Santa Fe Trail – the ending

Wagon Ruts

The first expedition to cross the plains of the American west for commercial purposes was led by William Becknell in 1821. Accompanied by five other men on horseback Becknell mapped a trail over the unexplored prairie to Santa Fe, New Mexico that would become an international trade route of commerce  for the next 60 years.

In his book Commerce of the Prairies published in 1844, Joshua Gregg included a table of statistics from the early years of the trail of the men, animals and wagons used to haul freight from Missouri to Santa Fe.

 =====================================
Years | Amt. Mdse.| Wg's. | Men.|  Remarks
------|-----------|-------|-----|----
1822  |    15,000 |       |  70 |Only pack animals used     
1823  |    12,000 |       |  50 |       
1824  |    35,000 |    26 | 100 |Pack animals and wagons      
1825  |    65,000 |    37 | 130 |       
1826  |    90,000 |    60 | 100 |Wagons only henceforth     
1827  |    85,000 |    55 |  90 |       
1828  |   150,000 |   100 | 200 |       
1829  |    60,000 |    30 |  50 |       
1830  |   120,000 |    70 | 140 |First oxen used by traders.
1831  |   250,000 |   130 | 320 |Two men killed
1832  |   140,000 |    70 | 150 |{Party defeated on Canadian
1833  |   180,000 |   105 | 185 |{2 men killed, 3 perished.
1834  |   150,000 |    80 | 160 | 2nd U. S. Escort
1835  |   140,000 |    75 | 140 |       
1836  |   130,000 |    70 | 135 |       
1837  |   150,000 |    80 | 160 |       
1838  |    90,000 |    50 | 100 |       
1839  |   250,000 |   130 | 250 | Arkansas Expedition.
1840  |    50,000 |    30 |  60 | Chihuahua Expedition.
1841  |   150,000 |    60 | 100 | Texan Santa Fe Expedition.
1842  |   160,000 |    70 | 120 |       
1843  |   450,000 |   230 | 350 | 3d U.S. Es.-Ports closed.
=====================================================================================

The Kansas Historical Quarterly of November 1931 included an article entitled Freighting: A Big Business on the Santa Fe Trail. Following are a few excerpts from that publication that reveal how traffic and profits had increased 40 years after the opening of the trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a conduit not only for goods leaving the U.S. but loaded wagons arrived from the west as well.

Before the grass in 1858 was at any height, Westport bustled with business. The Westport Border Star proudly wrote that the “Mexican trains and traders are arriving daily with gold, silver, furs, pelts, wool. At Bernard & Co’s we see a pile of silver rocks . . . At the same place a piece of pure gold (from Mexican mines, not from Pike’s Peak) as large as an apple dumpling . . . .” The streets were crowded with wagon trains. “Sometimes it was difficult to tread one’s way across the streets on account of the blockade of wagons, mules, cattle, bales, boxes, etc.,” wrote a correspondent of the Republican. Among the exports he noticed a “patent reaper, and mower, a steam engine and boiler, together with all the machinery necessary for a new flouring mill at Albuquerque.” By July 15 the streets were again quiet, “the merchant trains having all departed, and the last hunter, peon, and greaser have left. . . .”

An old pioneer remembered some years later that on a certain day in May, 1858, the entire quarter section of land at Lone Elm, Kansas, was covered with wagons. The wagons commenced to pull out at twelve o’clock at night and the last train did not pass him before four o’clock in the afternoon.

S. M. Hayes & Company, located on the trail at Council Grove, Kansas, kept a registry of those engaged in the Santa Fe trade. In 1858 they recorded 2,440 men, 1,827 wagons, 429 horses, 15,714 oxen, 5,316 mules, 67 carriages, and 9,608 tons of goods. They estimated the total capital invested at $2,627,300. If wagons were included the astounding sum of $3,500,000 was spent in this trade in that year.

The trade in 1859, believed one contemporary writer, had risen to $10,000,000 annually. Between March 1 and July 31, the Missouri Republican, perhaps quoting S. M. Hayes & Company, reported that 2,300 men, 1,970 wagons, 840 horses, 4,000 mules, 15,000 oxen, 73 carriages, and over 1,900 tons of freight left for New Mexico. These figures were exclusive of gold seekers who “were too numerous to count.”

The wool crop of 1860 was unprecedented. One firm in Tecolati, New Mexico, had contracted for 150,000 fleeces. Shearing sheep had become quite common. The State Record (Topeka) reported the largest return train of the season: Thirty-seven wagons extending for over a mile, bringing 50,000 pounds of wool from New Mexico. S. M. Hayes and Company gave the total of the season: 2,984 men, 2,170 wagons, 464 horses, 5,933 mules, 17,836 oxen, 76 carriages, and 80,000 tons of freight.”

In 1862 the Council Grove Press reported that more than 3,000 wagons, 618 horses, 20,812 oxen, 6,406 mules, 96 carriages, and 3,720 men made their way over the old trail to the Southwest. The business had grown to amazing proportions, for now over 10,000 tons of freight valued at $40,000,000 constituted the cargo.

The 30,000 or so oxen used to haul wagons would be diminished by half during the 1870s and a decade later the mules, horses and the wagons themselves would be retired. Iron rails had been laid across the plains then over Raton Pass and reached Las Vegas, New Mexico by 1879. For 60 years teamsters and muleskinners had plied their trade but the locomotives  and railroadmen had a better way. As the rails kept getting laid down the trail became shorter and shorter. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had replaced the need for the Santa Fe Trail and that was the ending.

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About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
This entry was posted in earth, history, local economy, the hungry brain and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Santa Fe Trail – the ending

  1. McEff says:

    So here we are at the end of the trial, Dohn. What a fascinating story. Those statistics really put things into perspective – men and beats pushing west to make a trail and creating so much wealth that they laid a railroad to open the land up even further.
    Thanks for that, Alen.

  2. I have nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award, if you want to accept the award check my blog http://margosnotebook.wordpress.com

  3. winsomebella says:

    The Westport site in Kansas City is now a hot night spot and the old hotel in Council Grove offers some of the best pie you can buy. This has been a great series of posts–thank you. Are you working on a book about the subject?

    • Well if I ever get around Kansas City again I’ll know where to go. Thanks Stacy. I was not thinking about a book when I started..I just had a stack of photos from my retreat and sorta got carried away.

  4. What an amazing writing project you ‘ve given us Dohn, Congratulations on all your research and hard work – amazing detail – thank you

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