Hosted By

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

Area Historical Attractions   Other Events Along the Trail Sponsors  Schedule  Speakers
Bents Fort Chapter Home


& Demonstrations

The 2021 Santa Fe Trail Symposium has an exciting lineup of eminently qualified speakers who will be presenting on topics as diverse as disease on the trail to tariffs in Mexico. Confirmed speakers are shown below. All speakers will present their papers at the Ed Stafford Theatre on the Otero Junior College Campus.

Demonstrations of skills and activities commonly practiced by travelers and commercial interests on the Santa Fe Trail will take place at Bent’s Old Fort NHS, Friday and Saturday at designated times. A description of demonstrations can be found here.

William W. Gwaltney.  Mr. Gwaltney has been connected to the history of the Fur Trade, the Santa Fe Trail and Bent's Old Fort for more than 40 years. Arriving at the newly constructed reconstructed Bent's Old Fort immediately after graduation from University in 1977, Bill was employed there the next summer, and spent over three decades working for the National Park Service with duty stations at Bent's Old Fort, Fort Laramie and Rocky Mountain National Park. He served another 5 years with the American Battle Monuments Commission overseas, living in France. Now living in the Hawaiian Islands, he continues to research information that connects the larger world to the history of the American Fur Trade in the Far West.

Mixed Blood: Life, Love and Lineage among the First Families of the Santa Fe Trail. When the Santa Fe Trail began, it connected a young United States and a free Mexico, just formed in 1821.  These two nations, were both filled with young people hoping to succeed in business, politics and, of course, When American traders finally stopped their mule train or wagons to trade, they found that Mexican officials had learned to employ bureaucracy at levels that were puzzling to the most adept American businessman. American Indians were demanding customers and informed consumers, making culture and language key to business success. For these reasons, Americans plying the Santa Fe Trail, or trading with Tribes, found it profitable to marry Indian or New Mexican women for personal, professional and political reasons as well as for love.

Dr. Susan Callafate Boyle. Dr. Boyle received her doctorate in American Social History from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and has been a member of history departments at Colorado State University, University of Missouri-Columbia and Westminster University. Many of her numerous papers and publications are about natural and cultural resources, many focused on historic trails in the United States and has worked extensively in Latin America on UNESCO sponsored projects. She currently has a manuscript under review titled: From San Juan Bautista to St. Jean Baptiste: The Cultural Landscape of El Camino Real de los Tejas.

The Santa Fe Trade Merchants and their Merchandise: Going Down to Mexico, 1825-1846. Soon after gaining independence from Spain, the Mexican government enacted legislation that required records of the types, quantities, and prices of the goods to be sold in Mexican provinces as well as the owners and freighters in charge of the shipments. The Mexican Archives of New Mexico include all surviving documents providing a rich source of material identifying all of the merchants and merchandise  that went down into Mexico as well as domestic products manufactured in New Mexico.

John F. Steinle. Mr. Steinle earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Dayton and a Master’s Degree in Museum and Archival Management from Wright State University. He has been employed as a curator, archivist, director and administrator at museums and historical sites starting in 1979. Additionally he served as adjunct professor at Red Rocks Community College. Mr. Steinle also has long been involved in living history, portraying roles as diverse as Professor Cranium, a phrenologist, to Captain Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic.

“Most All Proves Fatal”: Pandemics and the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail as a crossroad of nationalities and cultures made it a fertile breeding ground for disease. Attacks of malaria, typhoid, dysentery, and tuberculosis were well known, and the most dreaded diseases, small pox and cholera caused enormous loss of life. This paper will explore these major diseases, remedies and medications and the development of medical science in the 1830s and 40s. Finally, it will illustrate parallels with today’s pandemic.

Dr. David C. Beyreis. Dr. Beyreis received his Master’s degree in history from Oklahoma State University and Ph.D. in history from the University of Oklahoma. He has served as a teacher and instructor at schools and institutions in Oklahoma and North Carolina. He is currently the Social Studies Department Chair at the Ursuline Academy of Dallas. His book, “Blood in the Borderlands: Conflict, Kinship, and the Bent Family, 1821-1920,” was published in 2020, and his newest book, “The Peacemakers: Cultural Brokers and Treaty Making on the Great Plains, 1804-1881,” is currently in the works.  

Business, Politics and Power on the Santa Fe Trail: The Transcontinental World of Bent, St. Vrain and Company, 1829-1849. Because of its international scope, commerce on the Santa Fe Trail presented Bent, St. Vrain and Company with a unique set of opportunities and pitfalls between 1829 and 1849. From their adobe outpost on the Arkansas River and mercantile establishments in northern Mexico, the Bent brothers and Ceran St. Vrain pursued economic and political opportunities on an immense geographical scale. By cultivating transnational alliances, the partners tapped into networks that spanned the North American continent. These ties facilitated financial success and the accumulation of power. Their business was not without its risks, however. The same bonds that bound some groups together had the potential to drive wedges between others. From New York to New Mexico, the Bents and St. Vrain performed a delicate balancing act between often contending international forces.

Rebecca Atkinson. Ms. Atkinson has earned degrees in Education, History, Library Science and Educational Media, from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado and Adams State/UNC. She has had extensive experience in education at the secondary and upper levels and has served as director and advisor for libraries in Lamar and Pueblo. More recently she has been a researcher, writer and speaker about Colorado Frontier Women. The Lamar Dailey News named her “Woman of the Year” and students at Lamar Community College voted her “Best Part-time Faculty of the Year.”

He Said, She Said: Two Views of Life at Bents New Fort. James F. Milligan, in his travel memoir, and Julia S. Lambert, in her magazine articles, vividly render trail life, their interactions with the locals, and the extraordinary events they experienced there. These narratives offer fresh insight on life at Bents New Fort and life on the Santa Fe Trail. Milligan's is a young man's adventure yarn about his exploits working for Bent in 1853/1854. In His Life on Land and Sea, Milligan discusses learning the Indian trade, his love affairs and friendships, the building of Bent's New Fort, and travelling the trail with the Bents. Lambert tries to set the record straight in her articles for The Trail magazine. Hers is an unvarnished tale of a family's time on the trail as failed '59ers. On their way home, during their stay at the fort to nurse her dying sister, she marries the new station master. From 1862-1867, she details life in the shadow of the fort, the soldiers and families she meets, and the events surrounding Sand Creek.

Mathew Saionz. Mr. Saionz is a historian with an M.A. in history who has completed graduate studies at Virginia Tech and the University of Florida. His research examines the interplay between commerce and U.S. expansion, and his current book project considers this relationship with a particular focus on governance and officials in late Spanish and Mexican New Mexico. He has presented his research in New Mexico on several occasions and has published articles in the Florida Historical Quarterly and Wagon Tracks. He works in the instructional design industry in Gainesville, FL.

There is Very Little System or Consistency: Making Sense of Contraband Cases in the Late 1820s and Their Subsequent Disappearance. This presentation traces the evolution of contraband proceedings and seizures in New Mexico from the 1825 Francois Robidoux case to the slew of investigations in the summer of 1828. New Mexican officials in the mid-1820s turned to the judicial system and comiso (confiscation) to curtail smuggling and illegal trapping, ultimately bringing tensions with trappers and traders to a climax in May 1827 when soldiers clashed with Ewing Young and his allies at Pena Blanca. Grossly lacking resources and realizing that the web of illicit activity ensnared nuevomexicanos (including top administrators), officials shifted their stance away from compliance and hard-nosed regulation thereafter. Investigations in the years after were few in number and streamlined to the distribution of seized goods without formal proceedings. Contraband cases all but disappear from the record after 1832, an indication that all parties seeking the commercial benefits of the overland trade in New Mexico had embraced a new path forward.

Aaron Mahr  A historian by training from the University of New Mexico, Aaron Mahr is the Superintendent of the National Park Service's National Trails office, which includes administrative authority over nine of the national historic trails in the National Trails System. His long history in the National Park Service is characterized by building relationships with diverse and underrepresented communities to form common goals that contribute to the NPS mission and program objectives. He's served as a park historian and program historian, a regional coordinator for the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and now as superintendent.

Cory Donnelly MS. Donnelly is a Landscape Architect for the National Trails Office - National Park Service. She has been with the National Trails office (NTIR) for 11 years. In that time, she has worked to protect, develop, and promote the national historic trails (NHT) that NTIR administers. She manages the NHT sign plan program and works in partnership with others to develop publicly accessible sites and hikeable trail segments along the NHTs. She has degrees in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Studies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors, hiking, climbing, and skiing with her family and friends.

Emily Kessler MS. Kessler began working for NTIR in 2019 as a Park Ranger, Digital Media Champion. She serves as the social media and website coordinator. She became a park ranger over 13 years ago on the Oregon Coast, with the Bureau of Land Management. Emily has worked across the west, in Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico during her varied career. She has specialized in digital media for the past 8 years, focusing on social media and website communications. When she isn't at her computer, you can find her outside hiking and running with her husband and dogs.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail: Visions from Today and the Future Along the Trail. While the Santa Fe Trail between Franklin, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico is recognized as beginning back in 1821, the Santa Fe National Historic Trail was commemorated in a different way almost 150 years later. In 1987, the Santa Fe National Historic Trail was designated by Congress as a part of the National Trails System and assigned to the National Park Service for national trail administration. Over the years, the National Park Service has developed partnerships with a range of entities and landowners along the trail to help preserve, protect, and as appropriate, develop places for public enjoyment, appreciation and use of trail resources. This presentation will highlight the current national historic trail activities occurring today as well as forecast the vision for what is anticipated going into the future along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.