Junior Wagon Master Introduction

Map of modern United State with overlay for what was Mexico in the 1820s and showing the route of the Santa Fe Trail.

Explore the Past Working on the Wagon Train!

The Santa Fe Trail was used from 1821 until 1880, when the first railroad made it to Santa Fe. The Santa Fe National Historic Trail was made a part of the National Trails System as part of the National Park Service in 1987. The National Park Service and Santa Fe Trail Association worked together to create this program for you.

In your role on the wagon train, you are essential to daily travel on the Trail.

Freighters were responsible for hundreds of huge wagons pulled by oxen. Thousands of dollars of merchandise and army supplies were packed into these wagons. Freighters worked to make sure these goods arrive safely to their destination.

Bullwhackers were skilled at guiding oxen, to make them turn left or right, or start and stop. No bullwhacker was without a bull-whip — up to 20 feet long! Two hands were needed to crack the buckskin “poppers” at the end of long whips, but good drivers could flick flies off an ox’s ear without hitting the animal.

Take the Santa Fe Trail

When you begin your journey to become a Junior Wagon Master, you will learn the history of the Santa Fe Trail by visiting sites along portions of the 900-mile historic route. You will learn to protect special places along the Trail, while exploring where trail travelers went, and studying how they lived.

Historic Overview of the Santa Fe Trail

From 1821 to 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was used for hauling and selling trade goods and eventually army supplies. A few families did travel the Trail looking for a new place to live, but that was not the main purpose.

The Trail first began in Franklin, Missouri. As the steamboats traveled further west along the Missouri River, the jumping-off points or starting points also moved west. Eventually railroads began to push westward from Missouri, which also caused changes in the jumping-off points.

Between Missouri and southwestern Kansas, the Trail was one route. Near present-day Dodge City, Kansas, the Trail split into two routes. One branch went south crossing the Arkansas River, traveling through very dry country referred to as the Jornada. This part of the trail was called the Cimarron Route. The other branch went west to the Rocky Mountains and then turned south. This branch was called the Mountain Route. Eventually the two joined near Fort Union in present-day New Mexico and proceeded to Santa Fe.

Three cultures were affected by commercial trade on the Trail. American Indians, who had lived along the route for centuries, had already developed trading and hunting trails, and now they had new people moving through their lands. Mexicans who lived in northern Mexico were isolated on the frontier and did not have a way to trade for manufactured goods until the Trail opened in 1821. Americans began moving west to take advantage of opportunities to trade along the Trail. Life changed forever for all three cultures.

A Word of Advice

You are not expected to travel the entire Trail at one time. Each booklet has been divided into four sections:

  1. Eastern Terminus (Missouri & Kansas)

  2. Central Portion (Kansas)

  3. Mountain Route & Cimarron Route (Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, & northern New Mexico)

  4. Western Terminus (Santa Fe, New Mexico, area)

Each booklet contains the same background information which is intended to let visitors know the importance of the sites to the history of the Trail.

Adults accompanying younger children should assist them as they work through the booklet, because everybody should lend a hand on the Santa Fe Trail!

Your Goal: Have fun learning history!

To qualify for one of the Junior Wagon Master Section Patches you must complete a total of eight activities in a geographic section. The eight activities could be a combination of site tasks, Wagon Master Challenges, or side trips. Once you have completed those eight you will show your booklet to a staff person in one of the designated museums or National Park locations (see back page). This person will help you check your answers for completion. After your booklet is checked, contact wagonmaster@santafetrail.org to receive your patch(es). How far on the Santa Fe Trail can you go? Try to collect all four Section Patches!

Your Guide: How to use your booklet (these webpages)

For each location you visit in a section there are site tasks related to that place. There are also Wagon Master Challenges related to the trail which can be completed as you drive from site to site or even at home. Finally, there are side trips that you might find interesting as you travel. If you go to one of these, take a picture to show you were at the site. Look for these icons to help you plan your visits to sites along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

Your Gear: Things to bring along

Pocket Folder
Blank Paper
Bug Spray
Map/GPS Locator

Last updated: February 8, 2019

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

National Trails Office Regions 6|7|8
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
1100 Old Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe, NM 87505

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