Special History Study
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The trade to the South constitutes a very important branch of the commerce of the country, in which foreigners, as well as natives are constantly embarking.

Josiah Gregg, The Commerce of the Prairies, 279

Economic dependence on the United States did not come about quickly. The opening of the Santa Fe Trail did not immediately revolutionize conditions in New Mexico. The appearance of fine and inexpensive merchandise did not result in a stampede of hispanos traveling east to purchase goods in the United States. [2] On the contrary, for more than a decade the majority of New Mexico's merchants maintained their traditional patterns of trade.

Such a strategy made sense in view of the local economic conditions. New Mexico had neither the population nor enough resources to absorb the large amount of merchandise that Americans were freighting across the plains. Hard currency was extremely scarce. By 1825 Missouri traders were aware of saturation in the Santa Fe market. On January 25 the Franklin Intelligencer noted that, sales being "effected very slowly,".., the goods "now on the way to that country [New Mexico] together with what are already there, will be more than adequate to the demand." [3]

Within the next year Americans began to venture into the heart of the Mexican territory looking for more profitable outlets for their goods. [4] The closest were in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, where Durango and Chihuahua were located. With a population of 232,000, almost six times the 40,000 reported for New Mexico, with only 60,000 of the people listed as Indians (almost 50 percent of the New Mexicans were classified in that category), and with rich mining operations that supported approximately 30 smelters and a mint that stamped out more than 500,000 pesos worth of coins a year, Nueva Viscaya became a strong magnet for foreign merchants and continued to attract growing numbers of New Mexican traders. [5]

The excess of American goods in Santa Fe relieved New Mexicans from their dependence on Mexican merchants. They now had access to merchandise of higher quality and cheaper than that available in Chihuahua and other northern Mexican cities; they were no longer forced to accept the expensive and crude products they had been buying for decades, could demand better prices for their local goods and even obtain payment in cash. Although a few New Mexicans occasionally hauled foreign effects, the majority continued to use the Royal Road to Mexico City to carry sheep and local manufactures. [6]

Almost 1,700 miles separated Santa Fe from Mexico City. But distance was not as formidable an obstacle as the hardships of the trip. The terrain was rugged, the Indian threat was always present, and water was scarce, found most often in "fetid springs or pools...only rendered tolerable by necessity." Historian Albert Bork remarked that the character of the territory between Missouri and New Mexico was ideal compared to the extremely difficult nature of the roads leading to the interior of Mexico. [7]

New Mexican traders seldom traveled alone, but formed caravans to fend off robbers, marauders, and Indians. Local officials announced in advance the departure of the convoys with the intent of gathering a group respectable enough in size to discourage possible attacks. George Rutledge Gibson noted that Mexicans traveled in large parties and were armed, "as well as Mexicans usually are." [8] Gregg believed that being armed to the teeth was a necessary precaution on the road to Chihuahua. New Mexican caravans along the Old Spanish Trail, however, carried relatively few firearms, most of which were in bad condition, the bulk of their weapons being bows and arrows. [9]

Most merchants began their trip south during August or in September. More than 75 percent of all guías (359) were issued during these months. In certain years (1836, 1837, 1839, and 1840) large groups also left in October (15 percent). A few ventured south during the winter (3.26 percent), but almost nobody journeyed in the spring. [10]

Large caravans were the rule. Although they did not rival in size those that came from the United States in the 1860s and 1870s, they were exceedingly long and took at least a day or two to pass through any specific location. [11] It is not clear if they moved in a single file, but they probably extended for a considerable distance. In August 1835 23 merchants traveled south, 21 two years later. During 1838 19 left in August, 12 in September and 11 in October. 1839 also saw considerable activity with 21 trips in August, 31 in September, 15 in October, and four in November. The same was true of 1843 with 33 merchants leaving in August, 24 in September, 12 in October, and two in November. The following year also witnessed significant movement with 31 merchants leaving between September 3 and 9, and carrying 271 bundles. During two weeks in August 1840 38 New Mexican merchants sent 26,156 sheep, three carts with foreign merchandise, 70 pounds of wool, 24 fanegas (grain measure of about 1.6 bushels) of pinyon, and 833 bundles of domestic merchandise toward the interior of Mexico. [12]

Hundreds of mules were used to carry these goods, and a fairly substantial number of animals (either mules or horses) was necessary for the arrieros (muleteers), conductores (conductors), and peones, who accompanied the loads. New Mexicans also relied on ox carts to haul merchandise, but they appear to have been less popular than mules. [13]

A journey from Santa Fe to Chihuahua normally lasted close to 40 days as it was seldom possible to average more than 15 miles per day. Even under ideal circumstances it took 26 days for a letter mailed in Santa Fe to reach Chihuahua and 40 more days for it to arrive at Mexico City. [14] Not only was the trip long and dangerous, it offered few amenities. Taverns with general accommodations were uncommon, but the majority of traders had no need for such luxuries. Most of the conductores and the arrieros camped out with their atajos (teams) of pack mules. They often traveled with their cooks and cantinas (large wallets or leather boxes) filled with provisions, and on top of these they lashed a mattress and all the other "fixings" for bed furniture. [15] Travelers were astonished to see how little they managed to live upon. Gibson noted that they used every part of a hog or beef, including heads, feet, and entrails. Their only meal, a small piece of meat, chile colorado, beans, and tortillas, lasted for 24 hours except for a cup of chocolate and a piece of bread. [16]

Hispanos had an excellent reputation as horsemen and muleteers. After watching two Mexicans lance two buffalos to death, Philip St. George Cooke reluctantly admitted that they were fine riders and "would be formidable as lancers." [17] Gregg marveled at the dexterity and skill with which they harnessed and adjusted packs of merchandise, "Half a dozen [men] usually suffice for 40 or 50 mules. Two men are always engaged at a time in the dispatch of each animal, and rarely occupy five minutes in the complete adjustment of his aparejo (pack saddle) and carga (load)." [18] Experienced travelers suggested that Mexicans be used as teamsters for they "can catch up and roll up in half the time the average person does." [19] Traders relied on a mule pack system which by the 19th century had become highly sophisticated, efficient, and remarkably well-suited to conditions in the Mexican territory. The United States Army eventually adopted their techniques for loading, the name of the equipment, and the use of the mule (see Figure 4). [20]

Figure 4. Pedro Vial poineered a route that closely resembled the one Santa Fe traders would follow in the next century. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Mexican mule, although short in stature, had been bred exclusively for pack service. The average animal weighed between 700 and 800 pounds and could carry half its own weight. This incredible strength, much greater than that of a horse or ox, allowed mules to travel over long distances and in areas where forage and water were scarce. Their physical ability and small hooves were well-suited to the region's rugged terrain. The Mexican mules became famous for a remarkable blend of physical characteristics, stamina, and intelligence, and were a highly prized asset in many areas of the western United States. [21]

In addition to the mule pack system, New Mexican traders used equipment that was well-suited for carrying heavy loads. The aparejo (pack saddle), the central piece of gear, was described by an expert packer from the Hudson's Bay Company as "nearer to what I consider to perfection in a pack saddle, than any other form of pack saddle yet invented." [22] The superiority of the aparejo stemmed from its capacity to carry heavy, odd-sized items safely over long distances without injuring the animal. It consisted of two leather bags stuffed with dried grass and joined at the top to form an arch or gable. It was designed to resist condensation and distribute the weight over the mule's rib cage and away from its back. New Mexicans have been known to carefully custom-fit each mule with its own aparejo. Once done, pack saddles were not switched between animals for fear of injuring a loaded mule's back or front or rear quarters. To identify each aparejo packers embroidered a telltale sign on the corona (a blanket used with the saddle). Often the grupera, a leather band attached to the rear of the aparejo that prevented the load from shifting forward, was also distinctively sewn or inlaid with cut Mexican silver coins. [23]

The mules and the equipment were important, but they would have had little impact without men skilled in the trade. By the 1850s "Mexicans" were the majority of packers in most of the west and were always in demand, as packing required a variety of skills. They had to secure loads with intricate knots, splices, and hitches; they acted as veterinarians and blacksmiths, and Gregg marveled at their speed and efficiency in shoeing mules. They had to estimate the safe carrying capacity of a mule, identify and treat an animal suffering from an improperly balanced load without detaining others, and govern the length of the day's trip so as to stop at some meadow or creek bottom that would provide good grass for the animals. Packers also had to be able to lift heavy loads, had to be good farriers, and "accomplish marvels with the axe, a screw key and a young sapling for a lever." [24]

Guías reveal that packers used a series of terms to identify the type and size of the shipments and possibly their shape. The most commonly used to describe loads of foreign merchandise was tercio. Domestic goods were most often carried in bultos, although sometimes they were hauled in tercios. Other loads were cajones, baúles, and piezas (pieces). [25]

Surviving guías, tornaguías, and pases (passes) provide the best and most complete documentation to identify those involved in the trade with the interior of Mexico and the United States until the Mexican War. The information is very valuable, but it is marred by omissions and errors, and the officials themselves admitted that scribes often made mistakes. [26]

Ownership is not always clear. The guías were supposed to make a distinction between the proprietor and the conductor of the load, but in several cases the information was incorrect or missing. Frequent errors prevent the accurate identification of owners. For example, a guía issued in 1838 lists Antonio Ballejo as the owner and Juan Otero as the conductor. An examination of the rest of the guías for that and following years reveals that Juan Otero probably owned the merchandise and that Ballejos was the conductor of the load. This was not the only case with inaccurate information. In November 1843 the cuaderno de guías indicated that Mariano Lucero took seven piezas of domestic goods to Chihuahua and Sonora; however, the surviving guía showed Manuel Cisneros as the owner. There is not enough evidence to identify the true owner of that load. [27] On August 26, 1843 José Armijo received guías 18 and 19. They both indicate the same amount and value of merchandise (14 bultos valued at 133 pesos 2 reales); while a coincidence is possible it is more likely that they reflect an error on the part of the scribe in charge of the cuaderno de guías. [28]

Additional confusion stems from the inability to differentiate between individuals. In 1843 Ambrosio Armijo is listed as the owner of three loads that left Santa Fe on August 31, November 1, and November 10. The documents do not indicate whether a conductor accompanied any of these. It would have been impossible for Armijo to have completed a trip to Chihuahua and Sonora between August and November; it is likely that if he went to Mexico at all, he accompanied the later shipments, which included close to 9,000 pesos worth of foreign merchandise. There may have been be more than one Ambrosio Armijo operating at the same time. The records indicate that Ambrosio Armijo in 1843 hauled a substantial amount of foreign goods (valued at more than 8,200 pesos); it is highly unlikely that the same individual would have bothered to carry two shipments of domestic goods valued at 155 and 403 pesos 4 reales respectively in 1845. [29] The identities of other traders are also unclear. Is Tomás Baca the same as Francisco Tomás Baca? Is the Vicente Baca who traveled in 1829 and 1830 the same individual who journeyed south in 1841? Did Francisco García go down both in 1835 and 1844? Is José Manuel Montaño the same as José Montaño? [30]

Since New Mexicans were exempt from obtaining guías for local products until 1830, it is impossible to identify the amount, type, and value of the merchandise taken to Mexico before that year. But the surviving documents clearly indicate that the number of hispano shipments increased steadily after 1830, and between 1835 and 1845 almost 500 hispano traders sent merchandise south (see Table 1). [31]

New Mexicans' favorite destination was Chihuahua with 349 traders listing the capital of Nueva Vizcaya as one endpoint of their trip. Durango and Sonora also attracted many merchants, with 221 and 175 mentions respectively. Other popular targets were Aguas Calientes, El Paso, Mexico City, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Allende, San Juan de los Lagos, Puebla, California, Jesús María, Puebla, Michoacán, and Zacatecas (see Figure 5). In certain cases specific destinations were not indicated. Instead the guías included comments such as ferias (fairs), donde me convenga (where it suits me), otros puntos en el camino (other points along the road), provincias internas (internal provinces), and others. Hispanos also did business in places like Hermosillo and Guaymas (see Table 2). While New Mexican guías never identified these communities as the destination of any shipment, documents issued in these communities indicate that New Mexicans bought loads of much-needed iron and steel there. [32]

Figure 5. "Sinching" the Load. Photo: William H. Jackson, ca. 1875, courtesy Museum of New Mexico.

Table 1
Trips to the Mexican Territory Undertaken by Hispanic Traders

YearNumber of Trips

*The extremely low numbers for 1842 do not indicate a decline in interest, but merely reflect the fact that a large portion of the cuaderno de guías for that year was lost.

Table 2
Destinations of Hispano Merchants Traveling to the Mexican Territory

DestinationNumber of Trips
Aguas Calientes14
El Parral3
El Paso58
Jesus Maria2
Mexico City42
San Juan de los Lagos48
Tierra Caliente5

All social classes participated in the trade down the Camino Real. As Licenciado Antonio Barreiro remarked, the ricos, the wealthy Río Abajo settlers and political leaders of the province, transported large numbers of often-already-consigned wethers and efectos del país; the less well-to-do hauled mostly hides, nuts, and a variety of local manufactures. Barreiro also noted that although a few individuals monopolized the sheep trade, even the middle and lowest classes benefited from the sale of hides and coarse woolen goods in Mexico's interior markets. [33]

His observations were accurate. The guías indicate that relatively few merchants sent large flocks of sheep to Mexico—only 28 owners from 16 families participated in this activity. [34] But ownership was even more concentrated because three families (Chávez, Otero, and Sandoval) controlled over 60 percent of the nearly 400,000 sheep valued at 200,000 pesos which were herded south. The largest shipments date from 1835 with close to 100,000 animals. Sizable herds also traveled in 1844 (53,700 sheep), 1843 (47,492), and in 1837 (44,921). There were considerable yearly fluctuations in the number of animals and only one shipment was recorded for 1831, 1833, 1834, and 1836. In spite of sporadic losses, sheep raising continued to be a mainstay of the economic base of the ricos. The Missouri Republican estimated that 50,000 sheep would leave New Mexico for California in 1853. Yet losses were quite common, and François Aubry reported that a large number of sheep belonging to Ambrosio Armijo failed to reach the market in 1852. [35]

Barreiro's perceptions regarding the middle and lowest classes also appear correct, as even those with relatively limited resources participated in the trade. The value of the majority of the shipments was very small (see Table 3). More than 100 merchants (close to 20 percent) carried less than 133 pesos of merchandise, and more than one-half (251) less than 250 pesos. In 1839 three traders carried less than 50 pesos. The year before, Guadalupe Santillanes hauled domestic goods valued at 23 pesos 4 reales. The load was so small that it was not even recorded in the guía notebook. [36]

Table 3
Value of the Merchandise Carried by Hispano Merchants into the Mexican Territory

Number of Loads
(N = 420)
Range in Value of the
Individual Loads
Value of All
Loads (in pesos)
Lowest Quartile (N = 105) 20 pesos - 133 pesos 3 reales 9,580.38
Second Quartile (N = 105) 133 pesos 4 reales - 234 pesos 18,610.95
Third Quartile (N = 105) 234 pesos - 1,143 pesos 2 reales 46,811.63
Highest Quartile (N = 105) 1,170 pesos - 26,474 pesos 7 reales 347,904.75
Total Value of All the Merchandise

Purchases of iron and steel in Guaymas and Hermosillo provide a good example of the limited amount of capital required to engage in trade. On November 5, 1842, Antonio Griego left from Guaymas en route to New Mexico carrying seven quintales (700 kilograms) of steel valued at seven pesos. [37] A week later (Nov. 12) Romualdo Baca stopped at Hermosillo to buy 18 piezas of iron, steel, and domestic merchandise valued at 247 pesos. Antonio Martínez purchased 10 piezas of iron, steel, and domestic manufactures assessed at 54 pesos 56 cents also at Hermosillo. Two days later (Nov. 23) Antonio Montaño left Hermosillo having entered with a guía issued in Santa Fe on September 14. He had acquired 10 piezas of steel, iron, and foreign merchandise for 62 pesos. Diego Romero probably took a small load of domestic merchandise, possibly to Hermosillo, where on November 29 he received a guía for 1,200 kilograms of iron. Two weeks later he arrived at Sonora where he purchased four piezas of iron, steel, and domestic merchandise valued at 108 pesos 6 reales. [38] Even though the value of iron and steel were ridiculously low, apparently it made sense to spend four months on the road to acquire them. Such goods were so scarce that traders are likely to have made enough profit from their sale to justify the long trips.

New Mexicans were exempted from paying the alcabala on efectos del país, and this undoubtedly helped them to make these trips more profitable. Although the province had to make a request for this exemption every 10 years, trading down the Royal Road was beneficial even for those who took small shipments south because they were paid in specie. [39] By the late 1820s and 1830s Mexican silver production was on the rise and New Mexicans could demand cash as payment for their products. Guías indicate that most of those traveling south from Santa Fe intended to exchange the merchandise for silver or coins. Unfortunately very few documents indicate what they brought back.

The majority of New Mexican merchants who traveled south hauled efectos del país—coarse weavings like sayal (woolen cloth), gerga (another type of woolen cloth), sarapes, frazadas (blankets), ponchos, and medias (socks, stockings). They also transported a variety of hides—gamuzas (deer skins), cíbolos (buffalo robes), osos (bear skins), nutrias (beaver skins), antas (elk hides), and colchas, sombreros (hats), and rebozos (shawls). Some individuals or families appear to have specialized in specific types of merchandise. The Sandovals traded sheep, the Archuletas either domestic goods or sheep, Cristóbal and José Armijo always took efectos del país; others hauled mostly blankets. Most traders, however, tended to include a variety of items in their shipments, like the 14 bultos Felipe Romero took to Chihuahua and Durango on September 9, 1838. His load assessed at only 161 pesos he carried 71 buffalo hides, 163 blankets, 114 pairs of socks, four elk hides, six sarapes, one bed blanket, 13 bedspreads, seven deer hides, and two bear skins (see Table 4). [40]

Table 4
Merchandise Carried by Hispano Traders to the Mexican Territory

Domestic Merchandise 296 56.38 %
Foreign Merchandise 79 15.05 &
Foreign & Domestic Merchandise 8 1.52 %
Sheep 61 11.62 %
Sheep & Domestic Merchandise 20 3.81 %
Other (Metal goods) 2 .38%
No Information 59 11.23 %
Total Number of Loads 525 99.99 %

Hauling domestic goods became more common with time as there was a dramatic increase in both the number and the proportion of individuals involved in the activity. Between 1826 and 1838 82 traders traveled south, but between 1839 and 1845 their number expanded to 236. The size of the shipments also appeared to have increased although there is little information on the value of the majority of them. [41]

Many individuals participated in hauling merchandise to the interior of Mexico. Surviving guías identify 531 owners and 80 conductores. The documents do not include any information on the peones who probably comprised the single largest group of men engaged in the trade. It is also difficult to learn much about the traders who made only one trip (214), and even those who carried multiple loads in a single year (246) (see Table 5). But it is possible to learn some details about those (71) who made more than one trip. Some, like Agapito Albo from El Paso, came to Santa Fe periodically to purchase foreign goods. In 1834 and 1839 he acquired close to 5,000 pesos worth of foreign effects. Another famous New Mexican trader was Manuel Armijo. He obtained 14 guías between 1835 and 1845. In eight cases he sent sheep—a total of 34,916 animals. In all other instances he shipped domestic manufactures under the care of a conductor, who in most cases appeared to be a relative. [42]

Table 5
Number of Trips To the Mexican Territory By Hispanic Merchants

Number of Trips Number of Merchants in This Category
1 Trip214
1 Trip with Multiple Loads246
2 Trips29
3 Trips22
4 Trips12
5 Trips3
6 Trips2
7 Trips1
8 Trips2
Total Number of Loads525

Some traders seem to have made a profit from the trade down the Camino Real. Francisco Tomás Baca made a number of trips. In 1835 he carried 36 pesos worth of merchandise and 2,200 sheep for a total value of 1,136 pesos. The following year he took 3,000 sheep assessed at 1,500 pesos. In 1838 he hauled both merchandise and sheep for a total of 675 pesos. There is no record for 1839, but by 1840 he was able to take 2,498 pesos of domestic manufactures in 75 bultos, the highest amount and value of domestic merchandise carried into the interior of Mexico. [43]

Santiago Flores was another trader involved in at least four trips. It can be safely assumed that he was not the owner but the conductor of a large load of foreign merchandise valued at 5,837 pesos in 1844. But it is likely that he owned the 50 tercios appraised at 297 pesos that he carried in 1841 and the 17 bultos assessed at 491 pesos 4 reales which he took in 1844. His appears to be another success story as records from Moctezuma, Mexico, indicate that in 1845 he received a guía for 55 bultos of domestic effects and 900 pesos in cash for a total of 1,390 pesos. [44]

Baca, Flores, and others appeared to have done well, but for several their fortune is less clear. Eugenio Archuleta made four trips down the Royal Road between 1835 and 1843. His shipments included only domestic merchandise and, in one case, sheep, but it is not possible to estimate his profits nor a pattern of size or value of shipments. In 1835 he carried 18 tercios, but no value was given. In 1838 he carried 18 bultos priced at 183 pesos. The next year he hauled almost twice as much, 33 tercios, with a value of 220.5 pesos. He next appeared in the records in 1843 carrying 1,400 sheep assessed at 700 pesos and 12 bultos of domestic merchandise valued at 161.40 pesos. It is not possible to assert that Archuleta had dramatically increased his assets because the sheep probably belonged to Tomás Baca, who was listed as the conductor, but who in all likelihood was the owner of the sheep. Archuleta was herding Baca's sheep and at the same time carrying his own efectos. [45]

For others the patterns are not quite clear. In 1838 Fernando Aragón received two guías for 20 tercios of domestic goods valued at approximately 200 pesos with destination Chihuahua and Sonora. He left on October 24. Three months later he left Hermosillo with 451 pesos worth of merchandise. Even though the net profit was small, proportionately he made a substantial gain over the original investment, particularly since the expenses associated with such trips were small and payments to peones minimal at best. A year later (Oct. 16, 1839) Aragón obtained another guía for 402.50 pesos worth of goods. Unfortunately no information survives about his return trip. In October 1840 he went south again, but this time he took only 130.5 pesos of merchandise. [46]

Diego Gómez took four bultos valued at 90 pesos in 1840, six priced at 187 pesos in 1843, and six again in 1844, but assessed only at 78 pesos. Salvador López made trips in 1838 and 1840 carrying 159 and 317 pesos respectively. José Dolores Durán traded exclusively efectos del país, but the size and value of his goods varied considerably—six bultos valued at 94 pesos in 1838, 15 at 234 pesos in 1840, and 11 at 200 pesos in 1844. Another merchant who made four trips was Juan Miguel Mascarenas. As many of the others, he specialized in local manufactures and carried small loads—six tercios in 1838, five piezas in 1839, eight tercios in 1843, and a similar small load in 1845. The value of his goods varied slightly, from 83 pesos in 1838 to 144 pesos in 1845. Diego Lucero and José Antonio Lucero both made two trips, but the latter specialized in foreign merchandise, although he could have been the conductor of goods belonging to either New Mexico's ricos or foreign merchants. Three other members of the Lucero family frequently carried effects to Mexico—Blas, Antonio, and Mariano. Pedro Antonio made four trips while Blas and Mariano made three and two respectively. In all of their cases the amount and value of the shipments reflect very little change. [47]

The guías did identify others who were essential to the system—the conductors. They were in charge of carrying the shipments sent by those who were unable to travel or those who could afford to pay someone to travel in their place. At least 80 individuals were so listed, although many others might have been omitted. [48] Leading the caravans appears to have provided valuable experience for the sons or younger relatives of wealthy merchants. In 29 instances the conductors shared the last name of the owners and it is probable that in other cases familial relations were involved. The frequent intermarriages of the elite make identification of the familial relationship between owners and conductors quite difficult. Many conductors did double duty. They were in charge of shipments sent by others, but they also took their own loads. In 1838 Pedro Armijo hauled his merchandise to Sonora, but he was also listed as the conductor of a load belonging to Manuel Armijo. In 1845 Rumaldo Baca herded 4,000 sheep belonging to José María Gutiérrez to Durango. At the same time he took 1,000 wethers of his own to the same destination. Juan José Sánchez was the conductor of a cargo of foreign merchandise belonging to Gerardo Miranda that left Santa Fe for El Paso in 1839. At the same time he hauled two shipments of his own—one for El Paso and the other one for Galeana. [49]

Was there an opportunity for conductors to become owners? Although not frequent, such situations seem to have existed. In 1840 Jesús María Ortiz led two loads belonging to Juan Gutiérrez. Four years later he carried his own bundles of foreign merchandise to Chihuahua and Sonora. In 1837 José María Martínez herded sheep belonging to Pedro José Perea to Durango, but by 1843 he was able to haul 15 bundles of domestic merchandise to Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. [50]

New Mexicans maintained their traditional direction of trade (north/south) throughout the 1830s, but at the same time (1830-1846) they established a similar network of commercial relations with California along the Old Spanish Trail (Santa Fe to California by way of the Great Basin) (see Figure 1). The process started in 1829 when acting Governor José Antonio Chávez authorized a caravan, quite similar to those traveling down the Royal Road, under the command of Antonio Armijo, to secure mules in exchange for efectos del país. Armijo also kept track of the Indian tribes they encountered on their way and the distance that separated the two territories. Armijo believed it important for the government to protect and foster the commerce between the two territories. The journey was quite arduous as the party left Santa Fe on November 7, 1829 and arrived at Mission San Gabriel on January 31, 1830. [51]

Only four guías survive that document similar trips to California, but caravans apparently went west on a yearly basis. Francisco Esteban Quintana left in 1839 with six bundles assessed at 78 pesos. Juan Arce carried more valuable merchandise in two bundles in 1843. Two merchants traveled to California in 1844—Francisco Frantes and Francisco Rael. The latter was probably among the first to drive sheep to California. [52]

The records of the 1847-1848 caravan to California reveal many similarities with those traveling south. The merchandise consisted mostly of bulky efectos del país weighing 8,000 to 10,000 pounds carried by 150 to 160 mules. Between 70 and 80 men were owners of the effects, but apparently there were "as many interested in the concern." As those going south, the value of the goods was relatively low—the greatest amount of property owned by any one trader did not exceed 300 or 400 pesos. [53]

The California caravans continued traditional patterns of trade, but by the late 1830s a dramatic change took place as the wealthiest New Mexicans began to travel east, in the direction of St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia, to purchase goods directly from major wholesalers. Dealing in foreign goods was not new. Starting in 1826 a few traders had taken foreign merchandise down el Camino Real (16 percent of all shipments included such goods). Eliseo Sánchez and Ramón García were the first for whom records exist. Sánchez left Santa Fe in August 27, 1826, and was issued two guías. He carried in all a substantial amount of foreign merchandise—3,065 pesos 5 reales 6 granos (monetary unit—12 granos equal 1 real). García left a few days later (Sept. 9) and took a smaller load (676 pesos 5 reales 6 granos). [54]

However, few New Mexican merchants followed the example of Sánchez and García and hauled efectos extranjeros to Mexico—only 32 individuals participated in this activity between 1826 and 1838. Although it is not possible to establish the size and value of many of these loads, in those cases where the assessment was included, it was quite low averaging only 343.75 pesos. In several instances the documents indicate that local merchants had purchased the merchandise from foreigners living in New Mexico. [55]

Throughout the 1830s, however, wealthy New Mexicans continued to acquire foreign products in the interior provinces of Mexico for resale in their territory. Although the records documenting such purchases are very sporadic and it is impossible to establish the number of individuals involved, the frequency of the trips, and amount and value of the goods procured, some of the ricos made significant purchases until the late 1830s. [56] It is possible that in exchange for these purchases they were able to obtain advantageous prices for their local products. Perhaps Mexican dealers were temporarily able to compete with traders selling foreign merchandise in Santa Fe due to the astronomical markups local merchants paid in the province's capital. [57]

After 1838 a transformation took place. The number of New Mexican merchants carrying foreign goods into the Mexican territory remained stable, but their identity changed and the value of the average shipment increased to 3,781 pesos with seven individuals each carrying loads in excess of 15,000 pesos. The leading New Mexico traders gradually invested a larger portion of their assets in such purchases, although they continued to ship the traditional local merchandise to the interior provinces of Mexico. For example, in 1843 José Chávez sent a monumental shipment of foreign goods to Durango, Zacatecas, and San Miguel de los Lagos—more than 160 bundles, yet the following year he still sent sheep and local manufactures to Chihuahua and Lagos. His brother, Mariano, followed a similar pattern. In 1844 he sent 177 pieces of foreign goods assessed at 26,474 pesos to Chihuahua, but at the same time his trusted mayordomo (steward), Crist&ocute;bal García, herded 6,000 sheep to Durango and Zacatecas. The Oteros did the same. They shifted emphasis from domestic to foreign goods, yet they still shipped large flocks of sheep to the interior of Mexico. [58]

Those who controlled the sheep trade dominated the sale of foreign merchandise as well. Five families (Armijo, Chávez, Otero, Perea, and Yrizarri) owned 81.68 percent (148,248 pesos) of the 181,492 pesos worth of foreign goods listed in the guías. Some of these shipments were quite impressive. In 1843 José Chávez remitted over 105,000 yards of lienzo (linen), 48,700 yards of indiana, and more than 10,000 yards of assorted fabrics. In addition his conductor also carried 250 dozen scarfs and handkerchiefs, 13 dozen hats, 29 dozen stockings, 36 gross of buttons, five dozen razors, one box of needles, three gross of thimbles, seven mirrors, four sets of pistols, 54 sets of beads, one gross of pencils, one dozen brushes, 10 dozen assorted necklaces, four dozen inkstands, three dozen scissors, seven dozen ivory combs, six boxes of ribbons, three accordions, seven silk hats, 10 guns, one dozen muslin dresses, six dozen silk gloves, four dozen silk shocs, and additional single items. [59]

As soon as wealthy New Mexicans traveled east and began to trade directly with American wholesalers, most of them stopped purchasing foreign goods from their counterparts in Chihuahua and Durango and began to develop an extensive network of commercial relations outside their nation that would alter the economic structure of the province. Yet they continued to send consignments of local goods and sheep to the interior provinces of Mexico, possibly to ensure their advantageous sale and avoid unexpected fluctuations in the market. [60]

New Mexicans were cautious entrepreneurs, who were reluctant to abandon traditional patterns of trade. Yet slowly they began to realize that unless they modified their commercial strategies, only foreigners would enjoy the benefits associated with the Santa Fe trade. Realizing that they could expect little help from the Mexican authorities they began venturing to major cities in the east. There they slowly helped to create a widespread commercial network, establishing strong economic relations with major entrepreneurs in the United States and Europe. They searched for the most lucrative deals using extensive information networks. Back home they established stores where they bought or traded products of the countryside for imported goods.

The majority of New Mexicans received limited benefits from these activities. Trading down the Royal Road produced some economic gains for those who owned and hauled local merchandise, but it is doubtful that arrieros and peones made enough money to substantially improve their circumstances. Most continued to be dependent on patrones who, by the middle of the 19th century, had accumulated massive fortunes. Increased trade also contributed to smuggling, as traders attempted to avoid taxes.

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Last Updated: 30-Sep-2005