Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5 v. (lvi, 2731 p., [228] leaves of plates) : ill., maps (some fold.), ports. ; 27 cm.

1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 8 Part 7


The town of Franklin, in Howard County, Missouri, was opposite the present City of Boonville. In 1828, the entire site of the town was washed into the Missouri River. It was the cradle of the Santa Fe trade, and for some years it was the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. As population spread to the westward other towns were established along the Missouri River and the headquarters of the trade followed the population. When the Trail was surveyed, in 1825, Fort Osage, on the Missouri, at Sibley, was made the starting-point. Independence, Missouri, was laid out in 1827, and it was soon the head-quarters of the Santa Fe trade. Other Missouri towns engaged in the Santa Fe trade, and even the towns of Northwest Arkansas. All these towns opened roads to the Santa Fe Trail. That is why old roads as far south as Fayetteville, Arkansas, are known locally to this day as the Santa Fe Trail. The roads all entered the real Santa Fe Trail east of Council Grove, and most of them came into it east of the present town of Baldwin, in Douglas County, Kansas. One of these trails, known locally as the California Road came out of Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas through the present Fort Scott, Kansas. It passed through what are now Miami and Franklin Counties, Kansas, crossing the Pottawatomie at the present town of Lane. That was Dutch Henry's Crossing, where John Brown and his men slew the Border-Ruffians in the old border wars. This main California Road had other and lesser "California Roads" coming into it. This statement of the different "Santa Fe Trails" and "California Roads" is intended to explain the confusion which often resulted when strangers passed over the country, in early days. In their letters the Santa Fe Trail may be spoken of as having been in Southwest Missouri, or even as leaving Fort Smith. In such instances it is always the local road of that name which was meant.

The business of outfitting traders made Independence a thriving town. There were dealers in wagons, flour, bacon, oxen, mules, guns, ammunition, ropes, chains and all kinds of hardware, and of the groceries of those days, including whiskey. In the spring when the caravans were getting under way the town presented a busy appearance; and there was almost as stirring times, when, after having completed the tour of the Plains, they drove into the great public square upon their return.

The supplies for one person from Independence to Santa Fe consisted usually of fifty pounds of flour, fifty pounds of bacon, ten pounds of coffee, twenty pounds of sugar, some beans, and some salt. Each man carried a gun, usually a Hawkins rifle, made at St. IJouis, and a supply of powder and lead.

The wagons first used in the Santa Fe trade were such as could be obtained at the local towns in Missouri. Some of them were made, no doubt, by local mechanics. As the trade assumed volume the necessity for uniform and strong wagons attracted the attention of manufacturers. Those in use when the trade was at full tide, and even after, were made at Pittsburg, Pa. The pioneer wagon first used had the high curved bed, but those used later had but a slightly curved bed, - only enough to hold the bales and boxes from sliding in going up or down hills or grades. All the wagons had covers of heavy cloth stretched upon bows fixed over the wagon-beds. The device for locking or "putting on brakes" in descending steep places consisted of a chain attached to each side of the bed with which to "chain" or "lock" the hind-wheels. There was a multiplicity of chains used about the equipment of these wagons, the rattling and clanking of which could be heard at considerable distance.

In the beginning of the trade the merchandise was carried on packhorses. The first wagons used were drawn by mules. After the escort of 1829, when Major Riley used oxen to draw his baggage wagons, oxen came to be used as much as mules. They drew heavier loads, but did not bear the trip so well after the country of the buffalo grass was reached. The continual traveling of the oxen over a grass-covered country wore their hoofs smooth and tender, making it difficult for them to travel in the latter stages of the journey. In that day few knew how to properly shoe oxen with iron, and they were sometimes shod with raw buffalo-skin - often an excellent makeshift.

As the trade was conducted through the Indian country, and, from the Arkansas River, through a foreign country as well, it was necessary for the wagons to form a single body or caravan. This organization was effected at the Council Grove, now the town of Council Grove, Kansas. Any early arrivals there awaited the coming of the others. The time was spent in resting and grazing the animals, in the final overhauling of the lading, in the repair of harness, yokes, and wagons, and cutting and preparing timbers to be used in case a breakdown should occur on the road beyond. For there was no substantial timber to he had after passing that point.

When the traders had all arrived at Council Grove a meeting was held for the purpose of effecting a quasi-military organization for the remainder of the journey to Santa Fe. There was elected a Captain of the Caravan, whose duty it was to direct the order of travel and select the camping-places. The caravan was separated into divisions, the number depending on its size. For each division a lieutenant was selected. His duties were to ride in advance and inspect the road and the crossings, to look out for bad points on the trail and give notice of the same, and to superintend the forming of the encampments at night. The encampment was formed by parking the wagons and making an enclosure. The first wagon was halted at an angle. The second wagon was driven by it to the same angle, halting with its "near" hind wheel against the "off" front wheel of the first wagon. This process was continued until the enclosure was completed. It was sometimes in the form of a squareÑone division to each side if the caravan was composed of four divisions. But it was as often in a circle or an oval. The wheels were frequently chained and locked solidly together. Thus was constructed a sort of temporary fort or stockade. In case of attack it afforded a defense, and the animals were sometimes driven into it. The encampment was made where wood and water were to be had, if possible, - and where the grass was sufficient for the animals of the caravan. Guards were always set at night, and every man was expected to take his turn at guard-duty. Sometimes a second lieutenant was elected for each division, as well as a chaplain, and court, composed of three members, for the caravan.

The teamsters, or drivers, became expert in their duties. The wagons were usually drawn by eight mules or the same number of oxenÑfour spans of mules, or four yoke of oxen. The driver of a mule-team rode the "near" wheel mule - that is, the mule on the left-hand side of the span hitched next to the wheels of the wagons. He carried a heavy leather whip with a short flexible handle, and he held in his hands lines for the guidance of the spans of mules hitched ahead of him. The driver of an ox-team walked on the left-hand side of his team. He did not use lines to guide his oxen, but depended on his commands, delivered in a loud voice, and reinforced by a long plaited leather whip having a handle or staff of such length as he might choose, usually a little better than four feet. This staff was made of second-growth hickory, tough and flexible, tapering from a heavy butt to the diameter of half an inch at the end where the whip was attached. This whip was always pointed with a buckskin "cracker" fifteen inches in length. It was a cruel implement, but the good driver rarely struck an ox with the full force of it. In the hands of an expert it would lay open the side of an ox for several inches at each stroke. Many teamsters boasted of having driven to Santa Fe and return without "cutting the blood" from any ox on his team. The ox is an intelligent animal, and he soon knew whether he or the teamster was to be master. If he had a poor driver he would "lag in the yoke" and not pull his part of the load unless closely watched and sometimes punished. On the other hand, if he recognized in his driver a master, he "pulled up in the yoke" and did his part. The Americans always yoked their oxen by attaching the yoke by a bow around the neck. This method enabled the ox to throw his whole weight and all his strength against the yoke pulling his load instead of having to push it when the yoke was bound upon his horns, as was the Spanish and Mexican custom.

The whip used for driving oxen in America has not been entirely neglected in literature. In that masterpiece of Ingalls - Blue Grass - there is a crucifixion of the Border-Ruffians of Missouri, the redemption of whose country he submits a plan for:

Seed the country down to blue grass and the reformation would begin. Such a change must be gradual. One generation would not witness it, but three would see it accomplished. The first symptom would be an undefined uneasiness along the creeks, in the rotten eruption of cottonwood hovels near the grist mill and the blacksmith's shop at the fork of the roads, followed by a "toting" of plunder into the "bow-dark" wagon and an exodus for "outwest." A sore-back mule geared to a spavined sorrel, or a dwarfish yoke of stunted steers, drag the creaking wain along the muddy roads, accelerated by the long-drawn "Whoo-hoop-a-Haw-aw-aw" of "Dad" in butternut-colored homespun, as he walks beside, cracking a black-snake with a detonation like a Derringer.

Gregg compiled a table showing the extent of the Santa Fe trade for a number of years. It is the best authority on the subject and is appended:

Years.Amt. Mdse.W'gs.Men.Pros.T'n to Cha'Remarks.
182215,000.....70609000Pack-animals only used.
182312,000.....50303000Pack-animals only used.
182433,00026100803000Pack-animals and wagons.
182565,00037130905000Pack-animals and wagons.
182690,00060100707000Wagons only henceforth.
1828150,00010020080200003 men killed, being the first.
182960,00030502050001st U. S. Es. - I trader killed.
1830120,000701406020000First oxen used by traders.
1831250,0001303208080000Two men killed.
1832140,000701504050000Party defeated on Canadian.
1833180,00010518560800002 men killed, 3 perished.
1834150,0008016050700002nd U. S. Escort.
1839250,00013025040100000Arkansas Expedition.
184050,0003060510000Chihuahua Expedition.
1841150,000601001280000Texan Santa Fe Espedition.
1843450,000230320303000003d U. S. Es. - Ports closed.


One of the most important stations on the Santa Fe Trail, as originally located, was Bent's Fort. It was situated on the Arkansas River in what is now Bent County, Colorado. It is deemed necessary to give some account of it because of the fact that it was the largest post on the trail and exerted a considerable influence on the trade of the Plains. In some form and in different locations it persisted until a very late day.

Silas Bent was born in Massachusetts, in 1744, and it is said that he was one of the party who threw the British tea into Boston harbor. He married Mary Carter, by whom he had seven children, the eldest being Silas. This son was born in 1768, and in 1788 he went to Ohio, where he practiced law and held various offices. In 1806 he was appointed by Albert Gallatin a deputy surveyor of Upper Louisiana, and moved to St. Louis. He held numerous offices there and died in 1827. By his intermarriage with a Virginia lady, Martha Kerr, he had eleven children, - Charles, Julia Ann, John, Lucy, Dorcas, William, Mary, George, Robert, Edward and Silas. Charles was appointed Governor of New Mexico by General Kearny. The Bent brothers were engaged in the fur trade, those best known in that connection being William and Charles. Associated with them was Ceran St. Vrain, of Canadian-French extraction; the firm was at one time known as Bent, St. Vrain & Co. They built a fort on the Arkansas River above the present city of Pueblo, at the mouth of Fountain Creek, in 1825. This proved a poor location, and in 1828 they abandoned the place and went down the river, and in 1829 completed Fort William, so called for William Bent. This fort was long known as Bent's Fort, and in later years was spoken of as Bent's "old" fort. It was one of the most important posts in the West, being situated at the point of the Santa Fe Trail where the travel north and south from the Platte country to the Santa Fe Trail crossed it. The walls were of adobe, six feet thick at the base and four feet at the top; the floor was of clay, and the roofs of the covered portions were of clay and gravel supported on poles. At the northwest and southwest corners were round towers thirty feet high and ten feet clear on the inside, and loopholed for artillery and musketry. The entrance was on the east, and was closed by a heavy gate of wood. Inside the fort were two divisions - one for offices, living-rooms, and store-rooms; the other for yards for wagons, stocks, etc. The dimensions of the fort were about as given by Hughes, though other authorities vary from these figures slightly. In 1852 William Bent destroyed the fort, burning the combustible portions and blowing up the walls with gunpowder. In 1853 he built Bent's "new" fort, about thirty-five miles lower down the Arkansas and on the same (north) side. It seems that he had long contemplated this removal, as the following quotation from the work of Emory will show:

About 35 miles before reaching Bent's Fort is found what is called the "big timber." Here the valley of the river widens, and the banks on either side fall towards it in gentle slopes. The "big timber" is a thinly scattered growth of large cottonwoods not more than three-quarters of a mile wide and three or four miles long. It is here the Cheyennes, Araphoes, and the Kioways sometimes winter, to avail themselves of the scanty supply of wood for fuel, and to let their animals browse on the twigs and bark of the cottonwood. The buffaloes are sometimes driven by the severity of the winter which is here intense for the latitude, to the same place to feed upon the cottonwood. To this point, which has been indicated to the Government as a suitable one for a military post, Mr. Bent thinks of moving his establishment.

Bent transacted business at the new location until 1859, when the fort was leased to the Government. In the winter of 1859-60 Bent moved up to the mouth of the Purgatoire. The name of the fort was changed to Fort Wise in 1860, and in 1861 again changed, this time to Fort Lyon, in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, the hero of Wilson Creek. Because of the encroachments of the river on its walls the fort was moved twenty miles lower down the river in 1866, but it served as a stage station for some years longer.

Francis Parkman arrived at Bent's Fort shortly after the "Army of the West" had passed, and thus describes it:

Bent's Fort stands on the river, about seventy-five miles below Pueblo. At noon of the third day we arrived within three or four miles of it, pitched our tent under a tree, hung our looking-glasses against its trunk, and having made our primitive toilet, rode towards the fort. We soon came in sight of it, for it is visible for a considerable distance, standing with its high clay walls in the midst of the scorching plains. It seemed as if a swarm of locusts had invaded the country. The grass for miles around was cropped close by the horses of General Kearny's soldiery. When we came to the fort we found that not only had the horses eaten up in the grass, but their owners had made way with the stores of the little trading-post, so that we had great difficulty in procuring the few articles which we required for our homeward journey. The army was gone, the life and bustle passed away, and the fort was a scene of dull and lazy tranquillity. A few invalid officers and soldiers sauntered about the area, which was oppressively hot; for the glaring sun was reflected down upon it from the high white walls around. - Oregon Trail, pp. 306, 307.

William Bent was married to a Cheyenne woman.


The supreme authority on the Santa Fe Trail and the trade developed over it is The Commerce of the Prairies, by Dr. Josiah Gregg. It is the foundation of every work on the subject since its appearance. It was published in 1844 in New York, and London. Dr. Gregg was born in Overton County, Tennessee, July 19, 1806. His father moved to Missouri in time to have his family interned in the blockhouse in Boone's Lick settlement in the war of 1812. After that war he settled in Jackson County, Missouri, just north of Independence, where he grew up, as he says, "on the frontier." He was far above the ordinary in intelligence. He graduated from the Philadelphia Medical College, and was a successful physician until his health failed. Then he took to the Plains, making eight trips from Independence to Santa Fe and beyond - sometimes to Chihuahua. For a biographical sketch of Dr. Gregg, see pages 162 et seq Connelley's Doniphan's Expedition.

The American Fur Trade of the Far West, by H. M. Chittenden, New York, Francis P. Harper, 1902. This work has much concerning the Santa Fe Trail.

Doniphan's Expedition, by John T. Hughes, is a work which has much about the Santa Fe Trail. The edition edited by Connelley contains many valuable notes, portraits, and biographies.

There are many documents, clippings, minor works, and articles on the Santa Fe Trail in the Library of the Kansas State Historical Society.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.