The Santa Fe Trail (Cornerstones of Freedom)
What I Learned Section 1 -- Answer the
1. The Santa Fe Trail
runs between which two locations?
a) Nashville and Natchez
b) Missouri and New Mexico
c) Missouri and Oregon
d) San Antonio and Abilene
b) Missouri and New Mexico. The Santa Fe
Trail runs from northeast to southwest between Missouri, and Santa
Fe, New Mexico. At first, the trail started from Franklin, Missouri.
When a flood destroyed Franklin, the trail started from Independence,
In the late 1700's, most of the population
of the United States of America was located near the Atlantic
Ocean. By the early 1800's, settlers and adventurers crossed the
Allegheny Mountains and pushed their way west to the Mississippi
At this time, the Spanish occupied the
territory in the Southwest. Americans believed the Spanish were
hiding treasures and riches, and Americans were eager to explore
The Santa Fe Trail was made up of a series
of different trails. Sometimes these trails would go in different
directions, and sometimes they would cross each other. By the
mid-1800's, wagon wheels cut deep ruts in many places along the
trail. It was made easier to stay on the trail by following these
ruts. Today, most of the ruts have been overgrown with grass.
Some traces of the trail can still be seen.
Did you know
other famous trails are the Oregon Trail and the Chisholm Trail?
Trail took pioneers seeking new homesteads
from Missouri to Oregon. The Chisholm
Trail was used for cattle drives from
San Antonio, Texas, to Abilene, Kansas, for sale to the East.
2. What year did the
Santa Fe Trail open?
1822. William Becknell is credited with opening the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1822, Becknell led five men from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa
Fe. After this journey, Franklin became the starting point of
the Santa Fe Trail. In 1828, a flood destroyed the town of Franklin,
and Independence, Missouri, became the starting point of the Santa
From 1822 to 1879, the Santa Fe Trail provided
a route from Missouri to Santa Fe. It was a commercial trail created
for traders. It opened the Southwest to American trade and provided
fortunes for American traders. In 1879, the Santa Fe Trail closed.
3. How long is the Santa
Fe Trail (in miles or kilometers)?
About 780 miles or 1,260 kilometers. The Santa Fe Trail runs across
the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains. When the Santa Fe Trail
first opened it took several months to travel. Today, it takes
about one and a half days by automobile or two hours by airplane.
4. True or False: The
Santa Fe Trail has a Mountain Route and a Desert Route.
True. The trail William Becknell followed in 1822 became known
as the Mountain Route. It started in Franklin and went west across
Kansas. In the early days, trees lined the creeks and rivers.
Over the years, travelers cut down almost all of the trees for
firewood. Did you know just
west of the Kansas-Missouri border (beyond Olathe, Kansas), the
would later fork to the north taking settlers to the Pacific Ocean?
Travelers then stopped at what later became
Council Grove, Kansas. Teamsters loaded the wagons with goods
and prepared for the journey ahead. Teamsters were people who
drove the wagons. Council Grown was considered the gateway to
the Plains. Today, it is known as "The Rendezvous of the Santa
One hundred miles west of Council Grove
the tall grass of the prairies turned into the short grass of
the Plains. This is where the Plains Indians lived. There were
plenty of buffalo and antelope. The Plains Indians hunted buffalo.
They only killed the buffalo they needed, and they used all of
the buffalo for their everyday lives. The traders also hunted
buffalo. However, the traders usually killed more buffalo than
they needed, and they only used what they needed for food. The
Plains Indians were angered by the waste of the buffalo, and they
attacked the wagon trains. The short grass of the Plains was another
problem for the travelers because it did not provide enough grazing
for the pack animals.
The Arkansas River was the next landmark
on the Santa Fe Trail. It was the half way point of the journey
between Council Grove and Santa Fe. The traders used to sing a
song, "The Arkansas, just halfway/From the States to Santa Fe."
Becknell and his group continued across
Kansas, following the Arkansas River, and into Colorado before
turning south at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They then
followed the Purgatoire River to Raton Pass. From Ration Pass,
the trail went south and swung around the foot of the Sangre de
Cristo Mountains to Santa Fe.
When Becknell's group reached Santa Fe
in 1823, Old Mexico had gained its independence from Spain, and
the citizens of Santa Fe were glad to see the traders. The Mexicans
needed supplies, and the American traders sold their goods at
high prices. Becknell went back to Missouri for more goods.
Becknell wanted to return to Santa Fe with
more goods than the pack animals could carry. He and twenty-two
men loaded up three Conestoga-style wagons with goods. The wagons
were also known as prairie schooners. A schooner is a fast moving
sailing ship, and the wagons resembled a schooner sailing through
the tall prairie grass. The wheels of the wagons were six feet
tall. The wagon held more than two tons of cargo and had curved
canvas tops. At least eight animals were needed to pull one wagon.
Becknell knew his wagons could not cross
the rocky Raton Pass through the Rocky Mountains. Rather than
follow the same Mountain Route, Becknell turned south at Cimarron,
Kansas. This route would later become known as the Desert Route.
It would also be called the Dry Route because there is a 50 mile
stretch were there was no water available. Travelers on this route
would sometimes encounter Comanche Indians.
In the 1820's, there were so many traders
using the Santa Fe Trail that the Mexican government raised tariffs
(or taxes). This decreased the number of traders.
Fighting among the traders and Indians
continued on the Santa Fe Trail. U.S. Army soldiers were sent
to escort caravans. However, these soldiers could not legally
go across the Arkansas River because this land was not part of
the United States.
5. Which of the following
events led to the closure of the Santa Fe Trail in 1879?
a) The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean
b) Forty-niners headed to California for the gold rush
c) The American Civil War ended
d) The railroad reached Santa Fe
d) The railroad reached Santa Fe. In 1849,
the Santa Fe Trail became more crowded as gold seekers traveled
to California for the gold rush. Gold seekers were called "forty-niners"
as a reference to the year, 1849. Did
you know more than 85,000 people went to California
to look for gold? In 1859, gold seekers again used the trail looking
for gold in Colorado.
In 1862, the fighting of the Civil War
reached Santa Fe. Confederate troops from Texas invaded New Mexico,
and seized Santa Fe. The troops planned to seize the entire Southwest
for the Confederacy. The Confederate and Union troops met on the
Santa Fe Trail about 20 miles east of Santa Fe. This location
is known as Pigeon's Ranch. After fighting for six hours, the
Union army defeated the Confederate army in the Battle of Glorieta
In the 1860's and 1870's, railroads were
moving across the United States which brought rapid and permanent
change to the West. Railroads made it quicker and easier to travel,
transport, and settle in the West. New towns popped up almost
over night along the railroad tracks.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad
moved west on a path south of (but generally parallel to) the
Santa Fe Trail. Goods were shipped by rail to the end-of-the-line
town, and then taken down the rest of the Santa Fe Trail in wagons.
With each new end-of-the-line town, the towns behind it lost the
trade business because the goods sped through town on a train.
Many end-of-the-line towns disappeared when the railroad moved
In 1879, Santa Fe became the end-of-the-line.
The headline in the New Mexican newspaper read, "The old Santa
Fe Trail Passes into Oblivion." Today, a granite marker on the
Plaza in Santa Fe proclaims the official end of the trail. The
Santa Fe Trail had been used for almost sixty years, and it brought
the Southwest into the United States.
In 1987, the Santa Fe National Historical
Trail was established by the National Park Service.
What I Learned Section 2 -- Define the
Adobe: Traditional southwestern
bricks made of water, clay, and straw
Barter: To trade in an exchange
of goods rather than for money
Caravan: Group of people or vehicles
Rendezvous: Meeting place
Republic: Form of government in
which the people elect representatives who manage the government
Saddlebag: Covered pouch laid across
the back of horse behind the saddle
Bonus Questions (Answer 1 of the
Following Questions for Your FREE
a. Who was Zebulon Pike?
The first American to explore the Santa Fe Trail in 1806.
Three year before, in 1803, the United
States had purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. This
is called the Louisiana Purchase, and it doubled the size of the
United States. The territory included land from the Mississippi
River to the Rocky Mountains, and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
From 1804 to 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored this
newly acquired area. They traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific
In 1805, Zebulon Pike had traveled northward
to the source of the Mississippi River.
In Spring, 1806, the U.S. Army sent Lieutenant
Pike on a military expedition to explore the Spanish Southwest.
He was twenty-seven years old. Pike and twenty men began in St.
Louis, Missouri. One of these men was a civilian named John Robinson.
Robinson told Pike he wanted to recover goods that had been stolen
from him in the Southwest. It is possible, however, that Robinson
was a spy.
The expedition traveled up the Missouri
River in a keelboat to a location near present-day Kansas City,
Missouri. Then they traveled by horseback.
One of Pike's assignments was to visit
American Indian tribes to make treaties between them and the United
States government. The Pawnee warned Pike a Spanish force of six
hundred men was looking for Pike and his group. Pike did not turn
around. He and his men continued meeting with the different tribes.
Did you know the Pawnee lived
on the prairies in the area between present-day Nebraska and New
In late November, 1806, Pike and his men
reached the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, Pike reached a tall
mountain peak. He tried to climb it, but he did not reach the
top. Today, this mountain is known as Pike's Peak. It is 14,110
Their journey was slowed when they lost
their packhorses and compass in the mountains. They did not have
the appropriate clothing or sufficient amounts of food to survive
the winter in the Rocky Mountains. Pike did not give up. They
eventually made it to a tributary of the Rio Grande in Colorado
and built a log fort.
The military expedition could not enter
New Mexico because this area was controlled by the Spanish. Robinson,
however, was a civilian, and he could enter New Mexico. In February,
1807, Robinson left the group and headed for Santa Fe. Spanish
troops followed Robinson's tracks back to Pike's group. Pike was
captured and taken to Santa Fe. They reached Santa Fe on March
Pike had expected to find riches and treasures.
There were none. Instead, there was a small town of a few adobe
stores and houses. Most of the goods in Santa Fe were brought
almost 2,000 miles from Old Mexico (the present-day country of
Mexico). It was a very long trip, and the items cost more in Santa
Fe than they did in either Old Mexico or St. Louis. Pike noted
this in his journal.
The Spanish governor of New Mexico thought
Pike and his men were spies, and they were sent to the province
of Chihuahua in Old Mexico. They were later released and returned
to the United States. Pike never returned to the Southwest. He
died six years later during the War of 1812.
After his death, Pike's journal was made
public, and the merchants of St. Louis realized Santa Fe could
be a new market for their goods.
b. Who were Charles
and William Bent?
They were brothers, trappers, and traders who played an important
role in the history of the Santa Fe Trail.
Charles Bent was the older brother of William
Bent. In 1829, Charles was captain of his first caravan along
the Santa Fe Trail. In 1831, he used oxen rather than mules to
pull his wagons. Mules had been used because they were faster
and had tougher hooves. However, mules were more expensive and
were more likely to be stolen by Indians. Charles used oxen on
his trip because he reasoned oxen were too awkward for an Indian
to ride, and its meat was too tough to eat. After this journey,
most wagons were pulled by oxen.
Charles is credited with the idea of forming
a partnership of having one partner stay in Santa Fe to sell goods
while the other partner brought goods from Missouri. His partner
was Ceran St. Vrain, a French trapper who lived in Taos, New Mexico
(north of Santa Fe).
William Bent was the younger brother of
Charles Bent. William built a trading post on the Arkansas River
for trade with the Plains Indians. The Indians brought him buffalo
robes in exchange for knives, pots, and lead. In 1832, William
asked Charles Bent to leave some goods from Missouri at the fort
to trade with the Indians. To do this, Charles would have to travel
the Mountain Route and cross Raton Pass. Charles and William Bent
made a path through Raton Pass so the wagons could travel this
William's trading post was so successful
Charles and his partner, Ceran St. Vrain, began building the largest
trading post in the American West in 1833. Today, it is known
as Bent's Old Fort. It may be the single most important landmark
on the Santa Fe Trail. The adobe walls were 14 feet thick, and
they surrounded an area that was 120 yards (the size of a football
field). Riflemen were placed in high towers to defend the fort,
and a man with a telescope stood guard in a watchtower. Meals
were announced with a bell tower. Three hundred to four hundred
horses were kept in a corral, and one hundred people could stay
In 1849, the U.S. Army wanted to buy Bent's
fort. William Bent burned it rather than sell it. Today, a reproduction
of this fort is maintained by the National Park Service as Bent's
Old Fort National Historic Site. It has stores, a blacksmith shop,
storerooms, a kitchen, and a trading post. The staff wears costumes
from the 1830's and 1840's, and travelers get a glimpse of life
on the Santa Fe Trail.
Later, William Bent built Bent's New Fort
about 40 miles east of the original fort.
c. Describe ONE of the
Lieutenant Zebulon Pike: He was the first American to explore
the Santa Fe Trail in 1806. Pike's Peak is named after him.
William Becknell: He is credited with opening the Santa
Fe Trail in 1822.
Kit Carson: He made his first trip on the Santa Fe Trail
in 1826, when he was sixteen years old. He became the West's most
famous trapper, scout, and Indian fighter. He was also a Civil
War officer. He stopped at Bent's Old Fort.
Josiah Gregg: He wrote about his experiences in Commerce
of the Prairies. It was published in 1844, and is considered
the best first hand account of life on the Santa Fe Trail. He
stopped at Bent's Old Fort.
Susan Magoffin: When she was eighteen years old, she and
her husband traveled the Santa Fe Trail on their honeymoon in
1846. She was one of the first white women to cross the Santa
Fe Trail, and she kept a detailed journal while staying at Bent's
Old Fort. She died in 1855.
Stephen Watts Kearny: He was a general in the U.S. Army
during the Mexican War. In August, 1846, he took possession of
Santa Fe, and appointed Charles Bent as governor.
"Uncle Dick" Wootten: In 1865, he blasted rocks, cut away
hillsides, and built a toll road across the Raton Pass in the
Rocky Mountains. At the summit, he built a toll house and collected
fees from travelers. Today, a four lane highway crosses this pass.
d. What year did Texas
gain its independence?
1836. Before 1836, Texas was controlled by Old Mexico. In 1836,
Texas gained its independence. Texas now claimed Santa Fe and
most of New Mexico. This land was west of the Louisiana Purchase,
and the Mexican government refused to recognize the claim. In
1841, 275 Texas volunteers were unsuccessful in trying to capture
e. What year did the
Mexican War begin?
1846. In May, 1846, the United States and Mexico fought a war
called the Mexican War. The Santa Fe Trail was closed during the
fighting, and the price of goods increased. In August, 1846, General
Stephen Watts Kearny took possession of Santa Fe. Shortly afterwards,
Kearny's army left Santa Fe, and Kearny appointed Charles Bent
as governor. Bent was killed in January, 1847, in Taos.
In 1848, the United States won the Mexican
War, and the Southwest became a territory in the United States.
f. Name ONE of the American
Indian tribes living along the Santa Fe Trail.
Pawnee, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, Ute, and Jicarilla Apache.
The Pawnee and Arapaho did not attack the
traders along the Santa Fe Trail because they had a good friendship
with Charles and William Bent.
The traders and the Comanche, Kiowa, Ute,
and Jicarilla Apache fought one another. After the Mexican War,
the U.S. Army was sent to protect the traders along the Santa
Fe Trail. The more the U.S. Army attacked the Indians, the more
the Indians attacked the U.S. Army and traders.
The U.S. Army established more forts along
the Santa Fe Trail to protect traders and settlers.
g. Use five of the words
in Section 2 in a sentence.
Spanish houses are made out of adobe.
My uncle likes to barter when
we go to the market.
My family caravans to the
park for our big birthday parties.
Where would you like to rendezvous
before we go to the movies?
The United States is a republic.
Horse riders use a saddlebag
to carry their goods.
h. Have a parent or friend give you
a spelling test with EACH of the words in Section 2.
More Valuable Information about The
Santa Fe Trail:
Santa Fe National
Historic Trail (NPS)
Bent's Old Fort
National Historic Site (NPS)
Fe Trail Map (NPS)
Trail Center (Larned, Kansas)
Fe Trail Links
Mission State Historic Site
Fe Trail Map (Kaw Mission State Historic Site)