouth of the Little Arkansas. It then continued
up the river to the base of the mountains, where, on the 2nd
of January or thereabouts, Colonel Glenn left Fowler with
most of the party while he set out with four men for Santa
Fe. Nothing was heard from him until the 28th of January
when some Spaniards arrived with news of the success of
the Mexican Revolution. Glenn sent word that he had met
with a very friendly reception at Santa Fe and requested
Fowler to proceed there at once with his party, for he had
obtained permission to hunt and trap in the Mexican provinces. On the 8th of February, 1822, Fowler arrived in
Taos, where he met Colonel Glenn. The Colonel then
returned to Santa Fe while Fowler made a spring hunt in
the mountains. At some time during the spring they were
joined by McKnight's party just from the prisons of Chk
huahua, and on the ist of June they all set out for the United
States. On the 12th they met a party under Braxton
Cooper on the Arkansas a little east of the present boundary
line between Colorado and Kansas. On the 29th of June,
near Ottawa, Kansas, they came upon a wagon trail made
by William Becknell's party only a short time before.    The
party reached Fort Osage July 5 th, whence they proceeded
to St. Louis and Fowler reached his home in Covington,
Kentucky, on the 22nd of July.8
The favorable report brought back by Becknell in the winter of 1821-22 led to repetitions of the enterprise in the
following spring. Both Braxton Cooper and Becknell himself took out expeditions. Cooper set out in the latter part
of April, made the journey in safety, and the greater part
of the company returned in the following autumn. Becknell
left Arrow Rock near Franklin May 22 with twenty-one
men and three wagons. Between the Missouri and the Arkansas he was stopped by the Osage Indians, who threatened to confiscate his property, but through the good offices
of one of the Chouteaus who was trading with these Indians
at the time, he was allowed to proceed.
Upon his arrival at the Arkansas he was joined by the
party of a Mr. Heath who is not elsewhere mentioned in the
narratives of the times. The journey from the Arkansas
to San Miguel, the first Spanish settlement, situated about
fifty miles from Santa Fe, consumed twenty-two days.
How long Becknell remained in Santa Fe at this time is not
known, but the return journey, which took forty-eight days,
probably occurred in October and November.
This journey is of historic importance in that it was the
first which led directly to San Miguel by way of the Cimarron river instead of following the Arkansas to the moun-
8 The chief value of the Glenn-Fowler expedition is in the fact that
Major Fowler kept a journal, and that this journal has been published
under such able editorship as that of Dr. Elliott Coues. With a degree
of courage such as few editors would have shown, Dr. Coues has
reproduced the preposterous orthography of the original journal with absolute fidelity, and it is probably the best example of poor spelling**
and punctuation in existence. Apart from its singular appearance
the journal has a real value as a contribution of the history of an
obscure period. Perhaps the most valuable feature of all is the exhaustive editorial commentary upon topics connected with the expedition. The Journal of Jacob Fowler. Elliott Coues. New York,
Francis P. Harper, 1898.
tains; and it was also the first that made use of wagons in
the Santa Fe trade. To William Becknell therefore belongs
the credit of having made the first regular trading expedition
from the Missouri to Santa Fe; of being the first to follow
the route direct to San Miguel instead of by way of Taos;
and the first to introduce the use of wagons in the trade.
This last achievement was four years before Ashley took his
wheeled cannon to the Salt Lake valley, eight years before
Smith, Jackson and Sublette took wagons to Wind river,
and ten years before Bonneville took them to Green river.9
In the fall of 1822 James Baird and Samuel Chambers, of
the unfortunate party so long imprisoned in Chihuahua,
took an expedition consisting of about fifty men from
Franklin to Santa Fe. Upon their arrival at the Arkansas
they were overtaken by a snow storm of such severity as to
compel them to go into/winter quarters. They encamped on
an island and remained there through a very severe winter,
in which all their animals perished. When spring arrived,
being unable to transport their goods, they cached them
some distance above the island on the north shore. Thence
they went to Taos, procured some mules and came back and
recovered their property. The spot was thereafter known
as the Caches.10
9 The evidence on this point is conclusive. See Journal of Jacob Fowler, p. 167. " We have to leave the wagon [road] we fell into two days
back, which road was made by Becknell and his party on their way to
the Spanish settlements." This was July 1, 1822. Becknell himself in a
letter written in 1825 referred to this year as the time " when I opened
the road to Santa Fe." The Missouri Intelligencer, Feb. 18, 1823, says:
"But one wagon has ever gone from this state to Santa Fe and that
was taken by Captain Wm. Becknell ... in the early part of last
spring, and sold there for $700, which cost here $150." This might
mean that Becknell lost two wagons on the way, but Becknell's journal
indicates that he took all the wagons through. Niles Register
mistakenly refers to Cooper as having taken the three wagons to Santa
Fe, "to the great astonishment of the people." It was, of course,
BecknelLj Gregg, usually so accurate, evidently errs in saying that
Becknell was defeated in his effort to cross the Cimarron desert and
had to return to the Arkansas and go by way of Taos. Becknell's
Journal makes it plain that he crossed the desert.
10 See Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, vol. I., p. 67, and Missouri
Intelligencer, Sept. 3, 1822.
!S  1
We have the record of but one expedition to Santa Fe in
the year 1823, although there were undoubtedly others.
This was composed of thirty persons under the command
of Colonel Cooper and it left the vicinity of Franklin about
May 6th. Each member of the party took two pack horses
and two hundred dollars' worth of goods. The party
returned in safety in the following October, bringing in four
hundred " jacks, jennies and mules," some other live stock
and a quantity of furs.11
The year 1824 was an eventful one in the history of the
Santa Fe trade, for it was marked by an immense increase in
the number and activity of those who had entered the rising
business. About the ist of April of that year, in a tavern in
the little town of Franklin a company of men assembled to
discuss the organization of a Santa Fe expedition. It was
to be upon a more extensive scale than any yet undertaken,
and it was proposed to make a large use of wagons. The
details were arranged and a rendezvous was appointed at Mt.
Vernon, Missouri, on May 5th, each man to come equipped
with one good rifle, one pistol, four pounds of powder, eight
pounds of lead, and twenty days' provisions.
The expedition set out on its long journey May 15, 1824;
crossed the Missouri six miles above Franklin on the following day; and on May 23rd arrived at the place of organization 1 three miles from the settlements." Here the party
was organized for crossing the plains. A. Le Grand, well
known in frontier history, was elected Captain, and others
to the various subordinate offices. Among the party were
Mr. Marmaduke, who afterward became governor of Missouri, and Augustus Storrs who next year went out as
United States consul to Santa Fe. The expedition consisted
of eighty-one men, one hundred and fifty-six horses and
mules, twenty-five wagons and about thirty thousand dollars' worth of merchandise. This was the first expedition
upon which wagons were extensively used.
The party resumed their journey May 25th, reached the
a Missouri Intelligencer, May 13  and Oct. 28, 1823.
Arkansas June ioth, passed San Miguel July 25th and
arrived in Santa Fe July 28th. After a successful trade
most of the party returned home. They reached Franklin
September 24th after an absence of four months and ten
days. They brought back as a result of their trade one
hundred and eighty thousand dollars in gold and silver and
ten thousand dollars' worth of furs. It was one of the most
profitable ventures in the history of the Santa Fe trade.
Mr. Marmaduke, who kept a diary of the expedition,
remained in Santa Fe during the winter and left for home
May 31, 1825.12
In the fall of 1824 Braxton Cooper took" a party to Santa
Fe, leaving home in November. He lost two men on the
way — one by the name of Wixon, who was murdered by
the Osage Indians, and another by the name of Glen Owen,
who was killed by the Comanches.
The whereabouts of William Becknell during these two
years are not very clear, but it is certain that he was actively
engaged in the trade, for we find him in the fall of 1824
making a journey far to the west of Santa Fe. He left
Santa Cruz November 5th with nine men and went to Green
river (so mentioned specifically) where he remained during
the winter. The little party suffered great hardship from
hunger and cold. In an account furnished the Missouri
Intelligencer, June 25, 1825, a week after Becknell's return
to the United States, he says: " We subsisted for two days
on soup made from the raw hide which we had reserved for
soling our moccasins, and the following morning the
remains were dished up into hash. The young men
employed by me had seen better days and had never before
gone supperless to bed nor missed a wholesome and substantial meal at the regular hour except one who was with me
when I opened the road to Santa Fe."
In this connection the following account from the Intelligencer of April 19, 1825, will be of interest.    On the 24th
The data for the foregoing narrative were gleaned from the Missouri Intelligencer.
of August, 1824, William Huddart and fourteen men left
Taos and traveled west to " Green River (probably the Colorado of the West)" where the party separated, nine of them
ascending the river. The others fell in with a trader by the
name of Robidoux who had with him five Americans. Two
days later they were attacked by the Arapahoes, who killed
one man and robbed the rest. Huddart and his five companions then left Robidoux and returned to Taos.
These two items are of especial interest as giving the first
known use of the name Green river as applied to the Colorado of the West; for there seems to be no doubt that this
was the stream referred to in both instances. It also gives
us a clue to the wanderings of that active trader Robidoux
who, at a very early day, built a post on the Gunnison river
and another in the valley of the Uintah on the farther slope
of the Colorado of the West.
An interesting event of the year 1824 was an expedition
of twenty-six Spaniards from Santa Fe to Council Bluffs,
where, with the aid of Major O'Fallon, Indian Agent, they
concluded a treaty with the Pawnees who at that time were
the scourge of the traders in the territory of both governments. The Spaniards were greatly pleased with the attentions shown them by Major O'Fallon, They left for Santa
Fe on the nth of August.13
The year 1824 witnessed also another expedition, that of
James O. Pattie and his father, who left their home on the
Gasconade river, Missouri, June 24th with the intention of
going up the Missouri river. They were stopped at Council Bluffs on account of having no license and they then
decided to join a party under Sylvester Pratte for Santa
Fe. They left Council Bluffs July 30th, went first to the
Pawnee villages on the Loup, thence south to the Arkansas,
and thence via Taos to Santa Fe, where they arrived on the n
5th of November. The career of the Patties for the six
years thereafter was mainly in the far southwest, in New
Mexico, Arizona and California, and does not fall within
18 Missouri Intelligencer\, Sept. 25, 1824.
the scope of this work. The younger Pattie afterward published an interesting account of his adventures under the
title of The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie. It is
a faithful work, in very simple style, almost pathetic in its
details of misfortune, and forms one of the many indictments of Spanish inhumanity toward Americans during
those early years.
The year 1825 was also one of great activity in the Santa
Fe trade. It is not, however, necessary to follow in minute
detail, as in the preceding years, the comings and goings of
the now frequent expeditions. The interest which always
attaches to the beginnings of any enterprise justifies a
descent to the minutest circumstances which may elucidate
its history; but this is no longer the case where such beginnings have grown into a regular routine. Henceforth it will
be necessary to present only those features which stand forth
with unusual prominence, relegating to the condensed summary of a footnote the details of the several expeditions.14
141825 — Becknell returned from Santa Fe June 1.— Marmaduke left
Santa Fe May 31; date of arrival in Franklin not known. — Another
party left Santa Fe in June arriving in Franklin August 1 with 500
mules and horses; pursued usual route; went from San Miguel to
Canadian; down this stream 300 miles; thence N. E. to Arkansas at
mouth of Little Arkansas; thence through Osage country home; were
roughly handled by Osages.— May 16, large party, 105 men, 34 wagons,
240 mules and horses, Augustus Storrs, newly appointed consul to Santa Fe, Captain, left Fort Osage for Santa Fe; party returned by detachments at various times and by different routes during fall; a
number, among them Storrs, remained. — Another caravan left in May
with 81 men, 200 horses and $30,000 worth of goods; no further record.
— A party of Tennesseeans left Jackson, Tenn., for Santa Fe.. in April;
returned as far as Arkansas river with some of the above parties
and then continued down that stream.
1826 — Early in April a party arrived in Franklin from Santa Fe.
About same time party of 100 left for Santa Fe. — About June 1, another party of between 80 and 100 persons, " with wagons and carriages of
every description " left Franklin for Santa Fe. — June 9, " six or seven
new and substantial wagons" laden with goods arrived in Franklin
en route for Santa Fe; owned by Mexican, Mr. Escudero, who was in
charge of them.   This was about the beginning of Mexican proprietor-
It was in the year 1824 that the question of marking the
road to Santa Fe and of providing a military escort for the
caravans began to be agitated. Senator Thomas H. Benton
of Missouri succeeded in getting an appropriation of ten
thousand dollars for marking the road and twenty thousand
dollars for securing the right of transit from tne Indians
ship in trade which monopolized more than half the business in 1843.—
It appears that in September of this year a party under Ceran St.
Vrain (if we may trust Inman) set out for Santa Fe, arriving there in
November; in this party was a runaway boy, Kit Carson, then 17 years
1827—Spring caravan from Franklin had 52 wagons and 105 men;
Ezekiel Williams, captain; Augustus Storrs and David Workman
along; the largest party yet; the only outgoing expedition mentioned,
but of course there were others; about 60 of the party returned about
Sept. 30, with 800 head of stock, valued at $28,000; absent four months;
cleared 40 per cent. — May 31, a party returned from Santa Fe successful.—July 19, a party of twenty arrived two days before from Santa Fe
with several hundred mules and $30,000 specie.
1828. — About ist of May caravan left Franklin for Santa Fe with
$150,000 worth of merchandise and 150 persons. — May 18, a party
was at Blue Springs en route to Santa Fe, with $7 wagons, and
$41,000 worth of goods; September 12, 70 to 80 persons arrived in
Franklin from Santa Fe; venture profitable, but lost two men, Munroe
and McNees. — Oct. 28, party of 25 arrived in Franklin from Santa
Fe; had been attacked by Indians who stole all their animals; killed
John Means of Franklin, and compelled them to cache their specie.—
Bent's Fort erected this year; according to some authorities, the following year.
1829. — Spring caravan consisted of about 70 persons and 35 wagons; Charles Bent captain; military escort under Major Riley; Samuel C. Lamme killed en route; return cargo valued at $34,000; reached
Franklin early in November.— There seems to have been no other caravan this year.
1830. — About May 22, party of 120 with 60 wagons left Franklin for
Santa Fe, returning in October with fair profits.
1831. — May 15, large party, of which Josiah Gregg was a member,
numbering nearly 200 and including some ladies, 100 wagons, two
small cannon, and $200,000 worth of goods, left Independence, Moi,
and having organized at Council Grove, left that place May 27; crossed
the Arkansas June 13, and arrived at San Miguel in due course. — May
21 st there was preparing at Franklin a large party for Santa Fe with
about $200,000 worth of goods. — Some of the members had put their
across their territories. A commission was appointed consisting of Benjamin Reeves, George C. Sibley and Thomas
Mather. Their work began in 1825 and continued for three
years. The necessary concessions were secured from the
Indians and the road was surveyed from Fort Osage to
entire property in the venture. — One of above parties returned, in October, after a successful trip.—October 20 a party of twenty-five or
thirty persons passed Columbia, Mo., for Santa Fe, mostly from Eastern
states. It was this year that Smith, Jackson and Sublette made their
unfortunate journey across the plains in which Smith lost his life.
1832. — Principal caravan under Charles Bent; date of departure
not given; returned about November ist, with $100,000 specie and
$90,000 other property.—A party returning in the fall and winter of
this year attacked by Indians on Canadian January 1 and lost all their
property and one man.
1833. — June 20, spring caravan at Diamond Grove, 184 men, 93
wagons, under Charles Bent; November 9, 100 of above party returned with $100,000 specie and large amount of other property.—
Gregg returned this fall.
1834.—May 24, caravan of about 125 wagons; Gregg probably with
it; part of caravan under Captain Kerr left Santa Fe September 10,
arrived home in October, 140 men and 40 wagons with returns amounting to over $200,000.
The record of the caravans during the following years is very obscure, although it is certain that they continued as heretofore. — Various causes contributed to the deficiency of record. Of all the authorities relied on in this note the Missouri Intelligencer is the most important, and next are the St. Louis papers and the Niles Register.
The Missouri Intelligencer and Boone's Lick Advertiser began its
career in Franklin, where the Santa Fe trade had its origin and for a full
decade its headquarters. As the trade was at that time peculiarly an
industry of the country around Franklin the local paper kept a close
account of its doings. June 29, 1826, the paper was transferred to Fayette in the same county but back from the river, and four years later,
May 4, 1830, it was removed to Columbia, Missouri. As its
habitat was moved away from the river it became less in touch with the
Santa Fe trade. The trade itself gradually transferred its headquarters
to Independence, Missouri, which by 1830 had become the main starting
point. This town had no paper, and reports of events at so great a
distance often failed to be made. While, therefore, we should expect
that the later records would be the more complete, they are in reality
less so.
Troubles with the Indians, resulting in frequent robberies
and occasional loss of life, early led to appeals for government protection. A military post on the boundary line was
at first proposed, but this idea was abandoned on account of
the difficulty of supply and the fact that the garrison would
be of little use except in its immediate vicinity. In 1829 the
experiment of an escort was tried. Major Bennett Riley 15
with four companies of the 6th Infantry was detailed from
Fort Leavenworth to accompany the spring caravan to the
frontier. He set out June 5th and joined the caravan a few
days later at Round Grove. The expedition proceeded
without incident to the Arkansas and up this stream to the
vicinity of Chouteau Island. As the road here turned off
to the Cimarron and lay on Mexican soil, the United States
troops could go no farther. This was about the middle of
July. MM    j        f
Scarcely had the caravan disappeared on the other side of
the river when some horsemen came riding back furiously
and announced that it had been attacked and one of its number killed. Major Riley at once crossed the river and hastened to their relief. He then escorted them for a day
longer, but knowing the serious nature of an armed march
into foreign territory without permission, he determined to
go no farther. The caravan had become so panic-stricken
by the recent event that about half of them resolved to
abandon the trip and remain with the troops, but they were
shamed out of their purpose.
Major Riley then returned to the neighborhood of Chouteau Island and went into summer camp, having agreed to
await the caravan's return until October 10th. He had a
hard summer of it, being frequently annoyed by the Indians,
and several incidents of thrilling interest enlivened the long
stay in the barren and uninteresting region. Finally the
10th of October arrived and brought no caravan. Major
Riley decided to wait one day longer.    No one appearing by
" A distinguished officer whose name is perpetuated in " Fort Riley,"
an important military post in central Kansas.
the morning of the nth, a parting salute was fired and the
troops set out for home. But scarcely had they gotten under
way when some horsemen overtook them and announced
that the caravan was at hand. A halt was made immediately. The caravan was found to be accompanied by an
escort of Mexican troops under Colonel Viscara, Inspector
General of the Mexican army. It had had a sharp brush
with the Indians a few days before 16 in which Viscara came
near losing his life. The escort was hospitably received by
the American troops; the officers were feasted as well as the
limited resources would permit, and a review was had in
their honor.
It was a remarkable scene — this gathering of the military
forces of two nations in protection of an international commerce. It was moreover one of the most heterogeneous
gatherings conceivable, for the Santa Fe caravans embraced
every class and condition of men to be found in the frontier
settlements of either country. Never, since the days when
Coronado penetrated to the Kansas plains, had the barren
and treeless prairies witnessed a more interesting spectacle.
Three days were spent in this agreeable intercourse, and on
the 14th of October the caravan, after bidding farewell to its
Mexican escort, placed itself under the protection of the
national troops and took up its march for home.
The policy of furnishing escorts for the caravans did not
commend itself to the authorities. The large caravans were
amply able to protect themselves if they exercised reasonable caution, while it was of course impossible to furnish an
escort for every little band that might choose to make the
trip. Moreover the escort could only go to the frontier and
had to stop at the very point where the danger was greatest.
Unless a Mexican escort were there to meet the caravan it
was of very little use to provide protection over the least dangerous half of the way. The experiment of 1829 was therefore not often repeated. In 1834 an escort of sixty dragoons under Captain Wharton accompanied the caravan;
See p.
but this, according to Gregg, was the last one until 1843.
The trade pursued the even tenor of its course during these
years with little of incident or note except the never-ending
troubles at the custom house. But the situation of affairs,
as regarded the provincial government, became less and less
satisfactory. Mexico was falling into the same habit of suspicion and jealousy that had been so fatal to commercial
intercourse during the Spanish regime. From their point of
view there may have been some cause for this feeling. The
onward march of American settlement they conceived to be
fraught with great danger to their own authority in the
northern provinces. Already Texas was as good as lost and
the same might soon prove true of New Mexico. There was
consequently a growing opposition among the Santa Fe
authorities to a continuance of the trade, although it was
always popular with the people.
The ephemeral insurrection of 1837 which for a short
time subverted Mexican authority bore hard on the American traders, for they were suspected, though apparently
without foundation, of complicity in this movement. The
various Texan-Santa Fe expeditions, so injudiciously managed, were another great annoyance to the trade; for here
again the authorities believed that the traders were privy to
the plans of the Texans. Consideration of these interesting events is foreign to the purpose of this work; and
belongs rather to the history of those great political changes
which were about to come over this region. The lamentable
tragedies to which they gave rise burned deeply into the public mind in the United States and went far to justify the
sweeping conquest which followed so shortly after.
This brief sketch of the Santa Fe trade prior to 1843
would be incomplete if we omitted to refer to its supreme >
importance in the war which was even then (1843) gathering like a storm on the prairies. The long intercourse of
twenty years had made our people thoroughly familiar with
the routes, distances, character of country, and the people to
be encountered in military operations in that quarter.    The
interchange of commerce had made the New Mexicans better acquainted with our people, had created a friendly feeling towards them, and had effectually paved the way for the
change of allegiance that was soon to follow.
Commercial isolation of Santa Fe — Origin of the trade — Franklin
the "cradle" of the Santa Fe trade — Independence and Westport —
Kinds of merchandise used — Character of return cargo — Magnitude
of the trade—Profits — Small proprietors — Further statements as to
magnitude of the trade — The Santa Fe caravans — Organization at
Council Grove—Progress of the caravan — Arrival at Santa Fe —
Placing the goods on sale—Customs regulations — Armigo's duty on
*lf N 1830 the following item appeared in a paper published
in western Missouri: * " The inland trade between
the United States and Mexico is increasing rapidly. This
is perhaps one of the most curious species of foreign intercourse which the ingenuity and enterprise of American
traders ever originated. The extent of country which the
caravans traverse, the long journeys they have to make, the
rivers and morasses to cross, the prairies, the forests and
all but African deserts to penetrate — require the most
steel-formed constitutions and the most energetic minds.
The accounts of these inland expeditions remind one of the
caravans of the East. . . . The dangers which both
encounter—the caravan of the East and that of the West—
are equally numerous and equally alarming.    Men of high*
chivalric and somewhat romantic natures are requisite for
both." I I
This singular business, the " Commerce of the Prairies,"
was unique in American history and owed its origin to the
condition of commercial isolation which existed in New
* Missouri Intelligencer, Feb. 12, 1830.
Mexico prior to the coming of the Americans. In spite of
the extreme paucity of geographical knowledge of the country between New Mexico and the Missouri in the earlier
years of the century, in spite also of the jealous surveillance
of the Spanish government over the domestic affairs of her
colonies, and the careful exclusion of all knowledge concerning them from the outside world, certain facts had become
known to the American merchants of St. Louis and the settlements along the lower Missouri. It was clear that the
Missouri river near the mouth of the Kansas was much
nearer to Santa Fe than was Vera Cruz, whence all imported
fabrics reached that inland town. Inasmuch as there was
continuous navigation from American and foreign ports to
St. Louis and even to the mouth of the Kansas, nearly three
hundred miles farther west, it was an obvious proposition
that traders from the Missouri could import goods to Santa
Fe more cheaply than the Mexicans themselves by way of
Vera Cruz. The only uncertainty in the matter related to
the duties which the Spaniards might levy upon imports.
If these were reasonable, then it was evident that the advantage of trade would lie with the Americans. These considerations led to attempts, as early as 1804, to open trade relations between St. Louis and Santa Fe. They were renewed
at intervals, but always unsuccessfully, until the overthrow
of Spanish power in Mexico. The trade then began to
develop rapidly into a flourishing commerce which continued
with little interruption until Santa Fe became an American
city. It will be considered here in reference to the character of the traffic, the method of conducting the caravans
and the conditions encountered in Santa Fe.
I The town of Franklin on the Missouri river . . .
seems truly to have been the cradle of our trade," says Josiah
Gregg, the historian of the Santa Fe Trail. Franklin was
the first town of importance in the celebrated tract of western
Missouri known as Boone's Lick. It has now been entirely
washed into the river, while on the opposite shore has arisen
the thriving town of Boonville.    At the time when the Santa
 T^ac^g-ui .M^**
Fe trade commenced, Franklin was the most important town
of Missouri west of St. Louis, and the first to establish a
newspaper. It was two hundred and five miles by river
above the mouth of the Missouri and one hundred and
eighty-seven below the mouth of the Kansas. The earlier
expeditions to Santa Fe, after 1820, nearly all started from
this locality, and were made by residents of the Boone's Lick
country. But as the trade grew in importance, as steamboats began to ascend the Missouri, and particularly as
traders from other points began to engage in the trade, the
starting place was gradually transferred to that point on the
Missouri which was nearest to Santa Fe. Independence,
Missouri, near the mouth of the Kansas, began to be an outfitting point as early as 1827. In the course of the next six
years the Missouri river destroyed the steamboat landing
and the boats had to go farther up where there was a convenient and permanent bank. Here arose Westport landing, and a few miles back, Westport itself, which from that
time began to draw a share of the outfitting trade from Independence. By 1831 Franklin had almost entirely lost its
hold as the starting place for the caravans, which thenceforth was permanently fixed in the neighborhood of the
mouth of the Kansas. The trail to the mountains also
started from this point and the growing volume of the mountain trade still further augmented the importance of this
early rendezvous.
The goods taken to Santa Fe in trade comprised almost
every variety that are made use of in every day life. There
were dry goods, silks, hardwares, calicoes, velvets, drillings,
shirtings, etc.; but domestic cottons constituted fully half the
cargo. The trade extended beyond Santa Fe, and in later
years a large portion of it was carried to Chihuahua, and
some even to California. From this last region were N
brought horses and mules which thus found their way from
the distant Pacific to the Mississippi valley and possibly even
farther east. The furs from the Colorado mountains were
frequently brought in by way of the Trail either by traders
who had purchased them, or by the trappers who joined the
caravans for protection. The most important item in the
return cargo was specie, both gold and silver, which was
transported in large quantities to the States.
The magnitude of the Santa Fe trade at one time rose to
about four hundred and fifty thousand dollars per annum.
For the twenty-two years from 1822 to 1843 inclusive, it
averaged over one hundred and thirty thousand dollars, or
nearly three millions for the period. The following table,
which is the only complete summary of the trade ever prepared, was compiled by Josiah Gregg, the most competent
authority who has treated of the subject. It gives the estimated value of the merchandise invested in the trade, the
proportion taken to other points than Santa Fe, and the
number of men, wagons, and proprietors for each year. The
value of the goods is that of the Eastern markets where they
were purchased.
of Mdse.
to other
Santa Fe.
$ 15,000
f Pack animals only used [ex-
\  cept Becknell's wagons].
Pack animals only used.
$   3,000
do.   and wagons.
do.           do.
Wagons only henceforth.
3 men killed, being the first.
U. S. escort.   1 trader killed.
First oxen used by traders.
Two men killed.
( Party defeated on Cana-
•<   dian.    Two men killed, 3
(  perished.
2nd U. S. escort.
Arkansas expedition.
Chihuahua expedition.
Texan-Santa Fe expedition^
f 3rd U. S. escort.    Ports
|  closed.
In a business of so hazardous and uncertain a character
the profits must necessarily have been large to justify a pursuit of it. The goods were mostly bought in Eastern markets, and were sold at a great advance, often more than one
hundred per cent upon the first cost. But by the time that
the sales were accomplished and the various expenses and
losses in transporting them so far were deducted, the net
profits rarely exceeded forty per cent, and were frequently
as low as ten per cent. There were of course occasional
instances of actual loss.
A striking characteristic of the Santa Fe trade was its division among a great number of proprietors. The above table
shows to what a degree this was true and only in the later
years did the investments average as much as one thousand
dollars per proprietor. It was a business of small dealers,
and no " American Fur Company i followed the Santa Fe
Trail. Not infrequently individuals took with them all they
possessed, and as the enterprises were generally profitable the
trade was undoubtedly a great benefit. Often individuals
would secure credits by mortgages upon their property until
their return in the fall. If, as occasionally happened, the
Santa Fe market proved dull, and it required considerable
time to get rid of one's cargo by retail, these home obligations enforced a resort to the less profitable method by wholesale in order that the business might terminate in time for the
trader to get back home and satisfy his creditors.2
aThe following letter is from a distinguished Santa Fe trader and
plainsman, a partner of the no less distinguished Bent brothers.   It is
an example of the practice already alluded to:
San Fernando del Taos, Sept. 14, 1830.
Messrs. B. Pratte & Co.
Gentlemen:—It is witlf pleasure that I inform you of my last arrival
at Santafe which was the 4th of August,   we were met at Red river
by General Biscusa the customhouse officer and a few soldiers, the
object in coming out so far to meet us was to prevent smuggling and
it had the desired effeck, there was a guard placed around our wagons
until w^e entered Santafe, we had all to pay full dutys which amounts
to about 60 percent on cost.    I was the first that put goods in the
Customhouse and I opened immediately, but goods sold very slow, so
IS   1^.
 wyeth's estimate of the trade. 521
While there is no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy
of the figures heretofore given concerning the Santa Fe
trade, there were those at the time who ridiculed its importance, as there are those who ridicule every movement which
the enterprise of man sets on foot. To give a fair hearing to
both sides, however, the following comments will be of value*
They are the substance of a spirited protest which appeared
in the Missouri Republican of St. Louis, February 16, 1830,
against a statement which had been made upon the floor of
Congress that the trade of 1829 had amounted to two hundred thousand dollars and was deserving of government protection. The writer had procured an estimate from those
who alone knew anything about it, with the result that one
slow that it was discouraging. I found that it was impossible to meet
my payments if I continued retaling. I there fore thought it was best
to hole Saile & I have done so. I send you by Mr. Andru Carson and
Lavoise Ruel one wagon eleven mules, one horse and 653 skins of
Beaver, 961 lbs. nine hundred and sixty one pounds, which you will
have sold for my account. I do not wish the mules sold unless they sell
for a good price.
I am with much respect
Your obdt. servt.
Ceran St. Vrain."
The following observations by Nathaniel J. Wyeth (Sources of the
History of Oregon, p. 119) are to the same purpose:   "The following
statement is my view of the Santa Fee business, derived however from
superficial observation,   viz.:
First cost of goods carried to St. Fee and duties paid the Mexican government   $100,000
Outfits and expenses on same     50,000
Profits and interests in the States between the importer and the
St. Fee trader      25,000
Returns made from St. Fee in Specie and Beaver $200,000,
Profits remaining to the St. Fee traders $ 25,000 >
" This is, I presume, about the result of the trade. The goods are
carried to St. Fee by about 30 distinct traders in about 75 wagons.
The largest trader has rarely more than 12 wagons. More than one-
half of these people are farmers and buy their goods on 12 months and
often mortgage their farms and consequently are obliged to make
returns the same year."
hundred and thirty-three thousand dollars and nine hundred of the twelve hundred mules which were brought back
belonged to Spanish refugees who were with the caravan and
were daily expecting a decree for their return. The specie
amounted to between twenty and thirty thousand dollars,
about twice the cost of the military escort, which did not prevent the loss of an estimable trader who was killed by the
Indians. The furs belonged mostly to traders who came in
with the caravan for protection and whose property represented the fruit of two or three years' toil. § A majority
of the traders invest in the trade from $io_o to $600; these
capitalists live cheaply upon buffalo meat, and improve their
habits and morals among the, in every way, vicious and lascivious inhabitants of Santa Fe. . . . It will not be
denied that most of the traders are professedly smugglers.
Others deceive the ignorance, or overcome by bribes the conscientious scruples, of the custom house officer, the agents of
the republic of Mexico. Ought this trade to be protected
by the government" ?
Nevertheless the trade was one of considerable magnitude
and genuine importance. It was as honestly conducted as
any business could be which had to do with Spanish officials.
It was an unquestioned blessing to the isolated community
penned up in the mountains and it was a source of revenue to
a great many worthy American citizens. So important had
it become to the New Mexicans that when a decree prohibiting it was promulgated in 1843, Gregg predicted that, unless
the decree were speedily withdrawn, revolution would
The most interesting feature of the Santa Fe trade was
that which related to the long journey over the plains. The
distance from Independence to Santa Fe was over seven hundred miles, and except for the last fifty miles, no permanent
abode of civilized man greeted the eye of the traveler.
Much of the intervening territory was prairie country, some
of it a barren, sandy, trackless desert, where lack of water
was an ever-present peril.   All of it, except a narrow strip
at either end, was infested with some of the most treacherous and restless Indians to be found west of the Mississippi.
So real were the perils of these long journeys that it was
extremely hazardous for small parties to undertake them
alone. The traders early formed the practice of banding
together for mutual protection, over at least the most dangerous part of the journey. Hence arose the custom of forming caravans which every year crossed the plains in each
The traders, being of a very independent class, were
averse to sinking their individuality in a general organization except when danger positively compelled it; and they
therefore deferred the caravan formation to the latest possible moment. From Independence they set off by themselves
and went on in this way one hundred and fifty miles to
Council Grove. Here, for many years, the caravans were
organized, for beyond this point attacks might be looked for
from the savages.
The first step in the organization was to select officers.
In the larger caravans the list was quite extensive, including
captain, ist and 2nd lieutenants, marshal, clerk, pilot,
court (three members), commander of guards, and a chaplain. For captain it was customary to select an experienced
plainsman, bold and fearless, yet of cool judgment. These
qualities, however, were rarely so conspicuous as to indicate
any one man for exclusive choice, and as a result there was
a goodly amount of electioneering. The American of the
plains could not shake off the training of his native country,
and these elections usually proceeded by the most approved
American methods. | One would have supposed," says
Gregg, I that electioneering and party spirit would hardly
have penetrated so far into the wilderness; but so it was.
Even in our little community we had our office-seekers and
their political adherents, as earnest and devoted as any of
the modern school of politicians in the midst of civilization."
Not only in the work of effecting an organization, but in
the organization itself, the patriotic trader patterned after
the institutions of his beloved country. Augustus Storrs,
referring to the expedition of 1827, says: "Our government is almost as complete and perfect as though we composed a republican government; we can never forget the
blessings of our own institutions; and I have no doubt that
the longer we are absent the more forcibly this idea will
occur to us." In truth, the fires of patriotism burned ever
brightly on the prairies and in the mountains, and no wandering band was so benighted as to forget to render honor to
the institutions of their country wherever the anniversary of
its natal day overtook them. Upon such occasions the entire
resources of the party were called into requisition — artillery (when there was any), oratory, and games of skill —
while the celebration was rounded off in true prairie style
with the most ample feast and frolic which buffalo meat
and alcohol could produce.
The authority of the captain was very limited, and his
orders were obeyed only according to the whim of the individual, who generally considered himself as good a captain
as any one. There was a notable absence of anything like
discipline except in the matter of guards, and the captain's
functions were practically limited to fixing hours of starting and stopping and the location of camp. The result
was that these organizations were always subject to greater
danger from the Indians than would be a similar body of
troops. Although the members were generally armed,
there was no system of inspection to compel them to keep
their arms in order, and they were likely to be found hors
de combat when suddenly required for use.
The caravans, if large, were organized into divisions, each
under charge of a sub-officer whose duty it was to superintend the details of the march, select the best creek crossings,
and look after the arrangements for the evening camp.
Guard duty was relentlessly enforced, and no members of
the party, except officers and invalids, were exempt.
The composition of the caravans was the most heterogeneous   imaginable.    The   vehicles   consisted   of   heavy
wagons, carts, and light carriages. There were occasionally elegant outfits on the road. " It has the air of romance," says an early writer, " to see splendid pleasure carriages with elegant horses journeying to the Republic of
Mexico! Yet it is sober fact." The draught animals
were horses, mules, and oxen. There were always a large
number of saddle-horses. In personnel the caravans were
composed of all sorts. There was first the plain man of
business, intent only on the prosecution of his enterprise.
There were the rough denizens of the plains who, in long
years of living in these unsettled wilds, had become half Indian in dress, habits, and general appearance. There were
pleasure-seekers, health-seekers, scientific travelers, and now
and then ladies. Then there was always the picturesque
Mexican with a dress peculiarly his own, even when, as was
generally to some extent the case, there was a marked absence of any dress. The equipment of the party was likewise of no common pattern, and there were as many varieties of dress, saddles and fire-arms as there were of men,
wagons, and animals. " The wild and motley aspect of
the caravan," as Gregg well observes, " would have formed
an excellent subject for an artist's pencil."
The progress of these huge caravans was always slow, and
rarely averaged more than fifteen miles a day. The location
of springs and creeks determined the length of march, for
water could not be found wherever wanted. At night the
caravans were generally parked in some form suited to
the ground and the necessities of defense. The danger
from Indians was always a serious one to small parties, but
never to large ones, except when small groups were carelessly permitted to get away from the support of the main
body. Gregg says that | in the course of twenty years%
since the commencement of this trade I do not believe there
have been a dozen deaths upon the Santa Fe route, even
including those who have been killed off by disease as well
as by the Indians." While this may have been strictly true
of the Santa Fe traders, it is certain that the casualties upon
the plains among the smaller parties greatly exceeded this
The scene of bustle and confusion during the hasty preparation of each morning for the day's march, when animals
were being saddled or harnessed, fastened to the wagons,
and everything gotten ready for the start, was something to
be long remembered by those who had once seen it. As a
general thing the best of spirits prevailed among the party
and there was a friendly rivalry not to be the last in the performance of duty. All writers agree that the sight of these
huge caravans in motion was a most interesting one — truly
American in its individuality, variety and independence.
The line, when in single file, often stretched out for more
than a mile in length. At other tinies, upon the broad, even
prairies, where the whole country was one vast road, the
caravan would form in three or four parallel columns, thus
giving the appearance of greater compactness and strength.
The motion of this large body, with the scattering groups of
horsemen on its flanks or in advance, the shouting of the
drivers, the incessant cracking of the whips, and the jolting
and creaking of the wagons all combined to form a medley
of sights and sounds that never failed to excite the enthusiasm of the beholder.
The election of officers having taken place at Council
Grove, every one exerted himself to get into the best possible state of preparation for the long journey that lay before
him. The goods, perhaps, required repacking, and the
greatest ingenuity was shown in placing the packages in
the wagons so that they would not jolt with the constant
shaking of the several hundred miles of travel.3 Wood
was gathered from the ample supply in Council Grove and
8 The transportation on pack animals of such a substance as specie
would naturally seem to be very difficult; but the ingenuity of the
trader hit upon a most effectual method. The specie was placed in
large bags made of fresh bull hide. It was then shaken down as compactly as possible and the bag was sewed tightly together. The shrinkage of the hide as it dried out compacted the contents so as to make
almost a rigid mass.
strapped underneath the wagons for use in case of breakages.
Over the tops and sides of the cargoes were spread sheets
•of thick canvas to resist rain in the driving storms of the
The caravan, upon arrival in the buffalo country, subsisted largely upon game, and the universal testimony is that
these long journeys were health restorers which might have
rivaled the fabulous fountains of youth which so appealed
to the credulity of the early Spanish adventurers. The
only really serious problem of subsistence en route related to
provision for water in crossing the Cimarron desert. There
were stretches of the journey where from one to four days
had to be passed without water, depending upon the speed
of the traveler and his knowledge of the location of springs.
All the later caravans carried enough water with them from
the Arkansas to get them safely through this region.
The first evidence of approach to the Spanish settlements
would usually be the meeting of some lonely Cibolero or
Mexican buffalo hunter. The picturesque costumes of these
denizens of the prairies was in itself an attraction that made
the meeting of more than passing interest, but the fact
that they brought news from Santa Fe made their welcome
one of genuine enthusiasm. The great subject of inquiry
from these prairie news agents was the state of the custom
house administration, for upon this depended in no slight
degree the success or failure of the enterprise. A few of
the most experienced traders generally posted ahead as soon
as it was safe to leave the caravan, in order to arrange all
this troublesome business in advance of the main arrival.
The entry of the caravan into Santa Fe was of course an
event of very lively interest. The long sojourn in the uninhabited prairies was in itself enough to make an approach to
civilized abodes a matter of no ordinary importance. lb
was the end of a long and tedious journey, and the beginning of a long and luxurious rest; for the life of the caravan employes while in Santa Fe was a continuous round c |
conviviality.    Before entering the city every one, even to
the lowest employe, did his best to improve his personal appearance. He subjected his hair and beard to such barber-
ing as the rude conveniences of the plains afforded and made •
himself as irresistible as possible in the eyes of the dusky
maidens of Santa Fe. Even the animals, as Gregg observes,
caught the spirit of the occasion and however much they
might have lagged of late, now pricked up their ears and
bent forward under their heavy loads with quick and elastic
The joy of these sun-browned travelers was reciprocated
by the inhabitants of Santa Fe, to whom the caravan was
like the arrival of a ship at some solitary island of the sea.
Pouring out into the streets they would announce the event
with shouts of " The wagons! The Americans! The arrival of the caravan "! And at once, in a spirit of fraternity
which knows no frontier lines or national jealousies, they
would join with their American visitors in joyous celebration of the event.
The traders attended at once to the serious business of
their visit. The goods were entered at the custom house
with the least possible delay and were then exhibited for
sale. They were generally closed out at retail, but it often
became necessary in a dull market to sell in bulk in order to
get ready for the return caravan. Many of the traders were
compelled to stay more than a season and often went to
other points, so that the return caravans were rarely more
than half as large as the outgoing.
The Santa Fe end of the business was thoroughly characteristic of the government and people of that country.
Both the Spanish and Mexican authorities always exhibited
a jealousy of their northern neighbors that would gladly
have interdicted the trade altogether, but that the extreme
isolation of the remote northern province made commerce
with the United States almost indispensable to the domestic
welfare of the people, while it was a source of considerable
revenue to the government. The customs restrictions upon
the trade were always heavy, often capricious, and were a
 ■ '
never-ending source of annoyance to the traders. They
were the subject of most anxious inquiry as the caravans approached Santa Fe, for changes might have transpired since the latest information which would make or
ruin an enterprise. The extreme venality of the custom
house officers led to all kinds of peculation and bribery, and
it has been estimated that not more than one-half of the
revenue receipts found their way to the public treasury.
It was a common saying that the duties on American goods
went one third to the traders, one third to the officials and
one third to the government. Between smuggling and bribery the trader must have felt that he had left behind him
in his native land all semblance of virtue in the transaction
of business.
In 1839 Governor Armigo conceived the brilliant idea
that, by placing an arbitrary impost on each wagon that entered the territory, regardless of its cargo, he would avoid
the official corruption and smuggling which diverted from
its proper destination so much of the revenue. This impost he fixed at five hundred dollars. But however carefully
he may have figured out the proper amount to charge, he
totally failed to foresee the consequences of his act. Traders at once increased enormously the size of the wagon loads
by using stronger wagons and more teams to each, rejecting
largely the bulky coarse stuffs of small value and loading
with fine fabrics of higher value. The impost was thus
made to operate as a great reduction of the former tariff
and was quickly abrogated by the governor.
The customs regulations which had shifted about so often
in the course of twenty years, and which had already excluded many articles of great importance to the trade, finally
in 1843 prohibited the trade altogether. It was a blind and
fatal error, an expiring effort to stay the tide of destiny.N
It only served to make the people of New Mexico more dissatisfied with so capricious and oppressive a government
and caused them to accept with greater readiness the always
difficult change from one sovereignty to another.
General Description — The Cimarron Desert — Mountain branch of
the Trail — Government survey of the road — Work of Surveyor
Brown — Location of the Trail — Other routes to Santa Fe — Itinerary of the Trail — Council Grove — The Arkansas river — Pawnee
Rock — Kit Carson — The Caches — Chouteau Island — The Cimarron
Desert — Bent's Fort — Bent and St. Vrain — Josiah Gregg.
TT^HE historic highway known as the Santa Fe Trail,
^" along which the " commerce of the prairies " was
carried from 1820 to the advent of the railroad, extended
from Independence on the Missouri, near the mouth of the
Kansas, to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. Both in
its origin and destination, however, the trade extended beyond these points. Most of the American traders started
from St. Louis or Franklin, while they frequently went
beyond Santa Fe to Chihuahua or other towns. But the
term Santa Fe Trail did not apply to these extensions. It
referred only to the route across the broad, uninhabited region between the frontier settlements of the two countries.
It lay half in American and half in Spanish territory, for
the ford of the Arkansas, where the boundary was crossed,
was almost exactly midway between the two termini.
It will repay one for the trouble of examining the map
to note how little this route varied from a straight line. It
is remarkable that the traders should so soon have found so
direct a route, and it is a striking example of how accurately
the instinct of direction will lead one through an unknown
country.    Far more direct is it than the " Santa Fe route "
of today which whirls the comfortable traveler over this
distance in one-twentieth of the time on the old Trail. They
were good road surveyors — these old explorers of the
plains and mountains.
There were four distinct stages of the journey between
Independence and Santa Fe. The first extended to Council
Grove where the caravans were organized. It was all in
a well-watered prairie country, comparatively safe from
Indian depredations, and was the pleasantest part of the
route. The next division extended to the ford of the Arkansas. It was near the beginning of this stage that the country
began to change geologically, botanically, and climatically.
It was the transition from the humid prairies of eastern Kansas to the arid plains of the West— from the regions safe
from Indian depredations to those where the Pawnee
and Comanche made the traveler's life a burden. It was
thus the line between ease, pleasure and safety, and toil, difficulty and danger.
The third division of the route was the most dangerous
and dreaded of all. It was the Cimarron desert, and extended from the Arkansas river to the source of the Cimarron.
Wislizenus thus describes it: " The high plain between the
Arkansas and the Cimarron, whose elevation above the sea
is about three thousand feet, is the most desolate part of the
whole Santa Fe road, and the first adventurers in the Santa
Fe trade stood many severe trials here. Within the distance of sixty-six miles from the Arkansas to the lower
springs of the Cimarron there is not one water course or
water pool to be depended upon during the dry season. The
soil is generally dry and hard; the vegetation is poor and
scarcely anything grows there except some short and
parched buffalo grass and some cacti." It was here that the
tantalizing mirage was seen in greater perfection than anywhere else in the plains. To add to the natural difficulty of
the situation the Indians were here most dangerous and there
was greater loss of life than upon any other portion of the
So inconspicuous and uncertain were the landmarks of
this region that in the earliest years there was great danger
of getting lost in crossing it; while the terrible effects of
thirst tended to unsettle the equanimity of the traveler and
hasten dangers which were near enough at best. The sad
death of Jedediah S. Smith in the spring of 1831 resulted
from this cause. As these perils came to be more fully understood, provision was made beforehand to avert them.
A full supply of water for both man and beast was laid in
for about two days' steady travel, and no reliance was placed
upon the country until this inhospitable region was crossed.
The fourth division of the journey lay between the Cimarron desert and Santa Fe. Although the road still ran
through a barren and worthless country, it was now in the
foothills of the mountains, where there were landmarks for
guidance and streams enough for camps. Traveling was
therefore safe if proper precaution were taken against the
When expeditions first began to be made from Missouri
to Santa Fe they ascended the Arkansas to the vicinity of
where La Junta, Colorado, now stands, and then turning
south, went first to Taos and then to Santa Fe. Even after
the shorter trail was established across the desert, the route
by the upper Arkansas continued to be used; for there was
always a large amount of trade from that section. Bent's
Fort was the great stopping place on this branch of the
As the Santa Fe trade began to assume large proportions,
government aid was sought in protecting the caravans and in
locating a road. On the 14th of December, 1824, Senator
Thomas H. Benton, who took a great interest in the Far
West, presented a petition to Congress reciting the nature,
magnitude, and importance of the Santa Fe trade, and praying that the government would endeavor to secure from the
Indians the right of undisturbed passage through their lands,
and that it would establish a military post on the Arkansas
at the point where the Trail crossed it.    The subject was
energetically pressed during that session of Congress and
resulted in an appropriation of ten thousand dollars for
marking the line of a road from the Missouri frontier to
New Mexico, and one of twenty thousand dollars for securing concessions from the Indians.
In accordance with the law a commission consisting of
Benjamin Reeves, George C. Sibley, and Thomas Mather,
with a surveyor by the name of J. C. Brown, set out in
June, 1825, to execute the work. The survey was made by
chain and compass with sextant observations for latitude and longitude. The line as surveyed followed the Trail
pretty closely until after it left the Cimarron river where it
bore off to the westward and terminated at Taos. The
memoir accompanying the maps of the survey states that
the road was j surveyed and marked " from Fort Osage to
Taos, but this would seem to be wrong. As far as the Arkansas river it was plainly marked with raised mounds, but
beyond this point, if marked at all, it must have been in so
temporary a way that the evidence of it quickly disappeared.
The great mistake made in this survey was in attempting
to force travelers to take any but the shortest practicable
route. It is always a dangerous experiment to ignore that
tendency of human nature, and of the American type in particular, to take the short cut. Knowing the perils of the
Cimarron desert Brown thought it better to ascend the Arkansas to Chouteau Island and then go straight south to
the lower spring of the Cimarron, which could be reached
in one day. But it was traveling two sides of a triangle
where it was possible to follow the third, and the traders
preferred to take their chances by the shorter route. In like
manner Brown thought it better for travelers to go first to
Taos because that was the " nearest of the Mexican settlements, the most northern and the most abundant in provision
for man and beast." He accordingly turned off to the right
at a point some distance beyond the head of the Cimarron
and made straight for Taos. But here again the traders
refused to follow him.
From a practical point of view the survey was thus of little use; but it was a substantial contribution, or would have
been if published, to the geographical knowledge of the
West. The survey was carefully executed, was extremely
accurate, and was mapped in conjunction with descriptive
notes in a most convenient method. Had the government
published these notes exactly in the form in which they were
written, which could have been done at very slight expense,
they would have made a succinct guide book of the Trail
sufficient for all requirements down to the day of railroads.
It is an instance almost without parallel where the government, after doing a really useful piece of work, has pigeonholed it in perpetuity, and deprived the public of any benefit
from it.
As in the case of the Oregon Trail it is not easy to locate
with precision upon modern maps the line of the Santa Fe
Trail through the cultivated sections to the eastward of the
Arkansas river. The land surveys have thrown the roads
into the four cardinal directions. The railroads follow the
old line more closely, although by no means exactly. The
names no longer mark the precise localities then designated
by them, but more than likely have been transferred to
neighboring railway stations or the sites of towns near by.
Thus it results that if the old Trail could be spread down like
a ribbon over the farms and fences of fertile Kansas it would
lie mostly where no road now goes. It is possible nevertheless to locate it within narrow limits and point out the modern places near which it lay — so near in fact that from any
neighboring church steeple one could overlook the route
along which the motley caravans wended their way some
seventy years ago.
While the line of travel specifically known as the Santa F3
Trail was that here described, it must not be supposed that
it was the only route, or that it was followed rigidly throughout all its course. It was not an uncommon thing for parties both on the main trail and the mountain branch to pass
by way of Taos.    Numerous parties followed the Arkansas
to and from Little Rock or Fort Smith and did not go by
way of Independence at all. In 1839 Gregg left Van Buren,
Arkansas, and followed the general course of the Canadian
until he reached the main trail. On the return route he
kept still more to the south. In 1840 the experiment was
tried of going direct to Chihuahua from Red river across
the present state of Texas. None of these experimental
routes gained any permanency.
Attempts to simplify the problem of transportation led to
numerous absurd schemes. One man secured a concession
giving him the exclusive right to navigate the Rio Grande,
and doubtless imagined that a vast fortune would fall to
him when his boats should carry merchandise to Santa Fe
along that dusty stream, and put to rout the antiquated caravans of the plains. Another party made an importunate
appeal to Congress to remove the " raft" in the Red river,
for if this obstruction could be removed, of the practicability
of which he said there could be no doubt, the | Red river will
then become navigable for steamboats of moderate size
to within sixty miles of Santa Fe, whence it will be easy
to go in barges twenty-four leagues farther," or twelve miles
beyond Santa Fe! There is no evidence that the caravan
route ever took any measures to forestall this threatened
In 1830 a man by the name of Wolf skill opened a route
from Taos to southern California, passing north of the
Grand Canon of the Colorado of the West. A considerable trade developed along this line, and even in these early
days goods were carried from the United States to the
shores of the Pacific, while the mules of that region found
their way in considerable numbers to the valley of the
With this general description of the Santa Fe Trail we
pass to a detailed itinerary of the route.
Leaving Independence, the next place of importance on
the Trail was
Blue Camp, 20 miles, | a charming spot on the western
boundary of Missouri. Situated thus at the very junction
of civilization and the wilderness we could overlook them
both with a single glance."    (Wislizenus.)
Round Grove, or Lone Elm Tree, 35 miles. A regular
stopping place and also something of a rendezvous.
Oregon Trail Junction, 43 miles. Here in the naked
prairie stood a sign post with the inscription "Road to
Black Jack Point, 47 miles. So called from the dwarfish oak trees found here.
The Narrows, 65 miles, " a narrow ridge which separates
the Osage and Kansas waters."    (Gregg).
110-Mile Creek, 100 miles. "The name of this creek
refers to its distance from the old Fort Osage." (Wislizenus.)
Bridge Creek, 108 miles.
Switzler's Creek, 116 miles.    " Fine running water."
Then followed numerous creek crossings, headwaters of
the Osage, but of no special distinction until the crossing
of the Neosho is reached at
Council Grove, 150 miles. One of the most important
stations on the Trail. There was at this point a thickly-
wooded bottom, half a mile to a mile in width, and of indefinite length, lying along the river and affording a great
variety of excellent timber. The name was given by the
Santa Fe Road Commission of 1825. It was here that the
commissioners met the Osage Indians in council and
secured their agreement to the unmolested passage of the
American and Mexican traders through their country. The
name was in honor of this event. It fitted in admirably with
the part this timbered locality afterward played in the history of the Trail. The caravans usually came thus far in
detached parties and here met in council and organized for
the perilous journey across the plains. It was generally
supposed thai the name arose from this circumstance.
The line of the Trail thus far may be approximately laid
down in terms of modern geography.    Leaving Independ-
ence, Missouri, it bore distinctly southwest and crossed the
state boundary just east of the village of Glenn, Kansas.
Thence it continued southwest, passing a little to the north
of the towns of Olathe and Gardner in Johnson county. It
then ran nearly west close to the divide between the waters
of the Kansas and Osage rivers and near the towns of Baldwin, Worden and Baden in Douglas county; Overbrook,
Scranton, and Burlingame in Osage county; Wilmington
in Wabaunsee, Waushara and Agnes in Lyon, and thence
to Council Grove in Morris county.
After leaving Council Grove, the next landmark of note
Diamond Spring, 165 miles, " a crystal fountain discharging itself into a small brook, to which, in recent years,
caravans have sometimes advanced before organizing."
(Gregg). The " Diamond of the Plains, a remarkably
fine large fountain near which is good camping ground."
The road now passes in succession the following points:
Lost Spring, 180 miles.
Cottonwood Creek, 192 miles.
Turkey Creek, 217 miles.
Little Arkansas, 234 miles.
Cow Creek, 254 miles, and finally arrives at
The Arkansas river, 270 miles. This stream, which for
all its length west of the 100th meridian was the frontier
between the United States and Spanish territories, was one
of great importance to the traders in this region. It was
not a navigable stream in this part of its course, unless the
possibility of descending it in light craft in flood time entitles it to that distinction. Its importance arose in part from
the fact of its being the national frontier, and in part because^
the country about its headwaters was a rich trapping territory.
Between Council Grove and the Arkansas the Trail, if laid
down upon a modern map, would pass the town of Helmicl:
in Morris county; thence a little north of the modern Dia-
mond Springs and Burdick in the same county, and a little
south of Lost Spring in Marion. It would cross the Cottonwood river near Durham and pass close by Canton, Galba,
McPherson and Conway in McPherson county. It would
cross the Little Arkansas below Little river in Rick county,
and continuing past Lyons and Chase in the same county,
would reach the Arkansas near Ellinwood, Barton county.
The road now turns up the left bank of the Arkansas and
Walnut Creek, 278 miles, and
Pawnee Rock, 293 miles. This rock was to the Santa Fe
Trail what Independence Rock was to the Oregon Trail. It
was composed of ferruginous sandstone and rose about
twenty feet high upon the right hand side of the Trail, some
two miles back from the river. It was a great place for
inscriptions both by the whites and Indians. " Here was
a confused medley of cognomens," says Sage, " English,
French, Spanish, German, Irish, Scotch — all entered upon
the register of fancied immortality." Not a few names
were recorded there that have found a permanent place in
Western history. The name of the rock, according to
Cooke, " came from a siege there, once upon a time, of a
small party of Pawnees by the Comanche hordes; the rocky
mound was impregnable; but alas for valor! they were
parched with thirst, and the shining river glided in their
sight through green meadows! They drank their horses'
blood, and vowed to Wah-Condah that their fates should be
one. Death before slavery! Finally in a desperate effort
to cut their way to liberty, they all met heroic death; ushering their spirits with defiant shouts to the very threshold of
the happy hunting grounds! The Comanches, after their
melancholy success, were full of admiration and erected on
the summit a small pyramid which we see to this day." %
1 Inman in his Stories of the Santa Fe Trail, published in 1881, and
again in his San4a Fe Trail, 1897, endeavors to glorify his friend, Kit
Carson, by connecting an adventure in the life of that noted frontiersman with the christening of this rock.   But while the story is a good
"the caches."
Proceeding up the valley of the Arkansas the next point
noted in the itinerary of the Trail is
Ash Creek, 297 miles.
Pawnee Fork, 303 miles.
Coon Creek, 336 miles.
1 The Caches," 372 miles, so named from an incident elsewhere related which occurred in 1822 when Baird and
Chambers were compelled to cache their goods there.
Gregg informs us that in his time " few travelers passed this
way without visiting these mossy pits, many of which
remain to the present day." The Caches were a little west
of the point where the 100th meridian crossed the river,
and consequently the first point of note after reaching the
Mexican frontier. Their location was five miles west of
where Dodge City, Kansas, now stands. The ground
where they were excavated has mostly caved into the river.
The Ford of the Arkansas, 392 miles. This was the
regular crossing after 1829 and was known as the Cimarron crossing. Its location is twenty miles above Dodge
City. It was a little more than half way between Independence and Santa Fe.
one and may have happened somewhere, it did not happen where or
when Inman says. It is singular that so noted a character as Kit
Carson should be so entirely unknown in the annals of the fur trade
as he actually was. His name occurs only once in the correspondence
or newspaper literature prior to 1843 so far as it has fallen under
our observation. This reference is an interesting one and positively
fixes the year in which he commenced his wild west career. It was in
1826 when he joined a Santa Fe caravan under Charles Bent. The
Missouri Intelligencer of October 12, 1826, had the following notice
relating to the event: "Notice: To whom it may concern: That
Christopher Carson, a boy about sixteen years old, small of his age, but
thick set, light hair, ran away from the subscriber, living in Franklin*
Howard Co., Mo., to whom he had been bound to learn the saddler'd
trade, on or about the first day of September last. He is supposed to
have made his way toward the upper part of the state. All persons
are notified not to harbor, support or subsist said boy under penalty
of the law. One cent reward will be given to any person who will
bring back the said boy. (signed) David Workman, Franklin, Oct. 6,
There was another, or Lower Crossing, seventeen miles
below Dodge City. It was near the mouth of Mulberry
creek at the extreme point of the large southern bend of the
The Upper Ford Of the Arkansas, which was in use as late
as 1829, was located at Chouteau Island, just above where
the town of Hartland, Kansas, now stands. This was the
crossing recommended by surveyor Brown in 1825-7 and
was the nearest point on the Arkansas to the lower spring
of the Cimarron which lay directly south.
Chouteau Island was a well-known point- on the upper
Arkansas. The name dates from the Chouteau-De Munn'
expedition of 1815-17. While on his way to the Missouri
in the spring of 1816 with the furs collected during the previous winter, Chouteau was attacked by a war party of two
hundred Pawnees and lost one man killed and three
wounded. He retreated to an island in the Arkansas where
he could more effectually defend himself and the name arose
from this incident. Chouteau did not have any trading
post here, as asserted by some authorities.
The principal danger in crossing the Arkansas was that of
quicksands. Unless the party happened along during the
June rise, the water offered no obstacles whatever. But the
river bottom was treacherous. It was customary to double
the teams, and it was imperative not to stop while crossing,
lest the heavy loads sink immediately so deep that the teams
could not start them.
After crossing the Arkansas, the route lay on Mexican
soil. Resuming the itinerary at the Cimarron Crossing the
first point of interest south of the Arkansas was the
Battle ground, 407 miles. The name arose at the very
end of the period of which we are treating, when a small
band of Texans defeated the van guard of Armigo's army,
only to be disarmed in turn a little later by United States
Cimarron River, Lower Spring, 450 miles. This stream,
far from being a river, was ordinarily no stream at all.
There was no water in its bed in the dry season except at
the springs.
This part of the route was most dreaded of all. The distance, fifty-eight miles, required at least two, and more often
three, days to traverse, and there was no water on the way.
In the earlier years the route was very uncertain for the
wagons made no impression on the hard dry soil and no
trail was developed. This fact, and a total absence of landmarks, made the danger of getting lost a very serious one,
for in that waterless country a day or two of lost time might
prove disastrous. This difficulty was removed in 1834 by
a fortunate circumstance. It happened that year, quite
unusually, that there were continuous and heavy rains while
the caravan was passing this part of the route. The wagons
cut a distinct furrow on the softened turf which was followed by subsequent caravans until it developed into a permanent road. It is visible in many places to the present
This part of the Trail passed near the localities now
known by the names of Example, Ivanhoe, Conductor, and
Zyonville in southwestern Kansas. The route then
ascended the valley of the Cimarron for a distance of eighty-
five miles.    The points of interest were
Middle Spring of the Cimarron, 486 miles.
Willow Bar, 512 miles.
Between Willow Bar and Upper Spring was another
" battle ground " so named from a skirmish between General Viscara and the Indians in 1829 when he was escorting the caravan from Santa Fe to the Arkansas.
Upper Spring, 530 miles.
Cold Spring, 535 miles. At this point the road left the
valley of the Cimarron. N
McNees' Creek, 560 miles, the site of a melancholy tragedy of the Trail. It was here that Munroe and McNees
were attacked and McNees was slain in 1828.2
Upon leaving the Cimarron it was customary for a cara-
z See the following chapter.
van to send couriers in advance to spy out the country and
ascertain the condition of the custom house business at
Santa Fe.    From here on there was a plain trail.
Rabbit Ear Creek, 580 miles. This name arose from the
fancied resemblance of some hills in the southwest to rabbit's
ears. They were a guide to the traveler on this part of the
journey. It was near the head of Rabbit Ear Creek that
Major Long passed in 1820 in his futile search for the Red
Round Mound, 588 miles. A notable landmark and
important as a guide before the route became established.
The earlier track lay a little south of the mound, but in
Gregg's time it was established on the north side. The
height of the mound above the plain was six,hundred and
ten feet and the elevation above sea level 6,655 ^ee^»
Rock Creek, 596 miles.
Point of Rocks, 615 miles.
Rio Colorado, 635 miles, elevation about 6,486 feet.
This stream was supposed to be the upper course of Red
river until 1820 when Major Long discovered that it was
the upper course of the Canadian.
Ocate Creek, 641 miles.
Santa Clara Spring, near Wagon Mound, 662 miles. It
was here that the mountain branch from Bent's Fort/
rejoined the main trail.
Rio Mora, 684 miles.    Last of the Canadian waters.
Rio Gallinas, 704 miles. The first abode of white men
in Gregg's time — a Mexican ranchero — was encountered
here.    The road was now in a mountainous country.
Ojo de Bernal Spring, 721 miles.
San Miguel, J27 miles, the first settlement of consequence
before reaching Santa Fe.
Pecos Village, 750 miles.
SANTA FE, 775 miles.
From the Cimarron river to Santa Clara Spring the
geographical nomenclature has not changed much since the
Trail was used, for civilization has never taken kindly to
these inhospitable wastes. Over much of the distance the
old road can still be followed. From near the point where
the mountain branch joined the main trail the Atchison,
Topeka and Santa Fe railroad now follows very closely the
old route to Santa Fe.
The principal point on the mountain branch of the Santa
Fe Trail was
Bent's Fort,s 530 miles. This was in every respect one
of the most important situations in the West, and the post
ranked with Union, Pierre and Laramie in thoroughness of
construction. It was the great cross roads station of the
southwest. The north and south route between the Platte
river country and Santa Fe, and the east and west route up
the Arkansas and into the mountains found this their most
natural trading point.
This branch of the Trail crossed the river very nearly
where La Junta now stands, and thence ran south, crossing
Raton Pass, and joined the main trail at Santa Clara Spring
near Mora river. The mountain branch of the Santa Fe
Trail has been closely followed by the "Santa Fe route" of
the present day.
8 See list of posts, Appendix F.
Bent and St. Vrain was the name of one of the most important of the
fur trading firms. It ranked next to the American Fur Company in
the amount of business that it transacted in the period about 1840. It
maintained two posts, Bent's Fort, on the Arkansas, sometimes called
Fort William, for William Bent, and a post on the South Platte
opposite the mouth of St. Vrain Fork.
The Bent family was well known both in St. Louis and throughout
the southwest. Silas Bent was born in Massachusetts in 1744; came
to St. Louis in 1804; held important offices in St. Louis, and died in
1827. He had seven sons, of whom the most distinguished were
William and Charles who built the post on the Arkansas. After the
War with Mexico Charles Bent was made governor of New MexidBL
but was murdered in Taos soon after. In 1852 William Bent destroyed!
Bent's Fort and built another farther down stream called Bent's New
Ceran St. Vrain was also of a family well known in the history of
St. Louis. His father came to America in 1770 and in later years
moved to St. Louis, where he married and passed the rest of his life.
He died in 1818, leaving five sons, of whom the most distinguished
was the one who became the Santa Fe trader. No biographies of
either the St. Vrain or the Bent brothers have been written.
A distinguished trader on the Santa Fe Trail was Josiah Gregg, who,
like many another, went to the plains for his health, and becoming
enamored of the life went into business there. His distinction, however, is rather that of historian than of a trader. It would be a grave
omission not to refer more particularly to his splendid work, the
Commerce of the Prairies. Written by one who was both a student
and a practical man of affairs, fond of philosophic speculations yet
accustomed to the shrewd ways of business, it is discriminating, comprehensive and free from exaggeration. It is the classic of the Santa
Fe Trail, well arranged and admirably written. Although limited in
scope, it fills its particular niche so completely that it is entitled to rank
as one of the great works of American history.
Chouteau and De Munn — Surgery on the Plains — Murder of
McNees and Munroe — Death of Captain John Means — Attacks on the
Caravan of 1829 — Death of Jedediah S. Smith.
^*HE Santa Fe trade was not distinguished for thrilling
^■^ annals, and the greater part of it was as uneventful as
the most prosaic modern business. Still it was inevitable
that, in the course of twenty years in a country like that over
which the caravans passed, incidents of historic note should
occur. A few such are presented in this chapter, all of
them authentic. They are given in the chronological order
of their occurrence.
In May, 1817, Auguste P. Chouteau and Julius De Munn
with their party of hunters and trappers were forcibly taken
from their encampment on the Arkansas river, escorted to
Santa Fe, confined there forty-eight days, part of the time
in irons, and then tried and set at liberty, with the forfeiture
of all their property. The details of this trial are curious
enough to justify repetition. The simple and direct narrative written by De Munn himself can not well be improved
upon. I
" After forty-eight days' imprisonment," he relates, 1 we
were presented before a courtmartial composed of six members and a president who was the governor himself.
[Pedro Maria de Allande.]    Only one of the six members
appeared to have any information, the others not even knowing how to sign their names. Many questions were asked,
but particularly why we had stayed so long in Spanish
dominions. I answered that, being on the Arkansas river
we did not consider ourselves in the domains of Spain, as we
had a license to go as far as the headwaters of said river.
The president denied that our government had a right to
give such a license, and entered into such a rage that it prevented his speaking, contenting himself with striking his fist
several times on the table, saying, 'Gentlemen, we must have
this man shot/
" At such conduct of the president I did not think much
of my life, for all the members were terrified in his presence,
and unwilling to resist him; on the contrary [were ready]
to do anything to please him.
"He talked much of a big river that was the boundary line
between the two countries, but did not know its name.
When mention was made of the Mississippi he jumped up
saying that that was the big river he meant; that Spain had
never ceded the west side of it. It may be ea^sy to judge of
our feelings to see our lives in the hands of such a man.
" That day the court did not come to any determination,
because the president (as I heard him say to Lieutenant
de Arce) had forgotten everything he had to say. Next
day we were again presented to the court, but as I knew the
kind of man we had to deal with, I never attempted to justify myself of any of his false assertions. We were dismissed and Mr. Chouteau and myself put in the same room.
" Half an hour afterward the lieutenant came in with a
written sentence; we were forced to kneel down to hear the
citure of it, and forced, likewise, to kiss the unjust and
iniquitous sentence that deprived harmless men of all they
possessed — of the fruits of two years' labors and perils.
" What appears the more extraordinary is that the governor acknowledged to me afterward in the presence of Don
Piedro Piero, the deputy of New Mexico to the Cortes, and
several others, that we were very innocent men; yet notwith-
standing this all our property was kept and we were permitted to come home, each with one of the worst horses we
had."1 .»! |     teg
William Waldo is authority for the following anecdote
relating to this event: ". Chouteau, having been brought up
in the city of St. Louis, which in its early history had perhaps more Spanish inhabitants than those of any other
nationality, spoke the Spanish language, which enabled him
to communicate freely with the authorities and priests [of
Santa Fe]. His superior powers of conversation and his
courtly address so captivated the Spanish governor that he
would frequently have the Colonel carried from the prison
to his house to amuse him and entertain him. On one of
these occasions, when the governor had favored his visitor
with a long catalogue of his numerous benefactions in his
behalf, he paused and with great earnestness demanded what
more he would have. The Colonel quietly replied 'Mi Lib-
ertad, Sefior Gobernador!' This so incensed the boastful
magistrate that the prisoner was quickly ordered back to his
vile cell."2
When the caravan of 1826 was wending its way up the
valley of the Arkansas, one' of its members, a Mr. Broadus,
while in the act of drawing his rifle from the wagon, accidentally discharged it into his arm. The wound was a dangerous one and the man was advised to have his arm
amputated at once before mortification should set in. He
persistently refused until the wound had become so bad that
all hope of doing anything for it was abandoned. In this
predicament the man concluded to have the operation performed, and finally got some of the party to undertake it.N
1 Letter from Julius De Munn to Governor William Clark, dated St.
Louis, November 25, 1817. This was before the treaty defining the
boundary between Spain and the United States, which was completed
in 1819.
2 MSS. 135, Missouri Historical Society.
It is said that Kit Carson, then on his first trip across the
plains, was one of the "surgeons." Their only instruments
were a handsaw, a butcher knife and an iron bolt. The saw
teeth being too coarse, a finer set were filed on the back.
"The knife having been whetted keen, and the iron bolt laid
upon the fire, they commenced the operation; and in less time
than it takes to tell it, the arm was opened round to the bone,
which was almost in an instant sawed off; and with the whizzing hot iron the whole stump was so effectually seared as to
close the arteries completely. Bandages were now applied
and the company proceeded on their journey as though nothing had occurred. The arm commenced healing rapidly and
in a few weeks the patient was sound and well."    (Gregg.)
In the summer of 1828 two men, citizens of Franklin, Missouri, and traders to Santa Fe, were killed on the Trail by
the Pawnees while on their return home. Their names were
Daniel Munroe and one McNees, a son of Samuel C. McNees, of Franklin. The exact circumstances of their death
are not known, but it is supposed that they had lain down to
sleep near the caravan and that the Indians stole upon them
and shot them with their own guns. McNees was found
lifeless and was buried on the banks of a stream which still
bears his name. Munroe was still alive and was carried
with the caravan upwards of forty miles before he died.
He was buried in the valley of the Cimarron.
The men were deeply incensed at this outrage and took
vengeance on what seems to have been an entirely innocent
party. Just as Munroe's funeral ceremonies were concluded
a band of six or seven Indians appeared on the other side of
the Cimarron. They asked for a parley, but quickly perceived the hostile attitude of the traders and turned about to
flee. The traders fired and killed all but one. Thus an act of
base murder by the Indians and one of indiscriminate
revenge by the whites added another to the catalogue of bar-
barities which has ever characterized the relations of the
white man and the Indian.
Another fatality occurred in the year 1828 and this time
also with a returning party. The date is confirmed by the
Missouri Intelligencer of October 24, 1828, which states that
the company comprised about twenty-five persons. The
details of the affair are condensed from Inman, who claims
to have them from those who took part in it. The party was
a small one consisting of only twenty-one men, one hundred
and fifty mules, five wagons and a small amount of specie.
At the upper Cimarron springs they were surrounded by a
large band of Comanches who ordered the whites to camp
with them for the night. They decided that this would be
suicidal and resolved to make their way ahead in spite of the
Indians. Captain Means, a man named Ellison and another
man named Bryant brought up the rear of the wagons.
When the Indians saw that the whites were resolved to proceed, they attacked them at once. Ellison and Bryant
escaped, but Means was instantly shot down and scalped
before life had left his body. The party then continued
their route by short stages, constantly beset by the Indians,
but escaping with no more disastrous loss than the serious
wounding of one of their number. At length they got to
such a desperate strait that it was resolved to abandon the
wagons and a portion of the specie. Taking whatever property they could with them and about ten thousand dollars
specie, they set out quietly at night, and by traveling all the
next day and into the following night they reached the
Arkansas. Here they cached the rest of their specie to
lighten their load. By the time they arrived at Walnut-
creek they were so exhausted that they despaired of reaching the settlements, and dispatched five of the most able-
bodied of their number to Independence for help. A rescue
party was immediately formed and sent off after the sufferers, who were picked up, scattered along the Trail, some-
times one in a place, sometimes two, but all on the verge of
One writer states that the specie was cached on Chouteau Island and that in the following year the party went
back with the spring caravan under escort of the United
States troops and that Major Riley, from his camp a little
below the Island, sent a detachment to help recover the specie; but Cooke, who has left an account of the expedition,
makes no mention of it.3
This was the caravan that was under the escort of United
States troops between Council Grove and the ford of the
81 suspect that Inman, who was much better at telling stories than he
was at telling facts, has mixed the incident in which Means lost his
life with another which is reported in the Missouri Republican of
March 5, 1833. According to this last authority a number of men
arrived in St. Louis from Santa Fe on the 2nd of March of that year.
While on their way home with a party of twelve traders they were
attacked on the Canadian some two hundred miles from Santa Fe by
about two hundred Comanches. The attack occurred about January
1, 1833, and lasted thirty-two hours. A tinner by the name of Pratte
was killed while trying to catch a mule at a little distance from camp.
The party tied their mules to a tree and intrenched themselves as
quickly as possible. During this time a Mr. Mitchell of Boone county
was killed. About midnight the party tried to get away, but were
driven back. The fight continued all of the next day, by which time
the whites had expended all of their ammunition and most of them
were wounded. They had almost given up when they were most unexpectedly hailed by the Indians, who told them in Spanish that they
might go. It is probable that the Indians had also given up hope of
The horses and mules of the whites had all been killed and they
were compelled to abandon their property, including about $12,000 of
specie. The next day after leaving the battle ground they separated,
one part taking the nearest cut to the settlements and the other going
down the river. They suffered incredible hardships. It was winter
time and most of them were wounded. They were likewise nearly
destitute of clothing, and being without ammunition, could not procure
The fate of the other division of the party is not known, but evidently
none of them were lost.
Arkansas, and under Mexican escort from Santa Fe to the
Arkansas on the return trip. The American escort under
Major Riley stopped at the ford of the Arkansas and the
traders were cautioned to keep close together, as there was
no danger so long as they did not permit stragglers to get
away from the main party. In culpable disregard of this
wholesome precaution several traders rode on in advance,
and when in a narrow defile were beset by about fifty Indians. The traders fled precipitately, but one, a Mr.
Lamme, who was mounted on a mule, was overtaken and
slain. His companions showed very little courage in thus
abandoning him when a slight show of resistance would
probably have enabled him to escape. The unfortunate
trader was a resident of Franklin county, Missouri, and the
principal proprietor of the caravan.
The return caravan was escorted to the Arkansas by Mexican troops commanded by Colonel Viscara. While in the
valley of the Cimarron they were attacked by the Indians;
Cooke says by Arapahoes and Comanches; Gregg says Gros
Ventres. A party of about one hundred and twenty Indians
approached on foot. The traders were opposed to admitting
any friendly intercourse, but Viscara received them amicably
and permitted them to camp near by. He promised the
traders that the Indians should be disarmed, but they were
too sharp for him and most of them retained their weapons.
When an opportune moment arrived they sprang up with a
frightful yell and commenced the attack. They seemed
especially bent on killing the Mexican commander, and one
of the chiefs, when only a few feet away, leveled his gun to
fire. A Taos Indian, one of the Colonel's bodyguard, seeing his master's danger, sprang in between him and the chief
and received the contents of the gun in his own heart. A n
brother of this Indian sprang like a tiger at the chief and
slew him upon the spot. An officer and two of the soldiers
were killed but none of the traders were injured. The latter
joined with the troops in repulsing the attack, which was
easily accomplished, after which the Indians were relent-
lessly pursued and killed wherever overtaken. It is said
that the pursuers displayed true savage barbarity in the vindictive way in which they wreaked vengeance upon these
Indians and that they went back to the States with human
scalps dangling to their horses' bridles.
Of all the tragedies of the Santa Fe Trail the most deplorable is that in which this Christian hero of the wilderness
met an untimely death on the banks of the thirsty Cimarron.
In the spring of 1831 Smith, Jackson and Sublette, having
sold their business in the mountains to the Rocky Mountain
Fur Company, entered the Santa Fe trade. With a large
and costly expedition of some twenty wagons and eighty
men, said to have been the finest outfit ever yet sent to Santa
Fe, these veteran traders set out, never doubting that their
long experience would enable them to cope with the dangers
of the route. Everything went well to the ford of the Arkansas, for there was a plain track all the way. But it was
very different on the desert waste between the Arkansas and
the Cimarron. There was not a person with them who had
been over the route before, and they now found themselves
in a featureless country with no track of any kind except buffalo trails which crossed each other in the most confusing directions. The alluring mirage deceived and exasperated the
men, and after two days of fruitless wanderings, with animals dying and men frantic for water, the condition of things
seemed well-nigh desperate. In this emergency Smith
declared that he would find water or perish in the attempt.
He was a bold and fearless man and unhesitatingly sallied
forth alone for the salvation of the caravan. Following a
buffalo trail for several miles he came upon the valley of the
Cimarron, but only to find it destitute of water. He knew
enough of the character of these streams, however, to believe
that there was water near the surface, and he accordingly
scooped out a little hollow into which, indeed, the water
began to  collect.    Meanwhile some  stealthy  Comanches,
whom Smith had not observed, were stealing upon him, and
while he was in the act of stooping down to drink, mortally
wounded him with several arrows. He rose and displayed
his undaunted spirit in resisting his savage foes to the last,
and killed two of them before he expired. The spot where
he fell was never precisely known and no grave protects the
earthly remains of this Christian and knightly adventurer.
A sadder fate or a more heroic victim the parched wastes of
the desert never knew.4
* Authorities Gregg, Cooke and Waldo.
  ^xu..mij-jiiji i, 11 .»i
P^RT 777.      J
THE  WAR  OF   l8l2.
Effect of the war on the Missouri Fur Trade — Influence upon the
Indians — Speech of Big Elk — The work of Manuel Lisa — Commission to treat with the Indians — The " One-eyed | Sioux — Lieutenant
Kennedy's journey.
'^'HE War of 1812, so humiliating in many of its phases
^" to American pride, affected the trans-Mississippi fur
trade only on the Columbia and the upper Missouri rivers.
The irretrievablenruirTwhieh it wrought to American interests on the Pacific hasbeen considered m another part of
this work. Its effect on the Missouri trade was to curtail its
volumeTm a large degree, both on account of the diminished
territory in which it was carried on, and because of the fall
of prices due to the uncertainty of the traffic. "Since the
Declaration of War," wrote Charles Gratiot to Astor in
1813, "the traders will not receive any [skins] from the
Indians, that article having fallen in price." And ten
months later he wrote: "In former years, before the war, I
we could calculate on at least one thousand packs [of buffalo
robes] at this time, besides beaver and other different sorts
of furs. But from the unsettled situation of the Indians
during the war, particularly the last winter, the scarcity of
merchandise among them, the dislike the fur traders have to
meddle with that article, the kind of monopoly injurious to
the Indian trade carried on by the factories of the United
States — all these reasons induce me to suppose that it will
not be in my power to buy the quantity you want, nor perhaps one-half."
The second and most serious effect of the war was the
general unrest of the tribes within reach of border influence,
j and the imminent danger that the frontier settlements of
Missouri would suffer the horrors of an Indian war. There
was great reason to fear a general uprising of the upper
Missouri tribes, similar to that which embarrassed our government on the headwaters of the Mississippi. British
influence was strong among these tribes, and it was certain
that no efforts would be spared to make the most of it, now
that the two countries were at war. Long before the outbreak of hostilities British emissaries were evidently making
ready for it. " Your Excellency will remember," wrote