The Topic:
Santa Fe Trail

Easier - During the 1800s, the Santa Fe Trail took people and goods back and forth between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It took about 8 weeks to travel on the trail. There were many dangers such as storms and attacks from Indians and bandits. When the railroad was built, it replaced the trail in moving goods and supplies west.
Harder - From the 1821 to 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was an important travel route. Along with the Oregon and Chisholm Trails, it is one of the 'big three' trails of United States history. During its sixty years, the Santa Fe Trail was mainly a commercial route. It carried goods and promoted trade between what was first the Southwestern Spanish Provinces, then became independent Mexico, and later was a U.S. territory.
Before 1821, early American explorers and mountain men made the trip to Santa Fe, pronounced san tuh FAY, on horseback with small strings of pack horses. Their route to this Spanish Provincial capital followed a winding path of both Indian and game trails. Under Spanish rule, open trading with the United States was forbidden. However a few goods were smuggled into Santa Fe to be traded secretly.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and trade barriers were removed. That same year, William Becknell and four other men traveled from Franklin, Missouri for a distance of 1,203 miles to open trading between the US and Mexico in Santa Fe. In the next twenty years, about 80 wagons and 150 people traveled the trail each year. Suspicion and tension between the United States and Mexico escalated and finally erupted into the Mexican-American War in 1846. The Santa Fe Trail carried soldiers and supplies to New Mexico and beyond. The war ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Santa Fe then became part of US territory. Military forts such as Fort Union, Fort Larned and others were established along the trail to control Indian conflicts and protect travelers. In the 1850's and 1860's, traffic on the Santa Fe Trail burgeoned. The US Civil War again brought increased military operations along the trail and led to the decisive Union victory at Glorieta Pass, New Mexico. By the late 1860's, more than 5,000 wagons traveled the trail each year. Merchants pushed enormous trains of freight wagons loaded with manufactured goods westward. In Santa Fe these were traded for burros, furs, gold, horses, and silver. The 'Old Spanish Trail' was extended westward to connect Santa Fe to Los Angeles. However the completion of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880 brought a swift abandonment. Today the Santa Fe Trail route still has some 200 miles of visible ruts and traces; witness to the long-gone traffic and commerce.
Interactive Santa Fe Trail from Kansas University and
This comprehensive site provides a history of the trail, information about present-day locations, and lots, lots more.
Related Websites:
2) History of Pawnee Rock State Historic Site
3) Like a Ribbon across the Prairie . . .
4) Santa Fe Trail
5) Santa Fe Trail from Kansas Historic Trails
6) Santa Fe Trail from Kaw Mission State Historic Site (Kansas)
7) Santa Fe Trail History
Santa Fe National Historic Trail from National Park Service
Start your tour of the historic trail here with a brief interpretative history, maps and photos, and more.
Related Websites:
2) National Historic Trails - Santa Fe National Historic Trail from GORP
3) Prairie Highway - Santa Fe Trail
4) Santa Fe National Historic Trail Brochure
5) Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail Net
The site of the Santa Fe Trails Association provides a collection of historic documents, maps and photos, plus a few links to other sites.
Related Website:
2) Santa Fe Trail Association
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
Here you can find out about the wet and dry routes of the Santa Fe Trail in the state of Kansas.
Not-To-Be-Missed Section:
2) Mileage Charts
After visiting several of the websites, complete one or more of the following projects.
Send A Santa Fe eCard. Send an eCard to someone telling them three things: (1) something you already knew about the Santa Fe Trail, (2) something you recently learned, and (3) something you would like to learn more about . Go to Santa Fe Trail On-Line eCards to send your message.
Compare/Contrast Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trail. The two main overland routes in US westward expansion were the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. Using a spreadsheet or graphics software, detail the ways in which the two trails were alike and different. An alternate activity would be to compare and contrast the Santa Fe Trail to the Chisholm Trail. You can find information about the Chishom Trail at another 42explore project, Old West . Go to 42eXplore's Oregon Trail for lots of online resources about that route.
Complete A Santa Fe Trail WebQuest. Follow or adapt the instructions found at the following webQuest sites:
1) Santa Fe Trail in Kansas WebQuest
2) Trekking the Santa Fe Trail
Write A Santa Fe Trail Journal. Pretend that you are part of a wagon train headed for Santa Fe with a load of goods. Create a journal of your imagined experiences for at least two weeks of the journey. Use the website information to make your entries as historically accurate as possible. You can also include sketches.
What Is The Best Way To Retrace The Santa Fe Trail? Map out your pathway. Plan your rest stops, select your mode of transportation, and calculate what supplies you will need. Estimate how much time your journey will take and itemize your extimated costs. Decide between the northern Mountain Fork or the Cimarron Cutoff. Your goal should be to make the most economical trip possible and still arrive safely, comfortably, and rested.
Websites By Kids For Kids
Santa Fe Trail from St. George Elementary
This brief student project site provides a map and description of the trail.
More Websites for the Santa Fe Trail
Advice to Emmigrants
This brief site houses an historic document giving advice to travelers.
Related Website:
2) American Pioneers: Life on the Trail
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Park from National Park Service
For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements.
Related Website:
2) Photos of Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site from National Park Service
Fort Larned was established in 1859 as a base of military operations against hostile Indians of the Central Plains, to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail and as an agency for the administration of the Central Plains Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the terms of the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861.
Related Website:
2) Virtual Tour of Fort Larned
Fort Union National Monument: An Administrative History from National Park Service
In 1851, Lt. Col. Edwin V. Sumner decided to establish Fort Union at the junction of the two branches of the Santa Fe Trail in order to provide more effective protection for the region.
Related Websites:
2) History of Fort Union by T.J. Sperry & H.C. Myers
3) Santa Fe Trail and Fort Union by D. Sedivy from Highlands Ranch High School, CO
Santa Fe Trail
Here is a timeline on the history of the Santa Fe Trail.
Santa Fe Trail Center at Larned, Kansas
This is the website of a regional museum telling the story of the geographic area once known as the Santa Fe Trail, a transportation route blended Indian, Spanish, and American cultures.
Santa Fe Trail Map
Here is a historic map of the Santa Fe Trail.
Related Website:
2) Santa Fe Trail (Map-links and more)
Santa Fe Trail Report
This 1912 report focuses on the correct route of the Santa Fe Trail through Kansas.
Related Website:
2) Points of Interest Along the Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail Scenic Byway from Northeast New Mexico
This regional site provides information and history on the Santa Fe Trail.
William Becknell & The Santa Fe Trail from Bicknell Family Home Page
Learn about Captain William Becknell, who has been called 'Father of the Santa Fe Trail.'
Other Websites for William Becknell:
2) Becknell's Formation of a Trading Company
3) Becknell Letters
4) Diary of William Becknell
5) William Becknell from New Mexico History
Websites For Teachers
Americans Move West: The Santa Fe Trail (Grades 6-8) by L. Arnett from Denver Public Schools
This is the site of an extensive unit plan on the Santa Fe Trail.
Life Along the Santa Fe Trail (Grades 4-6) by R. DesCombes
Here is a unit plan for study of Santa Fe Trail.
Related Lesson Plan Site:
2) Along the Santa Fe Trail: Marion Russell's Own Story (Grades 4-5) by L. Morrow
3) Santa Fe Trail from Cobblestone
Santa Fe Trails (Grades 4-8) from Trails Project
This is the site of a large collection of lesson plans (pdf) for study of the Santa Fe Trail.
Santa Fe
Great Plains
freight wagon
ancient trade route
Mexican-American War
mountain men
Spanish mission
Bent's Fort
prairie dog
Old Spanish Trail
Pecos Pueblo
Raton Pass
Oregon Trail
'Uncle Dick' Wootton
Pawnee Rock
Fort Union
Fort Larned
'Manifest Destiny'
Arrow Rock
Fort Union
Old Franklin, Missouri
Civil War
Spanish explorer
'Old West'
William Becknell
Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago
wagon train
trails and roads
Mountain Fork
wagon road
fur trade
Battle of Glorieta Pass
Indian trade
Cimarron Cutoff
City of Santa Fe
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 5/02.