Article Series

Series: The Santa Fe Trail

In its day, the Trail served primarily as a commercial highway. The military used the trail to haul freight to supply the southwestern forts. The Trail was also used by stagecoach lines, those seeking gold in California and Colorado, fur trappers, and emigrants. The Trail in effect brought together Spanish and American cultures and. Many interactions, both amicable and contentious, between settlers and soldiers and the Plains Indians also occurred along the Trail.

  • Chapter 1: Trail Beginnings & Geographic Setting

    Map of the Santa Fe Trail and National Park Units along its route.

    Covering approximately 800 miles, the Santa Fe Trail extends from Independence, Missouri to present day Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Trail originally began in Franklin, Missouri, but the trail head was moved to Fort Osage and, by 1827, to Independence. Read more

  • Chapter 2: Notable People of the Trail

    Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, including a reconstructed tipi

    Prior to use of the Trail by white traders and settlers, it was a part of the Native American trade network. It was also used by Spaniards of New Mexico for exploration and trade with the Plains Indians. Soldiers also used the Trail throughout its 60-year history. Read more

  • Chapter 3: Forts and Park Units along the Trail

    Fort ruins in the snow at Fort Union National Monument

    The U.S. opened military forts along the route of the Santa Fe Trail to protect trail travel and trade. The first military fort, Fort Leavenworth, was established in 1827 in eastern Kansas and is not a national park site. Fort Union and Fort Larned followed. Bent’s Fort, not a military fort but a trading post, was built in 1833. The trail also passed along the ancient pueblo of Pecos, now a part of Pecos National Historical Park. Read more

  • Chapter 4: More Trail Facts & the Decline of the Santa Fe Trail

    Goods such as weapons and cooking supplies at the reconstructed fort at Bent’s Old Fort NHS

    More than 60 years of life on the Santa Fe Trail ended when the first steam engine reached Santa Fe in February of 1880. Read more

  • Chapter 5: Management & Preservation of the Santa Fe Trail

    Inner courtyard of the reconstructed fort at Bent’s Old Fort NHS

    The Santa Fe Trail became a part of the National Trails System in 1987. The National Park Service works in cooperation with the Santa Fe Trail Association, a nonprofit organization, to coordinate the preservation and use of the Trail. Read more

  • Chapter 6: Santa Fe Trail Links & Literature

    Santa Fe Trail reenactment with oxen and horses drawing a cart and a wagon

    More information about the Santa Fe Trail is available on the web, and via a list of literature cited throughout the chapters above. Read more