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Santa Fe Trail lives on in 200th year

by MICHELLE FANSLER/Special to The Press
| September 21, 2021 1:00 AM

The Lt. George Farragut Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution is proudly participating in the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail today, Sept. 21.

On June 10, 1821, William Becknell published a notice in the Missouri Intelligencer newspaper soliciting participants to join a trip “to the westward for the purpose of trading for Horses & Mules, and catching Wild Animals of every description, that we may think advantageous.”

William Becknell started from Franklin, Mo., with five other men in September of 1821. It took them almost two-and-a-half long, cold, worrisome months to reach New Mexico, knowing everyone else who had previously come to trade in New Mexico had not fared well.

Over the next 24 years, countless men from the Missouri frontier purchased goods, hired hands and headed for Santa Fe. Cloth of various kinds was the major item of trade taken to the Southwest. Calico, chambray, dimity, flannels, ginghams, linens, muslins, percales and silks were some of the kinds of cloth included. Other goods taken included needles, thread, buttons, shawls, handkerchiefs, knives, files, axes, tools and even, in 1824, “green spectacles.” The wagons that carried the goods were also sold after being unloaded along with the oxen or mules that had pulled the wagons.

What was taken back to Missouri were silver coins, processed gold, wool and a great number of mules. The silver coins and returns from the trade enabled Missouri to thrive when financial depression struck the rest of the country in the period from 1821 to 1848. The Spanish and Mexican 8 Reales coin was legal tender in the United States until 1857 because of its reliable silver content. Missouri became known for its mules, which really came from the southwest.

In 1850, Kansas City alone sent 500 wagon loads, and in 1855 the total trade was estimated at $5,000,000. By 1860, a total of 16,439,000 pounds is said to have been carried, 9,084 men were employed and 6,147 mules, 27,920 oxen and 3,033 wagons were used.

For almost 60 years the Santa Fe Trail was the conduit bringing goods to New Mexico and the southwest, sending back silver, furs and mules. But ideas were also exchanged across this route, along with culture. New Mexicans were exposed to “Yankees” and their way of doing business long before the invasion took place.

In 1821, the Santa Fe Trail became America's first great international commercial highway, and for nearly 60 years thereafter was one of the nation's great routes of adventure and western expansion.

By the early 1900s, the Kansas Daughters of the American Revolution began a campaign to raise funds to place markers along the trail. By 1906 the Kansas DAR had raised enough funds to buy 95 granite markers, which are still in place, well maintained and continue to guide visitors along the Trail.

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Michelle Fansler is vice regent of Lt. George Farragut Chapter.