Traveling the Trail

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Near the fur trapping region of the Southern Rocky Mountains, in the lands of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, along the Santa Fe Trail, where the western frontier of the United States met the northern frontier of Mexico.

Man 1 Buenos días, Señor, welcome to Bent’s Fort.

Here was a castle rising out of the prairie.

Man 2 And I made this fort from the materials that were at hand; the soil from the earth, grass from the prairie, water from the Arkansas and cottonwood that came from the river.

Bent’s Old Fort was not so much a walled barrier as it was an open door to a crucial trading network in the earliest days of the West. Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Mexicans, and folks from the states to the east all converged here. Historic bonds were created between cultures and ethnicities. But in 1849 Bent’s Old Fort was burned. A mystery that may never be solved.

The fort rose from its remaining foundations in 1976 with breathtaking detail. Even the iron fixtures were handmade onsite, as well as thousands of adobe bricks used to rebuild the great walls.

Man 2 Perfecto

Visitors are captivated by this living, breathing replica, a monument to southeastern Colorado’s place in the history of the West. Bent’s Old Fort.

Experience it for yourself.

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2 minutes, 1 second

Visit this reconstructed 1840s adobe fur trading post on the Santa Fe Trail where trappers, travelers, and Plains Indian tribes came together in peaceful terms for trade. Experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the past during guided tours.


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Ranching. Farming. It’s a southeastern Colorado way of life. A way of living that owes much to the arrival 150 years ago of two families to this one place on the Santa Fe Trail.

Richard Carrillo Historical Archaeologist This is kind of the first settlement in southeastern Colorado where you had people coming here; you had people building a life.

It was the women of these families who owned this land, along the Purgatoire River. Romaldo Luna Boggs came from the influential Jaramillo family of Taos. Her husband Thomas’s sheep operation on Romaldo’s Arkansas Valley Land was the beginning of a new way of life here. Native Cheyenne Amache Prowers, and her husband John, raised cattle here on Amache’s land to the north. They called their growing settlement Boggsville.

From these beginnings the cattle and sheep industries flourished. More people travelled to Boggsville, including Josefa Carson and her now legendary husband, Kit, who made Boggsville the site of their final home.

Richard Carrillo This whole area is considered a borderlands, where you have different cultures coming together interacting and it still pretty much continues today.

Boggsville, it’s the story of the beginnings of a southeastern Colorado agricultural tradition, one that continues to this day. Come, explore the Boggs and Prowers homes.

Boggsville Historic Site. Experience it for yourself.

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2 minutes, 9 seconds

When the fur trade declined in the 1840-50s, trappers and traders turned to raising livestock. Founded in 1862 along the Santa Fe Trail, Boggsville became the center of commerce and agriculture for the region. Visit in the summer for Old West reenactments.


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Almost half a million acres. Canyons, rivers and prairie, abundant with life. A land of natural wonders brimming with tales from the past. Over a thousand dinosaur tracks, 40 miles of wagon ruts and pioneer homesteads from the Santa Fe Trail. Part museum, part playground, all built by nature, preserved by those who love it.

Dusten Bradburn SE Colorado Resident This is where I spent most of my childhood growing up, just hiking, swimming, just everything. This is one of the best places to come.

Where prehistoric sea beds defined an area from just south of La Junta all the way to the Southeastern Colorado border, where the remains of abandoned homesteads testify to the crippling drought of the Dust Bowl era, and where public efforts have transformed the land again into a place of conservation and recreation.

Dusten Bradburn Going up along the cliff sides you can find a lot of pictographs and just old cave paintings that have been here since who knows when. This is an area that can be damaged so easily. We try to pick it up and keep this as nice as it was when we found it.

Here we connect with the secret marvels of nature and history right in our backyard.

Dusten Bradburn This, to me, is the perfect area. I lived for the canyons, I love this.

Comanche National Grassland. Experience it for yourself.

Dusten Bradburn You’ll never know it’s here until you come.

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2 minutes, 18 seconds

The grassland has many stories to tell, from dinosaurs roaming the ancient shoreline of a vast lake 150 million years ago to Mexican and American traders traveling the Santa Fe National Historic Trail 150 years ago.


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[Music] Bienvenidos, welcome to our program this evening about the three historic trails linked to Santa Fe: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, The Santa Fe Trail, and The Old Spanish Trail. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro is one of the oldest roads in North America. At one time it was also the longest road in North America. It was a north-south trade route that was about 1,500 miles long between Mexico City and what is now known as northern New Mexico. The parajes were stopping places along the way. These official campsites were usually 10 to 15 miles apart and had water and fodder for the travelers' animals. This road was actually based on a network of ancient trails that enabled native people from the north to communicate and trade with other natives farther south. This route later came to be called El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, The Royal Road of Interior Lands. It belonged to the king of Spain. This trail was responsible not only for trade along its route, but for much other cultural exchange. This road was something like braided routes. It was originally the way from Mexico City to Santa Barbara in southern Chihuahua. Later it became longer. The journey from Santa Fe in northern New Spain was extremely dangerous. Travelers died of heat exposure, disease, and Indian attacks. The trips from Mexico City to Santa Fe took six months. Caravans that supplied missions arrived in Santa Fe at least every three years. The trips back to Mexico City were quite infrequent. I am Don Juan de Oñate. My father was from a Spanish Basque family, and my mother was from southern Spain. We are quite wealthy and own many silver mines in Zacatecas. I made El Camino Real longer in 1598 when I brought the colonist all the way to the new Spanish settlement by Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. I brought around 400 colonists that year. [Music] [Music & Singing] The colonizers included 129 soldiers and their families and their servants and a few priests. They brought over 7,000 head of livestock with them. The caravan was more than two miles long and had 83 wagons and ox carts, which had their loads covered with sturdy white canvas. The colonizers brought their Christian faith, and introduced Christianity to the area for the first time. This was the first European settlement in the continental United States. The year was 1598, nine years before the founding of Jamestown Colony in 1607, and twenty two years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The trail was especially difficult when they passed through the Jornada de Muerto. A hundred mile stretch with little or no water for the travelers and animals. El Camino Real was a very difficult road to travel. [Music & Singing] [Applause] This road is an important link between Mexico City and the area now known as northern New Mexico. Many new things brought by the Spanish settlers had never been seen before by the American Indians. These were such things as new animals, new plants, new tools, and even new technologies. The Spanish introduced the Chile pepper to New Mexico. [Applause] These are just some the new things the Spanish introduced to New Mexico in 1598. [Music] [Applause] This trail was responsible for a lot of change in the way of life for all the places it went through. It was nearly three hundred miles long. It was in use for almost three hundred years. Until the railroads replaced the needs for wagon routes. By 1900, people almost forgot about the Canimo Real, but we can still see some wagon ruts made on this trail. Now, today, there are people who like to study its history. [Applause] The Santa Fe Trail I am Pedro Vial. I was an explorer born in France. But I came and blazed trails for Spain. One of them was a trail from Santa Fe to St. Lious. I accomplished this in 1792. Later someone else came and traveled on this same trail going the opposite direction, east-to-west. He became very famous. He was William Becknell. Howdy folks! My name is William Becknell. As I traveled to Santa Fe by horse, I didn't know that Mexico would soon gain independence from Spain. With independence, the people of Santa Fe could trade with outsiders. Before then it was strictly forbidden by the Spanish Government. Little did I know I was leading the first pack train of Yankee merchandise into Santa Fe in 1821. Because of that I am called the father of the Santa Fe Trail to this day. [Applause] [Music & Singing] [Applause] Becknell's first trip on the Santa Fe trail were with a few men and pack mules. They left Franklin, Missouri and headed west on September 1st, 1821. They arrived in Santa Fe on November 16th. They had traveled about 1,000 miles in just 77 days. Some New Mexicans welcomed people from the United States because they were eager to trade with them. They were interested in acquiring goods that they did not have. Later, wagon trains pulled by oxen and mules made their way from Missouri to New Mexico and back. Each trip often lasted about two months. Wagons were only able to travel about 15 miles a day. Items for out west were such things as cotton, calico fabric, other types of cloth sewing notions, various dry goods, hardware, and jewelry. Many other miscellaneous items were brought as well. Items brought east from New Mexico were furs, piñons, silver coins, processed gold, and woolen goods such as blankets and serapes. Mules that had come over the Old Spanish Trail were now used on the Santa Fe Trail. People who used the Santa Fe Trail were engaged primarily in commerce. They wanted to make money. It became one of the most important overland trade routes in the 19th century. Stagecoaches went back and forth too. These trips took about 25 to 30 days. Because the trail was so dangerous and rugged, not many women and children made the journey though some did start traveling on it after the year 1850. [Music & Singing] [Applause] Travelers who left form Missouri and other places along the way were quite tired when they eventually arrived at the Santa Fe Plaza. But they would look forward to attending a Fandango while they were in Santa Fe. Fandangos were dances held somewhere in Santa Fe almost every night and everyone there had a very good time. The local people of New Mexico were known to love dancing. [Music & Singing] [Applause] The Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real form an international route of commerce between 1821 and 1880. This was business between people in Mexico and the United States. The Santa Fe Trail, as an important trade route, soon came to an end with the arrival of the railroad in 1880. People no longer wanted to travel by wagon or stagecoach. They wanted to travel by train. [Music] [Applause] This truly was the end of an era. In some places along this historic route one can still see ruts made years ago by wagons. The Old Spanish Trail The Santa Fe Trail had been open since 1821. About 8 years later, in 1829, a young merchant named Antonio Armijo decided to do something no one had ever done before. He wanted to take goods from Santa Fe to California for trading. He used a trail originally used by many different American Indian tribes in the southwest. I did prove that riding from New Mexico to southern California and back could be a profitable business. I am Antonio Armijo. I get all the credit for pioneering Mexican trade on the Old Spanish Trail. [Music & Singing] This was not a wagon route like El Camino Real and the Santa Fe Trail. It was a pack mule trail, and it was nearly 1,200 miles long. It took ten to twelve weeks to travel one way. It is considered one of the hardest trade routes ever established in the United States. Other traders came after me and traded merchandise made in New Mexico especially blankets and serapes. California had an abundance of mules and horses, and people from California were very happy to trade these animals for woolen goods. A common price was one horse or mule for two blankets. Most pack trains left in the Fall and returned in the Spring. This is because most rivers were low at that time and easier to ford with heavily packed animals. [Music] [Applause] Even the Utes and the Paiutes were happy to see these animals on the Old Spanish Trail. They could increase their herds by having travelers pay them in mules and horses to cross their land. Travelers also encountered Pueblo Indians, as well as Navajos, Apaches, and Mojaves. Three quarters of the Old Spanish Trail went through Indian land. Thousands of these animals were introduced as far away as St. Louis or Chihuahua. The horse and mule trade certainly helped with the settling of the west because many necessary animals were provided to do so. Yes, mules and horses were a very important part of the activity on the Old Spanish Trail. [Music & Singing] The starting of the Old Spanish Trail was in the plaza, in front of the Palace of the Governor. Pack trains held 150 to 200 animals per train. Each animal carried about 300 pounds of woolen goods. The use of this trail helped to build the economies of both New Mexico and California. The horse and mule trade certainly helped with the settling of the west. Animals necessary for settlement were now readily available. The Old Spanish Trail was also important to Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and even Oregon. The Old Spanish Trail was used the most between 1829 and 1848. [Music & Singing] [Applause] But the day came when all three of these trails, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Old Spanish Trail were no longer used as trade and immigration routes for animals, wagons, and travelers. The modern era arrived and brought the railroad, automobiles, airplanes but these three trails had changed life forever along their routes. We shall never forget the importance of their history. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro The Santa Fe Trail The Old Spanish Trail [Music & Singing] [Applause] Thank you, and thank you kids. We've been working on this show really since May and it was a little rough because Summer came and people had places to go and they are such a wonderful bunch of kids. And I have a wonderful group of parents behind me. I don't have a classroom of children anymore that I can have in my class day to day and be able to have practiced with them on the spur of the moment or at assigned times. So it was kinda hard getting together to practice. So you kids pulled it off. You did great. [Applause] English

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30 minutes, 34 seconds

Fourth and fifth graders from Carlos Gilbert Elementary School in Santa Fe, New Mexico perform an awesome musical covering three historic trails: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Santa Fe, and Old Spanish. All three trails converge at Santa Fe. Which one goes to Missouri? Which one goes to Mexico City? Which one goes to California? What was the purpose of each trail? Find out here!


Last updated: January 28, 2020

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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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