KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


EARLY EXPLORATIONS AND
EXPEDITIONS, Part 8

[TOC] [part 9] [part 7] [Cutler's History]

THE SANTA FE ROAD, PART 1.

The Santa Fe road, starting from Independence, Mo., entered Kansas on the east line of Johnson County, near Meadow Creek, in the township of Oxford. Thence the route lay in a direction a little south of west, through Johnson, Douglas, Osage and Lyon Counties to Council Grove. This came to be the place of rendezvous, where the smaller parties met and formed the grand caravan across the desert. As Independence came to be the grand point of outfit and supply, so Council Grove came to be considered the real point of departure. There the trains were made up, the Captain and other officers chosen, and the final preparations made for the grand journey. From there the course lay, still southwesterly, across Cottonwood Creek. Turkey Creek, the Little Arkansas, and Cow Creek, to the Arkansas River; thence up that river, following its course around the Great Rend for 115 miles, to near where now is Cimarron Station, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Crossing the river at this point, the road ran across the sandy country a distance of nearly sixty miles to the Cimarron River, thence up the river to beyond the southwestern border of the State. The entire length of the traveled route, from Independence to Santa Fe, as given by Gregg, was 780 miles. His table of distances and camping sites is given below, the encampment through Kansas being printed in italics:

PLACES AND DISTANCES ON THE SANTA FE TRAIL
(GREGG, 1845)

From Independence to

Miles

Total

From Independence to

Miles

Total

Round Grove 35 35 Cimarron River
(lower spring)
8 445
Narrows 30 65 Middle Spring
(up Cimarron R.)
36 481
110 Mile Creek 30 95 Willow Bar 26 507
Bridge Creek 8 103 Upper Spring 18 525
Big John Springs 40 143 Cold Spring
(Leaving Cimarron River)
5 530
Council Grove 2 145 McNee's Creek 25 555
Diamond Spring 15 160 Rabbit Ear Creek 20 575
Lost Spring 15 175 Round Mound 8 583
Cotton Wood Creek 12 187 Rock Creek 8 591
Turkey Creek 25 212 Point of Rocks 19 610
Little Arkansas 17 229 Rio Colorado 20 630
Cow Creek 20 249 Ocate 6 636
Arkansas River 16 265 Santa Clara Springs 21 657
Walnut Creek
(up Arkansas River)
8 273 Rio Mora 22 679
Ash Creek 19 292 Rio Gallinas (vegas) 20 699
Pawnee Fork 6 298 Ojo de Bernai (spring) 17 716
Coon Creek 33 331 San Miguel 6 722
Caches 36 367 Pecos Village 23 755
Ford of Arkansas 20 387 Sante Fe 25 780
Sand Creek
(leaving Arkansas river)
50 437      

The gradual growth of the Santa Fe trade from 1822 to 1843 is shown in the following statistical table, compiled by Dr. Josiah Gregg, and published in his book entitled "Commerce of the Prairies," Vol. 2, p. 160:

Years

Amount of
merch.

Wagons

Men

Propri-
etors

Taken to
Chihuahua

Remarks

1822 $15,000 ... 70 60 ... Pack animals only used
1823 12,000 ... 50 30 ... Pack animals only used
1824 35,000 26 100 80 $3,000 Pack animals and wagons
1825 65,000 37 130 90 5,000 Pack animals and wagons
1826 90,000 60 100 70 7,000 Wagons only henceforth
1827 85,000 55 90 50 8,000  
1828 150,000 100 200 80 20,000 Three men killed,
being the first
1829 60,000 30 50 20 5,000 First U.S. escort,
one trader killed
1830 120,000 70 140 60 20,000 First oxen used by traders
1831 250,000 130 320 80 80,000 Two men killed
1832 140,000 70 150 40 50,000 Party defeated on Canadian,
two men killed,
three perished
1833 180,000 105 185 60 80,000  
1834 150,000 80 160 50 70,000 Second U.S. escort
1835 140,000 75 140 40 70,000  
1836 130,000 70 135 35 60,000  
1837 150,000 80 160 35 80,000  
1838 90,000 50 100 20 40,000  
1839 250,000 130 250 40 100,000 Arkansas expedition
1840 50,000 30 60 5 10,000 Chihuahua expedition
1841 150,000 60 100 12 80,000 Texan Santa Fe expedition
1842 160,000 70 120 15 90,000  
1843 450,000 230 350 30 300,000 Third U.S. escort - ports closed

In connection with the above, Mr. Gregg wrote in explanation: "The foregoing table is not given as perfectly accurate, yet it is believe to be about as nearly so as any that could be made out at the present day. The column marked "Proprietors," though even less precise than the other statistics, presents, I think, about the proportion of the whole number engaged each year who were owners. At first, as will be seen, almost every individual of each caravan was a proprietor, while of late the capital has been held by comparatively few hands. In 1843, the greater portion of the traders were New Mexicans, several of whom, during the three years previous, had embarked in this trade, of which they bid fair to secure a monopoly."

In 1843, the Santa Fe trade was brought to a sudden stop by the closing of the frontier custom houses of Taos, in the department of New Mexico and Paso del Norte and Presidio del Norte in that of Chihuahua, by decree of Santa Anna, then President of Mexico. The causes which led to the embargo were briefly these: Texas, having declared her independence in 1836, and successfully maintained it within the territory east of the Nueces and south of the Red River, claimed in addition all the country east of the Rio Grande and south of the Arkansas, south of the forty second parallel and west of the twenty-second meridian of longitude. Her claims were never acknowledged by Mexico till they were enforced by the power of the United States, after her admission as a State, and at the close of the war that followed. Across this debatable ground, embracing at that time all of Kansas south of the Arkansas and west of the twenty-second meridian, the path of the Santa Fe trail led from the western boundary of the United States territory.

So remote were the settlements of New Mexico along the Rio Grande (Santa Fe came within the bounds of the territory claimed) that, up to 1841, the new republic had never been able to exercise jurisdiction, and held only a nominal and unacknowledged claim in abeyance till the discontent of the inhabitants under Mexican rule might render the establishment of its validity an easy task. During that year, under the belief that general discontent prevailed among the inhabitants of New Mexico, and having, from what was believed to be credible sources, received assurances that the people would hail the coming of an expedition with gladness, and at once declare allegiance to the Texan Government, Gen. Mirabeau B. Lamar, then President, organized an expedition, ostensibly for the purpose of opening a direct trade with the Mexican provinces by a new route, believed to be much more direct than that by the old Santa Fe trail; but with the more important ulterior design, should the reports of discontent prove true, of bringing so much of the province of New Mexico as lies upon the eastern side of the Rio Grande under the protection of his Government. Thus, should the people be found ripe for revolt, the Lone Star flag was to be unfurled from the Santa Fe Government House; if not, the Texan 'Trade Commissioners' who accompanied the expedition were to make such commercial treaty with the authorities as would best tend to open and establish trade, and retire till a more auspicious season for revolt and conquest should offer.

The expedition set out June 21, 1841. It was made up of one battery of artillery, 272 soldiers, and fifty merchants and other civilians. There was a long train of wagons filled with merchandise, and a considerable drove of cattle to be slaughtered for food as required. The disastrous failure of the first Texas and Santa Fe expedition is known to most readers. It is not within the scope of this work to follow it in its wanderings through the wastes of a thousand miles of unknown territory, beset by hostile tribes of Indians, short of provisions, separating into several bands to avert actual starvation, and at last taken prisoners by the troops of Armijo, their goods confiscated, some of the party murdered, and others condemned to the worse fate of living as prisoners or slaves under the barbarous keeping of men who cherished toward them an intense national hatred, which sought gratification in every form of cruelty that cowardice and vindictiveness could devise, while a few escaped to Texas to tell the story of their woe. George Wilkins Kendall, an American traveler, accompanied the expedition, endured its perils and suffered an imprisonment of some four months before his United States citizenship and full passports from the Mexican Consul at New Orleans could overcome the suspicion in the minds of his captors which attached to the hated Texans, in whose company he was taken. His account of the expedition, published in 1844, gives the following statement concerning the expedition, its actual object, and the unfortunate combination of causes which led to its failure:

And what mistake had brought this sorrowful issue to our enterprise? In as few words as possible, I will answer the question. In the first place, the expedition began to march too late in the season by at least six weeks. Had it left Austin on the 1st of May the grass would have been much better, and we should have had little difficulty in finding good water both for ourselves and cattle. In the second place, we were disappointed in obtaining a party of the Lipan Indians as guides, and were consequently obliged to take a route some three hundred miles out of the way, and in many places extremely difficult to travel. Thirdly, the Government of Texas did not furnish wagons and oxen enough to transport the goods of the merchants, and this, as a matter of course, caused tedious delays. Fourthly, cattle enough on the hoof were not provided, even with the second supply sent for by the commissioners from Little River. Again, the distance was vastly greater than we had anticipated in our widest and wildest calculations, owing to which circumstance, and an improvident waste of provisions while in the buffalo range, we found ourselves upon half allowance in the very middle of our long journey, a privation which weakened, dispirited and rendered the men unfit for duty. The Indians also annoyed us much, by harassing and continued attempts to cut off our small parties and steal our horses. Finally, the character of the Governor of New Mexico (Armigo) was far from being understood, and his power was underrated by all. Gen. Lamar's estimate of the views and feelings of the people of Santa Fe and the vicinity was perfectly correct. Not a doubt can exist that they all were and are anxious to throw off the oppressive yoke of Armigo, and come under the liberal institutions of Texas; but the Governor found us divided into small parties, broken down by long marches and want of food, discovered a traitor [17] among us, too, and taking advantage of these circumstances, his course was plain and his conquest easy.

Far different would have been the result had the expedition reached the confines of New Mexico a month earlier and in a body. Then, with fresh horses and a sufficiency of provisions for the men, the feelings of the inhabitants could have been ascertained; the proclamations of Gen. Lamar would have been distributed among them; the people would have had an opportunity to come over to Texas without fear, and the feeble opposition Armigo could have made, and I doubt whether he would have made any against the Texans in a body, could have been put down with ease. Had it been evident that a majority of the inhabitants were satisfied under their present government, and unfriendly to a union with Texas, then the goods would have been sold and the force withdrawn -- at least, such was the tenor of the proclamations. No attach would have been made upon the inhabitants; that was expressly understood; but had Armigo seen fit to commence hostilities, his power in New Mexico would have been at an end. Fate decreed otherwise, and by a series of unforseen and unfortunate circumstances the expedition was thrown into his hands.

[17] Capt. Lewis, who commanded the artillery company, with one brass six pounder, had full knowledge of the military and revolutionary purposes of the expedition. He understood Spanish, and was accepted by Armigo as an interpreter, after having been taken prisoner. Kendall argues that in that capacity, desirous of life and liberty, he gave full information to the enemy, both as to the intent of the Texas Government and the private complicity of each individual of the party.

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