Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Following the Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail stretched from Kansas to Santa Fe and took 8 hard and tiring weeks to cross.   We’ve explored sections of it before, so as we were in La Junta we decided to explore the section that stretches along highway 350 from Trinidad.
Travellers forded the Arkansas River near modern day La Junta, from there they faced 16 long dry miles until they reached the permanent water source of Timpas Creek.
Looking towards Timpas Creek
As they followed the creek a bluff at Sierra Vista gave them their first glimpse of the edge of the plains and the southern Rocky Mountains.  

Raton Pass from the Santa Fe Trail. It’s hard to imagine that what took us a few hours to drive would take a wagon train at least 4 days.   The travellers must’ve thought they were never going to reach the mountains.

From there they travelled on to Iron Springs, which was an important watering hole for livestock.  The water was full of minerals and didn’t taste very nice.   I assume the spring is still out there somewhere, but we could only see mile upon mile of rolling grasslands.

Wagon ruts.

In 1861 the Missouri Stage Company built a stage station here, which was the only stop on the trail between Bent’s Fort and Trinidad until 1866. 

Juniper posts, low mounds of earth and scattered stones, along with well-preserved wheel ruts are all that’s left of the stage station and the Santa Fe Trail. 

The remains of the old stage station

I wonder what this once contained.

I loved the colour of the piece of glass and wondered if the wire was once part of a fence.
 One of the juniper posts at the stage station.

The remote wide-open grasslands are spectacularly beautiful, while we loved visiting and exploring, the difference between us and the pioneers was that we were travelling in a comfortable air conditioned truck, following a wagon train would be a whole different story. 

Have fun, we are!

Bent’s Fort, La Junta, Colorado

Originally called Fort William, Bent’s Fort was established by William and Charles Bent and their partner Ceran St Vrain in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River.   At the time the river was the international boundary between the US and Mexico, Bent’s Fort operated as a Fort and trading post, fur trappers, the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa and other tribes all came to trade.
Traders at the fort exchanged, cloth, glass, hardware and tobacco for silver, furs, horses and mules.   Indians camped outside the gates on the prairie and exchanged buffalo hides and horses – no questions asked - for blankets, axes and firearms, although I imagine the traders were careful about who got the firearms.

The Trading Room. 

The fur press, centre below, was used to compress the fur into bales to make it easier for transportation. 

The fort must’ve been a welcome sight for travellers who’d been two months on the Santa Fe Trail, as it gave them an opportunity to repair wagons, stock up on supplies and rest before continuing their onward trek across the prairie and mountains. 

Generally different types of people mixed freely at the fort, but at meal times the upper classes and their guests ate in the dining room.   The cook was William Bent’s slave, Charlotte and she was famous for her pumpkin pies and flapjacks.  Everyone else either cooked their own meals or ate from the community pot, I’m not sure I’d want to know what exactly was in a community pot!
Dining Room


Susan Magoffin, who was 18 at the time, travelled the Santa Fe Trail with her husband on the way to trade in Mexico, she spent 18 days at the fort after she lost her baby and was delighted with her room, which she noted in her journal had two windows.   Mind you she wasn’t as delighted with the mosquitoes.

In 1846, because the Bent’s were effective peacemakers, the fort was used as the headquarters for the Upper Platte and Arkansas Indian Agency.   When the US went to war with Mexico the fort’s strategic location on an established road made it an ideal staging post for troops.   

Stretching furs.

Settlers and gold seekers disrupted the carefully nurtured Indian trade, faced with polluted water holes, decimated cottonwoods and declining bison tensions exacerbated between the Indians and whites, a cholera epidemic was the final nail in the trade coffin.   The fort was burnt, it’s thought by William Bent after he tried unsuccessfully to sell it to the US army. 

The billiard room and bar

The fort was reconstructed in, I think, the 1970’s by the park service with the aid of drawings done by Lt, James Abert in 1846 and from accounts by contemporary visitors and archaeological findings. 

Bent’s Old Fort is a living history site with the rangers dressed in period costume.   It gave you us real feel for what life might’ve been like back then and you know what, I think I prefer now!

Have fun, we are!