Father of the Santa Fe Trail
William Becknell led a small group out of Franklin in 1821 on the first trip along what would be known as the Santa Fe Trail. If his trip across the Great Plains was successful, the group would make money trading manufactured goods for silver and furs. This four-month-long trip netted a profit of 1,500 percent. The next year, Becknell blazed the 800-mile wagon trail to Mexico. His success in opening trade with Santa Fe allowed him to get out of debt and earned him the title "Father of the Santa Fe Trail."
Sturdy Mexican mules came to Missouri in 1823 when Stephen Cooper returned with about 400 mules, jacks (male donkeys) and jennets (female donkeys). Boone's Lick farmers bred Mexican jacks to American mares and produced powerful "Missouri Mules." By the 1880s, Missouri produced more than 34,000 mules a year - more than any other state.
East Moves West
The trail became so economically important by 1825 that the U.S. government surveyed the route and made treaties with Indian nations to guarantee safe passage. In 1826, a young man with untested talents also set out on the trail - Christopher Carson.
Carson, about 16 years old, ran away from David Workman of Franklin where he was apprentices to learn the saddler's trade. "Kit" Carson became famous as a mountain man and pathfinder. In 1827, the new town of Independence began to replace Franklin as the starting point for Santa Fe traders, as it was 100 miles closer.
War and Cultural Differences
Controversy associated with the trail and a disputed Texas boundary led to war with Mexico in 1846. Men from the Boone's Lick area eagerly volunteered. For Missourians and others, victory was important for territorial expansion and trade with Mexico. With the loss of the war, Mexico was forced to give up its northern territories, leading to the creation of California, New Mexico and Arizona and parts of Nevada, Utah and Colorado. As settlers pushed west, small-time traders were replaced with mercantile companies and freight-hauling contractors. The trail from Missouri to Santa Fe continued as an artery of commerce until 1880 when the first railroad reached the area.