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The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

by David Dary

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From 1610, when the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, to the 1860s, when the railroad brought unprecedented changes: here is the full, fascinating story of the great Santa Fe Trail which ran between Missouri and Kansas and New Mexico -- a lifeline to and from the Southwest for more than two centuries.

Drawing from letters, journals, expedition reports, business


From 1610, when the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, to the 1860s, when the railroad brought unprecedented changes: here is the full, fascinating story of the great Santa Fe Trail which ran between Missouri and Kansas and New Mexico -- a lifeline to and from the Southwest for more than two centuries.

Drawing from letters, journals, expedition reports, business records, and newspaper stories, David Dary -- one of our foremost historians of the Old West -- brings to life the people who laid down the trail and opened commerce with Spanish America: Native Americans and mountain men, traders, trappers, and freighters, surveyors and soldiers, men and women of many different nationalities. Their firsthand accounts let us experience up close the spectacular scenery; the details of camping out in both friendly and hostile Indian territory; the constant danger from natural disasters or sudden attack; the hardworking, often maverick men who were employed on the wagon trains; the pleasures and entertainments at the southern end of the journey.

The book makes clear how in the early years trade started and stopped at the whim of the Spanish, and how the trail finally grew and prospered, bringing the settlement of new towns and the creation of new wealth along the route. We also learn how the rapid spread of the railroads across the country inexorably replaced the long caravans of mule- and ox-drawn wagons, and the way of life they represented.

With his comprehensive knowledge and his exceptional storytelling skills, David Dary has given us a vivid re-creation of an important time and place in American history.

Editorial Reviews

Jennifer Veech
The Santa Fe Trail is rich with fascinating detail about how travelers made their way across those nearly 900 miles, what they packed, what animals they used, how much the freight weighed and what it was worth, and who those travelers were.
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The famous trail of romantic western lore was established in about 1610 by Spanish settlers of Mexico who had explored western and southern regions of North America long before the French and English arrived. Stretching 900 miles from its origin in Santa Fe through present-day Colorado and Kansas, the trail, originally a combination of many old paths worn down by buffalo, ends in Franklin, Mo. Enterprising Americans from the east soon discovered that the Spanish of Santa Fe and the nearby Indians had many material needs (cotton prints, factory products, including the latest guns and ammunition, whiskey) that they could supply very profitably. Thus the Santa Fe Trail came to be known as a key commercial link to the west. On their return trips, tradesmen brought back Mexican products like wool, buffalo hides and horses, mules, gold coins, gold dust and silver. Dary (Cowboy Culture; Red Blood and Black Ink, etc.), a leading historian of the Old West, draws on original newspaper stories, letters, diaries, books and expedition records to re-create the adventures of many tough and colorful people who endured a journey that might take more than two months, if they were lucky enough to survive severe hardship, bad weather, broken axles and marauding tribes. The Santa Fe Trail continued to serve as the heart of the "commerce of the prairies" until it was replaced in the 1860s by railroads. (Nov. 17) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Unlike the Oregon and California trails, which were primarily emigration routes, the Santa Fe Trail was a commercial route linking the United States with the chief city of the Southwest. Western historian and Oklahoman Dary (Red Blood and Black Ink; Seeking Pleasure in the Old West) provides a well-written account of the trail from the time of the Conquistadors to the arrival of the railroad in Santa Fe in 1880, which brought an end to the use of the trail. This is a solid account, grounded in available original sources, and Dary is careful to note that most business records did not survive, allowing for only an estimate of the extent of the Santa Fe trade. Far from writing a dry business history, Dary has an engaging style that allows him to relate some of the lore and legends and show that they are just lore and legends. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.--Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Tells the story of the Santa Fe Trail, which ran between Missouri and Kansas and New Mexico, from 1610 when the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, to the 1860s, when the railroad brought unprecedented changes. Firsthand accounts by native Americans, trappers, soldiers, and men and women of many nationalities give insight on daily life camping in friendly and hostile Indian territory, danger from natural disasters, and the pleasures at the southern end of the journey. Includes b&w photos and illustrations. Dary is retired from the school of journalism at the University of Oklahoma. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
David Haward Bain
A grand, sprawling story, populated by characters whose voices emerge loud and clear from their journals and letters . . . An unforgettable procession of dreamers and doers, losers and winners, villains and heroes (and heroines) in a well-told and carefully researched tale.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A detailed narrative of the rise and decline of the Santa Fe Trail as an epochal vein of 19th-century expansion, courtesy of a noted Western enthusiast. Dary (Cowboy Culture, not reviewed), an authority on the Old West, demonstrates a firm grasp of the terrain's history—both before and after its acquisition by the US. During the mid-19th century the Santa Fe Trail's importance grew rapidly (as a venue for trade with Mexico and as a stable and safe route across the politically volatile landscapes of New Mexico and Texas), even as the encroachments of civilization soon changed its character almost beyond recognition. The author devotes separate chapters to the early development of Santa Fe as a strategic center of trade, to the growth of trade in general throughout the region, to the crucial role of the"Prairie schooner" (the Pittsburgh-manufactured Conestoga wagon) in the transport of goods, and to the role of the Trail in the Mexican-American and Civil wars. Dary is skilled at resurrecting the old lives of this landscape and introduces us to local characters, such as Francis Aubry (a brash trader who crossed the Trail in six days to win a $1,000 bet), Matteo Boccalini (who fled the priesthood to live an even more ascetic lifestyle in a solitary outpost along the Trail), William Bent (who established his own fort along the Arkansas River and profited from the Indian trade), and Susan Magoffin (a trader's wife who kept a tart journal of the Trail's privations). Most startling are the accounts of the frequent Indian raids: aggressive tribes like the Apache and Comanche attacked merchant and settler parties without mercy, often abducting those (usuallywomenand children) whom they failed to massacre. Dary seems obsessed with"telling it like it was," even extending to his mournful chapter"The Slow Death of the Trail" (which blames rapid railway expansion in the 1870s). A densely populated account, rich in overlooked elements of the western experiment, executed with fine historical veracity. History Book Club alternate selection

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.55(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.26(d)

Meet the Author

David Dary is winner of the Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award, two Western Writers of America Spur Awards, the Westerners International Best Nonfiction book Award, and the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement from the Western Writers of America. He worked for CBS News and NBC News in Texas and Washington, D.C., and for many years taught journalism, first at the University of Kansas and then as head of the School of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, from which he recently retired. He is the author of fourteen previous books, including Cowboy Culture, The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends and Lore, and The Oregon Trail: An American Saga.

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