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Santa Fe Trail Association

Bent’s Old Fort NHS

Otero Junior College

City of La Junta

Koshare Indian Museum

The 2021 Santa Fe Trail Bicentennial Symposium

Bent’s Fort Chapter Event

La Junta, Colorado

September 23-26, 2021

The Santa Fe Trail Lives On:

200 Years of Commerce & Cultural Connections

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Recommended and Suggested Readings

The Wagonmasters: High Plains Freighting from the Earliest Days of the Santa Fe Trail to 1880 by Henry Pickering Walker 1966. This book is not specific to the Santa Fe Trail, but a large portion of it is devoted to discussions of it and the Overland Trail, two of the most significant wagon freighting trails. The book covers the men, animals, and equipment, and typical trail procedures used by the freight trains. The book also discusses the economic and social effects of the freight trains on the origin and destination points of the trains, troubles with Indians, weather, and the impact of the development of the railroads.

Merchants of Independence: International Trade on the Santa Fe Trail by William Patrick O’Brien, 2014. This book examines the complexity of U.S. And Mexican Trade alliances from 1827 to 1860 and how traders built consensus between individuals and various governmental and economic systems. Rather dry reading, but lots of good information.

Historic Resources of the Santa Fe Trail. This is a Department of Interior-National Park Service Document. Dont’ let the first couple pages of Government boiler plate put you off. This report is an amazing compilation of information about the Santa Fe Trail and the land that it passes through, and very well documented. The report can be obtained here as a .pdf.

Secondary Source Materials and Books

The Santa Fe Trail, by Robert Duffus. An older but classic introduction to the trail

Bound for Santa Fe: The Road to New Mexico and the American Conquest, 1806-1848, by Stephen Hyslop. An excellent modern scholarly approach to the trail …thorough and well researched with special attention to the causes and consequences of the US western expansion.

It Happened on the Santa Fe Trail, by Steve Glassman. Stories of 29 episodes on the trail for readers of all ages; a fine general introduction to the trail.

Bent's Fort, by David Lavender. A modern history classic by Lavender, beginning with fur trade, exploring the Bent's and their trading partners, the buffalo hide trade, the Santa Fe Trail, and the economics of the era. This book is the absolute "must-have" book about the Bent's that everyone should own.

Mary Donoho, New First Lady of the Santa Fe Trail, by Marian Meyer. Marian Meyer has written the story of Mary Donoho who was the first Anglo American women to travel the Santa Fe Trail during a rugged and grueling trip in 1932. After spending five years in Santa Fe, The Donohos moved to Texas where they ran a hotel and raised 6 children.

Los Capitalistas: Hispano Merchants and the Santa Fe Trade, by Susan Calafate Boyle. By 1840, Hispano merchants and traders were major participants in the trade along the Santa Fe Trail. Ms. Boyle documents this trade and the complex transactions that linked together cities as far flung as Chihuahua City, Santa Fe, St. Louis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York City, London, and Paris.

The Destruction of the Bison, by Andrew C. Isenberg. It was the trade in buffalo hides that provided much of the profits for the traders at Bent's Fort along the Santa Fe Trail. This book describes how the destruction of the buffalo caused a seismic change in the relationships of the cultures that depended on these animals.

Pueblo, Hardscrabble, Greenhorn, by Janet Lecompte. This book is the classic work describing trading, ranching, and farming communities that developed along the Arkansas River just west of Bent's Fort. The communities were a blend of Mexican, Anglo, Indian, and European society that struggled to prosper and co-exist.

Wagons for the Santa Fe Trade, by Mark Gardner. This book explores the various wagons used in the trade and the wagon makers who created them. Construction materials and processes and many, many photographs make this book the definitive history of the wagons that actually carried the goods and persons along the trail.

Primary Source Materials and Books

Commerce of the Prairies, by Josiah Gregg. This is a classic, written in 1844 by Josiah Gregg, a trader with 9 years experience on the trail, a guide book for fellow travelers in the 1840’s, covering routes, plants, animals, trade goods, Native Americans, and other essentials than any trail traveler and trader needed to know.

Land of Enchantment, by Marion Sloan Russell. A trail classic, written in the 1920’s, very readable memoir of Ms Russell who traveled on the trail as a child, lived in New Mexico, married a soldier, personally knew all the major historical characters such as Kit Carson and the Bents, and living into her 90’s in the Trinidad, Colorado, area.

Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail, by Lewis H. Garrard, another classic, written in 1850 by a young 17 year old adventurer who spent exciting times on the trail among the teamsters, traders, and Native Americans.

Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico, by Susan Shelby Magoffin. Another first-hand classic, a delightful diary written by a teen-age bride in 1846-1847, describing her journey on the trail with her husband, her life-threatening miscarriage following a wagon accident, during the perilous beginnings of the US-Mexican War.

Matt Field on the Santa Fe Trail, Edited by John E Sunder. In 1839 a journalist for the New Orleans Picayune, Matthew C. Field, joined a company of merchants and tourists headed west on the Santa Fe Trail.  Field recorded his vivid impressions of travel westward on the Santa Fe Trail and, on the return trip, eastward along the Cimarron Route.

Native Americans and the Trail

Halfbreed, the Remarkable True Story of George Bent, by David Halaas and Andrew Masich. George Bent was the "Halfbreed" son of William Bent and Owl Woman, a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe. Raised as a Cheyenne around Bent's Fort, educated in white schools in Missouri, George fought for the Confederates, survived the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, rode with the ferocious Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, and later became a valued source for information about Indian history and culture. This book will give the reader a tragic sense of the last years of the Indians and their lifestyle on the plains.

Chief Left Hand, by Margaret Coel. Left Hand was one of the last great Arapahoe Chiefs. Well educated and fluent in English, he tried to mediate peace between the white settlers and Indians in Colorado. Unfortunately his efforts were doomed when gold was discovered in the Denver area and tens of thousands of gold seekers poured into the state taking over Indian lands. Left Hand was killed in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado, by Elliot West. This book describes both the dependence of the Plains Indians on the environment associated with the rivers of the West, as well as the transportation and supply routes for the burgeoning white gold mining settlements, and the resulting conflicts.

The Southern Cheyennes, by Donald Berthong. This book traces the history of the Cheyennes from the time they were forced out of their traditional homeland in Minnesota until they were forced onto reservations in 1875. Religion, culture, wars, and tribal skirmishes are covered. Familiar persons such as William Bent, George Bent, Owl Woman, Magpie, and Black Kettle are all here as are the tragic events including the Sand Creek Massacre.

Resources for Students and Children

Tree in the Trail, by Holling C. Holling. Traditional oversized children's picture book with text, line drawings, and maps. This book follows the story of a cottonwood tree located on the Santa Fe Trail somewhere west of present-day Kansas City. The story starts with a young Indian boy saving the sapling from a buffalo stampede. The book then follows the growth of the tree as it becomes a part of the Indian Culture, sees the arrival of the Spanish explorers, warring Indian tribes, the era of the French trappers, and finally the caravans that followed the Santa Fe Trail. Reviewers note that book is well suited for children ages 5 - 10.

Mille Cooper's Ride: A True Story from History, by Marc Simmons, illustrated by Ronald Kil: 56 pages, 51 drawings and illustrations, and 1 map.  Mr. Simmons is often called the "father of the Santa Fe Trail" for his long efforts to preserve, protect, and promote the trail. Based on historical fact, this exciting tale is set on the Missouri frontier during the war of 1812. Millie's family and other families living at Fort Cooper are facing certain defeat by a large Indian army until 12 year old Millie volunteers to ride to Fort Hempstead for reinforcements. Her desperate journey is successful and the tide of battle is turned. This story is an action packed tale that teaches the responsibility of everyone, even the youngest citizens, to the good of the larger community.

The Midnight Ride of Blackwell Station, by Mary Peace Finley. The heroine of this story, nine-year-old Raephy McDowell, was one of four children who lived with their parents squeezed into the second story of an isolated prairie railroad station. Their mother was the telegraph operator; their father the ranch foreman. When Mama and Daddy learn of the secret plan to move the station and 'boom' a town, they have two problems: How to work around rancher Amos Black who owns the land they live on, and how to keep their very curious daughter from finding out.  Right on track, at midnight on May 22, 1886, the railroad company brought in workers, lifted the station and outbuildings onto flat cars, and moved them four miles down the track. The station was unloaded and the telegraph lines reconnected before dawn. Within two days, families were buying lots and a town was born.

Little Fox's Secret, The Mystery of Bent's Fort, by Mary Peace Finley: In this book, 11 year old Little Fox learns that Cheyenne elder Gray Owl has predicted that Bent's Fort will be destroyed, And, Little Fox must help with the destruction of this mighty trading post. Alone and unarmed, Little Fox lives outside the towering adobe walls waiting for the fateful day to arrive (August 21, 1843).

Friday the Apapaho Boy: A Story from History, by Marc Simmons,  ages 6-12. This story is the account of a young Arapaho boy who became separated from his family while they camped along the Cimarron River is southwest Kansas in May 1831. Nearly dead from hunger and thirst and exhausted from eluding Kiowa raiders, the boy is rescued by Thomas Fitzpatrick, a famed Rocky Mountain trader. Fitzpatrick named the boy Friday for the day of the week he was found. Fitzpatrick searched without luck throughout Colorado and Wyoming for the boy's family and finally enrolled him in school in St. Louis. Friday grew up to become an important Arapaho leader until his death in 1881.

Santa Fe Trail Adventures: An Activity Book, by Dave Webb and Leo Oliva: 88 pages of stories, biographies of trail travelers, coloring pages, and activity and project ideas covering trail's history, routes, cargo, jobs on a wagon train, draft animals, wagon types, and Indians.

The Santa Fe Trail Activity Book: Pioneer Settlers in the Southwest, by Walter D. Yoder: 40 pages of activities detailing the trail's scenic route. Activities include games, puzzles, vocabulary, word searches, and time lines, all illustrated with dozens of black & white pictures.

Heading Southwest: An Activity Book for Children, by William and Jan Hill: 32 pages, good for children up to age 10, variety of activities including coloring, dot-to-dot, maps, puzzles, word searches, and recipes, all teaching children about the Santa Fe Trail.

Peter Becomes a Trail Man, by William Carson & Pat Oliphant. Set in the 1850's, this book tells the story of 12 year old Peter Blair who lives in St. Louis. His mother has recently died and his father has gone to Santa Fe to seek his fortune. When a weather-beaten trapper returns to St. Louis from Santa Fe, Peter persuades him to take him along on the return trip. Despite, Indian attacks, desertions by greenhorns, a buffalo stampede, storms and other hardships, Peter finally reaches his destination only to learn that his father has moved on…and the adventure continues.

Teddy's Cattle Drive: A Story from History, by Marc Simmons. In Teddy's Cattle Drive, Mr. Simmons tells the story of 11 year old E.C. "Teddy" Abbot, a Nebraska boy who joins a cattle drive in 1870 along the Chisholm Trail. Starting in Texas, young Teddy is thrust into cowboy life and forced to work hard to learn new skills and prove his worth to the more-experienced cowboy's.

Jose's Buffalo Hunt: A Story from History, by Marc Simmons, good for ages 6-12. Based on actual events, this book is the true story of 11 year old Jose Arrellanes and his first buffalo hunt on the Llano Estacado in 1866. Jose and his parents lived in the village of San Miguel on the Pecos River in northern New Mexico where they farmed, raising corn, beans, chili, and onions. Every fall they traveled to the Texas Panhandle to hunt the buffalo and carry the meat back to their village so that everyone would have plenty to eat during the long, cold winter. This is a tale of a boy's initiation into manhood at a time when people traveled by ox cart and wolves and buffalo roamed the plains.

Soaring Eagle, by Mary Peace Finley, is the first novel of Ms. Finley's Santa Fe Trail trilogy. It is the coming-of-age story of blond, green-eyed Julio Montoya who lives with his family in Taos. In 1845, Julio undertakes a journey seeking clues to his Anglo past. His adventure takes him from his Mexican family and into the culture of the Cheyenne, which he embraces and then abandons to continue the search for clues to his past at Bent's Fort.

Meadow Lark,, by Mary Peace Finley, is the third book in the trilogy. 13 year old Teresita Montoya dreams of learning to read and yearns to follow her brother Julio eastward. She joins a wagon train heading for Bent's Fort and faces many challenges before eventually arriving in Independence, Missouri, a future teeming with possibilities. Ages 10 and up.

White Grizzly, by Mary Peace Finley. This is the second book in Ms. Finley's Santa Fe trilogy. Julio Montoya continues his search for his Anglo origins, traveling from Bent's Fort to Independence, Missouri. Julio is attacked by a grizzly, treated by a Cheyenne healer, tangles with Texas freeloaders, captured by Pawnee's, and is protected by a powerful spirit.

History Colorado has a rich collection of materials related to the Santa Fe Trail. These materials can be accessed by following this link: History Colorado-Santa Fe Trail. Be forewarned this is a big file, it runs approximately 5.5 megabytes.

Online Resources

Exhaustive Bibliography of the Santa Fe Trail up to 2001. This bibliography was originally compiled by Jack Rittenhouse, as A historical Bibliography, University of New Mexico Press, 1971 along with annotations. A .pdf copy of the bibliography with out annotations is available here.

For the Serious Santa Fe Trail Researcher, below are two exhaustive lists of sources, documents and references. Note that the two lists do partially overlap.

Another Exhaustive Bibliography of the Santa Fe Trail. This list contains documents as recent as 2015. Approximately 400 references and sources in 27 pages. Here is a link to the .pdf.


This is a massive section which has been subdivided into several subsections by content matter. Quick links to the subsections are immediately below:

Guide Books to the Santa Fe Trail

Primary Source Materials and Books

Secondary Source Materials and Books

Native Americans and the Santa Fe Trail

Resources for Students and Children

Online Resources


Guide Books to the Santa Fe Trail

Following the Santa Fe Trail: A Guide for Modern Travelers, by Marc Simmons & Hal Jackson. This is the essential modern guidebook to the trail, featuring maps, directions, and a brief history of significant sites. This guide covers the major routes of the trail plus significant cut-offs and branches.  Rumor has it that a revised version is being worked on.

Tracing the Santa Fe Trail: Today's Views, Yesterday's Voices, by Ron Dulle. This book is not one that guides the reader along the trail mile by mile, rut by rut. Instead, it is a new (2011) photographic work that celebrates the sites and images all along the trail. Much written detail is also provided but the real joy of the book is found in its photographs that capture the place and feel of the trail.

The Santa Fe Trail Revisited, by Gregory M. Franzwa. The late, great Gregory Franzwa was a great lover of all historic trails and wrote many books about them. This book is out of print, is hard to find, and probably will never be reprinted. Buy it if you can as it has great photos and descriptions in it.

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