The Old Santa Fe Trail by Colonel Henry Inman

Etext Edition edited by MICHAEL S. OVERTON THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL The Story of a Great Highway By COLONEL HENRY INMAN Late Assistant Quartermaster, United States Army With a Preface by W. F. “BUFFALO BILL” CODY PREFACE. As we look into the open fire for our fancies, so we are apt to study the
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  • 1897
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Etext Edition edited by MICHAEL S. OVERTON


The Story of a Great Highway


Late Assistant Quartermaster, United States Army

With a Preface by W. F. “BUFFALO BILL” CODY


As we look into the open fire for our fancies, so we are apt to study the dim past for the wonderful and sublime, forgetful of the fact that the present is a constant romance, and that the happenings of to-day which we count of little importance are sure to startle somebody in the future, and engage the pen of the historian, philosopher, and poet.

Accustomed as we are to think of the vast steppes of Russia and Siberia as alike strange and boundless, and to deal with the unkown interior of Africa as an impenetrable mystery, we lose sight of a locality in our own country that once surpassed all these in virgin grandeur, in majestic solitude, and in all the attributes of a tremendous wilderness.

The story of the Old Santa Fe Trail, so truthfully recalled by Colonel Henry Inman, ex-officer of the old Regular Army, in these pages, is a most thrilling one. The vast area through which the famous highway ran is still imperfectly known to most people as “The West”; a designation once appropriate, but hardly applicable now; for in these days of easy communication the real trail region is not so far removed from New York as Buffalo was seventy years ago.

At the commencement of the “commerce of the prairies,” in the early portion of the century, the Old Trail was the arena of almost constant sanguinary struggles between the wily nomads of the desert and the hardy white pioneers, whose eventful lives made the civilization of the vast interior region of our continent possible. Their daring compelled its development, which has resulted in the genesis of great states and large cities. Their hardships gave birth to the American homestead; their determined will was the factor of possible achievements, the most remarkable and important of modern times.

When the famous highway was established across the great plains as a line of communication to the shores of the blue Pacific, the only method of travel was by the slow freight caravan drawn by patient oxen, or the lumbering stage coach with its complement of four or six mules. There was ever to be feared an attack by those devils of the desert, the Cheyennes, Comanches, and Kiowas. Along its whole route the remains of men, animals, and the wrecks of camps and wagons, told a story of suffering, robbery, and outrage more impressive than any language. Now the tourist or business man makes the journey in palace cars, and there is nothing to remind him of the danger or desolation of Border days; on every hand are the evidences of a powerful and advanced civilization.

It is fortunate that one is left to tell some of its story who was a living actor and had personal knowledge of many of the thrilling scenes that were enacted along the line of the great route. He was familiar with all the famous men, both white and savage, whose lives have made the story of the Trail, his own sojourn on the plains and in the Rocky Mountains extending over a period of nearly forty years.

The Old Trail has more than common interest for me, and I gladly record here my indorsement of the faithful record, compiled by a brave soldier, old comrade, and friend.

W. F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill.”


The First Europeans who traversed the Great Highway–Alvar Nunez Cabeca de Vaca–Hernando de Soto, and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado– Spanish Expedition from Santa Fe eastwardly–Escape of the Sole Survivors.

Quaint Descriptions of Old Santa Fe–The Famous Adobe Palace– Santa Fe the Oldest Town in the United States–First Settlement– Onate’s Conquest–Revolt of the Pueblo Indians–Under Pueblo Rule –Cruelties of the Victors–The Santa Fe of To-day–Arrival of a Caravan–The Railroad reaches the Town–Amusements–A Fandango.

The Beginning of the Santa Fe Trade–La Lande and Pursley, the First Americans to cross the Plains–Pursley’s Patriotism– Captain Ezekiel Williams–A Hungry Bear–A Midnight Alarm.

Captain Becknell’s Expedition–Sufferings from Thirst–Auguste Chouteau–Imprisonment of McKnight and Chambers–The Caches– Stampeding Mules–First Military Escort across the Plains– Captain Zebulon Pike–Sublette and Smith–Murder of McNess– Indians not the Aggressors.

The Atajo or Pack-train of Mules–Mexican Nomenclature of Paraphernalia–Manner of Packing–The “Bell-mare”–Toughness of Mules among Precipices–The Caravan of Wagons–Largest Wagon-train ever on the Plains–Stampedes–Duties of Packers en route–Order of Travelling with Pack-train–Chris. Gilson, the Famous Packer.

Narrative of Bryant’s Party of Santa Fe Traders–The First Wagon Expedition across the Plains–A Thrilling Story of Hardship and Physical Suffering–Terrible Fight with the Comanches–Abandonment of the Wagons–On Foot over the Trail–Burial of their Specie on an Island in the Arkansas–Narrative of William Y. Hitt, one of the Party–His Encounter with a Comanche–The First Escort of United States Troops to the Annual Caravan of Santa Fe Traders, in 1829–Major Bennett Riley’s Official Report to the War Department –Journal of Captain Cooke.

The Expedition of Texans to the Old Santa Fe Trail for the Purpose of robbing Mexican Traders–Innocent Citizens of the United States suspected, arrested, and carried to the Capital of New Mexico– Colonel Snively’s Force–Warfield’s Sacking of the Village of Mora –Attack upon a Mexican Caravan–Kit Carson in the Fight– A Crime of over Sixty Years Ago–A Romance of the Tragedy.

Mexico declares War against the United States–Congress authorizes the President to call for Fifty Thousand Volunteers–Organization of the Army of the West–Phenomenon seen by Santa Fe Traders in the Sky –First Death on the March of the Army across the Plains–Men in a Starving Condition–Another Death–Burial near Pawnee Rock– Trouble at Pawnee Fork–Major Howard’s Report.

The Valley of Taos–First White Settler–Rebellion of the Mexicans –A Woman discovers and informs Colonel Price of the Conspiracy– Assassination of Governor Bent–Horrible Butcheries by the Pueblos and Mexicans–Turley’s Ranch–Murder of Harwood and Markhead– Anecdote of Sir William Drummond Stewart–Fight at the Mills– Battle of the Pueblo of Taos–Trial of the Insurrectionists– Baptiste, the Juror–Execution of the Rebels.

Independence–Opening of Navigation on the Mississippi–Effect of Water Transportation upon the Trade–Establishment of Trading-forts– Market for Cattle and Mules–Wages paid Teamsters on the Trail– An Enterprising Coloured Man–Increase of the Trade at the Close of the Mexican War–Heavy Emigration to California–First Overland Mail –How the Guards were armed–Passenger Coaches to Santa Fe– Stage-coaching Days.

The Tragedy in the Canyon of the Canadian–Dragoons follow the Trail of the Savages–Kit Carson, Dick Wooton, and Tom Tobin the Scouts of the Expedition–More than a Hundred of the Savages killed– Murder of Mrs. White–White Wolf–Lieutenant Bell’s Singular Duel with the Noted Savage–Old Wolf–Satank–Murder of Peacock– Satanta made Chief–Kicking Bird–His Tragic Death–Charles Bent, the Half-breed Renegade–His Terrible Acts–His Death.

Neglect of New Mexico by the United States Government–Intended Conquest of the Province–Conspiracy of Southern Leaders– Surrender by General Twiggs to the Confederate Government of the Military Posts and Munitions of War under his Command–Only One Soldier out of Two Thousand deserts to the Enemy–Organization of Volunteers for the Defence of Colorado and New Mexico– Battle of La Glorieta–Rout of the Rebels.

The Ancient Range of the Buffalo–Number slaughtered in Thirteen Years for their Robes alone–Buffalo Bones–Trains stopped by Vast Herds– Custom of Old Hunters when caught in a Blizzard–Anecdotes of Buffalo Hunting–Kit Carson’s Dilemma–Experience of Two of Fremont’s Hunters–Wounded Buffalo Bull–O’Neil’s Laughable Experience– Organization of a Herd of Buffalo–Stampedes–Thrilling Escapes.

Big Timbers–Winter Camp of the Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Arapahoes– Savage Amusements–A Cheyenne Lodge–Indian Etiquette–Treatment of Children–The Pipe of the North American Savage–Dog Feast– Marriage Ceremony.

The Old Pueblo Fort–A Celebrated Rendezvous–Its Inhabitants– “Fontaine qui Bouille”–The Legend of its Origin–The Trappers of the Old Santa Fe Trail and the Rocky Mountains–Beaver Trapping– Habits of the Beaver–Improvidence of the Old Trappers–Trading with “Poor Lo”–The Strange Experience of a Veteran Trapper on the Santa Fe Trail–Romantic Marriage of Baptiste Brown.

Uncle John Smith–A Famous Trapper, Guide, and Interpreter– His Marriage with a Cheyenne Squaw–An Autocrat among the People of the Plains and Mountains–The Mexicans held him in Great Dread– His Wonderful Resemblance to President Andrew Johnson–Interpreter and Guide on General Sheridan’s Winter Expedition against the Allied Plains Tribes–His Stories around the Camp-fire.

Famous Men of the Old Santa Fe Trail–Kit Carson–Jim Bridger– James P. Beckwourth–Uncle Dick Wooton–Jim Baker–Lucien B. Maxwell–Old Bill Williams–Tom Tobin–James Hobbs.

Uncle Dick Wooton–Lucien B. Maxwell–Old Bill Williams–Tom Tobin– James Hobbs–William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill).

Maxwell’s Ranch on the Old Santa Fe Trail–A Picturesque Region– Maxwell a Trapper and Hunter with the American Fur Company– Lifelong Comrade of Kit Carson–Sources of Maxwell’s Wealth– Fond of Horse-racing–A Disastrous Fourth-of-July Celebration –Anecdote of Kit Carson–Discovery of Gold on the Ranch– The Big Ditch–Issuing Beef to the Ute Indians–Camping out with Maxwell and Carson–A Story of the Old Santa Fe Trail.

The Bents’ Several Forts–Famous Trading-posts–Rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain Trappers–Castle William and Incidents connected with the Noted Place–Bartering with the Indians–Annual Feast of Arapahoes and Cheyennes–Old Wolf’s First Visit to Bent’s Fort– The Surprise of the Savages–Stories told by Celebrated Frontiersmen around the Camp-fire.

Pawnee Rock–A Debatable Region of the Indian Tribes–The most Dangerous Point on the Central Plains in the Days of the Early Santa Fe Trade–Received its Name in a Baptism of Blood– Battle-ground of the Pawnees and Cheyennes–Old Graves on the Summit of the Rock–Kit Carson’s First Fight at the Rock with the Pawnees–Kills his Mule by Mistake–Colonel St. Vrain’s Brilliant Charge–Defeat of the Savages–The Trappers’ Terrible Battle with the Pawnees–The Massacre at Cow Creek.

Wagon Mound–John L. Hatcher’s Thrilling Adventure with Old Wolf, the War-chief of the Comanches–Incidents on the Trail–A Boy Bugler’s Happy Escape from the Savages at Fort Union–A Drunken Stage-driver–How an Officer of the Quartermaster’s Department at Washington succeeded in starting the Military Freight Caravans a Month Earlier than the Usual Time–How John Chisholm fooled the Stage-robbers–The Story of Half a Plug of Tobacco.

Solitary Graves along the Line of the Old Santa Fe Trail–The Walnut Crossing–Fort Zarah–The Graves on Hon. D. Heizer’s Ranch on the Walnut–Troops stationed at the Crossing of the Walnut– A Terrible Five Miles–The Cavalry Recruit’s Last Ride.

General Hancock’s Expedition against the Plains Indians–Terrible Snow-storm at Fort Larned–Meeting with the Chiefs of the Dog-Soldiers–Bull Bear’s Diplomacy–Meeting of the United States Troops and the Savages in Line of Battle–Custer’s Night Experience– The Surgeon and Dog Stew–Destruction of the Village by Fire– General Sully’s Fight with the Kiowas, Comanches, and Arapahoes– Finding the Skeletons of the Unfortunate Men–The Savages’ Report of the Affair.

Scenery on the Line of the Old Santa Fe Trail–The Great Plains– The Arkansas Valley–Over the Rocky Mountains into New Mexico– The Raton Range–The Spanish Peaks–Simpson’s Rest–Fisher’s Peak –Raton Peak–Snowy Range–Pike’s Peak–Raton Creek–The Invasion of the Railroad–The Old Santa Fe Trail a Thing of the Past.




For more than three centuries, a period extending from 1541 to 1851, historians believed, and so announced to the literary world, that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the celebrated Spanish explorer, in his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the Kingdom of Quivira, was the first European to travel over the intra-continent region of North America. In the last year above referred to, however, Buckingham Smith, of Florida, an eminent Spanish scholar, and secretary of the American Legation at Madrid, discovered among the archives of State the _Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeca de Vaca_, where for nearly three hundred years it had lain, musty and begrimed with the dust of ages, an unread and forgotten story of suffering that has no parallel in fiction. The distinguished antiquarian unearthed the valuable manuscript from its grave of oblivion, translated it into English, and gave it to the world of letters; conferring honour upon whom honour was due, and tearing the laurels from such grand voyageurs and discoverers as De Soto, La Salle, and Coronado, upon whose heads history had erroneously placed them, through no fault, or arrogance, however, of their own.

Cabeca, beyond any question, travelled the Old Santa Fe Trail for many miles, crossed it where it intersects the Arkansas River, a little east of Fort William or Bent’s Fort, and went thence on into New Mexico, following the famous highway as far, at least, as Las Vegas. Cabeca’s march antedated that of Coronado by five years. To this intrepid Spanish voyageur we are indebted for the first description of the American bison, or buffalo as the animal is erroneously called. While not so quaint in its language as that of Coronado’s historian, a lustrum later, the statement cannot be perverted into any other reference than to the great shaggy monsters of the plains:–

Cattle come as far as this. I have seen them three times and eaten of their meat. I think they are about the size of those of Spain. They have small horns like the cows of Morocco, and the hair very long and flocky, like that of the merino; some are light brown, others black. To my judgment the flesh is finer and fatter than that of this country. The Indians make blankets of the hides of those not full grown. They range over a district of more than four hundred leagues, and in the whole extent of plain over which they run the people that inhabit near there descend and live on them and scatter a vast many skins throughout the country.

It will be remembered by the student of the early history of our country, that when Alvar Nunez Cabeca de Vaca, a follower of the unfortunate Panphilo de Narvaez, and who had been long thought dead, landed in Spain, he gave such glowing accounts of Florida[1] and the neighbouring regions that the whole kingdom was in a ferment, and many a heart panted to emigrate to a land where the fruits were perennial, and where it was thought flowed the fabled fountain of youth.

Three expeditions to that country had already been tried: one undertaken in 1512, by Juan Ponce de Leon, formerly a companion of Columbus; another in 1520, by Vasquez de Allyon; and another by Panphilo de Narvaez. All of these had signally failed, the bones of most of the leaders and their followers having been left to bleach upon the soil they had come to conquer.

The unfortunate issue of the former expeditions did not operate as a check upon the aspiring mind of De Soto, but made him the more anxious to spring as an actor into the arena which had been the scene of the discomfiture and death of the hardy chivalry of the kingdom. He sought an audience of the emperor, and the latter, after hearing De Soto’s proposition that, “he could conquer the country known as Florida at his own expense,” conferred upon him the title of “Governor of Cuba and Florida.”

On the 6th of April, 1538, De Soto sailed from Spain with an armament of ten vessels and a splendidly equipped army of nine hundred chosen men, amidst the roar of cannons and the inspiring strains of martial music.

It is not within the province of this work to follow De Soto through all his terrible trials on the North American continent; the wonderful story may be found in every well-organized library. It is recorded, however, that some time during the year 1542, his decimated army, then under the command of Luis de Moscoso, De Soto having died the previous May, was camped on the Arkansas River, far upward towards what is now Kansas. It was this command, too, of the unfortunate but cruel De Soto, that saw the Rocky Mountains from the east. The chronicler of the disastrous journey towards the mountains says: “The entire route became a trail of fire and blood,” as they had many a desperate struggle with the savages of the plains, who “were of gigantic stucture, and fought with heavy strong clubs, with the desperation of demons. Such was their tremendous strength, that one of these warriors was a match for a Spanish soldier, though mounted on a horse, armed with a sword and cased in armour!”

Moscoso was searching for Coronado, and he was one of the most humane of all the officers of De Soto’s command, for he evidently bent every energy to extricate his men from the dreadful environments of their situation; despairing of reaching the Gulf by the Mississippi, he struck westward, hoping, as Cabeca de Vaca had done, to arrive in Mexico overland.

A period of six months was consumed in Moscoso’s march towards the Rocky Mountains, but he failed to find Coronado, who at that time was camped near where Wichita, Kansas, is located; according to his historian, “at the junction of the St. Peter and St. Paul” (the Big and Little Arkansas?). That point was the place of separation between Coronado and a number of his followers; many returning to Mexico, while the undaunted commander, with as many as he could induce to accompany him, continued easterly, still in search of the mythical Quivira.

How far westward Moscoso travelled cannot be determined accurately, but that his route extended up the valley of the Arkansas for more than three hundred miles, into what is now Kansas, is proved by the statement of his historian, who says: “They saw great chains of mountains and forests to the west, which they understood were uninhabited.”

Another strong confirmatory fact is, that, in 1884, a group of mounds was discovered in McPherson County, Kansas, which were thoroughly explored by the professors of Bethany College, Lindsborg, who found, among other interesting relics, a piece of chain-mail armour, of hard steel; undoubtedly part of the equipment of a Spanish soldier either of the command of Cabeca de Vaca, De Soto, or of Coronado. The probability is, that it was worn by one of De Soto’s unfortunate men, as neither Panphilo de Narvaez, De Vaca, or Coronado experienced any difficulty with the savages of the great plains, because those leaders were humane and treated the Indians kindly, in contradistinction to De Soto, who was the most inhuman of all the early Spanish explorers. He was of the same school as Pizarro and Cortez; possessing their daring valour, their contempt of danger, and their tenacity of purpose, as well as their cruelty and avarice. De Soto made treaties with the Indians which he constantly violated, and murdered the misguided creatures without mercy. During the retreat of Moscoso’s weakened command down the Arkansas River, the Hot Springs of Arkansas were discovered. His historian writes:

And when they saw the foaming fountain, they thought it was the long-searched-for “Fountain of Youth,” reported by fame to exist somewhere in the country, but ten of the soldiers dying from excessive drinking, they were soon convinced of their error.

After these intrepid explorers the restless Coronado appears on the Old Trail. In the third volume of Hakluyt’s _Voyages_, published in London, 1600, Coronado’s historian thus describes the great plains of Kansas and Colorado, the bison, and a tornado:–

From Cicuye they went to Quivira, which after their account is almost three hundred leagues distant, through mighty plains, and sandy heaths so smooth and wearisome, and bare of wood that they made heaps of ox-dung, for want of stones and trees, that they might not lose themselves at their return: for three horses were lost on that plain, and one Spaniard which went from his company on hunting. . . . All that way of plains are as full of crooked-back oxen as the mountain Serrena in Spain is of sheep, but there is no such people as keep those cattle. . . . They were a great succour for the hunger and the want of bread, which our party stood in need of. . . .

One day it rained in that plain a great shower of hail, as big as oranges, which caused many tears, weakness and bowes.

These oxen are of the bigness and colour of our bulls, but their bones are not so great. They have a great bunch upon their fore-shoulder, and more hair on their fore part than on their hinder part, and it is like wool. They have as it were an horse-mane upon their backbone, and much hair and very long from their knees downward. They have great tufts of hair hanging down on their foreheads, and it seemeth they have beards because of the great store of hair hanging down at their chins and throats. The males have very long tails, and a great knob or flock at the end, so that in some respects they resemble the lion, and in some other the camel. They push with their horns, they run, they overtake and kill an horse when they are in their rage and anger. Finally it is a foul and fierce beast of countenance and form of body. The horses fled from them, either because of their deformed shape, or else because they had never before seen them.

“The number,” continues the historian, “was incredible.” When the soldiers, in their excitement for the chase, began to kill them, they rushed together in such masses that hundreds were literally crushed to death. At one place there was a great ravine; they jumped into it in their efforts to escape from the hunters, and so terrible was the slaughter as they tumbled over the precipice that the depression was completely filled up, their carcasses forming a bridge, over which the remainder passed with ease.

The next recorded expedition across the plains via the Old Trail was also by the Spaniards from Santa Fe, eastwardly, in the year 1716, “for the purpose of establishing a Military Post in the Upper Mississippi Valley as a barrier to the further encroachments of the French in that direction.” An account of this expedition is found in _Memoires Historiques sur La Louisiane_, published in Paris in 1858, but never translated in its entirety. The author, Lieutenant Dumont of the French army, was one of a party ascending the Arkansas River in search of a supposed mass of emeralds. The narrative relates: There was more than half a league to traverse to gain the other bank of the river, and our people were no sooner arrived than they found there a party of Missouris, sent to M. de la Harpe by M. de Bienville, then commandant general at Louisiana, to deliver orders to the former. Consequently they gave the signal order, and our other two canoes having crossed the river, the savages gave to our commandant the letters of M. de Bienville, in which he informed him that the Spaniards had sent out a detachment from New Mexico to go to the Missouris and to establish a post in that country. . . . The success of this expedition was very calamitous to the Spaniards. Their caravan was composed of fifteen hundred people, men, women and soldiers, having with them a Jacobin for a chaplain, and bringing also a great number of horses and cattle, according to the custom of that nation to forget nothing that might be necessary for a settlement. Their design was to destroy the Missouris, and to seize upon their country, and with this intention they had resolved to go first to the Osages, a neighbouring nation, enemies of the Missouris, to form an alliance with them, and to engage them in their behalf for the execution of their plan. Perhaps the map which guided them was not correct, or they had not exactly followed it, for it chanced that instead of going to the Osages whom they sought, they fell, without knowing it, into a village of the Missouris, where the Spanish commander, presenting himself to the great chief and offering him the calumet, made him understand through an interpreter, believing himself to be speaking to the Osage chief, that they were enemies of the Missouris, that they had come to destroy them, to make their women and children slaves and to take possession of their country. He begged the chief to be willing to form an alliance with them, against a nation whom the Osages regarded as their enemy, and to second them in this enterprise, promising to recompense them liberally for the service rendered, and always to be their friend in the future. Upon this discourse the Missouri chief understood perfectly well the mistake. He dissimulated and thanked the Spaniard for the confidence he had in his nation; he consented to form an alliance with them against the Missouris, and to join them with all his forces to destroy them; but he represented that his people were not armed, and that they dared not expose themselves without arms in such an enterprise. Deceived by so favourable a reception, the Spaniards fell into the trap laid for them. They received with due ceremony, in the little camp they had formed on their arrival, the calumet which the great chief of the Missouris presented to the Spanish commander. The alliance for war was sworn to by both parties; they agreed upon a day for the execution of the plan which they meditated, and the Spaniards furnished the savages with all the munitions which they thought were needed. After the ceremony both parties gave themselves up equally to joy and good cheer. At the end of three days two thousand savages were armed and in the midst of dances and amusements; each party thought nothing but the execution of its design. It was the evening before their departure upon their concerted expedition, and the Spaniards had retired to their camps as usual, when the great chief of the Missouris, having assembled his warriors, declared to them his intentions and exhorted them to deal treacherously with these strangers who were come to their home only with the design of destroying them. At daybreak the savages divided into several bands, fell on the Spaniards, who expected nothing of the kind, and in less than a quarter of an hour all the caravan were murdered. No one escaped from the massacre except the chaplain, whom the barbarians saved because of his dress; at the same time they took possession of all the merchandise and other effects which they found in their camp. The Spaniards had brought with them, as I have said, a certain number of horses, and as the savages were ignorant of the use of these animals, they took pleasure in making the Jacobin whom they had saved, and who had become their slave, mount them. The priest gave them this amusement almost every day for the five or six months that he remained with them in their village, without any of them daring to imitate him. Tired at last of his slavery, and regarding the lack of daring in these barbarians as a means of Providence to regain his liberty, he made secretly all the provisions possible for him to make, and which he believed necessary to his plan. At last, having chosen the best horse and having mounted him, after performing several of his exploits before the savages, and while they were all occupied with his manoeuvres, he spurred up and disappeared from their sight, taking the road to Mexico, where doubtless he arrived.

Charlevoix,[2] who travelled from Quebec to New Orleans in the year 1721, says in one of his letters to the Duchess of Lesdiguieres, dated at Kaskaskia, July 21, 1721:

About two years ago some Spaniards, coming, as they say, from New Mexico, and intending to get into the country of the Illinois and drive the French from thence, whom they saw with extreme jealousy approach so near the Missouri, came down the river and attacked two villages of the Octoyas,[3] who are the allies of the Ayouez,[4] and from whom it is said also that they are derived. As the savages had no firearms and were surprised, the Spaniards made an easy conquest and killed a great many of them. A third village, which was not far off from the other two, being informed of what had passed, and not doubting but these conquerors would attack them, laid an ambush into which the Spaniards heedlessly fell. Others say that the savages, having heard that the enemy were almost all drunk and fast asleep, fell upon them in the night. However it was, it is certain the greater part of them were killed. There were in the party two almoners; one of them was killed directly and the other got away to the Missouris, who took him prisoner, but he escaped them very dexterously. He had a very fine horse and the Missouris took pleasure in seeing him ride it, which he did very skilfully. He took advantage of their curiosity to get out of their hands.

One day as he was prancing and exercising his horse before them, he got a little distance from them insensibly; then suddenly clapping spurs to his horse he was soon out of sight.

The Missouri Indians once occupied all the territory near the junction of the Kaw and Missouri rivers, but they were constantly decimated by the continual depredations of their warlike and feudal enemies, the Pawnees and Sioux, and at last fell a prey to that dreadful scourge, the small-pox, which swept them off by thousands. The remnant of the once powerful tribe then found shelter and a home with the Otoes, finally becoming merged in that tribe.


The Santa Fe of the purely Mexican occupation, long before the days of New Mexico’s acquisition by the United States, and the Santa Fe of to-day are so widely in contrast that it is difficult to find language in which to convey to the reader the story of the phenomenal change. To those who are acquainted with the charming place as it is now, with its refined and cultured society, I cannot do better, perhaps, in attempting to show what it was under the old regime, than to quote what some traveller in the early 30’s wrote for a New York leading newspaper, in regard to it. As far as my own observation of the place is concerned, when I first visited it a great many years ago, the writer of the communication whose views I now present was not incorrect in his judgment. He said:–

To dignify such a collection of mud hovels with the name of “City,” would be a keen irony; not greater, however, than is the name with which its Padres have baptized it. To call a place with its moral character, a very Sodom in iniquity, “Holy Faith,” is scarcely a venial sin; it deserves Purgatory at least. Its health is the best in the country, which is the first, second and third recommendation of New Mexico by its greatest admirers. It is a small town of about two thousand inhabitants, crowded up against the mountains, at the end of a little valley through which runs a mountain stream of the same name tributary to the Rio Grande. It has a public square in the centre, a Palace and an Alameda; as all Spanish Roman Catholic towns have. It is true its Plaza, or Public Square, is unfenced and uncared for, without trees or grass. The Palace is nothing more than the biggest mud-house in the town, and the churches, too, are unsightly piles of the same material, and the Alameda[5] is on top of a sand hill. Yet they have in Santa Fe all the parts and parcels of a regal city and a Bishopric. The Bishop has a palace also; the only two-storied shingle-roofed house in the place. There is one public house set apart for eating, drinking and gambling; for be it known that gambling is here authorized by law. Hence it is as respectable to keep a gambling house, as it is to sell rum in New Jersey; it is a lawful business, and being lawful, and consequently respectable and a man’s right, why should not men gamble? And gamble they do. The Generals and the Colonels and the Majors and the Captains gamble. The judges and the lawyers and the doctors and the priests gamble; and there are gentlemen gamblers by profession! You will see squads of poor peons daily, men, women and boys, sitting on the ground around a deck of cards in the Public Square, gambling for the smallest stakes.

The stores of the town generally front on the Public Square. Of these there are a dozen, more or less, of respectable size, and most of them are kept by others than Mexicans. The business of the place is considerable, many of the merchants here being wholesale dealers for the vast territory tributary. It is supposed that about $750,000 worth of goods will be brought to this place this year, and there may be $250,000 worth imported directly from the United States.

In the money market there is nothing less than a five-cent piece. You cannot purchase anything for less than five cents. In trade they reckon ten cents the eighth of a dollar. If you purchase nominally a dollar’s worth of an article, you can pay for it in eight ten-cent pieces; and if you give a dollar, you receive no change. In changing a dollar for you, you would get but eight ten-cent pieces for it.

Yet, although dirty and unkempt, and swarming with hungry dogs, it has the charm of foreign flavour, and like San Antonio retains some portion of the grace which long lingered about it, if indeed it ever forsakes the spot where Spain held rule for centuries, and the soft syllables of the Spanish language are yet heard.

Such was a description of the “drowsy old town” of Santa Fe, sixty-five years ago. Fifteen years later Major W. H. Emory, of the United States army, writes of it as follows:[6]

The population of Santa Fe is from two to four thousand, and the inhabitants are, it is said, the poorest people of any town in the Province. The houses are mud bricks, in the Spanish style, generally of one story, and built on a square. The interior of the square is an open court, and the principal rooms open into it. They are forbidding in appearance from the outside, but nothing can exceed the comfort and convenience of the interior. The thick walls make them cool in summer and warm in winter.

The better class of people are provided with excellent beds, but the poorer class sleep on untanned skins. The women here, as in many other parts of the world, appear to be much before the men in refinements, intelligence, and knowledge of the useful arts. The higher class dress like the American women, except, instead of a bonnet, they wear a scarf over their head, called a reboso. This they wear asleep or awake, in the house or abroad. The dress of the lower classes of women is a simple petticoat, with arms and shoulders bare, except what may chance to be covered by the reboso.

The men who have means to do so dress after our fashion; but by far the greater number, when they dress at all, wear leather breeches, tight around the hips and open from the knee down; shirt and blanket take the place of our coat and vest.

The city is dependent on the distant hills for wood, and at all hours of the day may be seen jackasses passing laden with wood, which is sold at two bits, twenty-five cents, the load. These are the most diminutive animals, and usually mounted from behind, after the fashion of leap-frog. The jackass is the only animal that can be subsisted in this barren neighbourhood without great expense; our horses are all sent to a distance of twelve, fifteen, and thirty miles for grass.

I have interpolated these two somewhat similar descriptions of Santa Fe written in that long ago when New Mexico was almost as little known as the topography of the planet Mars, so that the intelligent visitor of to-day may appreciate the wonderful changes which American thrift, and that powerful civilizer, the locomotive, have wrought in a very few years, yet it still, as one of the foregoing writers has well said, “has the charm of foreign flavour, and the soft syllables of the Spanish language are still heard.”

The most positive exception must be taken to the statement of the first-quoted writer in relation to the Palace, of which he says “It is nothing more than the biggest mud-house in the town.” Now this “Palacio del Gobernador,” as the old building was called by the Spanish, was erected at a very early day. It was the long-established seat of power when Penalosa confined the chief inquisitor within its walls in 1663, and when the Pueblo authorities took possession of it as the citadel of their central authority, in 1681.

The old building cannot well be overlooked by the most careless visitor to the quaint town; it is a long, low structure, taking up the greater part of one side of the Plaza, round which runs a colonnade supported by pillars of rough pine. In this once leaky old Palace were kept, or rather neglected, the archives of the Territory until the American residents, appreciating the importance of preserving precious documents containing so much of interest to the student of history and the antiquarian, enlisted themselves enthusiastically in the good cause, and have rescued from oblivion the annals of a relatively remote civilization, which, but for their forethought, would have perished from the face of the earth as completely as have the written records of that wonderful region in Central America, whose gigantic ruins alone remain to tell us of what was a highly cultured order of architecture in past ages, and of a people whose intelligence was comparable to the style of the dwellings in which they lived.

The old adobe Palace is in itself a volume whose pages are filled with pathos and stirring events. It has been the scene and witness of incidents the recital of which would to us to-day seem incredible. An old friend, once governor of New Mexico and now dead, thus graphically spoke of the venerable building:[7]

In it lived and ruled the Spanish captain general, so remote and inaccessible from the viceroyalty at Mexico that he was in effect a king, nominally accountable to the viceroy, but practically beyond his reach and control and wholly irresponsible to the people. Equally independent for the same reason were the Mexican governors. Here met all the provincial, territorial, departmental, and other legislative bodies that have ever assembled at the capital of New Mexico. Here have been planned all the Indian wars and measures for defence against foreign invasion, including, as the most noteworthy, the Navajo war of 1823, the Texan invasion of 1842, the American of 1846, and the Confederate of 1862. Within its walls was imprisoned, in 1809, the American explorer Zebulon M. Pike, and innumerable state prisoners before and since; and many a sentence of death has been pronounced therein and the accused forthwith led away and shot at the dictum of the man at the Palace. It has been from time immemorial the government house with all its branches annexed. It was such on the Fourth of July, 1776, when the American Congress at Independence Hall in Philadelphia proclaimed liberty throughout all the land, not then, but now embracing it. Indeed, this old edifice has a history. And as the history of Santa Fe is the history of New Mexico, so is the history of the Palace the history of Santa Fe.

The Palace was the only building having glazed windows. At one end was the government printing office, and at the other, the guard-house and prison. Fearful stories were connected with the prison. Edwards[8] says that he found, on examining the walls of the small rooms, locks of human hair stuffed into holes, with rude crosses drawn over them.

Fronting the Palace, on the south side of the Plaza, stood the remains of the Capilla de los Soldados, or Military Chapel. The real name of the church was “Our Lady of Light.” It was said to be the richest church in the Province, but had not been in use for a number of years, and the roof had fallen in, allowing the elements to complete the work of destruction. On each side of the altar was the remains of fine carving, and a weather-beaten picture above gave evidence of having been a beautiful painting. Over the door was a large oblong slab of freestone, elaborately carved, representing “Our Lady of Light” rescuing a human being from the jaws of Satan. A large tablet, beautifully executed in relief, stood behind the altar, representing various saints, with an inscription stating that it was erected by Governor Francisco Antonio del Valle and his wife in 1761.

Church services were held in the Parroquia, or Parish church, now the Cathedral, which had two towers or steeples, in which hung four bells. The music was furnished by a violin and a triangle. The wall back of the altar was covered with innumerable mirrors, paintings, and bright-coloured tapestry.

The exact date of the first settlement of Santa Fe is uncertain. One authority says:

It was a primeval stronghold before the Spanish Conquest, and a town of some importance to the white race when Pennsylvania was a wilderness and the first Dutch governor of New York was slowly drilling the Knickerbocker ancestry in their difficult evolutions around the town-pump.

It is claimed, on what is deemed very authentic data by some, that Santa Fe is really the oldest settled town in the United States. St. Augustine, Florida, was established in 1565 and was unquestionably conceded the honour of antiquity until the acquisition of New Mexico by the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty. Then, of course, Santa Fe steps into the arena and carries off the laurels. This claim of precedence for Santa Fe is based upon the statement (whether historically correct or not is a question) that when the Spaniards first entered the region from the southern portion of Mexico, about 1542, they found a very large Pueblo town on the present site of Santa Fe, and that its prior existence extended far back into the vanished centuries. This is contradicted by other historians, who contend that the claim of Santa Fe to be the oldest town in the United States rests entirely on imaginary annals of an Indian Pueblo before the Spanish Conquest, and that there are but slight indications that the town was built on the site of one.[9]

The reader may further satisfy himself on these mooted points by consulting the mass of historical literature on New Mexico, and the records of its primitive times are not surpassed in interest by those of any other part of the continent. It was there the Europeans first made great conquests, and some years prior to the landing of the Pilgrims, a history of New Mexico, being the journal of Geronimo de Zarate Salmaron, was published by the Church in the City of Mexico, early in 1600. Salmaron was a Franciscan monk; a most zealous and indefatigable worker. During his eight years’ residence at Jemez, near Santa Fe, he claims to have baptized over eight thousand Indians, converts to the Catholic faith. His journal gives a description of the country, its mines, etc., and was made public in order that other monks reading it might emulate his pious example.

Between 1605 and 1616 was founded the Villa of Santa Fe, or San Francisco de la Santa Fe. “Villa,” or village, was an honorary title, always authorized and proclaimed by the king. Bancroft says that it was first officially mentioned on the 3d of January, 1617.

The first immigration to New Mexico was under Don Juan de Onate about 1597, and in a year afterward, according to some authorities, Santa Fe was settled. The place, as claimed by some historians, was then named El Teguayo, a Spanish adaptation of the word “Tegua,” the name of the Pueblo nation, which was quite numerous, and occupied Santa Fe and the contiguous country. It very soon, from its central position and charming climate, became the leading Spanish town, and the capital of the Province. The Spaniards, who came at first into the country as friends, and were apparently eager to obtain the good-will of the intelligent natives, shortly began to claim superiority, and to insist on the performance of services which were originally mere evidences of hospitality and kindness. Little by little they assumed greater power and control over the Indians, until in the course of years they had subjected a large portion of them to servitude little differing from actual slavery.

The impolitic zeal of the monks gradually invoked the spirit of hatred and resulted in a rebellion that drove the Spaniards, in 1680, from the country. The large number of priests who were left in the midst of the natives met with horrible fates:

Not one escaped martyrdom. At Zuni, three Franciscans had been stationed, and when the news of the Spanish retreat reached the town, the people dragged them from their cells, stripped and stoned them, and afterwards compelled the servant of one to finish the work by shooting them. Having thus whetted their appetite for cruelty and vengeance, the Indians started to carry the news of their independence to Moqui, and signalized their arrival by the barbarous murder of the two missionaries who were living there. Their bodies were left unburied, as a prey for the wild beasts. At Jemez they indulged in every refinement of cruelty. The old priest, Jesus Morador, was seized in his bed at night, stripped naked and mounted on a hog, and thus paraded through the streets, while the crowd shouted and yelled around. Not satisfied with this, they then forced him to carry them as a beast would, crawling on his hands and feet, until, from repeated beating and the cruel tortures of sharp spurs, he fell dead in their midst. A similar chapter of horrors was enacted at Acoma, where three priests were stripped, tied together with hair rope, and so driven through the streets, and finally stoned to death. Not a Christian remained free within the limits of New Mexico, and those who had been dominant a few months before were now wretched and half-starved fugitives, huddled together in the rude huts of San Lorenzo.

As soon as the Spaniards had retreated from the country, the Pueblo Indians gave themselves up for a time to rejoicing, and to the destruction of everything which could remind them of the Europeans, their religion, and their domination. The army which had besieged Santa Fe quickly entered that city, took possession of the Palace as the seat of government, and commenced the work of demolition. The churches and the monastery of the Franciscans were burned with all their contents, amid the almost frantic acclamations of the natives. The gorgeous vestments of the priests had been dragged out before the conflagration, and now were worn in derision by Indians, who rode through the streets at full speed, shouting for joy. The official documents and books in the Palace were brought forth, and made fuel for a bonfire in the centre of the Plaza; and here also they danced the cachina, with all the accompanying religious ceremonies of the olden time. Everything imaginable was done to show their detestation of the Christian faith and their determination to utterly eradicate even its memory. Those who had been baptized were washed with amole in the Rio Chiquito, in order to be cleansed from the infection of Christianity. All baptismal names were discarded, marriages celebrated by Christian priests were annulled, the very mention of the names Jesus and Mary was made an offence, and estuffas were constructed to take the place of ruined churches.[10]

For twelve years, although many abortive attempts were made to recapture the country, the Pueblos were left in possession. On the 16th of October, 1693, the victorious Spaniards at last entered Santa Fe, bearing the same banner which had been carried by Onate when he entered the city just a century before. The conqueror this time was Don Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan, whom the viceroy of New Spain had appointed governor in the spring of 1692, with the avowed purpose of having New Mexico reconquered as speedily as possible.

Thus it will be seen that the quaint old city has been the scene of many important historical events, the mere outline of which I have recorded here, as this book is not devoted to the historical view of the subject.

In contradistinction to the quiet, sleepy old Santa Fe of half a century ago, it now presents all the vigour, intelligence, and bustling progressiveness of the average American city of to-day, yet still smacks of that ancient Spanish regime, which gives it a charm that only its blended European and Indian civilization could make possible after its amalgamation with the United States.

The tourist will no longer find a drowsy old town, and the Plaza is no longer unfenced and uncared for. A beautiful park of trees is surrounded by low palings, and inside the shady enclosure, under a group of large cottonwoods, is a cenotaph erected to the memory of the Territory’s gallant soldiers who fell in the shock of battle to save New Mexico to the Union in 1862, and conspicuous among the names carved on the enduring native rock is that of Kit Carson– prince of frontiersmen, and one of Nature’s noblemen.

Around the Plaza one sees the American style of architecture and hears the hum of American civilization; but beyond, and outside this pretty park, the streets are narrow, crooked, and have an ancient appearance. There the old Santa Fe confronts the stranger; odd, foreign-looking, and flavoured with all the peculiarities which marked the era of Mexican rule. And now, where once was heard the excited shouts of the idle crowd, of “Los Americanos!” “Los Carros!” “La entrada de la Caravana!” as the great freight wagons rolled into the streets of the old town from the Missouri, over the Santa Fe Trail, the shrill whistle of the locomotive from its trail of steel awakens the echoes of the mighty hills.

As may be imagined, great excitement always prevailed whenever a caravan of goods arrived in Santa Fe. Particularly was this the case among the feminine portion of the community. The quaint old town turned out its mixed population en masse the moment the shouts went up that the train was in sight. There is nothing there to-day comparable to the anxious looks of the masses as they watched the heavily freighted wagons rolling into the town, the teamsters dust-begrimed, and the mules making the place hideous with their discordant braying as they knew that their long journey was ended and rest awaited them. The importing merchants were obliged to turn over to the custom house officials five hundred dollars for every wagon-load, great or small; and no matter what the intrinsic value of the goods might be, salt or silk, velvets or sugar, it was all the same. The nefarious duty had to be paid before a penny’s worth could be transferred to their counters. Of course, with the end of Mexican rule and the acquisition of the Province by the United States, all opposition to the traffic of the Old Santa Fe Trail ended, traders were assured a profitable market and the people purchased at relatively low prices.

What a wonderful change has taken place in the traffic with New Mexico in less than three-quarters of a century! In 1825 it was all carried on with one single annual caravan of prairie-schooners, and now there are four railroads running through the Rio Grande Valley, and one daily freight train of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe into the town unloads more freight than was taken there in a whole year when the “commerce of the prairies” was at its height!

Upon the arrival of a caravan in the days of the sleepy regime under Mexican control, the people did everything in their power to make the time pass pleasantly for every one connected with it during their sojourn. Bailes, or fandangoes, as the dancing parties were called by the natives, were given nightly, and many amusing anecdotes in regard to them are related by the old-timers.

The New Mexicans, both men and women, had a great fondness for jewelry, dress, and amusements; of the latter, the fandango was the principal, which was held in the most fashionable place of resort, where every belle and beauty in the town presented herself, attired in the most costly manner, and displaying her jewelled ornaments to the best advantage. To this place of recreation and pleasure, generally a large, capacious saloon or interior court, all classes of persons were allowed to come, without charge and without invitation. The festivities usually commenced about nine o’clock in the evening, and the tolling of the church bells was the signal for the ladies to make their entrance, which they did almost simultaneously.

New Mexican ladies were famous for their gaudy dresses, but it must be confessed they did not exercise good taste. Their robes were made without bodies; a skirt only, and a long, loose, flowing scarf or reboso dexterously thrown about the head and shoulders, so as to supersede both the use of dress-bodies and bonnets.

There was very little order maintained at these fandangoes, and still less attention paid to the rules of etiquette. A kind of swinging, gallopade waltz was the favourite dance, the cotillion not being much in vogue. Read Byron’s graphic description of the waltz, and then stretch your imagination to its utmost tension, and you will perhaps have some faint conception of the Mexican fandango. Such familiarity of position as was indulged in would be repugnant to the refined rules of polite society in the eastern cities; but with the New Mexicans, in those early times, nothing was considered to be a greater accomplishment than that of being able to go handsomely through all the mazes of their peculiar dance.

There was one republican feature about the New Mexican fandango; it was that all classes, rich and poor alike, met and intermingled, as did the Romans at their Saturnalia, upon terms of equality. Sumptuous repasts or collations were rarely ever prepared for those frolicsome gatherings, but there was always an abundance of confectionery, sweetmeats, and native wine. It cost very little for a man to attend one of the fandangoes in Santa Fe, but not to get away decently and sober. In that it resembled the descent of Aeneas to Pluto’s realms; it was easy enough to get there, but when it came to return, “revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras, hic labor, hoc opus est.”


In the beginning of the trade with New Mexico, the route across the great plains was directly west from the Missouri River to the mountains, thence south to Santa Fe by the circuitous trail from Taos. When the traffic assumed an importance demanding a more easy line of way, the road was changed, running along the left bank of the Arkansas until that stream turned northwest, at which point it crossed the river, and continued southwest to the Raton Pass.

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad track substantially follows the Trail through the mountains, which here afford the wildest and most picturesquely beautiful scenery on the continent.

The Arkansas River at the fording of the Old Trail is not more than knee-deep at an ordinary stage of water, and its bottom is well paved with rounded pebbles of the primitive rock.

The overland trade between the United States and the northern provinces of Mexico seems to have had no very definite origin; having been rather the result of an accident than of any organized plan of commercial establishment.

According to the best authorities, a French creole, named La Lande, an agent of a merchant of Kaskaskia, Illinois, was the first American adventurer to enter into the uncertain channels of trade with the people of the ultramontane region of the centre of the continent. He began his adventurous journey across the vast wilderness, with no companions but the savages of the debatable land, in 1804; and following him the next year, James Pursley undertook the same pilgrimage. Neither of these pioneers in the “commerce of the prairies” returned to relate what incidents marked the passage of their marvellous expeditions. Pursley was so infatuated with the strange country he had travelled so far to reach, that he took up his abode in the quaint old town of Santa Fe where his subsequent life is lost sight of. La Lande, of a different mould, forgot to render an account of his mission to the merchant who had sent him there, and became a prosperous and wealthy man by means of money to which he had no right.

To Captain Zebulon Pike, who afterwards was made a general, is due the impetus which the trade with Santa Fe received shortly after his return to the United States. The student of American history will remember that the expedition commanded by this soldier was inaugurated in 1806; his report of the route he had taken was the incentive for commercial speculation in the direction of trade with New Mexico, but it was so handicapped by restrictions imposed by the Mexican government, that the adventurers into the precarious traffic were not only subject to a complete confiscation of their wares, but frequently imprisoned for months as spies. Under such a condition of affairs, many of the earlier expeditions, prior to 1822, resulted in disaster, and only a limited number met with an indifferent success.

It will not be inconsistent with my text if I herewith interpolate an incident connected with Pursley, the second American to cross the desert, for the purpose of trade with New Mexico, which I find in the _Magazine of American History_:

When Zebulon M. Pike was in Mexico, in 1807, he met, at Santa Fe, a carpenter, Pursley by name, from Bardstown, Kentucky, who was working at his trade. He had in a previous year, while out hunting on the Plains, met with a series of misfortunes, and found himself near the mountains. The hostile Sioux drove the party into the high ground in the rear of Pike’s Peak. Near the headwaters of the Platte River, Pursley found some gold, which he carried in his shot-pouch for months. He was finally sent by his companions to Santa Fe, to see if they could trade with the Mexicans, but he chose to remain in Santa Fe in preference to returning to his comrades. He told the Mexicans about the gold he had found, and they tried hard to persuade him to show them the place. They even offered to take along a strong force of cavalry. But Pursley refused, and his patriotic reason was that he thought the land belonged to the United States. He told Captain Pike that he feared they would not allow him to leave Santa Fe, as they still hoped to learn from him where the gold was to be found. These facts were published by Captain Pike soon after his return east; but no one took the hint, or the risk was too great, and thus more than a half a century passed before those same rich fields of gold were found and opened to the world. If Pursley had been somewhat less patriotic, and had guided the Mexicans to the treasures, the whole history and condition of the western part of our continent might have been entirely different from what it now is. That region would still have been a part of Mexico, or Spain might have been in possession of it, owning California; and, with the gold that would have been poured into her coffers, would have been the leading nation of European affairs to-day. We can easily see how American and European history in the nineteenth century might have been changed, if that adventurer from Kentucky had not been a true lover of his native country.

The adventures of Captain Ezekiel Williams along the Old Trail, in the early days of the century, tell a story of wonderful courage, endurance, and persistency. Williams was a man of great perseverance, patience, and determination of character. He set out from St. Louis in the late spring of 1807, to trap on the Upper Missouri and the waters of the Yellowstone, with a party of twenty men who had chosen him as their leader. After various exciting incidents and thrilling adventures, all of the original party, except Williams and two others, were killed by the Indians somewhere in the vicinity of the Upper Arkansas. The three survivors, not knowing where they were, separated, and Captain Williams determined to take to the stream by canoe, and trap on his way toward the settlements, while his last two companions started for the Spanish country–that is, for the region of Santa Fe. The journal of Williams, from which I shall quote freely, is to be found in _The Lost Trappers_, a work long out of print.[11] As the country was an unexplored region, he might be on a river that flowed into the Pacific, or he might be drifting down a stream that was an affluent to the Gulf of Mexico. He was inclined to believe that he was on the sources of the Red River. He therefore resolved to launch his canoe, and go wherever the stream might convey him, trapping on his descent, when beaver might be plenty.

The first canoe he used he made of buffalo-skins. As this kind of water conveyance soon begins to leak and rot, he made another of cottonwood, as soon as he came to timber sufficiently large, in which he embarked for a port, he knew not where.

Most of his journeyings Captain Williams performed during the hours of night, excepting when he felt it perfectly safe to travel in daylight. His usual plan was to glide along down the stream, until he came to a place where beaver signs were abundant. There he would push his little bark among the willows, where he remained concealed, excepting when he was setting his traps or visiting them in the morning. When he had taken all the beaver in one neighbourhood, he would untie his little conveyance, and glide onward and downward to try his luck in another place.

Thus for hundreds of miles did this solitary trapper float down this unknown river, through an unknown country, here and there lashing his canoe to the willows and planting his traps in the little tributaries around. The upper part of the Arkansas, for this proved to be the river he was on,[12] is very destitute of timber, and the prairie frequently begins at the bank of the river and expands on either side as far as the eye can reach. He saw vast herds of buffalo, and as it was the rutting season, the bulls were making a wonderful ado; the prairie resounded with their low, deep grunting or bellowing, as they tore up the earth with their feet and horns, whisking their tails, and defying their rivals to battle. Large gangs of wild horses could be seen grazing on the plains and hillsides, and the neighing and squealing of stallions might be heard at all times of the night.

Captain Williams never used his rifle to procure meat, except when it was absolutely necessary, or could be done with perfect safety. On occasions when he had no beaver, upon which he generally subsisted, he ventured to kill a deer, and after refreshing his empty stomach with a portion of the flesh, he placed the carcass in one end of the canoe. It was his invariable custom to sleep in his canoe at night, moored to the shore, and once when he had laid in a supply of venison he was startled in his sleep by the tramping of something in the bushes on the bank. Tramp! tramp! tramp! went the footsteps, as they approached the canoe. He thought at first it might be an Indian that had found out his locality, but he knew that it could not be; a savage would not approach him in that careless manner. Although there was beautiful starlight, yet the trees and the dense undergrowth made it very dark on the bank of the river, close to which he lay. He always adopted the precaution of tying his canoe with a piece of rawhide about twenty feet long, which allowed it to swing from the bank at that distance; he did this so that in case of an emergency he might cut the string, and glide off without making any noise. As the sound of the footsteps grew more distinct, he presently observed a huge grizzly bear coming down to the water and swimming for the canoe. The great animal held his head up as if scenting the venison. The captain snatched his axe as the most available means to defend himself in such a scrape, and stood with it uplifted, ready to drive it into the brains of the monster. The bear reached the canoe, and immediately put his fore paws upon the hind end of it, nearly turning it over. The captain struck one of the brute’s feet with the edge of the axe, which made him let go with that foot, but he held on with the other, and he received this time a terrific blow on the head, that caused him to drop away from the canoe entirely. Nothing more was seen of the bear, and the captain thought he must have sunk in the stream and drowned. He was evidently after the fresh meat, which he scented from a great distance. In the canoe the next morning there were two of the bear’s claws, which had been cut off by the well-directed blow of the axe. These were carefully preserved by Williams for many years as a trophy which he was fond of exhibiting, and the history of which he always delighted to tell.

As he was descending the river with his peltries, which consisted of one hundred and twenty-five beaver-skins, besides some of the otter and other smaller animals, he overtook three Kansas Indians, who were also in a canoe going down the river, as he learned from them, to some post to trade with the whites. They manifested a very friendly disposition towards the old trapper, and expressed a wish to accompany him. He also learned from them, to his great delight, that he was on the Big Arkansas, and not more than five hundred miles from the white settlements. He was well enough versed in the treachery of the Indian character to know just how much he could repose in their confidence. He was aware that they would not allow a solitary trapper to pass through their country with a valuable collection of furs, without, at least, making an effort to rob him. He knew that their plan would be to get him into a friendly intercourse, and then, at the first opportunity, strip him of everything he possessed; consequently he was determined to get rid of them as soon as possible, and to effect this, he plied his oars with all diligence. The Indians, like most North American savages, were lazy, and had no disposition to labour in that way, but took it quite leisurely, satisfied with being carried down by the current. Williams soon left them in the rear, and, as he supposed, far behind him. When night came on, however, as he had worked all day, and slept none the night before, he resolved to turn aside into a bunch of willows to take a few hours’ rest. But he had not stopped more than forty minutes when he heard some Indians pull to the shore just above him on the same side of the river. He immediately loosened his canoe from its moorings, and glided silently away. He rowed hard for two or three hours, when he again pulled to the bank and tied up.

Only a short time after he had landed, he heard Indians again going on shore on the same side of the stream as himself. A second time he repeated his tactics, slipped out of his place of concealment, and stole softly away. He pulled on vigorously until some time after midnight, when he supposed he could with safety stop and snatch a little sleep. He felt apprehensive that he was in a dangerous region, and his anxiety kept him wide awake. It was very lucky that he did not close his eyes; for as he was lying in the bottom of his canoe he heard for the third time a canoe land as before. He was now perfectly satisfied that he was dogged by the Kansans whom he had passed the preceding day, and in no very good humour, therefore, he picked up his rifle, and walked up to the bank where he had heard the Indians land. As he suspected, there were the three savages. When they saw the captain, they immediately renewed their expressions of friendship, and invited him to partake of their hospitality. He stood aloof from them, and shook his head in a rage, charging them with their villanous purposes. In the short, sententious manner of the Indians, he said to them: “You now follow me three times; if you follow me again, I kill you!” and wheeling around abruptly, returned to his canoe. A third time the solitary trapper pushed his little craft from the shore and set off down stream, to get away from a region where to sleep would be hazardous. He plied his oars the remainder of the night, and solaced himself with the thought that no evil had befallen him, except the loss of a few hours’ sleep.

While he was escaping from his villanous pursuers, he was running into new dangers and difficulties. The following day he overtook a large band of the same tribe, under the leadership of a chief, who were also descending the river. Into the hands of these savages he fell a prisoner, and was conducted to one of their villages. The principal chief there took all of his furs, traps, and other belongings. A very short time after his capture, the Kansans went to war with the Pawnees, and carried Captain Williams with them. In a terrible battle in which the Kansans gained a most decided victory, the old trapper bore a conspicuous part, killing a great number of the enemy, and by his excellent strategy brought about the success of his captors. When they returned to the village, Williams, who had ever been treated with kindness by the inhabitants, was now thought to be a wonderful warrior, and could have been advanced to all the savage honours; he might even have been made one of their principal chiefs. The tribe gave him his liberty for the great service he had rendered it in its difficulty with an inveterate foe, but declining all proffered promotions, he decided to return to the white settlements on the Missouri, at the mouth of the Kaw, the covetous old chief retaining all his furs, and indeed everything he possessed excepting his rifle, with as many rounds of ammunition as would be necessary to secure him provisions in the shape of game on his route. The veteran trapper had learned from the Indians while with them that they expected to go to Fort Osage on the Missouri River to receive some annuities from the government, and he felt certain that his furs would be there at the same time.

After leaving the Kansans he travelled on toward the Missouri, and soon struck the beginning of the sparse settlements. Just as evening was coming on, he arrived at a cluster of three little log-cabins, and was received with genuine backwoods hospitality by the proprietor, who had married an Osage squaw. Williams was not only very hungry, but very tired; and, after enjoying an abundant supper, he became stupid and sleepy, and expressed a wish to lie down. The generous trapper accordingly conducted him to one of the cabins, in which there were two beds, standing in opposite corners of the room. He immediately threw himself upon one, and was soon in a very deep sleep. About midnight his slumbers were disturbed by a singular and very frightful kind of noise, accompanied by struggling on the other bed. What it was, Williams was entirely at a loss to understand. There were no windows in the cabin, the door was shut, and it was as dark as Egypt. A fierce contest seemed to be going on. There were deep groanings and hard breathings; and the snapping of teeth appeared almost constant. For a moment the noise would subside, then again the struggles woud be renewed accompanied as before with groaning, deep sighing, and grinding of teeth.

The captain’s bed-clothes consisted of a couple of blankets and a buffalo-robe, and as the terrible struggles continued he raised himself up in the bed, and threw the robe around him for protection, his rifle having been left in the cabin where his host slept, while his knife was attached to his coat, which he had hung on the corner post of the other bedstead from which the horrid struggles emanated. In an instant the robe was pulled off, and he was left uncovered and unprotected; in another moment a violent snatch carried away the blanket upon which he was sitting, and he was nearly tumbled off the bed with it. As the next thing might be a blow in the dark, he felt that it was high time to shift his quarters; so he made a desperate leap from the bed, and alighted on the opposite side of the room, calling for his host, who immediately came to his relief by opening the door. Williams then told him that the devil–or something as bad, he believed–was in the room, and he wanted a light. The accommodating trapper hurried away, and in a moment was back with a candle, the light of which soon revealed the awful mystery. It was an Indian, who at the time was struggling in convulsions, which he was subject to. He was a superannuated chief, a relative of the wife of the hospitable trapper, and generally made his home there. Absent when Captain Williams arrived, he came into the room at a very late hour, and went to the bed he usually occupied. No one on the claim knew of his being there until he was discovered, in a dreadfully mangled condition. He was removed to other quarters, and Williams, who was not to be frightened out of a night’s rest, soon sunk into sound repose.

Williams reached the agency by the time the Kansas Indians arrived there, and, as he suspected, found that the wily old chief had brought all his belongings, which he claimed, and the agent made the savages give up the stolen property before he would pay them a cent of their annuities. He took his furs down to St. Louis, sold them there at a good price, and then started back to the Rocky Mountains on another trapping tour.


In 1812 a Captain Becknell, who had been on a trading expedition to the country of the Comanches in the summer of 1811, and had done remarkably well, determined the next season to change his objective point to Santa Fe, and instead of the tedious process of bartering with the Indians, to sell out his stock to the New Mexicans. Successful in this, his first venture, he returned to the Missouri River with a well-filled purse, and intensely enthusiastic over the result of his excursion to the newly found market.

Excited listeners to his tales of enormous profits were not lacking, who, inspired by the inducement he held out to them, cheerfully invested five thousand dollars in merchandise suited to the demands of the trade, and were eager to attempt with him the passage of the great plains. In this expedition there were thirty men, and the amount of money in the undertaking was the largest that had yet been ventured. The progress of the little caravan was without extraordinary incident, until it arrived at “The Caches” on the Upper Arkansas. There Becknell, who was in reality a man of the then “Frontier,” bold, plucky, and endowed with excellent sense, conceived the ridiculous idea of striking directly across the country for Santa Fe through a region absolutely unexplored; his excuse for this rash movement being that he desired to avoid the rough and circuitous mountain route he had travelled on his first trip to Taos.

His temerity in abandoning the known for the unknown was severely punished, and his brave men suffered untold misery, barely escaping with their lives from the terrible straits to which they were reduced. Not having the remotest conception of the region through which their new trail was to lead them, and naturally supposing that water would be found in streams or springs, when they left the Arkansas they neglected to supply themselves with more than enough of the precious fluid to last a couple of days. At the end of that time they learned, too late, that they were in the midst of a desert, with all the tortures of thirst threatening them.

Without a tree or a path to guide them, they took an irregular course by observations of the North Star, and the unreliable needle of an azimuth pocket-compass. There was a total absence of water, and when what they had brought with them in their canteens from the river was exhausted, thirst began its horrible office. In a short time both men and animals were in a mental condition bordering on distraction. To alleviate their acute torment, the dogs of the train were killed, and their blood, hot and sickening, eagerly swallowed; then the ears of the mules were cut off for the same purpose, but such a substitute for water only added to their sufferings. They would have perished had not a superannuated buffalo bull that had just come from the Cimarron River, where he had gone to quench his thirst, suddenly appeared, to be immediately killed and the contents of his stomach swallowed with avidity. It is recorded that one of those who partook of the nauseous liquid said afterward, “nothing had ever passed his lips which gave him such exquisite delight as his first draught of that filthy beverage.”

Although they were near the Cimarron, where there was plenty of water, which but for the affair of the buffalo they never would have suspected, they decided to retrace their steps to the Arkansas.

Before they started on their retreat, however, some of the strongest of the party followed the trail of the animal that had saved their lives to the river, where, filling all the canteens with pure water, they returned to their comrades, who were, after drinking, able to march slowly toward the Arkansas.

Following that stream, they at last arrived at Taos, having experienced no further trouble, but missed the trail to Santa Fe, and had their journey greatly prolonged by the foolish endeavour of the leader to make a short cut thither.

As early as 1815, Auguste P. Chouteau and his partner, with a large number of trappers and hunters, went out to the valley of the Upper Arkansas for the purpose of trading with Indians, and trapping on the numerous streams of the contiguous region.

The island on which Chouteau established his trading-post, and which bears his name even to this day, is in the Arkansas River on the boundary line of the United States and Mexico. It was a beautiful spot, with a rich carpet of grass and delightful groves, and on the American side was a heavily timbered bottom.

While occupying the island, Chouteau and his old hunters and trappers were attacked by about three hundred Pawnees, whom they repulsed with the loss of thirty killed and wounded. These Indians afterward declared that it was the most fatal affair in which they were ever engaged. It was their first acquaintance with American guns.

The general character of the early trade with New Mexico was founded on the system of the caravan. She depended upon the remote ports of old Mexico, whence was transported, on the backs of the patient burro and mule, all that was required by the primitive tastes of the primitive people; a very tedious and slow process, as may be inferred, and the limited traffic westwardly across the great plains was confined to this fashion. At the date of the legitimate and substantial commerce with New Mexico, in 1824, wheeled vehicles were introduced, and traffic assumed an importance it could never have otherwise attained, and which now, under the vast system of railroads, has increased to dimensions little dreamed of by its originators nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

It was eight years after Pursley’s pilgrimage before the trade with New Mexico attracted the attention of speculators and adventurers. Messrs. McKnight,[13] Beard, and Chambers, with about a dozen comrades, started with a supply of goods across the unknown plains, and by good luck arrived safely at Santa Fe. Once under the jurisdiction of the Mexicans, however, their trouble began. All the party were arrested as spies, their wares confiscated, and themselves incarcerated at Chihuahua, where the majority of them were kept for almost a decade. Beard and Chambers, having by some means escaped, returned to St. Louis in 1822, and, notwithstanding their dreadful experience, told of the prospects of the trade with the Mexicans in such glowing colours that they induced some individuals of small capital to fit out another expedition, with which they again set out for Santa Fe.

It was really too late in the season; they succeeded, however, in reaching the crossing of the Arkansas without any difficulty, but there a violent snowstorm overtook them and they were compelled to halt, as it was impossible to proceed in the face of the blinding blizzard. On an island[14] not far from where the town of Cimarron, on the Santa Fe Railroad, is now situated, they were obliged to remain for more than three months, during which time most of their animals died for want of food and from the severe cold. When the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow them to proceed on their journey, they had no transportation for their goods and were compelled to hide them in pits dug in the earth, after the manner of the old French voyageurs in the early settlement of the continent. This method of secreting furs and valuables of every character is called caching, from the French word “to hide.” Gregg thus describes it:

The cache is made by digging a hole in the ground, somewhat in the shape of a jug, which is lined with dry sticks, grass, or anything else that will protect its contents from the dampness of the earth. In this place the goods to be concealed are carefully stowed away; and the aperture is then so effectually closed as to protect them from the rains. In caching, a great deal of skill is often required to leave no sign whereby the cunning savage may discover the place of deposit. To this end, the excavated earth is carried some distance and carefully concealed, or thrown into a stream, if one be at hand. The place selected for a cache is usually some rolling point, sufficiently elevated to be secure from inundations. If it be well set with grass, a solid piece of turf is cut out large enough for the entrance. The turf is afterward laid back, and, taking root, in a short time no signs remain of its ever having been molested. However, as every locality does not afford a turfy site, the camp-fire is sometimes built upon the place, or the animals are penned over it, which effectually destroys all traces.

Father Hennepin[15] thus describes, in his quaint style, how he built a cache on the bank of the Mississippi, in 1680:

We took up the green sodd, and laid it by, and digg’d a hole in the Earth where we put our Goods, and cover’d them with pieces of Timber and Earth, and then put in again the green Turf; so that ’twas impossible to suspect that any Hole had been digg’d under it, for we flung the Earth into the River.

After caching their goods, Beard and the party went on to Taos, where they bought mules, and returning to their caches transported their contents to their market.

The word “cache” still lingers among the “old-timers” of the mountains and plains, and has become a provincialism with their descendants; one of these will tell you that he cached his vegetables in the side of the hill; or if he is out hunting and desires to secrete himself from approaching game, he will say, “I am going to cache behind that rock,” etc.

The place where Beard’s little expedition wintered was called “The Caches” for years, and the name has only fallen into disuse within the last two decades. I remember the great holes in the ground when I first crossed the plains, a third of a century ago.

The immense profit upon merchandise transported across the dangerous Trail of the mid-continent to the capital of New Mexico soon excited the cupidity of other merchants east of the Missouri. When the commonest domestic cloth, manufactured wholly from cotton, brought from two to three dollars a yard at Santa Fe, and other articles at the same ratio to cost, no wonder the commerce with the far-off market appeared to those who desired to send goods there a veritable Golconda.

The importance of internal trade with New Mexico, and the possibilities of its growth, were first recognized by the United States in 1824, the originator of the movement being Mr. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who frequently, from his place in the Senate, prophesied the coming greatness of the West. He introduced a bill which authorized the President to appoint a commission to survey a road from the Missouri River to the boundary line of New Mexico, and from thence on Mexican territory with the consent of the Mexican government. The signing of this bill was one of the last acts of Mr. Monroe’s official life, and it was carried into effect by his successor, Mr. John Quincy Adams, but unfortunately a mistake was made in supposing that the Osage Indians alone controlled the course of the proposed route. It was partially marked out as far as the Arkansas, by raised mounds; but travellers continued to use the old wagon trail, and as no negotiations had been entered into with the Comanches, Cheyennes, Pawnees, or Kiowas, these warlike tribes continued to harass the caravans when these arrived in the broad valley of the Arkansas.

The American fur trade was at its height at the time when the Santa Fe trade was just beginning to assume proportions worthy of notice; the difference between the two enterprises being very marked. The fur trade was in the hands of immensely wealthy companies, while that to Santa Fe was carried on by individuals with limited capital, who, purchasing goods in the Eastern markets, had them transported to the Missouri River, where, until the trade to New Mexico became a fixed business, everything was packed on mules. As soon, however, as leading merchants invested their capital, about 1824, the trade grew into vast proportions, and wagons took the place of the patient mule. Later, oxen were substituted for mules, it having been discovered that they possessed many advantages over the former, particularly in being able to draw heavier loads than an equal number of mules, especially through sandy or muddy places.

For a long time, the traders were in the habit of purchasing their mules in Santa Fe and driving them to the Missouri; but as soon as that useful animal was raised in sufficient numbers in the Southern States to supply the demand, the importation from New Mexico ceased, for the reason that the American mule was in all respects an immensely superior animal.

Once mules were an important object of the trade, and those who dealt in them and drove them across to the river on the Trail met with many mishaps; frequently whole droves, containing from three to five hundred, were stolen by the savages en route. The latter soon learned that it was a very easy thing to stampede a caravan of mules, for, once panic-stricken, it is impossible to restrain them, and the Indians having started them kept them in a state of rampant excitement by their blood-curdling yells, until they had driven them miles beyond the Trail.

A story is told of a small band of twelve men, who, while encamped on the Cimarron River, in 1826, with but four serviceable guns among them, were visited by a party of Indians, believed to be Arapahoes, who made at first strong demonstrations of friendship and good-will. Observing the defenceless condition of the traders, they went away, but soon returned about thirty strong, each provided with a lasso, and all on foot. The chief then began by informing the Americans that his men were tired of walking, and must have horses. Thinking it folly to offer any resistance, the terrified traders told them if one animal apiece would satisfy them, to go and catch them. This they soon did; but finding their request so easily complied with, the Indians held a little parley together, which resulted in a new demand for more–they must have two apiece! “Well, catch them!” was the acquiescent reply of the unfortunate band; upon which the savages mounted those they had already secured, and, swinging their lassos over their heads, plunged among the stock with a furious yell, and drove off the entire caballada of nearly five hundred head of horses, mules, and asses.

In 1829 the Indians of the plains became such a terror to the caravans crossing to Santa Fe, that the United States government, upon petition of the traders, ordered three companies of infantry and one of riflemen, under command of Major Bennet Riley, to escort the annual caravan, which that year started from the town of Franklin, Missouri, then the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe trade, as far as Chouteau’s Island, on the Arkansas, which marked the boundary between the United States and Mexico.[16] The caravan started from the island across the dreary route unaccompanied by any troops, but had progressed only a few miles when it was attacked by a band of Kiowas, then one of the most cruel and bloodthirsty tribes on the plains.[17]

This escort, commanded by Major Riley, and another under Captain Wharton, composed of only sixty dragoons, five years later, were the sole protection ever given by the government until 1843, when Captain Philip St. George Cooke again accompanied two large caravans to the same point on the Arkansas as did Major Riley fourteen years before.

As the trade increased, the Comanches, Pawnees, and Arapahoes continued to commit their depredations, and it was firmly believed by many of the freighters that these Indians were incited to their devilish acts by the Mexicans, who were always jealous of “Los Americanos.”

It was very rarely that a caravan, great or small, or even a detachment of troops, no matter how large, escaped the raids of these bandits of the Trail. If the list of those who were killed outright and scalped, and those more unfortunate who were taken captive only to be tortured and their bodies horribly mutilated, could be collected from the opening of the traffic with New Mexico until the years 1868-69, when General Sheridan inaugurated his memorable “winter campaign” against the allied plains tribes, and completely demoralized, cowed, and forced them on their reservations, about the time of the advent of the railroad, it would present an appalling picture; and the number of horses, mules, and oxen stampeded and stolen during the same period would amount to thousands.

As the excellent narrative of Captain Pike is not read as it should be by the average American, a brief reference to it may not be considered supererogatory. The celebrated officer, who was afterward promoted to the rank of major-general, and died in the achievement of the victory of York, Upper Canada, in 1813, was sent in 1806 on an exploring expedition up the Arkansas River, with instructions to pass the sources of Red River, for which those of the Canadian were then mistaken; he, however, even went around the head of the latter, and crossing the mountains with an almost incredible degree of peril and suffering, descended upon the Rio del Norte with his little party, then but fifteen in number.

Believing himself now on Red River, within the then assumed limits of the United States, he built a small fortification for his company, until the opening of the spring of 1807 should enable him to continue his descent to Natchitoches. As he was really within Mexican territory, and only about eighty miles from the northern settlements, his position was soon discovered, and a force sent to take him to Santa Fe, which by treachery was effected without opposition. The Spanish officer assured him that the governor, learning that he had mistaken his way, had sent animals and an escort to convey his men and baggage to a navigable point on Red River (Rio Colorado), and that His Excellency desired very much to see him at Santa Fe, which might be taken on their way.

As soon, however, as the governor had the too confiding captain in his power, he sent him with his men to the commandant general at Chihuahua, where most of his papers were seized, and he and his party were sent under an escort, via San Antonio de Bexar, to the United States.

Many citizens of the remote Eastern States, who were contemporary with Pike, declared that his expedition was in some way connected with the treasonable attempt of Aaron Burr. The idea is simply preposterous; Pike’s whole line of conduct shows him to have been of the most patriotic character; never would he for a moment have countenanced a proposition from Aaron Burr!

After Captain Pike’s report had been published to the world, the adventurers who were inspired by its glowing description of the country he had been so far to explore were destined to experience trials and disappointments of which they had formed no conception.

Among them was a certain Captain Sublette, a famous old trapper in the era of the great fur companies, and with him a Captain Smith, who, although veteran pioneers of the Rocky Mountains, were mere novices in the many complications of the Trail; but having been in the fastnesses of the great divide of the continent, they thought that when they got down on the plains they could go anywhere. They started with twenty wagons, and left the Missouri without a single one of the party being competent to guide the little caravan on the dangerous route.

From the Missouri the Trail was broad and plain enough for a child to follow, but when they arrived at the Cimarron crossing of the Arkansas, not a trace of former caravans was visible; nothing but the innumerable buffalo-trails leading from everywhere to the river.

When the party entered the desert, or Dry Route, as it was years afterward always, and very properly, called in certain seasons of drought, the brave but too confident men discovered that the whole region was burnt up. They wandered on for several days, the horrors of death by thirst constantly confronting them. Water must be had or they would all perish! At last Smith, in his desperation, determined to follow one of the numerous buffalo-trails, believing that it would conduct him to water of some character– a lake or pool or even wallow. He left the train alone; asked for no one to accompany him; for he was the very impersonation of courage, one of the most fearless men that ever trapped in the mountains.

He walked on and on for miles, when, on ascending a little divide, he saw a stream in the valley beneath him. It was the Cimarron, and he hurried toward it to quench his intolerable thirst. When he arrived at its bank, to his disappointment it was nothing but a bed of sand; the sometime clear running river was perfectly dry.

Only for a moment was he staggered; he knew the character of many streams in the West; that often their waters run under the ground at a short distance from the surface, and in a moment he was on his knees digging vigorously in the soft sand. Soon the coveted fluid began to filter upwards into the little excavation he had made. He stooped to drink, and in the next second a dozen arrows from an ambushed band of Comanches entered his body. He did not die at once, however; it is related by the Indians themselves that he killed two of their number before death laid him low.

Captain Sublette and Smith’s other comrades did not know what had become of him until some Mexican traders told them, having got the report from the very savages who committed the cold-blooded murder.

Gregg, in his report of this little expedition, says: Every kind of fatality seems to have attended this small caravan. Among other casualties, a clerk in their company, named Minter, was killed by a band of Pawnees, before they crossed the Arkansas. This, I believe, is the only instance of loss of life among the traders while engaged in hunting, although the scarcity of accidents can hardly be said to be the result of prudence. There is not a day that hunters do not commit some indescretion; such as straying at a distance of five and even ten miles from the caravan, frequently alone, and seldom in bands of more than two or three together. In this state, they must frequently be spied by prowling savages; so that frequency of escape, under such circumstances, must be partly attributed to the cowardice of the Indians; indeed, generally speaking, the latter are very loth to charge upon even a single armed man, unless they can take him at a decided advantage.

Not long after, this band of Captain Sublette’s very narrowly escaped total destruction. They had fallen in with an immense horde of Blackfeet and Gros Ventres, and, as the traders were literally but a handful among thousands of savages, they fancied themselves for a while in imminent peril of being virtually “eated up.” But as Captain Sublette possessed considerable experience, he was at no loss how to deal with these treacherous savages; so that although the latter assumed a threatening attitude, he passed them without any serious molestation, and finally arrived at Santa Fe in safety.

The virtual commencement of the Santa Fe trade dates from 1822, and one of the most remarkable events in its history was the first attempt to introduce wagons in the expeditions. This was made in 1824 by a company of traders, about eighty in number, among whom were several gentlemen of intelligence from Missouri, who contributed by their superior skill and undaunted energy to render the enterprise completely successful. A portion of this company employed pack-mules; among the rest were owned twenty-five wheeled vehicles, of which one or two were stout road-wagons, two were carts, and the rest Dearborn carriages, the whole conveying some twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise. Colonel Marmaduke, of Missouri, was one of the party. This caravan arrived at Santa Fe safely, experiencing much less difficulty than they anticipated from a first attempt with wheeled vehicles.

Gregg continues:
The early voyageurs, having but seldom experienced any molestation from the Indians, generally crossed the plains in detached bands, each individual rarely carrying more than two or three hundred dollars’ worth of stock. This peaceful season, however, did not last very long; and it is greatly to be feared that the traders were not always innocent of having instigated the savage hostilities that ensued in after years. Many seemed to forget the wholesome precept, that they should not be savages themselves because they dealt with savages. Instead of cultivating friendly feelings with those few who remained peaceful and honest, there was an occasional one always disposed to kill, even in cold blood, every Indian that fell into their power, merely because some of the tribe had committed an outrage either against themselves or friends.

As an instance of this, he relates the following: In 1826 two young men named McNess and Monroe, having carelessly lain down to sleep on the bank of a certain stream, since known as McNess Creek,[18] were barbarously shot, with their own guns, as it was supposed, in the very sight of the caravan. When their comrades came up, they found McNess lifeless, and the other almost expiring. In this state the latter was carried nearly forty miles to the Cimarron River, where he died, and was buried according to the custom of the prairies, a very summary proceeding, necessarily. The corpse, wrapped in a blanket, its shroud the clothes it wore, is interred in a hole varying in depth according to the nature of the soil, and upon the grave is piled stones, if any are convenient, to prevent the wolves from digging it up. Just as McNess’s funeral ceremonies were about to be concluded, six or seven Indians appeared on the opposite side of the Cimarron. Some of the party proposed inviting them to a parley, while the rest, burning for revenge, evinced a desire to fire upon them at once. It is more than probable, however, that the Indians were not only innocent but ignorant of the outrage that had been committed, or they would hardly have ventured to approach the caravan. Being quick of perception, they very soon saw the belligerent attitude assumed by the company, and therefore wheeled round and attempted to escape. One shot was fired, which brought an Indian to the ground, when he was instantly riddled with balls. Almost simultaneously another discharge of several guns followed, by which all the rest were either killed or mortally wounded, except one, who escaped to bear the news to his tribe.

These wanton cruelties had a most disastrous effect upon the prospects of the trade; for the exasperated children of the desert became more and more hostile to the “pale-faces,” against whom they continued to wage a cruel war for many successive years. In fact this party suffered very severely a few days afterward. They were pursued by the enraged comrades of the slain savages to the Arkansas River, where they were robbed of nearly a thousand horses and mules.

The author of this book, although having but little compassion for the Indians, must admit that, during more than a third of a century passed on the plains and in the mountains, he has never known of a war with the hostile tribes that was not caused by broken faith on the part of the United States or its agents. I will refer to two prominent instances: that of the outbreak of the Nez Perces, and that of the allied plains tribes. With the former a solemn treaty was made in 1856, guaranteeing to them occupancy of the Wallola valley forever. I. I. Stevens, who was governor of Washington Territory at the time, and ex-officio superintendent of Indian affairs in the region, met the Nez Perces, whose chief, “Wish-la-no-she,” an octogenarian, when grasping the hand of the governor at the council said: “I put out my hand to the white man when Lewis and Clark crossed the continent, in 1805, and have never taken it back since.” The tribe kept its word until the white men took forcible possession of the valley promised to the Indians, when the latter broke out, and a prolonged war was the consequence. In 1867 Congress appointed a commission to treat with the Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Arapahoes, appropriating four hundred thousand dollars for the expenses of the commission. It met at Medicine Lodge in August of the year mentioned, and made a solemn treaty, which the members of the commission, on the part of the United States, and the principal chiefs of the three tribes signed. Congress failed to make any appropriation to carry out the provisions of the treaty, and the Indians, after waiting a reasonable time, broke out, devastated the settlements from the Platte to the Rio Grande, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property, and sacrificing hundreds of men, women, and children. Another war was the result, which cost more millions, and under General Sheridan the hostile savages were whipped into a peace, which they have been compelled to keep.


As has been stated, until the year 1824 transportation across the plains was done by means of pack-mules, the art of properly loading which seems to be an intuitive attribute of the native Mexican. The American, of course, soon became as expert, for nothing that the genus homo is capable of doing is impossible to him; but his teacher was the dark-visaged, superstitious, and profanity-expending Mexican arriero.

A description of the equipment of a mule-train and the method of packing, together with some of the curious facts connected with its movements, may not be uninteresting, particularly as the whole thing, with rare exceptions in the regular army at remote frontier posts, has been relegated to the past, along with the caravan of the prairie and the overland coach. To this generation, barring a few officers who have served against the Indians on the plains and in the mountains, a pack-mule train would be as great a curiosity as the hairy mammoth. In the following particulars I have taken as a model the genuine Mexican pack-train or atajo, as it was called in their Spanish dialect, always used in the early days of the Santa Fe trade. The Americans made many modifications, but the basis was purely Mexican in its origin. A pack-mule was termed a mula de carga, and his equipment consisted of several parts; first, the saddle, or aparejo, a nearly square pad of leather stuffed with hay, which covered the animal’s back on both sides equally. The best idea of its shape will be formed by opening a book in the middle and placing it saddle-fashion on the back of a chair. Each half then forms a flap of the contrivance. Before the aparejo was adjusted to the mule, a salea, or raw sheep-skin, made soft by rubbing, was put on the animal’s back, to prevent chafing, and over it the saddle-cloth, or xerga. On top of both was placed the aparejo, which was cinched by a wide grass-bandage. This band was drawn as tightly as possible, to such an extent that the poor brute grunted and groaned under the apparently painful operation, and when fastened he seemed to be cut in two. This always appeared to be the very acme of cruelty to the uninitiated, but it is the secret of successful packing; the firmer the saddle, the more comfortably the mule can travel, with less risk of being chafed and bruised. The aparejo is furnished with a huge crupper, and this appendage is really the most cruel of all, for it is almost sure to lacerate the tail. Hardly a Mexican mule in the old days of the trade could be found which did not bear the scar of this