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Trail logo created by graphic designer Martin Kim as a pro-bono design project for the National Park Service
The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missourimarker with Santa Femarker, New Mexicomarker. First used in 1821 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. At first an international trade route between the United States and Mexicomarker, it served as the 1846 U.S. invasion route of New Mexico during the Mexican–American War.

The route crossed Comancheria, the territory of the Comanches, who demanded compensation for granting rights-of-way. Americans routinely traded with the Comanche along the trail, sometimes finding the trade in Comancheria more profitable than that of Santa Fe.

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 road route is commemorated today by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. A highway route that roughly follows the trail's path through the entire length of Kansasmarker, the southeast corner of Coloradomarker and northern New Mexico has been designated as the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway.


The Trail was an important trade route, carrying manufactured products from the central plains of United States (present day Kansas City area) to the northeastern ranching and farming country of Mexico.


Map of the Santa Fe Trail (in red) in 1845.
A detailed present-day map is also available.
Santa Fe Trail ruts at Fort Union
The eastern end of the trail was in the central Missourimarker town of Franklinmarker on the north bank of the Missouri Rivermarker. 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 Rockmarker, after which it followed roughly the route of present-day U.S. Route 24. It passed north of Marshallmarker, through Lexingtonmarker to Fort Osagemarker, then to Independencemarker. Independence was also one of the historic "jumping off points" for the Oregon and California Trails.

West of Independence, in the State of Missouri, it roughly followed the route of U.S. Route 56 from near the town of Olathemarker to the western border of Kansas. It enters Colorado, cutting across the southeast corner of the state before entering New Mexico. The section of the trail between Independence and Olathe was also used by immigrants on the California and Oregon Trails, which branched off to the northwest near Gardner, Kansasmarker.

From Olathe, the trail passed through the towns of Baldwin Citymarker, Burlingamemarker, and Council Grovemarker, then swung west of McPhersonmarker to the town of Lyonsmarker. West of Lyons the trail followed nearly the route of present-day Highway 56 to Great Bendmarker. Ruts in the earth made from the trail are still visible in several locations (Ralph's Ruts are visible in aerial photos at ( ). At Great Bend, the trail encountered the Arkansas Rivermarker. Branches of the trail followed both sides of the river upstream to Dodge Citymarker and Garden Citymarker.

West of Garden City in southwestern Kansas the trail splits into two branches. One of the branches, called the Mountain Route or the Upper Crossing (of the Arkansas Rivermarker)

continued to follow the Arkansas upstream in southeastern Coloradomarker to the town of La Juntamarker. At La Junta, the trail continued south into New Mexico to Fort Unionmarker at Watrous.

The other main branch, called the Cimarron Cutoff or Cimarron Crossing or Middle Crossing cut southwest across the Cimarron Desert (also known as the Waterscrape or La Jornada ) to the valley of the Cimarron River near the town of Ulyssesmarker and Elkhartmarker then continued toward Boise City, Oklahomamarker, to Clayton, New Mexicomarker, joining up with northern branch at Fort Unionmarker. This route was generally very hazardous because it had very little water. In fact, the Cimarron River was one of the only sources of water along this branch of the trail.

From Watrous, the reunited branches continued southward to Santa Fe.

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


Travelers faced many hardships along the Santa Fe Trail. The trail was a challenging of arid plains, desert and mountains. On this trail unlike the Oregon trail, there was a serious danger of Native American attacks, for neither the Comanches or the Apaches of southern high plains tolerated trespassers. In 1825, Congress voted federal protection for the Santa Fe Trail, even though much of it lay in the Mexican territory. Lack of food and water also made the trail very risky. Weather conditions, like huge lightning storms, gave the travelers even more difficulty. If a storm blew up, there was often no place to take shelter and the livestock could get spooked. Rattlesnakes often posed a threat as many people died due to snakebite. The caravan size increased later on to prevent Indian raids. The travelers also packed more oxen instead of mules because the Indians did not want to risk raiding the caravans for only some oxen.

In April 1843 the Republic of Texas Snively Expedition came to plunder Mexican merchant caravans on territory claimed by Texas, but were quickly arrested and disarmed by United States troops escorting caravans,

although not before murdering Antonio Jose Chavez, son of a former governor of New Mexico.

Historic preservation

Segments of this trail in Missourimarker, Kansasmarker, Oklahomamarker, and New Mexicomarker are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The longest clearly identifiable section of the trail, Santa Fe Trail Remains, near Dodge City, Kansasmarker, is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Walking on the Santa Fe trail is now discouraged.

Notable features

  • Arrow Rockmarker (Arrow Rock Landing, Santa Fe Spring, Huston Tavern)
  • Harvey Spring/Weinrich Ruts
  • Independencemarker (Santa Fe trail Ruts, Lower Independence (Blue Mills) Landing, Upper Independence (Wayne City) Landing.
  • Kansas Citymarker (Westport Landing)


Mountain Route towards Coloradomarker

Mountain Route

Cimarron Route towards Oklahomamarker

New Mexico
Mountain Route

Cimarron Route

Joint route

See also


  1. Magoffin, Susan Shelby and Lamar, Howard R: Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847, Edited by Drumm, Stella Madeleine. Copyright 1926, 1962 by Yale University Press. Published by Univ. of Nebraska Press in 1982. USA. ISBN 9780803281165
  4. Santa Fe trail, Official Map and Guide; National Park Service; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; 1997
  5. ibid; Map and Guide
  6. ibid; Map and Guide
  7. ibid; Map and Guide

External links

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