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Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail was an important trade route in the nineteenth century. Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was mainly used as a commercial travel route connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Explorer William Becknell initially followed this route in his 1821 attempt to find an alternative market for his merchandise. The trail also served as an important military route before the introduction of the railroad to New Mexico.

In 1821, William Becknell set out on a courageous mission and led his goods-laden mules toward Santa Fe. He set out from Franklin, Missouri and took the route through modern-day Kansas, covering over 1,203 miles. Having traded well, Becknell returned with considerable profits, and his tales brought the possibility of trading with Mexico by following the trail.

In the early nineteenth century, the Santa Fe Trail served as the international commercial highway for the exchange of merchandise between the United States and Mexico. Later, during the Mexican-American War in 1846, the Santa Fe Trail became the route used by U.S. forces to invade New Mexico.

With the end of the Mexican-American War, freight caravans started to take the Santa Fe Trail, and the route became a favorite with the traders. In 1855, it is estimated that the goods traded over the Santa Fe Trail were worth about US$5 million. The manufactured goods had a huge market in Santa Fe, and were traded for fur and gold.

Travel along the Santa Fe Trail was not without its shortcomings. The route led to New Mexico through Comancheria, the land of the Comanche Indians, as well as the territory of other Native American tribes. While the Comanches let the traders pass for a fee, a confrontation with other tribes often ended in bloodshed.

With the American acquisition of the Southwestern provinces, the Santa Fe Trail became an important factor in the settlement and economic development of the region. The spread of American culture and trade into the newly acquired New Mexico may be largely credited to the existence of the Santa Fe Trail.

A number of military forts, such as Fort Union and Fort Larned, were established along the Santa Fe Trail during the American Indian Wars. These forts provided the U.S. government with the resources necessary to subdue and relocate the Native Americans. In 1865, over 10,000 traders and military personnel and 5,000 wagons moved west along the trail.

The Santa Fe Trail was primarily the route taken by the settlers of Kansas. The population of the state in 1855 was 8,600. This figure rose to about 143,000 by 1861. Most of the people who made Kansas their home took the Santa Fe Trail.

The Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Chisholm Trail are together considered the most important trails in American history. The preservation of the trail and its history, as well as the commemoration of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail are now overseen by the National Park Service.


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