Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Santa Fe Trail

On this day in 1821, Missouri Indian trader William Becknell arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In an effort to recover from financial problems William Bucknell , lead a team of mules west from Franklin, Missouri. The mules were loaded with goods he planned to take through plains Indian territory (what is now Kansas) to the Mexican city of Santa Fe. The trip was long and hard but trading was good. Becknell returned home with money in his pockets and tales of the friendly people and the different lifestyle of Santa Fe. 
In 1822 and again in 1824 Bucknell, this time with wagons, he chartered his second course over the Cimarron Desert, which would later be known as the Cimarron Cutoff. Though the shorter this route provided less water, it saved the travelers ten days by cutting southwest across the Cimarron Desert to Santa Fe. 
"Santa Fe Trail, Cimarron Route" by Wayne Cooper
Travelers risked attacks by Native Americans in addition to the shortages of water. Despite the hazards, the shorter route would end up carrying 75% of the later Santa Fe Trail pioneers.
In 1825, Becknell helped map the trail for surveyors hired by the U.S. Congress. For his efforts in opening up an improved route for regular traffic and military movement, Becknell became known as the Father of the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1827 Becknell was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Saline county, Missouri. The following year he was elected to the first of two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. Retaining his rank of Captain, Becknell served in the Missouri state militia during a Native American uprising in 1829 and again during the 1832 Black Hawk War.

In 1835 Becknell sold all his Missouri property and business interests and moved to present-day Red River County, Texas in northeast Texas. During the Texas War of Independence, Becknell organized and led a cavalry unit known as the Red River Blues. Later he would serve briefly as a Texas Ranger and as a member of the legislature in the newly established Republic of Texas.

Becknell died on April 30, 1865, at his home. He is buried in a private family cemetery, a few miles west of Clarksville, Texas.


From 1825 until 1846, the Trail was an international commercial highway used by Mexican and American traders. In 1846, the Mexican-American War began. The Army of the West followed the Santa Fe Trail to invade New Mexico. When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the United States to the new southwest territories. Great caravans of freight wagons dominated the Trail. Commercial freighting as well as considerable military freight hauling to build and supply the new southwestern forts. The trail was also used by stagecoach lines, thousands of gold seekers heading to the California and Colorado gold fields, adventurers, fur trappers, and emigrants. In 1880 the railroad reached Santa Fe and the trail faded into history.
This undocumented photo is believed to show the Cimarron Cutoff on the left and the Mountain Branch on the right? (c. 1860?)


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