THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL
COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Part 1 out of 8
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
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.
UNDER THE SPANIARDS.
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.
LA LANDE AND PURSLEY.
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.
TRAINS AND PACKERS.
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.
FIGHT WITH COMANCHES.
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.
A ROMANTIC TRAGEDY.
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.
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.
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.
FIRST OVERLAND MAIL.
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--
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.
INDIAN CUSTOMS AND LEGENDS.
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--
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.
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.
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.
FOOLING STAGE ROBBERS.
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.
A DESPERATE RIDE.
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.
INVASION OF THE RAILROAD.
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
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 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
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, 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, who are the allies of the Ayouez, 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.
UNDER THE SPANIARDS.
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 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
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:
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 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,
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:
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 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.
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
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.
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
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."
LA LANDE AND PURSLEY.
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
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. 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, 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, 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 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
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
Father Hennepin 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
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. 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.
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
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.
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, 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.
TRAINS AND PACKERS.
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
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
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