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Tuesday, October 9

Along the Santa Fe Trail (Glenn Miller)

Long before I-20, I-40, or I-70, the Santa Fe Trail was America’s first commercial highway.  In 1821, traders established a 900 mile long trail that connected Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It served as the main thoroughfare for trade and travel until the completion of the Santa Fe railroad, and it was a major player in America's Westward Expansion.

After the War of 1812, a Missouri trader named William Becknell learned that Mexico was open for trade, and he loaded up a group of men and wagon train of good to trade and headed for New Mexico.  On the original route, the men followed the Arkansas River to Colorado and then the Raton Mountain Pass into Santa Fe.  They were positively met and encouraged to return with more goods for trading.

As they set back home, the men looked for, and found, a faster route - the soon-popular Cimarron Route - on the Santa Fe Trail.  This route followed the Arkansas River to Cimarron (Dodge City), Kansas before turning into Oklahoma's panhandle and skirting into New Mexico.  The route was about 100 miles shorter than the original route, but came with the added difficulty of Indian raids and being in the desert (leading to water shortage issues).

To aid weary travelers, respite locations were developed along the trail.  These included Bent's Fort, along the Arkansas River, which was originally a fur trading post.  When it had to be abandoned (due to disease), a new site, named Bent's New Fort, was built downriver.  The new fort was a trading post, as well as a meeting site for Indian tribes and government men.  The military even used the site, renaming it Fort Wise (also Fort Fauntleroy).

The military used the fort during the Mexican-American War, as the Americans occupied New Mexico, and then used it as an outpost during the Civil War. The trail stayed very busy with immigration, fortune seekers for the gold rushes, stagecoach travel, and as part of the Pony Express.  Ultimately, however, the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880 led to the demise of the Santa Fe Trail.  Covered wagons couldn't compete with speeding trains.


Santa Fe Trail unit :

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