November 16, 1821: William Becknell arrives at Santa Fe, New Mexico. Becknell was a freighter and the first white man to make the trip from Franklin,Missouri, leaving on September 1, 1821 and arrived 2.5 months later at Santa Fe. The trail he forged became a commercial and later a military route through the open plains. The Santa Fe Trail was the invasion route used by the Americans in the Mexican-American War of 1846. The trail remained active and eventually the railroad used the same route to lay tracks to Santa Fe in 1880.
The route wended through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Settlers traveling the route could spend 8 weeks on wagon trains, if all went well. They encountered dust, mud, gnats, mosquitoes, intense heat, swollen rivers and streams, wildfires, hailstorms, high winds, and blizzards. Calls of “Catch up” or “Stretch out” were common as men tried to maintain a safe distance between wagons. Up at dawn and on the move until mid-morning, travelers stopped for the main meal of the day and made necessary repairs, and then back on the trail until dusk.
The Trail left Franklin, Missouri and today you can travel the same approximate pattern by driving along US Route 24 to Independence, Missouri. This was a jumping off place for other trails to California and Oregon. After Independence, one can travel along US Route 56 to Olathe,Kansas and wend through Kansas to the Arkansas River. The trail became a network of complex branches as it moved on toward Santa Fe.
Today, the National Park Service preserves segments of the Trail in all states that it passed through. Many stops are in the National Register of Historic Places. There is much to do along the route as you travel along highways. The beauty remains although pilgrims are reminded that much of the property is privately owned and should be treated with respect. As driving merrily along, one should stop and think of the arduous journey taken by those individuals creaking along on the myriad wagon trains, moving ever westward.
“We are doing this to show the Wild West is alive and well. There’s a lot of interest in it. Here, the Santa Fe Trail is our stage and the world is our audience.” – Rob Phillips
“Everybody talks about the Santa Fe Trail. They know it was an important part of history but only 1 percent can find it on the map or knows about it in person.” – Dennis Latta
“The way of the pioneer is always rough.” – Harvey S. Firestone
“America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.” – William S. Burroughs