Special History Study
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This study highlights the need to view the Santa Fe trade as part of a widespread network of trade relations that extended geographically well beyond the Santa Fe-Missouri Trail segment and one that evolved through time. Various ethnic groups contributed to its evolution and success. In trying to place the economic activities of hispanos within an adequate context, it is apparent that certain aspects of the trade require further analysis.

First, it would be difficult to settle the controversy regarding control of the trade; yet a systematic comparison of the merchandise (both quantity and value) listed in guías and manifests issued to foreigners with that hauled by New Mexicans would be a step in the right direction.

Second, the endeavors of non-hispano merchants, particularly those who settled in the New Mexican territory, have to be examined in greater detail. How did their operations compare to those of José Leandro Perea or Felipe Chávez? Did they rely on the same strategies as their hispano counterparts? Did they tend to establish businesses in areas where there was little competition from wealthy New Mexicans? How did they relate to the less affluent population? Were they more or less benevolent patrones than the native elite?

Third, it would be helpful to understand how non-hispano involvement in the trade changed after the Mexican War. The few New Mexicans, who owned most of goods that entered the territory after 1846, did not rely on large freighters, like Russell, Majors, and Waddell. Rather, they used arrieros and mayordomos who traveled east to arrange for the purchases, supervise their packing, and accompany the shipments to their final destination. Did any of the Americans develop a similar strategy to bring goods into New Mexico? If so, how successful were they?

Fourth, it would be important to identify the owners of the goods hauled by the large freighters after 1846. The nature of commercial operations had already changed before the Mexican War. Gregg noted a dramatic reduction in the number of owners and a parallel increase in the value of the shipments by 1843. Did this trend continue? Who owned the merchandise hauled by Russell, Majors, and Waddell? How did those who did not settle in New Mexico participate in the trade? Did they finance specific consignments of goods or did they make general investments that were combined to fund large shipments?

Fifth, it would be critical to conduct a systematic study of wholesale and commission merchants, such as Peter Harmony & Nephews. The nature of these businesses varied as a result of their geographic location and possibly their financial networks in the United States. Commission merchants greatly facilitated trade, but their activities have yet to be systematically documented. They were fundamental to the success of New Mexicans. It is not clear, however, if they assisted other entrepreneurs to the same degree, and if and how their role evolved with time.

Sixth, it would be valuable to examine economic relations with Mexico, before and after the Mexican War and their impact on both American and New Mexicans. These long-term, far-reaching commercial ties were not severed in 1846. Although large shipments were never discussed in the correspondence between merchants from northern Mexico and their New Mexican counterparts, the presence of business agents in Chihuahua and Durango, as well as substantial drafts handled by commission merchants in behalf of Mexicans, suggest that mercantile associations remained closer than what the law permitted.

There are other issues specifically related to New Mexicans that need clarification. Among the most interesting would be to know more precisely how the comerciantes managed to obtain substantial credit with United States agencies and commission merchants. What did they sell in addition to grains and wool? Both products are bulky and, like the efectos del país, they had to have been produced in enormous quantities to account for the drafts deposited in their eastern accounts. Besides, wealthy merchants did not start sending large shipments of wool to the east until the 1870s.

It would also be important to identify more clearly the sources of New Mexican wealth. How important was mining? Who was mining and where? What did they mine? How much ore did they get? To what extent were New Mexican merchants associated with mining? This is extremely important because precious metals seemingly provided the foundation for their mercantile operations. The silver and gold bullion they carried to the United States during the late 1830s and early 1840s provided the basis for their mercantile operations. If they obtained bullion from Mexico, what did they sell in exchange? Throughout the 1830s the only goods sent to the interior of Mexico were sheep and domestic manufactures, neither one in sufficient volume to explain the substantial amount of bullion Missouri newspapers reported New Mexicans were carrying on their trips to the eastern United States.

Even more important would be learning about the less wealthy, to try to obtain a better understanding of how their participation in the Santa Fe trade changed with time and how their lives were modified as a result of trading with the United States. It would also be valuable to explore the impact of the Santa Fe trade on the culture and the expectations of New Mexicans. How did their lives change as a result of the presence of additional goods? Was it a positive change? Did they enjoy a higher standard of living as a result of the trade? Did the Santa Fe trade improve their circumstances by making more jobs available to them? Did it mostly result in increasing dependence on patrones who cared little for their peones and who were intent on making a large profit? Were New Mexican merchants willing to help financially those dependent on them? Most of these issues defy easy analysis since source material is not readily available to shed light on them.

Finally, it would be necessary to assess the contributions of the various Indian tribes to the development of the Santa Fe trade. In general their participation has been viewed in negative terms, mostly as physical threats to the mercantile operations. However, they played a significant role in "opening" trade routes, even before the period of Spanish occupation. Historians acknowledge that they became key recipients of weapons, but it is also likely that they played a greater role as consumers of the merchandise hauled across the prairies.

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Last Updated: 30-Sep-2005