Jim and Renee's travels aboard "Annabelle" the wonder bus

Trekking the Sante Fe Trail
October 2001
patience...this page is image rich and takes some time to download....thank you

Back to Geistvoll "Index" page Back to Geistvoll "About Us" page

See some links to good sites

In 1821 Missouri became the 24th state to be admitted to the United States. That same year, William Becknell and his party loaded a pack train with goods to travel west and trade with the Indians. Little did he know how his plans would change and what momentous impact it would have on the future of the United States.

Not finding any Indians, they turned southwest towards Spanish territory. Near the Canadian River, they were approached by Mexican soldiers. Expecting arrest, they were surprised to learn of Mexico's independence from Spain, and were invited to Sante Fe to trade with local Mexicans.

They were rewarded with profits from trading on the order of fifteen-hundred percent!

The Becknell party returned to Franklin, Missouri with their newly found fortune, only to begin planning another venture the following year.

In 1906,
members of the
D.A.R. would
mark the
entire Sante Fe
trail with these
stone markers.

Renee photographs very faint trail ruts
near Overbrook, Kansas. Ruts found farther
to the west would be much deeper.

Here are much deeper trail ruts found near Larned, KS.

In 1822 he returned to Sante Fe, this time using wagons instead of the horses and pack mules of the year before. The wagons were simply able to carry far more goods. In fact, future freight wagons designed specifically for the Sante Fe trail would carry as much as 3 tons of goods. These great wagons would etch trails so deep and vast that their paths would be easily followed for the next 2 centuries, first by other traders, and eventually by those interested only in following in the footsteps of their forefathers.

Normally, most traders were able to make the trip to Sante Fe and back in the same year. The trail was actually in use from 1821 until 1880, when the arrival of the railroad in Sante Fe spelled doom for the trail. Contrary to what might be expected, it was the early years that often proved safer for travel, although any travel in those years could not be considered safe by today's standards.

Today, the Sante Fe trail is easy to find, and in many places follow. In 1906, members of the D.A.R. traveled the entire length of the trail, identifying it in various places with stone markers. Many very good trail guides have also been published, one of the best being Marc Simmons' excellent guide, "Following the Sante Fe Trail". Most state and national maps show the path of the trail as it crosses Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Any town of good size in those states will offer museums with often outstanding displays and information about the trail years. An especially good museum can be found in Larned, Kansas at the Sante Fe Trail Center, just east of town on highway 156. A "must see" museum.

The view out
at Council Grove

Travelers faced dangers from severe weather, shifting quicksand, marauders, and hostile Indians. The danger from the Indian nation became especially severe after 1864, nearly closing the trail from use.

The weather encountered on the open plains was something new for travelers. Many were surprised by the speed at which storms could develop. Consider this chronicle of events reported by Don Manual Alvarez in 1841.

"On the 24th [of November] reached the Cotton-woods fork and found two of the four men who had started in advance for Missouri; the other two having continued. Same night had a severe snow storm, which continued for 48 hours with such violence we were unable to keep a fire. Snow 3 feet deep, we were all more or less frozen.

"Annabelle" takes a break

The Council Grove Lake campground is
a beautiful and virtually unknown site.
In two trips, one in October 2000 and
the second in October 2001, Renee and Jim
counted only three other campers total.
This in a campground designed for around 200!

Two more views
of the
Council Grove
Lake campground

27th one of the two men who had started in advance, returned to the camp badly frozen, and reported that his comrade, John Richmirs, had frozen to death four miles from the place of our encampment. Mr. South being so badly frozen as to be unable to travel, and one other of our men being sick, I concluded to leave them in camp with a man to take care of them, until we could send them aid from the settlements. The storm was so severe that many of my animals perished."

The loss of many animals in this party was not unique. Some travelers would loose all of their animals, placing the wagon train in great peril

The threat of attack by various Indian groups was very real throughout the history of the trail, but more so in the later years than the early. Some travelers reported the Native Americans they encountered as tricksters, always looking to pull "a fast one" on unsuspecting folks. Others portrayed the Indians in a manner we might find surprising as reported by Ernestine Franke Huning in her diary of 1863:

May 6 "We meet Indians very often now, some have their faces painted. Naturally they have a dark complexion. All are very tall, well built. They always beg, but are satisfied when they get something to eat, and go. We saw one of their houses made of branches with a hole in the middle for the smoke to go out, as they cook by making a fire inside."

Not all encounters were as uneventful, as witnessed by the account of one James M. Fugate in 1853. His large and well armed wagon train was repeatedly attacked over several days. Many of the wagon train party were killed and over a hundred Indians lost their lives. The group's first battle occurred on May 21st and they engaged in fights on many days, sometimes with as many as 500 hostiles until arriving in Sante Fe itself. Over a period of several weeks they fought the Comanches, Cheyennes, Apaches, and Arapahoes.

Fort Larned, Kansas today, one of two well maintained forts along the Sante Fe Trail, the other being Fort Union in New Mexico. The fort has been restored to it's trail day appearance complete with weapons, supplies and operating facilities. It has some of the best museum items and living displays found anywhere along the trail. With The Sante Fe Trail Center also located in the immediate area outside Larned, KS this is a must stop for anyone following the history of the trail.

Ft. Larned graffiti dated 1877

Two more
views of
Fort Larned
located near
Larned, KS.
The fort has been
restored to it's
1800's form,
complete with
requisite supplies.

Some Sites to Visit

Sante Fe Trail Association
Larned, KS Community Page
Sante Fe Trail Center Museum

Back to Top

Recognizing the importance of keeping the trail open, the United States established a series of forts along the trail, Ft. Larned in 1859, Ft. Lyon in 1860, Ft. Union in 1861 and 1862, and Forts Dodge and Zarah in 1864. With increased army presence in the area, hostile activities came to an end around 1869. On February 16, 1880 the first train rolled into Sante Fe, spelling the end of the trails use as a commercial highway.

Jim and Renee wish to thank the state of Kansas and it's people for their warm hospitality during our several trips, and for making the effort to preserve an important but rapidly disappearing piece of American history. Very little remains of the original Sante Fe Trail, and in another hundred years the only trace left may be the photographic images taken by all those interested in the trail's preservation.

For those of you who have maligned the state based on the more desolate sections found along I-70 in the more northern part of the state, you should reserve final judgment of the beauty to be found here until you have driven highway 59 through southeast and south central Kansas.........................jim and renee


Books about the Sante Fe Trail are too numerous to list, but several that made our searching possible and enjoyable were:

"Following the Sante Fe Trail" by Marc Simmons

"The Sante Fe Trail: New Perspectives"
compiled by the Colorado Historical Society

"The Sante Fe Trail: Yesterday and Today"
by William E. Hill

Two memoirs that should be read by everyone interested in the trail are:

"Land of Enchantment: Memoirs of Marian Russell"
as retold to her daughter-in-law Mrs. Hal Russell with a foreword by renown trail expert, Marc Simmons.

"Down the Sante Fe Trail and into Mexico"
the diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin 1846-1847, likely the most cited diary of the period.

In addition to the titles above, the following was used as the source of much of the story told herein:

"On The Sante Fe Trail"
a collection of various manuscripts collected and edited by Marc Simmons. Without his writings, we would know far less about the history of the trail.

As you visit the various museums along the trail, be prepared to part with much money as you find volume after volume of fascinating reading.

Back to "Top of Page"