Santa Fe Trail

From Academic Kids

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The Santa Fe Trail was a historic 19th century transportation route across southwestern North America connecting Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. First used in 1821 by William Becknell it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the arrival of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. At first an international trade route between the United States and Mexico, it served as the 1846 U.S. invasion route of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War. After the U.S. acquisition of the Southwest, the trail helped open the region to U.S. economic development and settlement, playing a vital role in the expansion of the U.S. into the lands it had acquired. The route of road is commemorated today by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.


The trail began on its eastern in central Missouri at the town of Franklin in central Missouri, just north of the Missouri River. The route across Missouri first used by Becknell followed portions of the existing Osage Trace. West of Franklin, the trail crossed the Missouri near Arrow Rock, Missouri, then followed roughly the route of present-day U.S. Highway 24, passing north of Marshall, and through Lexington to Fort Osage and then Independence. Independence was also one of the historic "jumping off points" for the Oregon and California Trails.

West of Independence in the State of Kansas, it roughly followed the route of U.S. Highway 56 to the town of Olathe. The section of the trail between Independence and Olathe was also used by emigrants on the California and Oregon Trails, which branched off to the northwest west of Olathe.

From Olathe, the trial passed throgh the towns of Baldwin City and Council Grove, then swung south of McPherson to the town of Lyons. West of Lyons the trail followed nearly the route of present-day Highway 56 to Great Bend, where it encountered the Arkansas River. Branches of the trail followed both sides of the river upstream to Dodge City and Garden City. West of Garden City in southwestern Kansas the trail has a complex network of branches. One the branches continued to follow the Arkansas upstream in southeastern Colorado to the town of La Junta. At La Junta, the trail continued south into New Mexico to Watrous. The other main branche cut southwest to the valley of the Cimarron River near the town of Ulysses, then continued to Clayton, New Mexico, joining up with northern branch at Watrous. From Watrous, the reunited branches continued southward to Santa Fe.


In 1821 William Becknell organized the first party to trade in New Mexico. By 1850 a monthly stagecoach line was established between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe (earlier beginnings of the trail were Franklin and Westport). The arrival of the railroad in Santa Fe in 1880 marked the end of the Santa Fe Trail.

Part of the route has been designated a National Scenic Byway.

A dramatization of life on the route was made into a motion picture in 1941, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey and Ronald Reagan.


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