1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 1 Part 2

CHAPTER VIII

THE SANTA FE TRAIL

The Santa Fe Trail was one of those natural routes sometimes found between countries far separated. The physical conformation of the Southwest made this road a commercial highway. Over its course - at least, over courses approximating its final location - savage tribes had migrated and warred and traded for many generations before America was discovered. It could not be otherwise. For some definite way was necessary from the mouth of the Kansas River across the Prairies, and Great Plains to the depressions in the mountain systems of Western North America. The breaking down of these mountain chains produced the arid lands and desert regions found in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. To the southward the Great Plains emerged into those countries and the El Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain, of the Panhandle of Texas.

In the evolution of the human race man passed through his various periods of development in ways now seen to have constituted nature itself. Fish was his first artificial food - for it had to be cooked to become fully available. And it is probable that man first utilized fire when he turned to this food. To procure fish for food, man, in the Middle Status of Savagery, followed the shores and streams of the world and spread over the whole earth. So streams were the first routes of continental or inland travel coursed by man. Certain points of departure from one stream to another became recognized as having superior advantages. This superiority of locations seems also to have been natural to the intuition of animals, for they well knew the easy grades and the fords and best crossing-places. They, in common with man, sought the most natural ways from stream to stream, and the lowest gaps and depressions through the mountains and over the countries which constituted their habitats and ranges. In some lands rivers became sacred - some instances of which remain to this day. In those primal days the Missouri River, in common with others, was, no doubt, traversed by primitive man. He ascended it - descended it. He dwelt on its shores for generations and ages. As he increased in mental power and in numbers other sources of food-supply developed. In pursuit of these he began to explore and travel from its shores. As his geographical knowledge was increased and his own powers were augmented, intercourse with other tribes began. The point on the Missouri River from which the country we call the Southwest was most easily reached was the mouth of the Kansas. There the Missouri makes its great turn, the big bend, and strikes eastward to meet the Mississippi. It is the nearest point made by the Missouri to the Prairies and Great Plains. In fact, the Prairies there touch it for the first time in its ascent. From that point the trails departed, and to that point they converged. Coming out from the depressions in the continental mountain ranges of the West, the Missouri was first and most easily reached at the mouth of the Kansas River. These causes combined to make and establish that ancient continental way which the white man came to call the Santa Fe Trail. It was a highway, old and well-trod, when Coronado passed down it upon his return from Quivira.

The Spaniards, on their various expeditions into and over the Great Plains, always traveled portions of the Trail. The first Americans to follow it were the pioneer hunters and trappers. The French traders, no doubt, transported goods for Indian barter over the Trail when individual effort represented the extent of the commerce of the Great Plains. Pike followed it up the Arkansas, and Long followed it down the same stream.

The Santa Fe Trail, in the days of its greatest fame, extended from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, the capital city or seat of Government of the province of New Mexico. Between these points there were practically no settlements of white people, and, indeed, few permanent Indian towns. The City of Santa Fe was founded about 1610, the exact date being unknown. It is in the valley of a small stream which flows westward into the Rio Grande, some sixteen miles away. It was not laid out on any definite plan, the streets of the old town straggling to all quarters. In the prosperous days of the Santa Fe trade, it contained about three thousand inhabitants. The houses were constructed of adobe, and as they glimmered in the desert sun, they appeared to be but so many brick kilns. For the site was treeless, and dust and sand were whirled up there in clouds with every breeze. There is some vague Indian tradition that in prehistoric times there was an Indian pueblo on the site of Santa Fe. The background and setting of the town are incomparable. Bold mountains rise almost to the regions of perpetual snow, and the climate is said to be as near perfection as any in America. Under direction of the Americans, it has become a modern and enterprising city - just as New Mexico has become a prosperous and progressive commonwealth.

Under both Spanish and Mexican rule the province of New Mexico contained a population low in the scale of human intelligence. That this deplorable condition was justly chargeable to the Government goes without saying. Travelers tell us that the people were below the native Indians in virtue and morality. They were priest-ridden, and buried in the grossest ignorance and superstition. The priests were first in vice. They fixed the fees for performing the ceremony of marriage at such an exhorbitant sum that few could pay them, forcing most families to rest on voluntary and criminal connexions outside the pale of both the Church and the law. There was, in fact, no law, as Americans understand that term. In theory there was a reversion to ancient Latin Statutes, but no one knew what these were, nor cared. There were the rudest elements of a corrupt administration of indistinct legal customs modified by degeneracy since their importation from Spain two centuries before. Corruption pervaded the public service, and ingenious rascality often won for a man a position of consequence.

In trade with Northern Mexico, however, all the weakness and inefficiency did not lie on one side. Historians of the trade are agreed on one point - that the American consular and diplomatic service in Mexico was the most servile ever maintained by any nation. It was a disgrace. The murder of many American citizens resulted from it, and other Americans who were so unfortunate as to be under the necessity of availing themselves of its so-called aid were humiliated beyond expression and were unable to have any attention whatever given to their affairs. The course of our Government, in this respect, was not lost upon the people of Mexico. They soon learned that American citizens might be robbed and outraged with impunity. Very rarely could an American official in Mexico be induced to give even the least attention to any effort at redress of the grossest indignities heaped upon American citizens transacting business there. Our country was held in the most supreme contempt by the Government and people of Mexico - and justly so. Our diplomatic standing there was regarded as about on a level with that of San Domingo. And the American traders overland with Northern Mexico had the full benefit of this miserable policy.

No complete history of the Santa Fe trade and trail can be attempted in this work. But a brief review of some of the most important transactions of both will be given.

When the Spaniards owned Louisiana they had some thought of developing the overland trade between New Mexico and that province. In May, 1792, one Pedro Vial was sent from Santa Fe to Governor Caron at St. Louis to open communications for that purpose. He was instructed to keep a daily account of his journey, and to note carefully his course. He was given two Pecos Indians for companions, and four horses to transport baggage. He went by the way of Pecos, and from thence to the Canadian - known to him as Colorado River - Red River. He intended to reach the "Nepeste River, which we call in French the Arkansas River." The Arkansas was reached on the 27th of May at a point in the great bend, for the stream flowed "east northeast." On the 29th they fell in with a party of Kansas Indians and were in danger of losing their lives. They were made captive and taken to the Kansas town, on the Kansas River. There they remained until the 16th of September, when they departed in a pirogue with three French traders going to St. Louis, where they arrived on the 6th of October. It does not appear that this effort to open communications overland between the two Spanish provinces bore fruit. No document has been found giving further account of it.

The descriptions of the Great Southwest written by Lieutenant Pike and published in the Journals of his explorations stirred the border of that day. They were accounts of two men who had undertaken some vague mercantile adventures to the Spanish province of New Mexico. The first of these was Baptiste LaLande, a native of Upper Louisiana. William Morrison, a Pennsylvanian, had settled at Kaskaskia in 1790 and established there a profitable mercantile business. It occurred to him that trade might be developed between Louisiana and Northern Mexico. He accordingly sought the services of LaLande, who probably was a French trader to the Indian tribes of the Missouri country - most likely on the Platte. He must have possessed more than ordinary qualifications for conducting trade and a reputation for integrity, for Morrison furnished him with a trading supply which he was to carry to New Mexico for sale or barter there. That LaLande had previously operated along the Platte is evident from his course. He ascended that river in 1804 to reach Santa Fe. There he set up in business for himself with the goods of Morrison. One of the matters Lieutenant Pike carried for adjustment was the claim of Morrison against LaLande. But, LaLande, learning of the presence of the Americans in New Mexico, sought them in the character of a spy against the Spaniards - whether in good faith was not known. Later he entered the plea of poverty and inability to pay the claim of Morrison - and he never did pay it, though he left a large estate to numerous descendants.

Pike found another resident of Santa Fe who had come from the country east of the Mississippi. James Pursley was probably born in Kentucky, for in 1799 he arrived, from Bardstown in that state, in Missouri. He engaged in the business of hunting and trapping. In the pursuit of this calling he joined a party in 1802 to hunt on the head waters of the Osage. In that savage region he was robbed of his equipment and compelled to set out on his return to the settlements about St. Louis. He reached the Missouri, which he was descending in a canoe, when he met a party coming up, on the way to the Indian hunting-grounds. - He was induced to join this new expedition, and he went as a member of it to the Comanches and Kiowas. These Indians were attacked by the Sioux and driven into the Rocky Mountains. From this retreat the Indians sent Pursley to the Spanish settlements to arrange for trade. Once at Santa Fe, he could not bring himself to return to his savage partners. He took up the trade of carpenter in that capital and followed it for many years. He returned to St. Louis in 1824, but whether he remained there is not known.

In 1812 James Baird, believing that the prohibitive restrictions against foreign trade had been removed by the declaration of Mexican Independence of Hidalgo in 1810, organized an expedition to trade with Santa Fe. Among his associates were Samuel Chambers and Robert McKnight; and there were perhaps a dozen more. They crossed the Plains, following the directions laid down by Lieutenant Pike, and finally reached Santa Fe. There they found that Americans were especially obnoxious to the Spaniards. They were arrested. Their goods and other property were confiscated. They were carried to Chihuahua and cast into prison, where they suffered many hardships and indignities at the hands of the Mexicans. They did not regain their liberty until the rise of the Mexican Revolution in 1821.

The expedition of A. P. Chouteau and Julius De Munn was little more fortunate that that of Baird and his associates. At the beginning of the season for traveling on the prairies and plains in 1815 these gentlemen agreed to trade as partners on the Upper Arkansas. They were delayed in the perfection of their arrangements, and it was not until September that their venture was gotten under way. On the 10th of that month they left St. Louis in company with Mr. Phillebert, who had made a successful voyage of trade to the mountains in 1813, and was now desirous of repeating that success. He, however, sold out his goods and equipment to Chouteau and De Munn, but he seems to have remained as one of the party on the journey. He had a quantity of furs in the mountains which he had not yet carried out, and these were probably stored on the Huerfano, for he had selected that creek as his rendezvous. The expedition did not arrive at this rendezvous until the 8th of December. They found the place deserted but for some Indians, who said the men had waited for Phillebert until convinced he would not return, when they had taken all his property and gone to Taos. De Munn followed them there, and not securing permission from the Spanish authorities to hunt on the head waters of the Rio Grande, he took the men who had been in the service of Phillebert to the camp on the Huerfano. From that point he and Phillebert set out for St. Louis to bring up additional supplies, leaving Chouteau to do a winter's work as trader and trapper. He was to bring the fruits of his effort to the mouth of the Kansas River the next spring to meet his partner. On the way down he was attacked by a band of two hundred Pawnees and forced to take refuge on an island in the Arkansas River. This island was just west of the present town of Hartland, in Kearny County, Kansas. From this incident the island was called Chouteau's Island. The Chouteaus never had a trading post there, as is said by some writers.

The expedition of Glenn to Santa Fe arrived there in 1821, but as it ascended to the mountains by circuitous route. from the mouth of the Verdegris, little pertaining to Kansas was connected with it.

The first successful venture to Santa Fe over the Santa Fe Trail was made by Captain William Becknell. With him, according to Gregg, were "four trusty companions." They left Arrow Rock, on the Missouri, near Franklin, but in Saline County, September 1, 1821. On the 13th of November they met a troop of Mexican soldiers, who prevailed upon them to voluntarily go, in their company, to Santa Fe, whither they were returning. At San Miguel they found a Frenchman who acted as interpreter for them. They were accorded a friendly reception at Santa Fe, and provided the facilities necessary to dispose of their goods. These sold at such rates as astonished the Missourians, calicoes and domestic cotton cloth bringing as much as three dollars a yard. The enterprise proved most remunerative. The party set out on the return journey on the 13th of December and reached home in forty-eight days.

That adventure may be said to have established the Santa Fe trade, and Captain Becknell has justly been called the father of the Santa Fe Trail, for that which he followed was accepted as The Trail from the Missouri River to Santa Fe.

The favorable termination of the trading-journey of Captain Becknell being extensively told on the borders of Missouri, others determined to engage in that commerce. Colonel Benjamin Cooper organized a company which left Franklin for Santa Fe early in May, 1822. His nephews, Braxton, and Stephen Cooper, were members of the party, which numbered some fifteen souls. They carried goods to the value of some five thousand dollars to Taos, using pack-horses. The result of the expedition must have been satisfactory for the Coopers remained in the trade for some years, Braxton Cooper meeting his death at the hands of the Comanches some years after this first trip across the Plains.

Captain Becknell was resolved to continue in the trade which had given him such good returns. Within a month after the departure of Colonel Cooper he again took the trail from Franklin to Santa Fe. The value of his cargo was about five thousand dollars, and there were thirty men in the expedition. On this journey he abandoned the use of packhorses and used for his transportation, wagons drawn by mules - the first wagon-train over the Santa Fe Trail and the first to cross the Great Plains. It was four years before Ashley took his wheel-mounted cannon into the valley of the Great Salt Lake, eight years before Smith, Jackson & Sublette went into the Wind River country with wagons, and ten years before Captain Bonneville drove wagons into the valley of Green River. This first caravan to depart from the usual means of transportation used three wagons.

This second expedition of Captain Becknell was the pioneer party over the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail. Captain Beckneil had, through his travels, conceived the true geography of the Southwest. It was plain to him that the nearest way to Santa Fe from the Arkansas River was to the southwest by the Cimarron. When he had arrived at that point afterwards known as the "Caches" he turned south. He was not familiar with the country which he was entering. It bore a desert aspect and proved entirely destitute of water between the Arkansas and the Cimarron. The supply carried in canteens was exhausted at the end of two days. It seemed that they were destined to die of thirst on those parched and blasted plains. They killed their dogs and cut off the ears of their mules to drink the blood, but this desperate expedient served only to aggravate their suffering. The mirage taunted them with the appearance of water rippling against the shores of false lakes. They had, however, come near the Cimarron without knowing it. They resolved to turn about and try to regain the Arkansas - something they never could have done. In the last extremity, when despair was settling upon them, some of the party observed a buffalo coming up from a depression they had not before seen. It seemed to come up as from the depths and stand upon the burning plain with distended sides - as though gorged with water. It was immediately killed and opened. The stomach was filled with water taken but a few minutes before from the Cimarron. This filthy water was drunk as nectar from paradise. Search was at once made for the stream whence had come this lone providential buffalo, and the Cimarron was found. Water was carried back by the refreshed travelers to those perishing on the desert, and the party was saved. The journey was continued over that route, and water was fortunately found in quantities sufficient to enable the party to reach San Miguel.

The misfortunes of the party under Baird, which went out in 1812, the members of which were imprisoned so many years at Chihuahua, did not quench the passion for trade over the Plains in their leader. In 1822 he induced some adventurers at St. Louis to join him in taking a trading expedition over the Santa Fe Trail. He was joined also by Samuel Chambers, who had aided in securing the cargo to be carried, and who had descended the Canadian in 1821. The expedition consisted of some fifty men and an ample supply of horses and mules. It left Franklin late in the season and was overtaken by severe weather on the Upper Arkansas. It took refuge on an island in that river, no doubt for the reason that it was covered with willow and cottonwood timber. So rigorous did the winter prove that these men were compelled to remain there three months, and most of their animals perished from exposure and starvation. This calamity left them without the means to carry their merchandise into New Mexico. They were under the necessity of concealing their goods there while they went to New Mexico for horses and mules to carry in their lading. They left the island and went up the north bank of the river some distance where they dug pits or "caches" in which they placed their goods, covering them in very carefully. They then went to Taos, where they secured the necessary animals, with which they returned and on which they packed their merchandise to that town. The several pits were left unfilled when the goods were removed, and they stood open there on the Trail for many years. In Gregg's day they were still open and their walls were covered with moss. They came to be a marking point on the Trail, and this point was known as the "Caches." The "Caches" were about five miles west of the present Dodge City, Kansas.

In the year 1823, there is record of but one expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe. Early in May Colonel Cooper left Franklin with two packhorses laden with goods valued at two hundred dollars. He returned the following October with four hundred "jacks, jinnies, and mules" and some bales of furs.

Gregg erroneously dates the commencement of the Santa Fe trade from the year 1824. And he falls into another error in saying that the first wagons were used in the trade that year. At the Franklin Tavern, about the first of April, 1824, there was a meeting to discuss the trade to Santa Fe. The point of assembly for the expedition that year was fixed at Mount Vernon, Missouri, and the time was set for the 5th of May. Each man was to carry a good rifle, a dependable pistol, four pounds of powder eight pounds of lead, and rations for twenty days. The expedition was composed of eighty-one men, one hundred and fifty-six horses and mules, and twenty-five wagons. Thirty thousand dollars was the value of the goods carried. The expedition started on the 15th of May, 1824, crossing the Missouri about six miles above Franklin. The organization for the long journey was effected as soon as the caravan was well under way. A. Le Grand was elected Captain. M. M. Marmaduke, later Governor of Missouri, was one of the party. The Arkansas River was reached on the 10th of June, and the expedition arrived at Santa Fe on the 28th day of July. The financial results of the venture were satisfactory.

It is not necessary to the scope of this work to present, an account of every expedition over the Santa Fe Trail, and it is not the intention to do so. The design is to give a historical review of the Trail which will furnish the student or casual reader of history such information as will establish in his mind a clear but not a detailed outline of this important highway of the Plains.

By the year 1825 the Santa Fe trade had assumed sufficient proportions to attract the attention of Congress. There was also a growing apprehension of the wild Indians of the Plains. While there had been no trader killed on the Trail and no robberies of enough importance to report, there was a gathering of Indians along the way, and it was feared that outrages would be committed. Congress, in the winter of 1824-25, passed a bill (approved March 3, 1825) authorizing the President to have the Santa Fe Trail marked from Missouri to the frontiers of New Mexico. The Commissioners appointed to carry that act into effect were enjoined to secure the consent of the Indians whose lands were infringed, to the survey and marking of the road. For that purpose a treaty was entered into, at Council Grove, between the Great and Little Osages and the Kansas Indians on the 11th day of August, 1825. The object of the treaty and what resulted from it will be best shown by the instrument itself. There were in fact two treaties - one with the Osages and one with the Kansas; As they are identical in terms, except as to the preliminary paragraphs, only that with the Osages is given.

TREATY WITH THE GREAT AND LITTLE OSAGE, 1825

Whereas the Congress of the United States of America, being anxious to promote and direct commercial and friendly intercourse between the citizens of the United States and those of the Mexican Republic, and, to afford protection to the same, did, at their last session, pass an act, which was approved the 3d March, 1825, "To authorize the President of the United States to cause a road to he marked out from the Western frontier of Missouri to the confines of New Mexico," and which authorizes the President of the United States to appoint Commissioners to carry said act of Congress into effect, and enjoins on the Commissioners, so to be appointed, that they first obtain the consent of the intervening tribes of Indians, by treaty, to the marking of said road, and to the unmolested use thereof to the citizens of the United States and of the Mexican Republic; and Benjamin H. Reeves, Geo. C. Sibley, and Thomas Mather, Commissioners duly appointed as aforesaid, being duly and fully authorized, have this day met the Chiefs and Head Men of the Great and Little Osage Nations, who being all duly authorized to meet and negotiate with the said Commissioners upon the premises, and being especially met for that purpose, by the invitation of said Commissioners, at the place called Council Grove, on the river Nee-o-zho, one hundred and sixty miles southwest from Fort Osage have, after due deliberation and consultation, agreed to the following treaty, which is to be considered binding on the said Great and Little Osages from and after this day:

ARTICLE 1

The Chiefs and Head Men of the Great and Little Osages, for themselves and their nations, respectively, do consent and agree that the Commissioners of the United States shall and may survey and mark out a road, in such manner as they may think proper, through any of the territory owned or claimed by the said Great and Little Osage Nations.

ARTICLE 2

The Chiefs and Head Men, as aforesaid, do further agree that the road authorized in article 1, shall when marked, be forever free for the use of the citizens of the United States and of the Mexican Republic, who shall at all times pass and repass thereon, without any hindrance or molestation on the part of the said Great and Little Osages.

ARTICLE 3

he Chiefs and Head Men as aforesaid, in consideration of the friendly relations existing between them and the United States, further promise, for themselves and their people, that they will, on all fit occasions, render such friendly aid and assistance as may be in their power, to any of the citizens of the United States, or of the Mexican Republic, as they may at any time happen to meet or fall in with on the road aforesaid.

ARTICLE 4

The Chiefs and Head Men, as aforesaid, do further consent and agree that the road aforesaid shall be considered as extending to a reasonable distance on either side, so that travellers thereon may, at any time, leave the marked track, for the purpose of finding subsistence and proper camping places.

ARTICLE 5

In consideration of the privileges granted by the Chiefs of the Great and Little Osages in the three preceding articles, the said Commissioners on the part of the United States have agreed to pay to them, the said Chiefs, for themselves and their people, the sum of five hundred dollars; which sum is to be paid them as soon as may be, in money or merchandise, at their option, at such place as they may desire.

1918 Kansas and Kansans Previous Section Next Section


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

[TOC] [Biog. Index] [1918 Index] [KSGenWeb] [Archives]
Tom & Carolyn Ward
Columbus, KS

tcward@columbus-ks.com

Background and KSGenWeb logo were designed and are copyrighted by
Tom & Carolyn Ward
for the limited use of the KSGenWeb Project.
Permission is granted for use only on an official KSGenWeb page.
The USGenWeb Logo was designed by Linda Cole.

Last updated 1998


Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
including
The KSGenWeb Project