The Santa Fe Trail was a famous route that was used by Americans in the 19th century to travel from Missouri to the area of Santa Fe which is today known as New Mexico. Until 1821, Mexico and the southwestern parts of today’s USA were under Spanish control. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and allowed American settlers to come to the area of New Mexico as well as Texas.
Thousands of American settlers traveled to Santa Fe in New Mexico using the Santa Fe Trail. In 1846, American armies used the route to reach Mexican territory and take control of Santa Fe during the Mexican-American War. This route continued to be used for military and commercial purposes all the way until 1880. When Civil War broke out in 1861, people stopped using the Santa Fe Trail. But when the war came to an end in 1865, traffic on the Trail resumed.
The Santa Fe Trail began at Independence, Missouri and ended at Santa Fe. In all, the trail covered 900 miles. It ran through the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. It had two main routes. One of these passed through the Mountain Fork in the state of Colorado.
This path went through the Colorado Rockies which was a hard part of the journey and not very suitable for wagons. The other route passed through the Cimarron Fork in the state of Kansas. This was a short cut route, cutting down the total journey by 100 miles. But there was scarcity of drinkable water along this route.
The trail started to be popularly used in the 1820s. At this time, it was most commonly used by the American settlers to reach southwestern areas such as Santa Fe. The route was also popularly used for trade between USA and the newly-born Mexico which tied the economies of both nations. Both sides traded in many goods. Americans, for instance, sent glass, books and cloth to Mexico and in return, Mexicans sent trade goods such as wool, animal furs, blankets and silver to USA.
Santa Fe Trail left a very important impact upon the American southwest. From 1821 onwards, the Santa Fe Trail was the route used by American settlers to arrive in the southwest and settle in Mexican-controlled areas. Over time, the population of the American settlers grew and they rebelled against the Mexican government’s control. After the Mexican American War, the Santa Fe area officially became a part of the United States of America, to be called New Mexico.
Most of the travelers along the Santa Fe Trail used wagons. Wagons joined together into groups which were called wagon trains and then traveled together. At night, the caravan camped by forming a circle with wagons. American army also built many forts along the Trail to protect the travelers.
Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847 (Yale Western Americana Paperbound, Yw-3.)
Learn More about the Santa Fe Trail at Wikipedia