The Santa Fe Trail
A Bridge Between the United States and Mexico
Before you is a portion of the historic Santa Fe Trail. Established as a wagon route by William Becknell in 1822, the Santa Fe Trail became the first major trade link between the eastern United States and the newly established country of Mexico. From the 1820's to the 1860's a steady stream of wagon trains followed this historic route. From Missouri came materials and supplies that were vital to the development of northern Mexico; Mexican traders sent silvers, furs, and other products to the U.S. Traveling only 12-15 miles per day the 800 mile trip could take 7 weeks.
With the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840's, traffic increased greatly on the Santa Fe Trail. Traders, goldseekers and military troops were frequent travelers on the trail throughout the 1850's. Following the Civil War, however, construction of railroads began in the region. By the 1860's and 70's trade items and military freights were increasingly carried by rail. On February 9th, 1880, when the first steam locomotive passed near Santa Fe, New Mexico, the wagon trail was no longer needed. This brought about the end of nearly 60 years of commercial use of the Santa Fe Trail.
A Cultural Tidal Wave Through Indian Land
"I do not want to settled down in the houses you would build for us. I love to roam over the wild prairie. There I am free and happy."
Satanta (White Bear), Kiowa warrior and chief
The Santa Fe Trail had a profound impact on the lives of the Indians of the Southern Plains. Comanche, Kiowa, Plains Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors fought hard to protect their lands from the arrival of traders and emigrants.
By the mid-1870's, as a result of intense military pressure and the slaughter of millions of buffalo, these Plain Indian tribes were forced to begin a new life on reservations. While the Santa Fe Trail Trail opened the door to American expansion in the Southwest, it signaled an end to the Plains Indian's nomadic way of life.