The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway and National Santa Fe Trail
presents an audio recording of True Stories of the Santa Fe Trail. Beautifully
depicts the pioneer spirit of Santa Fe Trail Travelers. A must have for
modern day Trail Travelers. Pop it in for your tour of the Mountain Branch
and find out what it was really like in the wild west.
Available in CD only.
Writers: John Stansfield, Mark Gardner, Dan McCrimmon
Narrator: John Stansfield
Sound Recording: Don Martin Productions
Producer: John Stansfield
Cover Design: Wyvonne Phillips
Voices: Marian Sloan and Julia Holmes Nancy Harris;
Young Marian Sloan Morgan Weinert
Excerpts from Land of Enchantment: Memoirs of Marion Sloan Russell Along the Santa Fe Trail used by permission of University of New Mexico Press.
Funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway
Order at Rocky Mountain PBS
Our 187-mile long Scenic Byway parallels the historic Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail which starts at the Colorado-Kansas border and continues southwest through Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad, then climbs Raton Pass to the New Mexico border. This historic documentary takes you through time from a huge expanse of prehistoric dinosaur tracks, to glimpses of the Santa Fe Trail, to the bustling life at Bents Fort, to the tragedy of the Dust Bowl, and to the injustices of the Japanese-American internment camp at Amache. Memories of hardships in the past are strong but the regeneration of wildflowers and grasses in the Comanche National Grasslands gives hope for the future.
The plains of the Santa Fe Trail were vast, unspoiled, and remote. Buffalo and antelope, thrived in the short grass prairie in great abundance. Native Americans were the first to use it's trade routes and preempted the establishment of the Santa Fe Trail. Mexico became an independent nation in 1821 and opened trade with the United States establishing the famous Santa Fe Trail of Commerce. Entrepreneurs willing to take the risks of an 11-week journey through remote territory and difficult terrain filled wagons with trade goods and headed west and south to Santa Fe.
William Becknell was the first Anglo-American trader to travel to Santa Fe. His plans were to trade with Native Americans in Colorado but when he heard that Mexico had declared its independence from Spain, he headed for Santa Fe. He made a 2,000 percent profit on his 1822 trip! This success encouraged others to put together sale goods and head to Mexico. The 1822 records show that Josiah Gregg made the trip with 70 men with pack animals and hauled 15,000 pounds of goods. In 1843, 230 wagons left Missouri with 350 men; they hauled 450,000 pounds of merchandise. By 1840 the wagons were laden with fabrics, both plain and fancy, and sewing notions to go with them. Military traffic on the trail increased, along with freighters hauling supplies for the army during the war with Mexico (1846 - 1848).
The potential for profit was great but the perils of the trail were considerable. Water was scarce and wagons followed the rivers whenever possible. In Western Kansas the trail branched off into two trails, the Mountain Branch followed the Arkansas River and then traversed the treacherous Raton Pass. The Cimarron Branch followed the Cimarron River, avoiding the pass, and then crossed a 50-mile dry plain that was extremely dangerous for both men and animals. Encounters with Native Americans, severe weather, and exposure to diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and cholera were all perils of Santa Fe Trail travelers. Upon completion of this perilous journey traders had to contend with high tariffs and often corrupt customs officials.
In 1880 the rail system linked Santa Fe to settlements along the Santa Fe Trail. The New Mexican headlined the news that The Old Santa Fe Trail Passes into Oblivion. Goods, mail, and people could be moved by railroads, eliminating the need for wagon travel. Today, the well-worn trail appears as a ribbon of green grass on the prairie. Kansas newspaperman Henry Inman published "The Old Santa Fe Trail", in 1897. This popular "Story of a Great Highway." capitalized on the nostalgia people were feeling for the old trail. A project to mark the trail before it was obliterated was initiated by the Kansas chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 95 markers were erected in Kansas, 27 markers were erected along the Mountain and Cimarron routes, and one marker was placed on the southeast corner of the Plaza in Santa Fe all by 1907. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing the Santa Fe National Historic Trail in 1987.
Many Santa Fe Trail travelers think of Bents Fort as the 8th Wonder of the World. This magnificent castle on the plains fashioned out of mud soars twenty-feet high into the skyline and is surrounded by absolute wilderness. Behind the fortress walls is a bustling town, complete with a well-stocked store and blacksmith shop. The buffalo hide was the lifeblood of trade at Bents Fort. Traders would exchange 25 cents worth of goods for each skin from the Cheyenne, which they then sell in St. Louis for five dollars. The world is for sale in the Forts store, guns and bullets made on the East Coast, tobacco from the South and chocolate from exotic islands. Relics dug from the dirt in the 1950s and 60s tell of a world market on the prairie.
Susan Magoffin arrives in 1846, while the United States is at war with Mexico. The genteel wife of a trader, Magoffin has the luxury of an upstairs bedroom where she can escape the tumult. " The fort is crowded to overflowing. Colonel Kearny has arrived and it seems the world is coming with him." Susan Magoffin - Excerpt from her diary
The most dangerous stretch of the Santa Fe Trail was Raton Pass. Wagons had to cover 20 miles of difficult terrain, with an ever-present danger of tumbling off the road into a ravine or creek. Sometimes, an all-day struggle to climb the pass would result in only 600 yards of progress. Richens Lacy Uncle Dick Wooten saw an opportunity to help the travelers on their journey and make a profit as well. In 1865 he began the undertaking of building a passable road, cutting down trees, blasting and clearing rocks, and building bridges. Travelers paid $1.50 per wagon and $.05 per head of livestock to use his road. Native Americans could use the road for free.
The Picketwire Canyonlands is the largest dinosaur tracksite in North America with over 1,300 dinosaur prints appearing along the Purgatoire River. This prehistoric highway tells of the travels of enormous vegetarians, 70-feet long and weighing 33 tons, the brontosaurs and allosaurs. The tracks were probably made in the mud, then dried out, and finally flooded, filling them with a finer layer of mud. This protected them, even when falling water levels exposed them to view. The tracks show the animals moving west in a herd. 150 Million Years Ago these Jurrasic giants left footprints across what is now the Comanche National Grassland. These footprints appear so fresh that it seems the creatures recently disappeared around the bend.
On December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment surfaced throughout the nation. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to evacuate all people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the West Coast. Unlike the governors of the other western states who vehemently refused to open their doors, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr welcomed the evacuees. Governor Carr believed that the rights of all Americans should be protected, no matter ones place of origin. He stood up for what he believed and it probably cost him his political career when he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate by 3,000 votes. With a population of more than 7,000, Amache grew into the tenth largest town in Colorado. Today a monument honors the Japanese-American soldiers who died fighting for freedom. The ruins of Amache serve as a haunting reminder that freedom is the right of every American. Groups of former internees and their children come here to pay tribute and remember every year .
The Homestead Act enabled hundreds of families to claim land in southeastern Colorado and establish farms. The Santa Fe Trail rumbled with caravans of wagons, some teams included over 100 wagons of settlers pushing west, hoping to stake a claim on a homestead and put down new roots. Severe drought hit in the early 1930s and unleashed a disaster of epic proportions. Overgrazing and overplowing upset the delicate balance of the prairie ecosystem. On Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, dust clouds literally block out the sun. and people turned on lights at mid-day. During this Dust Bowl, huge clouds of dust obliterated the sun and choked the inhabitants causing them to abandon their land.
The federal government began buying the farms and damaged land. 444,000 acres, is set aside along the Santa Fe Trail as the Comanche National Grassland by the late 1930s. Through a variety of methods, the land began to heal and today this land gives us a glimpse of the prairie as it once was.
Major funding for this program was provided by a State Historical Fund grant from the Colorado Historical Society, which reminds Byway travelers to preserve and protect these natural and cultural wonders. Additional support was provided by the USDA Forest Service, Cimarron and Comanche National Grassland and by the members of Rocky Mountain PBS. America's Byways was produced by Rocky Mountain PBS and Great Divide Pictures in association with the Scenic and Historic Byways Program, Colorado Department of Transportation.