One of the first Anglo-Americans to record their travels to New Mexico, Dr. Rowland Willard (1794–1884) journeyed west on the Santa Fe Trail in 1825 and then down the Camino Real into Mexico, taking notes along the way. This edition of the young physician’s travel diaries and subsequent autobiography, annotated by New Mexico Deputy State Librarian Joy L. Poole, is a rich historical source on the two trails and the practice of medicine in the 1820s. Few Americans knew much about New Mexico when Willard set out on his journey from St. Charles, Missouri, where he had recently completed a medical apprenticeship. The growing commerce with the Southwest presented opportunities for the ambitious doctor. On his first day travelling the plains of the Santa Fe Trail, he met the mountain man Hugh Glass, who regaled Willard with stories of his wilderness experiences. Conducting a physical examination of Glass, Dr. Willard provided the only eye witness medical account of Glass’s deformities resulting from a grizzly bear attack. Willard referred to the mountain man as Father Glass, a testimony to his age. He visited Santa Fe, practiced medicine in Taos, then traveled south to Chihuahua, arriving during a measles epidemic. Willard treated patients in Mexico for two years before returning to Missouri in 1828. Willard’s narrative challenges long-accepted assumptions about the exact routes taken by pack trains on the Santa Fe Trail. It also provides thrilling glimpses of a landscape densely populated with wildlife. The doctor describes “a great theater of nature,” with droves of elk and buffalo, and “wolf and antelope skipping in every direction.” With his traveling companions he hunted buffalo by crawling after them on all fours, afterward making jerky out of bison meat and boats out of their hides. Willard also details his medical practice, offering a revealing view of physicians’ operating practices in a time when sanitation and anesthesia were rare. The Santa Fe Trail and Camino Real took Willard on the journey of a lifetime. This account recalls the early days of the Santa Fe Trail trade and westward American migration, when a doctor from Missouri could cross paths with mountain men, traders, Mexican clergymen, and government officials on their way to new opportunities.
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Over the Santa Fe Trailto Mexico
The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard
By Rowland Willard, Joy L. Poole
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
May 6, 1825–January 20, 1827
Left St. Charles [Friday] May 6 1825 at 3 Ock P.M. Rode 9 miles. Put up with Judg Farnsworth. Took a cold cut in the morning and rode to Pond Fort & dined. Put up at Prices having traveled 42 miles.
Sunday . Travelled From Prices to Col. Warners next day, 28 miles. Mare took lame day before consequent to tieing hobbles to tight. Heavy Shower at 3 reached Warners at dark.
Monday . Leave after breakfast. Several Showers this day. Swapt My Dory gave $5.00 to boot. Passed Columbia 4 miles. Put up at Mr. Atkins 28 miles from Warners. Fared hard but well treated. Started next morning early in the rain. Forded the Persia and breakfasted with Judge Lyntz. Fared sumptuously. Reached Franklin at sunset after Swiming 3 creeks and riding in alternate shower all day, dis 28 miles. Was overtaken by Marble and Knight next morning bound for St. Fe. Procured several necessaries: 10 lbs crackers 5 lb Beef canteens & ca. Left Franklin at 2 P.M. Traveled 13 miles & put up at Reses 1 mile from the Ferry.
Thursday . Breakfasted at Mr. Smiths. Put up at Davises where we turned our horses out to grass. Rode 30 miles.
Friday . Breakfasted at Mr. Esteses from N. York. Well treated. Reached Lexington at dusk. Rained most of the day. Rode 30 miles, very muddy. People treated us with considerable attention. Staid next day for Marble & Knight to purchase their goods & lay in such articles as was necessary for this tour: 15 lb. bacon, Tea, Shugar &c.
Left Lexington Sunday 15th and overtook the company at Sunset. Some rain this day. Traveled 22 miles. Company in good spirits and consisting of about 90 men & 30 odd waggons. 33 men agree to start next day with pack horses and not wait for the waggons.
Monday 16th. Morning fine. Encamped last night under tent for the lst time in my life. Took leave of the company and proceeded 10 miles to the blue Springs the place of rendezvous. Some rain. Elected a Captain & Lieutenant R. W. Morris the former & J. Fultcher the latter. Found a plenty of venison at this place killed by some of the company.
Tuesday 17th. Started at 9 and proceeded 15 miles over ruff country and encamped in a piece of woods when a heavy shower insued with some hail.
Wednesday 18. Travelled 15 mile. Crossed some troublesome creeks and cliffs, bending our course to suit the country.
Thursday 19. Travelled 15 or 18 miles. Was overtaken by 15 or 20 Sack Indians who accompanied us several miles on horseback, appearantly for the purpose of trading horses and skins.
Friday 20th. Travelled 9 miles. Discovered 6 or 8 Elk on the waters of the Caw Riv. Rain insued at 11 ock. where we encamped for the night.
Sunday 22. Rained most of the day yesterday & last night. Cleared away this morning. Two horses broke away last night belonging to Mr. Wallace. They were followed back on the trail 9 miles. Returned without them and Concluded to proceed having pack horses, to carry the goods. The Earth appears completely saturated with water it having rained every day save 2 or 3 since the 6 inst. rained ceased at 9 dried our blankets and started 1/2 past eleven. Saw this day a variety of game consisting of Elk Antelope & Deer. Killed 2 deer only. Travelled 16 or 18 miles and encamped for the night.
Saturday 21st. Prairies appear boundless with occasional thin skirts of timber and should judg this Soil to be second rate tollerably luxuriant producing wild grass and a variety of blossom herbs. All ravines and low grounds contain waters Some of which are crossed with difficulty.
Monday 23d. Started this morning at 1/2 past 7 Ock. Turned out at 10 to wait for a part of our Company which had fel back consequent to mules having mired in a creek. When they arrived 2 packs were opened Spread and dried. Started again at 2 making this day 15 miles.
Tuesday 24th. Stood gard last night for the first time warm in the forepart but blew up cold in the latter. The weather seems somewhat more settled this morning than formerly. Traveled this day 20 miles. Saw 2 droves of Elk 20 in each and some Deer. Mr. Glass killed one. No timber this day on the rout but fortunately reached a creek at Sunset where we found a sufficientcy for cooking. This creek is supposed to be a branch of the Virdigree. Prairie exremely wet and troublesome travelling.
Wednesday 25th. Weather appears somewhat precarious though the wind is in a favorable direction. Started at 10. Traveled until 3 ock when we turned out [and] fed the beasts at midday. Saw nothing of importance. Travelled 20 [miles].
Thursday 26th. Started at 9. Crossed 2 bad creeks. Turned out at eleven. Started again at 3 ock. Travelled this day 15 miles. Encamped in Open Prarie without wood. Saw nothing save 1 antelope. Stood guard at night.
Friday 27th. Started quarter past 6 without breakfast. Turned out between 10 & 11. One of the Company killed a fine buck which served us for dinner & supper. Travelled this day 15 miles. One of the hunters reported that he saw 6 or 8 Indians but they did not approach our camp. We lay this night on the waters of the main Virdigress, a tributary to the little Arkansaw. These Streams are skirted with a variety of timbers such as Elm, Lin[den], Sickamore, Coffeenut Honey locust, Swamp oak &c and the adjacent soil exceedingly rich and luxuriant. The prairies produce a variety of herbs such as wild onion, Hog potatoe, wild Tanzy, Siscely, prickly pare &c which are found in great abundance. There are other bub of beautiful flavor and stupour whose names and virtues are to us unknown.
Saturday 28. Some rain last night and this morning partly cleared off at 9. Started at Eleven. Travelled this day 15 miles, 3 out of our way to git to wood and water. Rained insued at Sunset. Saw nothing of importance Save 8 or 10 antelope & Signs of Buffalos.
Sunday 29th. Started at 1/2 past 10 Ock. Traveled 20 miles. Encamped by a litle cotton wood tree the only one in sight. We fel it and with much labour made a fire of its branches. Rain commenced at 11 ock and continued until 7 A.M. and having piched our tent on low ground was discovery made by the rain running under us.
Monday 30. Stood gard the middle wach. Cleared away at 9. Started at 1/2 past 12. Travelled this day 20 miles. Saw signs of Buffalos. Encamped near the Sand Hills. Weather quite cool, grass grows shorter everyday. The prairies here are richly dressed with blossoms of roses and others affording a rich fragrance. Heavy shower passed us this evening.
Tuesday 31st. Morning fine and pleasant. Passed 2 mounds this morning constituted of rock resembling Iron ore, Some of which are singularly excavated like Soup dishes, Some hollow with small entrances not unlike Jugs & other vessels. We traveled until 3 ock making about 18 miles and encamped on a small creek where we found a few lovely trees. The prairie is very level and lays fertile than usual. Vegetation appears one month later here than in Missouri.
Wednesday 1st June. Weather fine. A large drove of Buffalos were seen last evening. Mr. Glass is in pursuit of them this morning. Started 1/2 past 7 and traveled to the waters of the little Arkansas, distance 15 miles. The whole face of country we passed today was covered with Buffalos. It would probably be a moderate calculation to estimate their numbers at 100,000 that were seen this fore noon. The hunters brought in a plenty of meat having killed 8 or 10. Dried our Buffalos Soup and stew (without bread) which may be said to be delicious. Passed this fore noon what is called a dog town or a burrough of prairie dogs. They are an animal of the size of a common house cat. Somewhat resembling a dog except their head which resembles that of the squirrel, they sit upon their little univerces formed of the earth they dig from their hole, and when an enemy comes in sight bark vehemently. Their make is rather clumsy, hair short and of a light red colour. They dig their holes so near to each other that they appear domestic and social. Started again at 6 ock follow up the river 3 miles and encamped; after crossing the river Saw 2 Buffaloes which lay mired in attempting to cross it, one of which we endeavored to assist, by putting a rope round his neck and attempting to haul him from his bed but the poor animal was so far spent that he suffered his head to remain under water and drowned. This day has exhibited a great theater of nature. The Buffalos covering the plains as far as vision could extend over a level country, hovering right and left making way for us to pass. While woolf and antelope were skipping in every direction, exhibited a grand source of reflection and admiration. This park of nature seemed here complete. In front appeared the Sand Hills whose brazen front almost dazzled the eyes, having the appearance of blazing matter from their red complection reflecting the rays of the sun. Travelled 20 miles.
Thursday 2d. Stood gard last night. Shower went round a little before day. Started at 1/2 past 7. Passed several dog towns whose inhabitants are very nervous. Killed 1 Buffaloe. Travelled 20 miles and encamped in open prairie with out wood. Made use of Buffalo dung as a substitute, which answers an excellent purpose. Night cold and windy. Here our bread gave out.
Friday 3d. Started this morning at 8 Ock. Reached the main Arkansas at 10 ck, distance 15 miles. Buffalo as plenty as ever. Killed 4 this forenoon. The Arkansas is a turbid stream from 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide and whose velosity is from 2 to 3-1/2 miles an hour. Its waters I think may be considered wholesome as we could drink almost any quantity without inconvenience. Traveled this day 23 miles. Encamped on the bank of the river. Wind continues high which facilitates our progress as it blunts the scorching rays of the sun.
Saturday 4th. Started at 1/2 past 7. Traveled this morning 10 miles when an unfortunate accident occured. The Buffalo were constantly running before us and sometimes within gun shot. There near approach was to invite the boys sometimes to run out and shute at them. As was the case at this time, myself and several others having curiosity to kill a Buffalo left our horses and ran forward to get a shot and in so doing turned their course [begin strikethrough]of the Buffalo[end strikethrough] in the direction of the company and as they passed in front, six pack horses broke from the ranks, fel in with the Buffalo and went off in full speed. They were pursued by 5 or 6 riders who after chasing them 8 or 10 miles caught all but 3 which mixed with the Buffalo and were not afterward seen. These three horses were the property of one man and had on them all his goods (and 300 dollars), provisions and most of his clothing. Myself and another pursued them as soon as we could dispose of our pack horses. We traveled 8 miles in the direction they ran but discovering nothing of them returned. In the evening 7 of us volunteered to go again in pursuit of them. We started a little before sunset. Travelled 8 miles and encamped. Heavy showers ensued at dark. Came upon their track just before dark [and] found they had bent their course up the river. My horse and another broke loose by loosing off the hobbles and made off in the direction of the main camp. Mr. Cave and myself followed them immediately it being 3 Ock at night and tollerable dark. Lost sight of them. We had probibly travelled 3 miles in the direction of this main company when we indistinctly heard the sound of a human voice; and on listening heard it repeated and in the direction of the company we had left. We after a moments consultation, concluded to return to learn the cause. We accordingly made for our camp & on coming in sight (it then being daylight) discovered our horses — who had returned before us.
Sunday 5th. Broiled a peace of meat which constituted our breakfast and again pursued our course. We travelled 7 miles up the river but without success having got hungry and fatigued returned to camp.
Monday 6th. [begin strikethrough]conclude to return to camp[end strikethrough] pursue our journey. Send out 2 or 3 men nearly on the cours of the river who are to meet us ahead. Rained last night & this morning. Travel this day 22 miles and encamped. All the company arrive but Andrews who we suppose to be loss. Mr. Fulcher to whom the lost horses & goods belong to talks of returning to Missouri. The company endeavor to persuade him to continue and at the same time raised a subscription of $145 to renumerate in some measure his loss.
Tuesday 7th. Marble and Knight fall out, divide their goods, and cause me much trouble. Wind usualy in the south Breezed up from the North. Started this morning at 1/2 past 8. Traveled eight miles when we came to the Pawnee Creek. Obliged to build a raft for the goods and swim the animals. Mr. Fulcher resumes the resolution of returning home. One of the company furnish him with a horse, others with provisions for the tour. Company generaly write by him.
Wednesday 8th. Morning fine. Yesterday winds have mostly subsided. Built fires and shot guns last evening for the guidance of Andrews who has not yet returned. Started at 1/2 past 7. Traveled 20 ms. Encamped on the Arkansas.
Thursday 9th. Started at 1/2 past 6. Wind high. Grass very Short. Buffalo plenty. Travelled 24 miles and encamped on the river.
Friday 10th. Started at 1/2 past 6. Wind high last night and this morning. Traveled this day 25 miles. Encamped on the river.
Saturday 11th. Started at 7. No wind, afternoon quite sultry. Passed 2 volts where a company cashed their goods 2 years ago. Consequent to having lost their mules in a violent snow storm and were obliged to remain through the winter and in the spring go to the settlement for more. Passed the Island where the company last year laid in their meat; traveled this day 24 miles encamped on the river.
Sunday 12th. Heavy dew last night and thick fog this morning. Started at 7, nooned at 10 when a heavy shower commenced with Thunder, lightning and hail, driven with a Strong South wind, which continued to shift its course until it had blown from every direction. Conclude to stay until morning. The Hunters shot 4 Buffalo today. Have thought much of the sweets of domestic life. Though my mind is perfectly tranquil and resigned to endure the privations incident to a long wilderness journey. In 18 or 20 days more we hope to land in the settlement.
Monday 13th. Morning appears lowery [then] partialy clears away. Started at 1/2 past 8 when a tremendious shower ensued. Company generaly got very wet. Encamped until afternoon. Travelled this day 15 miles.
Tuesday 14th. Started 7 ock. Nooned at 10. Discovered that my acid bottle had sprung a leak the stopple having got lose and had like to have ruined my trunk. But fortunately discovered it before much damage was done. At 4 ock as we were upon the eve of Starting Andrews who had been loss eight days hove in sight. He had been captivated [captured] by the Indians but fortunately made his escape in the night. Having received no harm from them, nor did they show any hostile intentions. Traveled this day 22 miles. Encamped on the river.
Wednesday 15th. High wind last night and some rain. Mr. Knight had his hat blown from his head last night & not able to find it this morning furnish him myself with one. We conclude to cross the river at this place and lay in our meat for the remaining part of the journey. Went out with three others to kill meat. Shot and brot in two which we jourked or dried. Made 2 skin tubs which we crossed all the goods in with perfect safety and those of us that could not swim. Andrews meets with another accident. While attempting to cross the river on a mule got entangled in some way and to save his life threw his rifle which he had swam the rivers twice before with by the aid of a billet of wood carying it on his back. He made several trials to hook it up without success.
Thursday 16th. Weather fine. Spend the day in manufacturing our provisions.
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Table of ContentsList of Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Editorial Method . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Diary 1: May 6, 1825-January 20, 1827 . . . . . . 39
Diary 2: August 12, 1827-May 18, 1828 . . . . . . 121
Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard . . . . . 143
Appendix 1. Dr. Willard's Medical Books . . . . . 243
Appendix 2. Dr. Willard's Accounts, 1828 . . . . . 247
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . 251
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257