Santa Fe Trail – diary of Susan Magoffin

In New Mexico

In June 1846 Susan Shelby Magoffin, eighteen years old and a bride of less than eight months, set out with her husband, a veteran Santa Fe trader, from Independence, Missouri, to cross the plains and mountains to the New Mexico capitol. She was the first American woman to ride into Santa Fe.

The places where the Magoffins would have stopped for the night and the sights they would have seen in New Mexico are virtually unchanged to this day – just a little older. The excerpts from the diary of Susan Magoffin and these photographs trace the trail past Cimarron, Fort Union, Mora, Las Vegas, San Miguel and Pecos on the last leg of Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico.

“Camp No 2.-24 miles from the Fort. Eighteen miles has been our travel today. Quite long for my first, and the road has changed too; not the dead plain we had for several days the other side of the Fort, but broken sand hills. The dust is very great, and the vegetation so perfectly parched by the sun that not a blade of green grass is to be seen.”

“Sunday 9th. Camp No. 3. Mountains are coming in sight this morning-we are winding about among large stony hills which finally run into the mountains, two of which appear in the distance….They are supposed to belong to the great chain that stretches along the Pacific through North and South America, and known to all geographers as the Rocky Mountains.”

The Jicarilla War . The war started when the Apache and the Utes began raiding against settlers on the Santa Fe Trail. In 1849 a wagon of settlers was killed by the Jicarillas and Utes. The event received wide spread publicity. A year later a group of mail carriers were killed in what is called the Wagon Mound Massacre. Various incidents occurred that raised tension that led to mistrust and ultimately depredations…until the war of 1853 to 1854 when the army began operations.

“Friday 14th. Camp No.8 It is surrounded by the most magnificent scenery. On all sides are stupendous mountains, forming an entire beast-work to our little camp below. To the south is what might be considered the “pinnacle” of the mountains, a great rock towering above everything else around. This, mi alma, calls the “wagon mound” from its resemblance to one of the same kind on the old road to Santa Fe and which derives its name from its resemblance to the top of a covered wagon.”

Cimarron was settled in 1841 and 20 years later had became an important stop on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail . The Spanish name Cimarron meant wild or untamed. Some of the well known people to pass through town were Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan and their wives, gunslinger Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. Cimarron was a popular place to get news, supplies and … entertainment.

Fort Union was established in 1851 as a guardian and protector of the Santa Fe Trail. During it’s 40 year history Fort Union was the largest in the American Southwest and functioned as a military garrison, territorial arsenal, and major military supply depot for the southwest. The demands for flour at Ft. Union were large and increasing from 1863 to 1869 as Fort Union underwent significant rebuilding and expansion. During this period there were over two thousand people at the Fort.

Ceran St. Vrain settled in Mora in 1853. He built a grist mill in 1864 and became a major supplier of flour, grain and fodder to Fort Union. In 1864 the Army moved 6000 Navajo Indians to a Reservation about 150 miles southeast of Fort Union and the Army was responsible for their food. St. Vrain had the contract for their feeding. The Mora Valley became the bread basket for the southwest.

Earlier in 1843, there was a raid on the town of Mora by Texas freebooters under Colonel Charles A. Warfield claiming that the people in Mora had purchased stolen beef from the  Comanches. The Texans killed five men and took eighteen women and children captive as well as 75 horses. The people of the Mora Valley convened a posse, overtook the Texans, and sent them back to Texas on foot.

“Tuesday 25th, Noon. “Mora creek and settlement.” We have sent to all these ranchos, if possible we may be so fortunate as find dos or tres huevas o un pollo, pero no nade [two or three eggs or a chicken, but nothing else i suspect is palitable. But they say my opinion is formed to hastily, for within these places of apparent misery there dwells that “peace of mind” and contentment which princes and kings have oft desired but never found!”

“Wednesday 26th. A day of wonders not seen by  everyone. Well now for my Vegas story-We got in there about 2 o’k. P.M., and dinner was called for…And then the dinner half a dozen tortillas [pancakes] made of blue corn, and not a plate, but raped in a napkin twin brother to the last table cloth. Oh how my heart sickened, to say nothing of my stomach, a cheese and, the kind we saw yesterday from the Mora, entirely speckled over, and two earthen jollas [ollas-jugs] of a mixture of meat, chilly verde [green pepper] & onions boiled together completed course No. 1. We had neither knives, forks or spoons, but made as good substitutes as we could by doubling a piece of tortilla, at every mouthful-but by the by there were few mouthfuls taken, for I could not eat a dish so strong, and unaccustomed to my palate.”

“Thursday 27. Near San Miguel. The woman slap about with their arms and necks bare, perhaps their bosoms exposed (and they are none of the prettiest or whitest) if they are about to cross the little creek that is near all the villages, regardless of those about them, they pull their dresses, which in the first place but lttle more than cover their calves-up above their knees and paddle through the water like ducks, sloshing and spattering everything about them. Some of them wear leather shoes, from the States, but most have buckskin mockersins, Indian style.”

Friday 28th. This has been rather a more agreeable day than yesterday, though we met with a little accident this morning. At the little creek the other side of San Miguel the carriage tongue broke entirely out, and we were in rather a critical situation as to traveling, till Lieu. Warner came up with his wagons, and we got two carpenters he had with him to make a new tongue. This required two hours time…”

“…as usual the villagers collected to see the curiosity. many of the mujeeres came to the carriage shook hands and talked with me. One of them brought some tortillas, new goats milk and stewed kid’s meat with onions, and I found it much more palatable than”the dinner at the Vegas”. They are decidedly polite, easy in their manners, perfectly free &c.”

Saturday 29th. I have visited this morning the ruins of an ancient pueblo, or village, now desolate and a home for the wild beast and bird of the forest. It created sad thoughts when I found myself riding almost heedlessly over the work of those once mighty people. There perhaps was pride, power and wealth, carried to its utter limit, for here tis said the great Montezuma once lived, though tis probably a false tradition.”

This sizable Pueblo community on the edge of the plains was occupied for 400 years. It was important in the history of the Spanish arrival in New Mexico, and the Spanish built and occupied a mission at  the site for about 200 of those years.

“But now something of what my own eyes witnessed. -The only part standing is the church. We got off our horses at the door and went in, and I was truly awed. I should think it was sixty feet by thirty. As is the custom among the present inhabitants of Mexico, this pueblo is built of unburnt bricks and stones. The cieling is very high and doleful in appearance; the sleepers are carved in hiroglyphical figures, as is also the great door, alter and indeed all the little wood-work about it, showing that if they were uncivilized or half-civilized as we generally believe them, they had at least an idea of grandure.”

Pecos was visited by expeditionaries with Fransico Vasquez de Coranado in 1540. The Spanish mission church, Mission Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Porciuncula de los Pecos, was built in 1619. The site was abandoned in 1838, after the Pecos population suffered from marauding Comanches.

“They say this is our last evening out, that tomorrow we will see Santa Fe. And to this I shall not object, if were to stay there a whole winter, or even till winter, I must be in preparing my house.”

“I do think I have walked three or four miles today; before noon I rode horseback over all the bad paces in the road, but this P.M. I have walked. It will not hurt me though, and especially as much as jolting in the carriage over hills and rough road we have passed, and being frightened half to death all the while.”

Santa Fe. August 31st 1846. It is really hard to realize it, that I am here in my own house, in a place too where I once would have thought it  folly to think of visiting. I have entered the city in a year that will always be remembered by my countrymen; and under the “Star-Spangled banner” too, the first American lady, who has come under the auspices, and some of our company seem disposed to make me the first under any circumstances that ever crossed the Plains”

“We arrived last night, and at such a late hour it was rather difficult for me to form any idea of the city. I knew it is situated in a valley; and is to be seen from the top of a long hill, down which I walked; this leads into “the street,” which as in any other city has squares; but I must say they are singularly occupied. On one square may be a dwelling-house, a church or something of the kind, and immediately opposite to it occupying the whole square is a cornfield, fine ornament to a city, that.” – Susan Shelby Magoffin.

Surprisingly much of the old Santa Fe Plaza is unchanged, although there are no longer any cornfield. They do have a fabulous farmers market by the Railyard that you should visit if ever in town.

Happy Trails, Dohn

About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
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18 Responses to Santa Fe Trail – diary of Susan Magoffin

  1. This is a very wonderful blog — may we share it on the Santa Fe Trail Association webpage? I have been to Susan’s childhood home in Kentucky. It is a typical southern mansion, and her up-bringing makes her journey all the more amazing. I would be happy to share photos of her home, or you can search on Facebook for Historic Shelby Manor at Arcadia Farm.

  2. Julie says:

    I would love to gain permission to use 2 or 3 of your photos on the new Mora County website I am building for them. Great writing, too.

  3. claude says:

    Thanks for the history and the pix.

  4. Jen Swain says:

    I would love to know if Richard Magoffin my grandfather was related??

  5. Wow! Fascinating insight!

  6. mandala56 says:

    I’ve been to several of those places, so I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks!

  7. Nativegrl77 says:

    These pix are just great ….

  8. Another fascinating story and pictures. What tough times they were for the animals as well as the people….

  9. flujan says:

    Reblogged this on My Voyage Through Time and commented:
    This is a great post. I love the part on Mora, New Mexico—
    I am a new follower of this site. “The Hungry Brain?” Love it!

  10. flujan says:

    I loved this post. I live in New Mexico. Thanks for sharing that.

  11. You do weave a great story and know how to do your homework. Thanks for a facinating journey.

  12. thank you so much for posting i have thoroughly enjoyed reading the diary and the pictures have made it come alive .. i havent yet go down to Sante Fe but i am sure i will visit the states again and the south east is where i am heading!

  13. winsomebella says:

    Wonderful post that covers the territory I love. I have made the trek through Kansas southwest toward Santa Fe many, many times and never fail to think of those who passed before on the trail. Especially the women. Thank you for taking me there again through your beautiful pictures and narration.

  14. Pit says:

    A really fascinating story, with wonderful pictures.
    Thanks for sharing,

  15. FeyGirl says:

    What a fascinating account and journey…! The pictures are wonderful. Puts the “difficulties” of our contemporary lives in perspective.

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