The Santa Fe Trail

The opening of the Santa Fe Trail from Independence, Missouri, to Sant Fe, has such a bearing upon the subsequent explorations in Arizona, that I think it proper to give a short description of what is know as the “Commerce of the Prairies,” over this trail, and the causes which led up to it.

The first attempt to explore the western boundaries of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, was made by Lieut, Zebulon M. Pike, of the Sixth U. S. Infantry, who, in 1806, was sent with 22 men to explore the country of the Arkansas and Red Rivers, and to establish a good understanding with the Indian tribes, particularly the Comanches. Of this trip, extending as far as Santa Fe, he published a full account in 1810. His book gave to Americans the first information in detail concerning that isolated region of which nothing had been heretofore know. He describes the territory inhabited by the Mexicans in New Mexico as being 400 miles in length, and 50 miles in breadth, along the Rio del Norte, and broken by a desert of more than 250 miles. The fertility of the country, as he regarded it, is of special interest to those who inhabit this section at the present day. ”The cotton tree,” he says, “is the only tree of this province, except some scrubby pines and cedars at the foot of the mountains. The former borders the banks of the Rio del Norte and its tributary streams. All the rest of the country presents to the eye, a barren wild of poor land, scarcely to be improved by culture, and appears to be only capable of producing sufficient subsistence for those animals which live on succulent plants and herbage.”

In reference to mining, he says: ”There are no mines known in the province, except one of copper, situated in a mountain on the west side of the Rio del Norte in latitude 34 degrees. It is worked and produces 20,000 mule loads of copper annually. It also furnishes that article for the manufactories of nearly all of the internal province. It contains gold, but not quite enough to pay for its extraction; consequently it has not been pursued.”

The population of New Mexico at that time, he estimated at 30,000 souls. Of its commerce, he says: “The province sends out about 30,000 sheep annually, tobacco, dressed deer and cabrie (goat) skins, some fur, buffalo robes, salt, and wrought copper vessels of a superior quality. The journey with loaded mules from Santa Fe to Mexico and returning to Santa Fe takes five months.”

“They manufacture rough leather, segars, a vast variety and quantity of potters’ ware, cotton, some coarse woolen cloths, and blankets of a superior quality. All those manufactures are carried on by the civilized Indians, as the Spaniards think it more honorable to be agriculturists than mechanics. The Indians likewise far exceed their conquerors in their genius for an execution of all mechanical operations. New Mexico has the exclusive right of cultivating tobacco.”

It is probably from these Indians that the Navajos learned the art of manufacturing the Navajo blanket.

Lieut. Pike devoted considerable space to the irrigation process in the Rio Grande Valley, and says:

“They cultivate corn, wheat, rye, barley, rice, tobacco, vines and all the common culinary plants cultivated in the same latitude in the United States. They are, however, a century behind us in the art of cultivation; for. Not with standing their numerous herds of cattle and horses, I have seen them frequently breaking up whole fields with the hoe. Their oxen draw by the horns after the French mode. Their carts are extremely awkward and clumsily made. During the whole of the time we were in New Mexico, I never saw a horse in a vehicle of any description, mules being made use of in carriages as well as for the purposes of labor. “It can truly be said that in many parts of Mexico they have not improved on these methods of agriculture up to the present time.

Concerning the method of irrigation, he says:

“Both above and below Albuquerque, the citizens were beginning to open the canals to let in the water of the river to fertilize the plains and fields which border its banks on both sides; where we saw men, women and children of all ages and sexes at the joyful labor which was to crown with rich abundance their future harvest and insure them plenty for the ensuing year. The cultivation of the fields was now commencing and everything appeared to give life and gaiety to the surrounding scenery.”

About the irrigation at El Paso, he says:

“About two miles above the town of the Paso del Norte, is a bridge over the river, where the road passes to the west side, at which place is a large canal, which takes out an ample supply of water for the purpose of cultivation, which is here carried on in as great perfection as at any place that I visited in’ the province. There is a wall bordering the canal the whole way on both sides; to protect it from the animals, and when it arrives at the village, it is distributed in such a manner that each person has his fields watered in rotation. At this place were as finely cultivated fields of wheat and other small grain as I ever saw; also many vineyards, from which was introduced the finest wine ever drunk in the country, which was celebrated throughout all the province and was the only wine used on the table of the commanding general.”

He thus described Santa Fe: ”Situated on the banks of a small creek, which runs west to the Rio del Norte. The length of the capital on the creek may be estimated at one mile; it is but three streets in width. Its appearance from a distance struck my mind with the same effect as a fleet of the flat bottomed boats which are seen in the spring and fall seasons descending the Ohio River. There are two churches, the magnificence of whose steeples forms a striking contrast to the miserable appearance of the houses. On the north side of the town is the square of soldiers’ houses. The public square is in the center of the town; on the north side of which is situated the palace (as they term it) or government house, with the quarters for guards, etc. The other side of the square is occupied by the clergy and public officers. In general the houses have a shed before the front, some of which have a flooring of brick; the consequence is that the streets are very narrow, say in general 25 feet.

The supposed population is 4,500 souls. The houses are generally only one story high, flat roofs, and have a very mean appearance on the outside, but some of them are richly furnished, especially with plate.”

“The second cities in the province are Albuquerque and Paso del Norte. The latter is the most southern city of the province, as Tons is the most northern. Between the village of Sibillette and the Paso there is a wilderness of nearly 200 miles.”

The government, as described by Lieut. Pike, was:

”military in the pure essence of the word, for, although they have their alcaldes, or inferior officers, their judgments are subject to a reversion by the military commandantes of districts. The whole male population is subject to military duty, without pay or emolument, and are obliged to find their own horses, arms and provisions. The only thing furnished by the government is ammunition. There is but one troop of dragoons in all New Mexico of the regular force, which is stationed at Santa Fe, and is 100 strong. Of this troop, the governor is always the captain; but they are commanded by a first lieutenant, who is captain by brevet. The men capable of bearing arms in this province may be estimated at 5,000; of these probably 1,000 are completely armed, 1,000 badly, and the rest not at all.”

Of the New Mexicans in general, Lieut. Pike says, “that owing to the fact of their being on the frontier and cut off from the more inhabited parts of the kingdom, together with their continual wars with some of the savage nations that surround them, they are the bravest and most hardy subjects in New Spain; being generally armed, they know the use of them. Their want of gold and silver renders them laborious, in order that the productions of their labor may be the means of establishing the equilibrium between them and the other provinces where those metals abound. Their isolation and remote situation also cause them to exhibit in a superior degree, the heaven like qualities of hospitality and kindness.”

Lieut. Pike found only two Americans from the States living in New Mexico. At Santa Fe, he found a man named Colly, who was an interpreter for the Governor, and had been a member of the ill fated Nolan expedition into Texas. At Santa Fe, also, he discovered one James Pursley and accords him the honor of being “the first American who ever penetrated the immense wilds of Louisiana and showed the Spaniards of New Mexico that neither the savages who surround the deserts which divide them from the habitable world, nor the jealous tyrannies of their rulers, was sufficient to prevent the enterprising spirit of the Americans penetrating the arcanum of their rich establishment in the new world.” Pursley was from near Bairdstown, Kentucky, which he left in 1799. In 1805, he, and his two companions, and two Indians were selected as emissaries of a large band of Indian hunters and traders to go to Santa Fe and inquire if the Spaniards would receive them friendly and enter into trade with them. “This being acceded to by the governor (Allencaster) the Indian deputies returned for their bands; but Pursley thought it proper to remain with a civilized people. He arrived at Santa Fe in June, 1805, and had been following his trade, a carpenter, ever since, at which he made a great deal of money, except when working for the officers, who paid him little or nothing. He was a man of strong natural sense and dauntless intrepidity. He was once near being hanged for making a few pounds of gunpowder, which he innocently did, as he had been accustomed to do in Kentucky, but which is a capital crime in these provinces. He was forbidden to write, but was assured he should have a passport whenever he demanded it, but was obliged to give security that he would not leave the country without permission of the government.”

Lieut. Pike and the publication of his book gave to Americans the first detailed description of the great wilderness lying to the west of them, and the advantages of establishing a trade with these distant provinces. From his description of the New Mexican country, the attention of traders, merchants and speculators was immediately attracted thereto. The first expedition into Santa Fe was organized in 1812 by McKnight, Beard, Chambers and eight or nine others, who fitted out a trading expedition and reached Santa Fe over practically the same route described by Pike. They reached their destination during the closing days of the revolutionary movement which had been put down by the Royalists. They were seized as spies, their goods confiscated and they were sent as prisoners to Chihuahua, where they were confined for nine years. In 1821, two of the party returned to the United States, and the reports they made of the country prompted others to embark upon the same enterprise.

From this time may be dated the opening of what afterwards became known as the Santa Fe trail.

About the year 1821, Capt. Becknell, with four companies, started from Franklin, Missouri, fitted out with merchandise to trade with the Comanches. He met a party of Mexican rangers who persuaded him to take his wares to Santa Fe, where they were readily disposed of at an enormous profit. Becknell returned east in the following winter, leaving his companions in Santa Fe, but his accounts stimulated others to similar undertakings.

Col. Cooper, his sons, and a score of his neighbors, all Missourians, started in May, 1822, with five thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise, which they transported on pack mules to Taos. Capt. Becknell accompanied by about thirty men, in the month of June following, set out upon his second westward trip. To avoid the circuitous route he had followed on the first trip, he left the Arkansas River at “the caches,” striking directly for Santa Fe across the unknown desert. Unable to find water, they killed their dogs, and cut off the ears of their mules, quenching their thirst by drinking the hot blood of these animals. On the desert they separated in the hope that some of the party might find water.

Little suspecting that they were almost on the banks of the Cimarron, they determined to attempt to retrace their steps to the Arkansas ”when they saw a buffalo, his stomach distended with water. The animal was immediately killed, and they quenched their thirst by drinking the filthy water they found in his stomach. Strengthened by this draught, some of the party managed to reach the river, where they filled all the canteens. By degrees the greater sufferers in the party were relieved of their distress, just when death seemed imminent, and the journey was resumed.”

The Santa Fe trade may be said to date from 1822. Two years thereafter, merchandise was transported upon the backs of mules and horses. In the same year, 1824, a company of about eighty missionaries set out with a trainload of wares, including both pack mules and wagons, the latter being the first wheeled vehicles to cross the plains. Colonel Marmaduke, afterwards Governor of Missouri, was a member of this party, which carried about thirty thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise to Santa Fe.

Troubles with the Indians began at an early date, and a demand was made for Government protection, which was met, and in the spring of 1829, Major Riley accompanied an expedition as far as Choteau’s Island in the Arkansas. This escort, and one commanded by Captain Wharton in 1834, constituted the only military protection granted the Santa Fe trade until 1843, when Captain Cook commanded large escorts for two caravans as far as the Arkansas River.

The town of Independence, Missouri, was the center of this trade in 1831, from which point to New Mexico, there was not a human abode on the trail or near it. The “Commerce of the Prairies,” by Gregg, thus describes the entrance of a caravan into the city of Santa Fe;

“The arrival produced a great deal of bustle and excitement among the natives:

Los Americanos!’ ‘Los Carros!’ ‘La Entrada de la caravana!’ were to be heard in every direction and crowds of women and boys flocked around to see the new comers; while crowds of leperos hung about as usual to see what they could pilfer. The wagoners were by no means free from excitement at this occasion. Informed of the ordeal they had to pass, they had spent the previous morning in ‘rubbing up,’ and now they were prepared with clean faces, sleek combed hair, and their choicest Sunday suit, to meet the fair eyes of glistening black that were sure to stare at them as they passed. There was yet another preparation to be made in order to ‘show off’ to advantage. Each wagoner must tie a brand new ‘cracker’ to the lash of his whip; for, on driving through the streets and the plaza publica, every one strives to outvie his comrades in the dexterity with which he flourishes this favorite badge of his authority.

“Our wagons were soon discharged in the warerooms of the customhouse; and a few days’ leisure being now at our disposal, we had time to take that recreation which a fatiguing journey of ten weeks had rendered so necessary. The wagoners, and many of the traders, particularly the novices, flocked to the numerous fandangoes, which are regularly kept up after the arrival of a caravan. But the merchants generally were active and anxiously engaged in their affairs – striving who should first get his goods out of the customhouse and obtain a chance at the ‘hard chink’ of the numerous country dealers, who annually resort to the capital on these occasions.

“The derechos de arancel (tariff imposts) of Mexico are extremely oppressive, averaging about a hundred per cent upon the United States’ cost of an ordinary ‘Santa Fe assortment.’ Those on cotton textures are particularly so. According to the arancel of 1837 (and it was still heavier before), all plain woven cottons, whether white or printed pay twelve and one half cents duty per vara; besides the derecho de consumo (consumption duty) which brings it up to at least fifteen.

“For a few years, Governor Armijo of Santa Fe established a tariff of his own, entirely arbitrary – extracting five hundred dollars for each wagonload, whether large or small – of fine or coarse goods! Of course this was very advantageous to such traders as had large wagons and costly assortments, while it was no less onerous to those with smaller vehicles or coarse, heavy goods. As might have been anticipated, the traders soon took to conveying their merchandise only in the largest wagons, drawn by ten or twelve mules, and omitting the coarser and more weighty articles of trade. This caused the governor to return to the ad valorem system’.

“The arrival of a caravan at Santa Fe changes the aspect of the place at once. Instead of the idleness and stagnation which its street exhibited before, one now sees everywhere the bustle, noise and activity of a lively market town. Taking the circuit of the stores, I found that they usually contained general assortments, much like those to be met with in the retail variety stores of the west. The stocks of the inexperienced merchants are apt to abound in unsalable goods – mulas, as the Mexicans figuratively term them.”

In his ”Commerce of the Prairies,” from which the most of the above has been drawn. Dr. Gregg estimates the amount of merchandise invested in the Santa Fe trade from 1822 to 1843, inclusive, as follows:

1822 $ 15,000– 1833 $180,000
1823 12,000—- 1834 150,000
1824 35,000—- 1835 140.000
1825 65,000—- 1836 130,000
1826 90,000—- 1837 150,000
1827 85,000—- 1838 90,000
1828 150,000– 1839 250,000
1829 60,000—- 1840 50,000
1830 120,000— 1841 150,000
1831 250,000— 1842 160,000
1832 140,000— 1843 450,000

In 1846 or 1847, passenger stages were placed in operation between Santa Fe and Independence, Missouri, each month. A stage would start from Santa Fe and Independence at the same time. Passenger traffic increased and trips were then made semimonthly, then weekly, and, finally, three times a week. The stages were drawn by six animals. As the demand for quicker trips increased, the animals were changed more frequently, about every twenty miles while crossing the mountain range. The trip, barring accidents, was made in about two weeks. The fare was $250 for each passenger who was permitted to carry forty pounds of baggage free. For every extra pound, fifty cents was charged. Passengers were boarded en route. The fare was rough; being chiefly hardtack and pork, and such wild game as could be killed on the road. The stages ran day and night without interruption. The only sleep possible was what might be obtained while seated in the rolling vehicle. Later, stage stations were established at various points along the route at which rough accommodations were provided. During periods when the Indians were on the warpath, both the freight trains and passenger coaches were accompanied by escorts of military over the portion of the trail where the greatest menace existed. The Indians preferred to make their attacks during the daylight, and for this reason the stage drivers aimed to cover the most dangerous part of the road at night.

The opening of the Santa Fe trail made Santa Fe the mart for the exchange of all the products of New Mexico, Northern Chihuahua, Sonora and what is now Arizona, and also part of California, for immediately thereafter this section of the country was scoured by adventurous men, trappers, who explored every foot of the hitherto unknown country lying to the west. Trails were made on to Arizona and into California by such men as Jedediah Smith, the Patties, Bill Williams, Felix Aubrey, Pauline Weaver, Kit Carson and others. The first and only published record we have is that of the Patties, who obtained permission from the New Mexican Governor to trap along the Gila River, and organized a small party for that purpose. Leaving Santa Fe on November 22nd, 1824, they passed down the Rio del Norte to Socorro, and then struck across the country to the Gila, visiting en route, the famous copper mines of Santa Rita. This trip extended through nearly five months, and these hunters, as far as is known, were the first Americans to visit the upper Gila Valley. Many of the natives never having seen a white man, fled at the approach of the party, but others more bold, viciously attacked them with their arrows. They returned to Santa Fe, where, securing supplies, the party set out to bring in their buried furs from the Gila, only to find that the Indians had rifled their cache, and all their hardships and suffering were without recompense. Returning to the mines, they repelled an attack thereon by the hostile Apaches, which ended in a treaty that insured the peaceful workings of the deposits.

Sylvester Pattie, the father of James, being acquainted with the American method of reducing these ores, succeeded in obtaining a lease upon the mines, which proved very profitable. The younger Pattie, finding life at Santa Rita too monotonous, and despite the remonstrances of his father, on January 26th, 1826, set out with a few companions for the Gila Valley, where he had already suffered and lost so much. During the following eight months, the range of the trappers’ journey was wide. Passing down the Gila to its junction with the Colorado, young Pattie ascended the banks of the latter stream, seeing in its now world famed canyons only walls of highly colored rock which debarred them from the water’s edge. They crossed the continental divide at South Pass, and emerged upon the plains, where once more they hunted the buffalo in the “cow country.”

The adventurers then turned north and pursued an ill defined course, coming back upon the upper Arkansas, and crossing to Santa Fe, where Pattie was again deprived of the harvest of furs gathered with such wearisome labor, the Spanish governor claiming that the young man’s former license did not extend to this expedition. Thereupon young Pattie joined his father at Santa Rita.

The winter and spring were spent in occasional hunting expeditions and visits to the Spanish settlements. In the spring, a new turn was given to the fortunes of the Patties by the embezzlement and flight of a Spanish subordinate, through whom they lost the savings of several years. They abandoned mining operations and the father and son sought to rehabilitate themselves by another trapping expedition, and set forth with a company of thirty, again in the direction of the Gila. Engagements with hostile Indians were of frequent occurrences. Early in November, 1828, many of their party having deserted, and all of their horses having been stolen by the Yumas, the remainder built canoes and embarked upon the Colorado River. The only way of communicating with the Indians was through the sign language, and our adventurers understood the Indians to say that Spanish settlements existed at the mouth of the Colorado. In expectation of finding succor there, they continued down that waterway to its mouth, but found nothing but deserted shores and tidal waves, which alarmed and disturbed these freshwater voyagers. Finding it impossible to ascend the swift current, they buried their stores and furs, and struck across the rugged peninsula of Lower California, to the Spanish settlements on the Pacific Coast. The story of their sufferings in the salt lakes and deserts of this barren land is told in vigorous language by the younger Pattie. Arriving at a Dominican mission on the western slope of the mountains, the travellers were received with suspicion, placed under surveillance and forwarded to San Diego, then the residence of the governor of the Spanish settlements of California. Their residence in California under the Mexican regime makes a very interesting story. According to Pattie ‘s account, he and his companions were treated with severity, being imprisoned at San Diego for lack of passports, and there detained for many months. The elder Pattie died in his cell without being permitted to see the son, for whose presence he piteously pleaded in his last hours. Young Pattie, in recognition of his services as an interpreter and that he might vaccinate the natives at the missions, among whom a smallpox epidemic was prevailing, was released. He gives a graphic picture of the pastoral life of the neophytes and rancheros at each mission and presidio along the coast where he traveled upon his northern journey. He arrived at San Francisco and pushed on to the Russian fort at Bodega Bay, returning to Monterey in time to participate in the Solis revolt of 1829. He declined Mexican citizenship and, upon the advice of his new found friends, he was induced to make a formal statement of his injuries and the losses which he had sustained by the refusal to permit the securing of his furs. Pattie embarked for Mexico in May, 1830, with the revolutionists who were being sent to the capital for trial. The companions of this long and adventurous journey he left settled among the Mexicans, most of them making California their permanent home.

In the city of Mexico, Pattie applied to the American diplomatic representative, also to the President of the Republic, but failed to obtain redress for his losses and injuries. He made his way to Vera Cruz, and there obtained passage to New Orleans where, through the kindly help of compatriots who loaned him money to pay for his boat passage, he ascended the Mississippi to Cincinnati and his early Kentucky home. Here the narrative closes. The only clue we have in reference to his after life is one given by Bancroft, who thinks he was again in San Diego after the American advent. (Bancroft, Hist, of California, iii, p. 171, note 44.)

Dellenbaugh says that the younger Pattie, in his trapping expedition of 1828, down the Gila River to its junction with the Colorado, up the Colorado to the Grand Canyon, was the first white man who ever discovered the Black Canyon of the Colorado. Continuing, he says: “they made the first extended trip along the Grand Canyon and the other canyons of the Colorado, but whether they passed up by the north or the south, I am unable to determine. My impression is that they passed by the north, as they would otherwise have met with the Havasupai in their canyon, with the little Colorado, and with the Moki.”

Captain Jedediah S. Smith was the first white man to enter Arizona from the north. In August, 1826, he started from Salt Lake, passed south by Utah Lake, and keeping down the west side of the Wasatch and the High Plateaus, reached the Virgin River in Arizona, near the southwestern corner of Utah. This he called, in honor of the President of the United States, “Adams River.” Following it southwest through the Pal Ute country, in twelve days he came to its junction with the Colorado. He entered the country of the Mohaves, who gave him a friendly reception, and he and his companions remained with them for some time, recuperating their stock. Leaving the Mohaves, he crossed the desert to the California coast, where he had troubles with the authorities, which, however, did not prevent him from returning again, after a visit to his northern rendezvous. While crossing the Colorado, the Mohaves who, it is said, had been instigated by the Spaniards to harass the Americans, attacked his expedition, killing ten men and capturing everything. Smith escaped and was afterwards killed on the Cimarron by the Comanches.

In 1830, William Wolfskill and a party of trappers, opened a route to California, going north from Santa Fe, crossing the headwaters of the San Juan, then crossing Grand and Green Rivers, the latter in what is now known as Gunnison Valley, thence across the western base of the Wasatch Range, and south through Mountain Meadows and across the Beaver Dam Mountains. Thence they followed down the Virgin River almost to the Colorado, where they struck across the desert to Los Angeles. For many years afterwards, this route was used and known as the “Old Spanish Trail.” Wolfskill afterwards settled in Los Angeles, and planted a vineyard, which became famous. Bell says: ”he was a hero. A man of indomitable will, industry and self denial; an American pioneer hero; one who succeeds in all he undertakes, and is always to be trusted. Lie died in 1866, leaving a very large fortune.”

To follow the exploits of these trappers, who were the early explorers of the Great West, would require volumes. I have only room here to note those who afterwards identified themselves ith Arizona history. The records of many are incomplete. Pauline Weaver, as will be afterwards shown in the progress of this history, identified himself with the prosperity of Arizona; Felix Aubrey gave his name to localities in the State, probably in the early 30’s. Of him we know little beyond the fact that he became identified with the Santa Fe trail first in 1824; that after the discovery of gold in California, he made several trips into that State through the northern route, and first gave to the world the knowledge that a railroad could be built over that country, as afterwards it was constructed, along the line of the present Santa Fe railroad. In 1846 he made a famous ride from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri, an account of which is given by Major Henry Romeyn, U. S. A., as follows:

”Felix Aubrey was a Canadian by birth, of French extraction, and prior to the Mexican war had been in New Mexico as trapper and hunter with Beaubien, Maxwell and others, and was well acquainted with the plains, as well as along the mountains, from Winnipeg to Santa Fe; and even south of that place. When Tobin’s ride from Santa Fe to Fort Leavenworth, in August, 1846, had made him known all over the territory, Aubrey asserted that the time he had required could be reduced one third, and when doubts were expressed, offered to back his opinion with his money. He soon found men who were willing to accept his wager, and arrangements were at once made for the attempt.

“No limits were fixed as to the number of mounts he might use – he was to get there, and at his own limit of time; he must do so in seven days and eight hours. Trains which had taken supplies for the army to the territory were returning eastward, and Aubrey, selecting half a dozen good horses, sent one by each train, to be led with it till he overtook it; the first one leaving about two weeks before he started. For tbe first stage he rode a beautiful blooded mare, which he kept as a racer, and, owing to the fact that the empty train had travelled more rapidly than he had anticipated, he did not get his first relay till he had passed Wagon Mound, about a hundred and fifty miles from Santa Fe. He halted only long enough to change his saddle to his fresh mount and procure some food, which he ate as he rode, and he dared not halt for sleep on account of danger of too lengthy a delay, and of being discovered by Indians, and only found another mount, food, and a few hours for rest at the camp of the next train, at a ford of the Arkansas, since named for him, and near where the west line of Kansas now crosses that stream.

“There were plenty of Indians along the route, not only on the Arkansas, but in the valley of the Kaw, after he had crossed the divide, between it and the big bend of the Arkansas, and they wouldn’t hesitate to lift the hair of any lone white man, if opportunity offered, especially if he rode a good horse. As he was to make the entire journey on horseback, he could sleep with safety only when he found a train in camp, and he made only three halts for that purpose, and in five days and fourteen hours from the time he left Santa Fe, he rode into Independence, Missouri, about two miles east of where Kansas City now stands, that place being the starting point at that time for civilian trains for Santa Fe. He had ridden about 830 miles, had used seven horses, and if he had taken no time for sleep and meals, would have ridden about six miles an hour during the entire time. It was a wonderful test of endurance for both man and beast. There were wagers on the actual time, enough to give him something of a bonus above the main stake, of five thousand dollars.”

Bill Williams was another of the trail makers, and for him Bill Williams’ Mountain and Bill Williams’ Fork are named, and bear his name to this day. He was an old trapper, and knew every crook and turn of every river and every mountain range west of the Missouri River. He was the pilot for Fremont in 1848, when Fremont, against the advice of Williams, his guide, attempted to cross, with his pack animals, a range of mountains covered with snow, and lost a large portion of his command. The only account that I have been able to find of Bill Williams is contained in Ruxton’s “Life in the Far West,” which borders on the romantic, and is as follows:

“The leader of the party was Bill Williams, that old ‘hard case’ who had spent forty years and more in the mountains, until he had become as tough as the parfleche soles of his moccasins. Williams always rode ahead, his body bent over his saddle horn, across which rested a long, heavy rifle, his keen gray eyes peering from under the sloughed brim of a flexible felt hat, black and shining with grease. His buckskin hunting shirt, bedaubed until it had the appearance of polished leather, hung in folds over his bony carcass; his nether extremities being clothed in pantaloons of the same material (with scattered fringes down the outside of the leg which ornaments, however, had been pretty well thinned to supply ‘whangs’ for mending moccasins or pack saddles), which, shrunk with wet, clung tightly to his long, spare, sinewy legs. His feet were thrust into a pair of Mexican stirrups made of wood, and as big as coal scuttles; and iron spurs of incredible proportions, with tinkling drops attached to the rowels, were fastened to his heels – a bead worked strap, four inches broad, securing them over the instep. In the shoulder belt which sustained his powder horn and bullet pouch, were fastened the various instruments of one pursuing his mode of life. An awl, with deer horn handle, and the point defended by a case of cherry wood, carved by his own hand, hung at the back of the belt, side by side with a worm for cleaning the rifle; and under this was a squat and quaint looking bullet mould, the handles guarded by strips of buckskin to save bis fingers from burning when running balls, having for its companion a little bottle made from the point of an antelope’s horn scraped transparent, which contained the ‘medicine’ used in baiting the traps. The old coon’s face was sharp and thin, a long nose and chin hobnobbing with each other; and his head was always bent forward, giving him the appearance of being humpbacked. He appeared to look neither to the right nor left, but, in fact, his little twinkling eye was everywhere. He looked at no one he was addressing, always seeming to be thinking of something else than the subject of his discourse, speaking in a whining, thin, cracked voice, and in a tone that left the hearer in doubt whether he was laughing or crying. On the present occasion, he had joined this band, and naturally assumed the leadership (for Bill ever refused to go in harness), in opposition to his usual practice, which was to hunt alone. His character was well known. Acquainted with every inch of the Far West, and with all the Indian tribes who inhabited it, he never failed to outwit his red enemies, and generally made his appearance at the rendezvous from his solitary expeditions, with galore of beaver, when numerous bands of trappers dropped in on foot, having been despoiled of their packs and animals by the very Indians through the midst of whom old Williams had contrived to pass unseen and unmolested. On occasions when he had been in company with others, and attacked by Indians, Bill invariably fought manfully, and with all the coolness that perfect indifference to death or danger could give, but always ‘on his own hook.’ His rifle cracked away merrily, and never spoke in vain, and in a charge – if ever it came to that – his keen-edged butcher knife tickled the fleece of many a Blackfoot. But, at the same time, if he saw that discretion was the better part of valor, and affairs wore so cloudy an aspect as to render retreat advisable, he would first express his opinion in curt terms, and decisively, and, charging up his rifle, would take himself off and ‘cache’ so effectually, that to search for him was utterly useless. Thus, when with a large party of trappers, when anything occurred which gave him a hint that trouble was coming, or more Indians were about than he considered good for his animals, Bill was wont to exclaim:

”Do’ee hyar now, boys, thar’s sign about! This boss feels like caching,’ and, without more words, and stoically deaf to all remonstrances, he would forthwith proceed to pack his animals, talking the while to an old crop-eared, rawboned Nez Perce pony, his own particular saddle horse, who in dogged temper and iron hardiness was worthy companion of his self willed master.”

Another account is that he was a Methodist preacher in Missouri in his early life, after which he became a trapper and explorer. He was said to be rather misanthropic in his manner, and did most of his trapping and exploring alone. He was the indefatigable foe of the Indians.

The ”Prescott Miner” of August 13th, 1870, says: ”Bill Williams, for whom Bill Williams’ Fork and Bill Williams’ Mountain were called, was killed by Utes while trying to relieve the Fremont expedition which was searching for Cochetope Pass, which both Senator Benton and Colonel Fremont thought was the best pass for a railroad. Williams was 60 years old when killed. Dr. Kent was with Williams and both were shot by Utes while quietly smoking in camp, by a party of twelve bucks who entered the camp, professing friendship. The Mexicans in camp were unarmed. This statement is from Dr. H. R. Wirtz, Medical Director for Arizona, 1870.”

Kit Carson, the greatest of the trail makers, was born in Madison County, Kentucky, on the 24th day of December, 1809. His parents settled in Howard County, Missouri, when he was an infant. When about sixteen years old he was apprenticed to a harness maker, but, attracted by the wild stories of the great West, he ran away from home and, in 1826, joined an expedition to Santa Fe. At that time there had been little change in the western country from the time of the explorations of Lewis and Clark and of Zebulon M. Pike, except that the capital of Mexico had been transferred from Madrid to the City of Mexico. All that territory comprised in the States of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, a large portion of Wyoming and Colorado, belonged to Mexico. Oregon, Washington, Montana, and the major part of Wyoming and Idaho were claimed by Great Britain, and remained in dispute until 1846.

Carson, for the next five years, was on the plains continually. He made one expedition from Sante Fe to El Paso and from thence to Chihuahua and several trips across the continent into California and Oregon. He became familiar with other portions of this comparatively unknown country. He explored the headquarters of the Columbia River, the Missouri River, the Arkansas River, and almost every foot of what is now the States of New Mexico and Arizona. Although from 1832 to the time of his death he made his home in New Mexico, yet his name and fame and exploits are as much a part of Arizona and other of the great Western States as of New Mexico itself. He was the soul incarnate of that spirit of enterprise which carried the American flag across the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, and thence across the great plains and mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The hero of a hundred fights, he never received but one wound; his life seemed to be protected by some unseen power. He touched the spirit that animated the West at every angle. He was the companion and associate of Ewing Young, Fitzgerald, the Sublettes, Jim Bridger, Bill Williams, and others who have left their mark upon the history of that period. He acquired a knowledge of Spanish, and of the French patois as spoken by the Canadian trappers, besides a knowledge of eight or nine Indian dialects. He was known alike to the Blackfeet, the Cheyennes, the Sioux, the Utes, the Apaches and all the warlike tribes who inhabited this vast region. He knew all their signals, and could follow their trails as nobody but themselves could. Up to 1834 he trapped through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and along all the streams everywhere where beaver abounded. He married first an Indian woman, who died in giving birth to a child, and afterwards, in 1843, married in New Mexico, a Mexican woman of respectable family. He abandoned trapping about the year 1834, and for eight years thereafter was employed as a hunter, supplying Fort Bent with its forty men with game.

When returning from his first visit to Missouri, he met Fremont upon a boat on the way up the Mississippi with his first exploring party, and entered the Government service under Fremont as official guide of the expedition. Of this incident Fremont says: “On the boat I met Kit Carson. He was returning from putting his little daughter in a convent school in St. Louis. I was pleased with him and his manner of address at this first meeting. He was a man of medium height, broad shouldered and deep chested, with a clear, steady blue eye and frank speech and manner – quiet and unassuming.”

Carson, at this time, was less than thirty-three years old, and had already made a national reputation. Imagination would paint him as an athlete, six feet high, with long whiskers and long hair, loud spoken and boastful, such being the usual physical development and characteristics of the trapper. Instead of this, he was a man of five feet six inches tall, under medium’ size, with little or no beard, a low spoken voice as soft as a woman’s, never boastful nor indulging in rough speech. One of his biographers, who knew him well, said that in all the years of his intercourse with Carson, he never knew him to tell an obscene story. Pure in mind as well as in morals, he had become a national character.

From this date until after the close of the Mexican war, Carson was closely identified with Fremont in all his explorations, and to him and not to the general belongs really the reputation of being the “Pathfinder,” for it is of record that Fremont found no paths and no trails in the great Rocky Mountain region, except those which were shown him by Basil Lajeunesse and Carson.

Throughout his life Carson never engaged himself permanently to any one man, or with any single enterprise. While trapping he would break away from large parties and with two or three companions go upon independent expeditions. On July 14th, 1843, he joined Fremont’s second expedition near the headwaters of the Arkansas River, and accompanied him’ throughout his second trip into Oregon and the Northern California country, returning by way of Sutter’s Fort and the southern route to Santa Fe.

After a year’s absence, he reached Bent’s Fort in the summer of 1844, having journeyed four thousand miles, where he settled down upon a ranch in Northern New Mexico, about fifty miles east of Taos, but not for long, for his home life was again interrupted by thrilling adventures. In the autumn of 1845, at the earnest request of Fremont, Carson conducted the former’s third and most famous expedition into Oregon and California. On this trip the party had several clashes with the Klamath Indians, in one of which Lajeunesse was killed. During this trip Fremont attempted to pass with his pack animals over a ridge covered by six feet of snow, and his expedition was only saved from disaster through the skill and energy of Carson.

In the meantime the Mexican War had broken out and Carson, pushing south with Fremont’s command, shared with high distinction in the conquest of California, the details of which are told in the reports of Kearny, Stockton and Fremont.

In 1846, following the preliminary events incident to the California conquest, Carson was sent east as special Government messenger, bearing dispatches from Commodore Stockton to the Federal authorities in Washington. With a party of fifteen men, he started late in the summer, and proceeded to a point near Socorro, in New Mexico, where he met General Kearny in command of the Army of the West, on his way to California. Kearny assumed the responsibility for the delivery of Carson’s dispatches, and ordered him to act as guide for his command to California. The command reached the Rancho Santa Maria, about sixty miles from San Diego, about December 5th, where they were joined by Captain Gillespie and Lieutenant Beale, with 35 men. On the following day, the combined forces fought the bloody battle of San Pascual, in which Carson bravely bore his part. Following this fight, and the ineffective skirmish at San Bernardo, Kearny’s command was besieged by a superbly mounted force of Mexican cavalry. They were in a famished condition and immediate relief was demanded. A small party had been sent out by Kearny, but they were captured. The situation was desperate. On the night of December 8th, Kearny sent out Kit Carson, accompanied by Lieut. Beale and a friendly Indian. They traveled at night. Crawling through the enemy’s lines, their sufferings were great. They were hungry and thirsty, their feet were lacerated by the cactus needles, but, under the lead of Carson, they reached San Diego, successfully, and secured the desired succor. Beale did not recover his health for more than a year, but in a few days Carson was as good as ever. Nothing seemed to affect the iron nerve and constitution of this little giant.

In March, 1847, he was sent again with dispatches to Washington. On this journey he fought his way through the Indians on and near the Gila, and pushed ahead, following the Santa Fe Trail to the Missouri river. He reached Washington in June, having traveled about four thousand miles on horseback within the space of three months. Carson’s continued services in winning the southwest had gained him wide recognition. President Polk appointed him second lieutenant in the United States Rifle Corps, which appointment; however, was never confirmed by the Senate. One can easily imagine the excitement which the advent of Carson created in Washington. The statesmen of that day, Webster, Clay, Benton and their colleagues, were surprised to find in him, a man who had written his name indelibly upon the history of the West, a modest, retiring, diffident person, undersized, who took his whole life, which had been one of loyalty to friends and to country, as merely a part of the duty which he owed to himself. He was ordered back to California again with dispatches. At the Point of Rocks on the Santa Fe Trail, a noted landmark about 650 miles beyond Independence, he had a desperate fight with the Comanche Indians. He found there encamped a band of volunteers, en route for the Mexican war. The Indians made an early morning raid and drove off the soldiers’ livestock.

The men, headed by Carson, made a counter attack upon the Indians, killed a number of them and managed to recover the cattle, but the surviving red men escaped with the horses. With a party of fifteen men, Carson was again attacked by three hundred Indians in the vicinity of Virgin River, Arizona, and successfully stood his ground. He reached Monterey without serious mishap, and for a time was employed against the border Mexicans in California.

In the spring of 1848 he was again sent with dispatches from California to Washington. While on his way eastward he managed to spend a day with his family at Taos. His homecomings up to this time had been about three years apart. He made a safe trip to Washington and honorably discharged his duties. Returning to New Mexico, he decided to settle down once more in the ranch business with Lucien B. Maxwell as partner, but the quiet of domestic life was frequently interrupted. Several times he was called into the field to surprise and punish the Apaches and other wild tribes.

In 1851 Carson went to St. Louis, purchased a large stock of merchandise and started west. Upon reaching a village of Cheyennes upon the upper Arkansas River, he learned that the Indians were swearing vengeance against all whites because an army officer had rashly whipped one of their chiefs. It so happened that Carson was the first white man to approach since the offense had been given. Years before, when a hunter at Bent’s Fort he had become familiar with all the tribes and was esteemed by them as a friend.

Now he was almost a total stranger to them. His local reputation had faded during his long absence. While the Indians were holding their council, boldly he came among them. They, thinking he could not understand their language, talked without restraint in his presence. After he had heard them declare their intention to capture his wagon train and kill him, he quietly arose and made them a speech in their own language. He informed them who he was, and recalled to their minds many instances of kindnesses he had extended to them. He expressed his desire to render them any further service he could, but said in conclusion that if they proposed to take his scalp, he might have a hand in the affair. When he had finished speaking, the Indians quietly left the council, while Carson rejoined his men.

His next unusual exploit was to select a few trusty companions and drive a flock of 6,500 sheep overland from New Mexico to Southern California, about 800 miles. This proved to be a highly profitable speculation. Carson realized about $5.50 a head for his entire herd.

The narrative of the adventures of this extraordinary man would fill a large volume. I can only attempt to give a few notable incidents in his life, which stand out prominently as being of great importance to Arizona and the Southwest in general.

In 1854 he was appointed by President Pierce Indian Agent for New Mexico, and thus he became the adviser and guide of those tribes whose determined foe he had previously been.

In this position he revealed genuine statesmanship, and his ideas of the treatment of Indians are now a part of the policy of the General Government. He was the first to advocate the rounding up of the Indians and teaching them to subsist upon the soil. As General Crook afterwards expressed it: “To raise corn instead of scalps.” He became the firm friend of the Apaches, the Cheyennes, the Kiowas, the Utes and the Arapahoes, although at times he was forced to punish them because of their raids upon civilization.

From 1849 to 1865 the Government spent thirty millions in an effort to subdue the various wild tribes of Arizona and New Mexico, and Carson was prominently identified with this entire enterprise.

Not only as an Indian fighter and scout did he help win the Southwest, but in the war between the States he helped to retain that region to the Union. At the battle of Val Verde in 1862, as commander of the First Regiment of New Mexican Volunteers, he gave efficient service to the Union arms. As we shall see later on, in the summer of 1863 he conquered the Navajos, who, since that time, have been at peace with the whites. At the close of the war he was brevetted brigadier-general. His last service was in 1865, when, in command of three companies of soldiers, he attacked and destroyed a large Kiowa village near the Cimarron. His word was always kept; he was the soul of honor and the Indians, knowing this, respected Kit Carson. They admired him for his fair dealings and called him “father,” but it may be asserted here that their respect for him was inspired by the fear of his unerring aim and fighting blood.

About the year 1868, while in the mountains one day, he was thrown from a horse and received internal injuries, from which he never recovered. Otherwise in perfect health, says one of his biographers, he is said to have remarked: ”Were it not for this injury, I would live to be a hundred years of age.” He did his work well, and with the full assurance that his life had been one of service to humanity and of loyalty to the Government which he loved; death had no terrors for him. Surrounded by friends who loved him, he faced with serenity the approach of old age, conscious of having performed life’s duties well. His end came on May 23d, 1868. While visiting a son at Fort Lyons, Colorado, General Carson attempted to mount a horse, resulting in the rupture of an artery in his neck. Surgical attendance was useless. His life quietly slipped away. A brief struggle, three gasping words: “Doctor, compadre, adios,” ended his life. Thus ended the last of the great pathfinders of the West. His name is given to three cities, one lake, one river, and numerous peaks and canyons. His fame is perpetuated by a monument in the city of Denver, and also by a bronze tablet to himself and Lieutenant Beale in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.

The Santa Rita Copper Mines (Santa Eita del Cobre), which for many years was the rallying point for the trappers and hunters of New Mexico and Arizona, are situated in the mountain range not far from the Mimbres River. They were profitably worked from 1804 up to 1838. Sylvester Pattie at one time had a lease of the property, and Christopher Carson had worked for several months in these mines. In 1838 the Mimbres Apaches were giving great trouble to the settlers in Chihuahua and Sonora, and the condition of affairs is described by Dunn in his “Massacres of the Mountains,” as follows: “Chihuahua promulgated a law called the Proyecto de Guerra, or project for war, by which the State offered one hundred dollars for the scalp of an Apache warrior, fifty for the scalp of a squaw, and twenty-five for that of a child. Sonora was also paying a bounty for scalps, and both gave to the captor any booty he might take from the Indians. This liberality was produced mainly by the many atrocities of Juan Jose, a Mimbres chief, who had been educated among the Mexicans, and used his knowledge of their customs to great advantage in his warfare. One favorite scheme of his was robbing the mails, for the purpose of obtaining information as to the plans of the Mexicans. At this time there were several parties of trappers on the headwaters of the G ila, and the captain of one of these, a man named Johnson, undertook to secure a number of Apache scalps. It is said that in addition to the scalp bounty, he was induced to this by pay from the owners of the Santa Fe copper mines. At any rate he made a feast and invited to it a number of Mimbreno warriors, who accepted his hospitable bidding. To one side of the ground here his feast was spread, he placed a howitzer, loaded to the muzzle with slugs, nails and bullets, and concealed under sacks of flour and other goods. In good range he placed a sack of flour, which he told the Indians to divide among themselves. Unsuspicious of wrong, they gathered about it. Johnson touched his lighted cigarette to the vent of the howitzer, and the charge was poured into the crowd, killing and wounding many. The party of trappers at once followed up the attack with their rifles and knives. A goodly number of scalps were secured, that of Juan Jose among others, but the treachery was terribly repaid. Another party of fifteen trappers was camped on a stream a few miles distant. The surviving Mimbrenos went to these unsuspecting men, and murdered every one of them. Their vengeance did not stop at this. The copper mines of Santa, Rita were furnished with supplies from the city of Chihuahua by guarded wagon trains (conductas) that brought in provisions and hauled back ore. The time for the arrival of the train came and passed, but no train appeared. Days slipped away, provisions were almost exhausted. The supply of ammunition was nearly gone. Some of the miners climbed to the top of Ben Moore, which rises back of the mines, but from its lofty summit no sign of an approaching conducta was visible. Starvation was imminent. The only hope of escape for the miners and their families was in making their way across the desert expanse that lies between the mines and the settlements. They started, but the Apaches, who had destroyed the train, hung about them, and attacked them so persistently that only four or five succeeded in reaching their destination.”

In addition to the trappers killed by the Apaches as above stated, another band was attacked by them, and several men were killed. Among the survivors of this band was Benj. D. Wilson, who afterwards became prominently identified with the early history of California. Up to the time of Johnson’s treachery, the Indians of that part of the country had been the white man’s friend, but from this time on they killed Mexicans and white men alike.

This closes the history of Arizona under the Spanish and Mexican rule.

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 1, By Thomas Edwin Farish, 1915, Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D.

Notes about Online Publication: This manuscript has been ocr’d and heavily edited. Many of the Native American words have been reproduced as clearly as online publication will allow us, but not all are exactly the way they were in the original work. The structure of this manuscript has been changed to allow better online presentation.

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