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The Evolution of New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail

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William Becknell: Father of the Santa Fe Trail

In 1821 Mexico had gained independence from Spain. It was then that commercial trade opened with the United States. William Becknell has gone down in history as the father of the Santa Fe Trail. He arrived in Santa Fe shortly after Mexican independence. The locals received him warmly and provided him with the upmost hospitality. Becknell made a tidy profit off his small supply of goods. The following year he carried out a second expedition and later the number of wagons and caravans kept increasing.

Trade on the Trail went Two Ways

There were Anglo-Americans who traveled west from Missouri to New Mexico. They brought their merchandise-laden wagons to sell or trade in New Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail also involved many enterprising Hispanic wagon masters who led caravans back east. Their wagon loads included furs, blankets and rugs. The traders from New Mexico also brought gold that they used to purchase tools, hardware, textiles, paper and other manufactured goods.

Experienced Wagon Masters

The first Mexican traders to venture east to Missouri were experienced wagon masters. Most of them had already engaged in the trade with Mexico on the Camino Real. That trail ran between Santa Fe and Chihuahua, Mexico. The Chihuahua trade dates back to the 18th century. Merchants from Mexico’s interior as well as the far northern provinces were active on that trade route.

Economic Vitality

Without a doubt, the Santa Fe Trail transformed New Mexico. The state changed from a pastoral, subsistence-oriented way of life to an economic hub in the west. In 1835, 75 wagons hauled an estimated $140,000 in goods on the Santa Fe Trail. By 1843 the value of goods had risen to $250,000, and by 1855 the annual haul was approximately half million dollars. The Santa Fe Trail invigorated the the social, economic, political and cultural life for all New Mexicans.