The historic Santa Fe Trail began in 1821 at Franklin, Missouri, a small town northwest of St. Louis. There had been some limited trade between Spanish-controlled New Mexico and the French in the Mississippi valley for more than a century. In 1792, Pedro Vial, a trusted French explorer living in Santa Fe, was directed by the City’s Spanish governor to open a road to St. Louis” (1).

Arnold, Sam’l.  Eating up the Santa Fe Trail. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing,2001.Print.


Santa Fe Trail Ruts

Imagine Prairie Schooners rumbling over the landscape, 10 feet tall and 23 feet long (with yoke). Imagine further that today you can still see evidence of those 44-50-inch diameter wooden wheels in the terrain from Missouri to New Mexico! Today U.S. highway 56 follows much of the original trail route from Kansas City, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the trail, original ruts are preserved in many places. Such is the case near Baldwin City in Douglas County, northeastern Kansas.santa_fe12.jpg

Independence, Missouri


1831 – 1845
Independence grew into a substantial town by 1831. Given an improved connection between the town and two Missouri River landings, Independence captured most of the Santa Fe Trail traffic during this period. Rival Westport was founded in 1832, and by the mid-1830s, nearby Westport Landing was attracting a small but increasing portion of the New Mexico trade. Trail length from Independence to Santa Fe via Cimarron Route = 800 miles.

NationalParkService.”Travel the Trail:Map Timeline 1821-1845″.

Cimmarron Route


1822 – 1828
When William Becknell headed east from Santa Fe on his first trading trip (he arrived in Franklin in mid-January 1822), he avoided the Raton Mountains and took a shorter, more direct route, which soon became known as the Cimarron Route. Most of those who made the trek in later years followed in Becknell’s footsteps. During this period, a few westbound parties started from Lexington, but most departed from Franklin. Independence, founded in March 1827, had a minimal role as a trail town during this period. Trail length from Franklin to Santa Fe via Cimarron Route = 890 miles.

NationalParkService.”Travel the Trail:Map Timeline 1821-1845″.