Santa Fe Trail map.

Santa Fe Trail map.
Map of the Santa Fe Trail.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Winter on the Santa Fe Trail.

Happy New Year everyone. I am going to take a brief pause in my "Into the Shadowlands" book tour blogs to contemplate winter on the Santa Fe Trail....

"With all our steady travel, we made no more than five or six miles, and encamped, as the sun was waning beyond the snowbanks ahead, sheltered in the rear by a sparse growth of stunted willows.
      We felt with our feet, on the river's edge, for pieces of wood, and, with numbed fingers, knocked the snow from them. These, with the aid of a few handfuls of dead willow twigs, served as fuel. Watering the animals through a hole in the ice-bound river, they were hobbled in a hollow and left exposed to the "storm's pitiless peltings," to eke a scanty meal from the weeds and stray blades of grass laid bare by the frame-pervading blasts.  We cut brush, and clearing a small space of the snow, laid our robes and blankets on the boughs, and sitting with crossed legs, stared at the flickering blaze rising through the still and piercing air, our pipes charged with fragrant "honeydew" or "single twist"; the holders every moment blowing out blue clouds of smoke, calculated at most any other time to sicken, but now not a bit too strong.  By turning our eyes to the darkness, we could see the dusky forms of our congregated caballada, with backs bowed and tails to the blast, too cold to paw for grass, now snorting as a hungry wolf crossed the wind, or feebly answering an inquiring whinney from a timid mule, scared at its own tramping in the dry, frosty snow."

Lewis H. Gerrard, "Wah-to-yah and The Taos Trail"

~From a wonderful memoir he wrote about crossing the Santa Fe Trail in 1846.

One of my mustangs, Solo, "with back bowed and tail to the blast."

    Over Christmas and New Year we had very cold temps and snow and it made me think of those Santa Fe Trail travelers a lot. With temps below freezing during the day and below zero (F) at night, I can't even imagine what that would have been like with just a wagon canvas to protect you from the elements and the wind chill (which I have known to be 30 below out here!! Other locals remember it when it was 50 below!) Especially on the open plain where the snow would be blowing sideways and drifting. Ugh! Most Santa Fe Trail travelers didn't cross the plains in winter, but for those who thought they could tempt the fates or who got caught in an early (or late) snowstorm, the losses were enormous. And, there was nobody coming to pull you out or rescue you either. No 911 calls!

"In 1844, Dr. H. Connelly and Mr. Spyre, as early in the season as the 12th of October, encountered a storm near the Arkansas River, in which a number of mules perished, and the remainder were only saved by running them into the timber on the river, a distance of some 15 miles. 
     The same party, a few days subsequently, met a second storm, on the Cimarron, in which they lost in one night over 300 mules, and were compelled to remain until mules were sent from Santa Fe to their relief."

The above is from a report on winter travel (along the trail) by James L. Collins in 1852. 

Like I said, I have known it be 30 below zero (F). Before I moved up to Watrous full time, I used to come up (from Cerrillos, just south of Santa Fe) every other day to check on my horses and spend the night in a tiny camper trailer I kept on the land. I did this winter and summer and I can remember several hair-raising trips up I-25 in blizzards, trying to get some hay to my horses. On one trip, I managed to get out onto the land (about 10 miles off the interstate - down dirt roads) and sighed a big breath of relief when I got the heater going in my trailer and settled in for the night. Just after sundown though, the heater sputtered out. Despite many tries to get it re-started, it just wouldn't fire up. I later learned that moisture had gotten into the regulator and frozen. It was a sinking and somewhat scary feeling. I knew it was forecast to be at least 20 below that night and it would be easy to freeze to death. Getting back on the interstate (which had been closed by now) was not an option. To cut a long story short, I put on every article of clothing (which included several pairs of thermal underwear, hats, gloves and a coat) I had and then my dog and I squashed ourselves into my sleeping bag together, which I then covered with a comforter. We survived the night but by morning everything was brutally frigid and frozen and I was relieved when my very reluctant truck started.

I was lucky, I had a camper trailer and a truck I could start up in the morning (with heater up on high). I can only imagine the misery and danger those kinds of conditions presented to the travelers of the trail in the 1800s. I was also lucky enough to have tree cover to help break the howling wind. Watrous is just a few miles east of the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Although we have open plain here, it is still broken country with canyons and ridges where ponderosa pines and pinon and juniper trees offer some cover. Out on the flat plains to the east of us, the only lumber or forest would have been what grew along the infrequent rivers. I am also amazed at how much the horses can stand. If they can get into a tree line and put their backs into the wind, they seem to do OK. I am sure they have their limits, but I know mine have gotten through 2-3 days of 30 below. But in many accounts of travelers caught in blizzards along the trail, it was not uncommon for a train to lose most, if not all, of their animals. In some cases the losses of horses, mules and cattle could be as high as 1000 head in just a matter of a few hours. On other occasions, half buried wagons were chopped up for firewood, leaving any surviving travelers stranded, sometimes for months.

An old covered wagon in the snow at Shadowlands Ranch. A thick layer of frost covers all of the tree branches.

Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts in the snow.

"In the morning, seeing that the caballada had had but little to eat and the cold being so intense, a day in camp was thought best. A snowstorm, with all its blustering fury, burst upon us during the morning and lasted half the day, driving the rotting-wood smoke in our eyes, so that small comfort was gained by the fire. We would sit in one position until nearly stifled; a change to the opposite side was only for the wind to veer and drive us again away. We had no tent, of course, and the shifting wind monopolized every good position. 
   What prospect was in advance! Snow twenty-two to twenty-eight inches deep; our mules starving; the oxen broken down with fatigue; not more than one day's scanty portion of dried meat, and nothing else; an attempt at hunting almost certain death; and, at least, two days' travel to William Bent's village, although there were but forty miles between the two (one day's trip in pleasant weather, now five for us). Verily, this is the dark side of prairie life!
     We ventured to start the following morning, but dared not ride for fear of freezing to the saddles, though tramping in the snow was severely fatiguing."

Lewis H. Gerrard,  "Wah-t-yah and The Taos Trail."

My herd of frosty mustangs running to the hay truck after a winter storm. At the time I took this photo, 8.30 am with the sun fully up, it was 1 degree (F).

The Mora River in winter, with ice and snow. Willows line its banks with a small bosque of cottonwood trees.

Fancy and I in the snow at Shadowlands Ranch.

Once again I wish you all a happy and healthy 2019. Stay warm and safe and long may we get moisture up here in New Mexico's arid plains!! I will try to endeavor to look upon any of this new year's challenges the way Lewis does in his memoirs. To see the bright side in even the most harshest of situations:

"It is strange how self-satisfied one is, when safely in camp.  There we, almost at an unapproachable distance from anywhere, amid snowstorms, with scarce a hearty meal, in a barren country, and too freezing cold to hunt, sat on our soft robes, acknowledging the grateful warmth of the coals (shuddering, perhaps, as a cold puff of wind, coursing on the crusted snow, struck our backs and caused us to pull the blankets more closely to our necks) - chatting as unconcernedly as if surrounded by luxuries, such as large fires and plenty to eat. It is by some experience in a prairie voyageur's life that I can say, never was I more contented, silently happy than when, with snow wreaths drifted interminably for miles and miles around, with a choice companion or two, cosily seated by a small comfortable fire, with plenty of tobacco and a modicum of meat to sustain life, I have listened to the baying of wolves and have imagined the Hamadryads' tuneful sighs mingling with the crackling of the frosted tree branches, while the mournful cadences of the wind, sweeping up the vale with wild fury, would burst over our heads with the shrieks of crazy delight - now dying away in harmonious deflections, anon increasing in vigor, yet never ending."

Lewis H. Gerrard, "Wah-to-yah and The Taos Trail."   

Winter sunset.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Santa Fe Trail, Into the Shadowlands book tour, part nine.

Heading north out of Rayado, the next stop along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail would have been Cimarron. As previously mentioned, in my post about Rayado, the "Colfax County War"  was the cause of much violence in the region and Cimarron was at the center of it. Long before the "war" though, frontiersman Lucien Maxwell moved his operations and ranch headquarters from Rayado to Cimarron in the mid-1850s. Owner of a 1.7 million acre land grant, acquired through his father-in-law Charles Beaubien, he had substantial power and wealth in the area. Here he built a mansion in 1864. The house no longer exists (it burned in 1885) but it used to take up a whole block along one side of Cimarron's plaza. Much has been written about the luxurious furnishings of this mansion and the great hospitality Lucien showed travelers passing through the area. While in Cimarron, amongst many other structures and business enterprises, Maxwell built and operated a stone grist mill, which sold corn meal and wheat flour to nearby residents, helped provision Santa Fe Trail travelers and also supplied food for the Indian agency. Maxwell was Indian agent for the Utes and the Jicarilla Apaches. In 1870, Lucien sold his huge land grant to a group of investors and moved south to Fort Sumner, an ex-military outpost built to guard and administer the site of General Carlton's disastrous and inhumane relocation (the "Long Walk") and internment of the Navajo Indians at Bosque Redondo (which failed miserably, closing in 1868, the same year Kit Carson died - a man who had played a major role in the defeat and relocation of the Navajos.) It was in Fort Sumner, in 1881, that the infamous "Billy the Kid" was killed by Pat Garrett in what was then Pete Maxwell's (Lucien's son) house. BUT, that's a whole other story! As you can see, so many stories and characters of the time are interwoven and it would be too easy to digress! I won't try to summarize all of the in's and out's of the "Colfax County War" here (I have supplied a link you can click on for more info). After Maxwell sold the grant, violence erupted between various factions, most of whom sought to profit in one way or another from the grant's assets. In the center of this hornet's nest was a group known as "The Santa Fe Ring." As mentioned in my Rayado post, my book "Into the Shadowlands" is set along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail and of course Cimarron and the violence surrounding it plays a big part in the story... not least the Santa Fe Ring! Who could resist such a juicy backdrop! It was very exciting for me to take Fancy to this notorious little town and ride the streets where so much history and murder and mayhem had taken place! Especially at the St. James Hotel. Built in the 1870s by a Frenchman called Henri Lambert (who had once been a chef for General Grant and President Lincoln,) it attracted many colorful patrons, including outlaws such as Clay Allison and Doc Holliday and notorious lawmen such as the Wyatt Earp. During the "Colfax County War" it was more or less ground zero for much of the violence. There are still bullet holes in the pressed tin ceiling of the saloon.

Fancy and I outside the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM.

The St. James Hotel in the 1800s. 

The St. James Hotel in the 1800s.

Maxwell's grist mill when it supplied food to the Indians and surrounding settlers.

Fancy and I outside Maxwell's grist mill in spring 2018.

From Cimarron, heading north, travelers of the Mountain Branch would have passed by the "Clifton House," a Barlow and Sanderson Stage Company "home station" and lodging place. Sadly, little more than a few scattered foundations remain of the once three-story building and its surrounding barns and blacksmith's shop. The food and lodgings offered here had once been considered some of the best along this part of the trail. Continuing towards Colorado, the trail approached one of the most daunting and challenging obstacles that travelers of this route would have to endure. The notorious "Raton Pass." Fancy and I have yet to visit this landmark but plan to in the near future.... 


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Santa Fe Trail, Into the Shadowlands book tour, part eight.

The next point of interest, after leaving the Ocate area, to wagon trains traveling north along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail would have been Rayado. The route from Ocate passed through a gap between Rayado Mesa and the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west. Both Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell homesteaded in this beautiful area in the 1840s. When Maxwell (then the caretaker of the massive Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant - later the Maxwell Land Grant- which he ran and ultimately inherited from his father-in-law Charles Beaubien, a Canadian Mountain Man and successful Taos trader) moved his headquarters to nearby Cimarron, a small military post was established at Rayado, using Maxwell's old buildings. Also, a "home station" of the Barlow and Sanderson stage station was operated here. A very important scene is set in Rayado and at Rayado Mesa in my book "Into the Shadowlands" and so it was great to be able to bring Fancy to this area last spring for my 'book tour.' There is an incredible amount of history in this region, including Native American history, Mountain Man history, Santa Fe Trail history, and, most notably, all of the violence and politics surrounding what was to be known as the Colfax County War. I'm not even going to try to cover the intricacies of that "war" here (look it up online... it is a great story!) But, it plays a big part in my book and the 'villains' of that war, most notably the "Santa Fe Ring" and any and all of their corrupt lawmen, politicians, governors, newspapers, judiciary and numerous henchmen are better than fiction! What a hornet's nest the region was at that time. When Maxwell sold his interests in the Land Grant in 1870, to an English company that re-named it "The Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company," brewing disputes with 'squatters' who had moved onto the land grant without permission, tensions with Indians and of course corruption and profiteers, blew up into a full scale war rife with lynchings, reprisals and murder. Kit Carson didn't stay very long in Rayado. He mostly lived in Taos, between his numerous trips back and forth across the country as Indian Scout and soldier until his death in 1868. Maxwell's house still stands in Rayado (run by the Philmont Scout Ranch,) but the building (which is now used as a museum) that is identified as Kit Carson's house, is not the original. Some of the walls of this newer building incorporate the remains of what was Kit Carson's home, but mostly this building is a very nice reconstruction of a typical New Mexico frontier home, complete with an inner placita (courtyard.) Wagon ruts are clearly visible near Rayado. Some to the south, where the trail skirted the base of Rayado Mesa and others to the north-east where the trail swept down into the settlement.

Fancy and I outside the re-constructed "Kit Carson House" in Rayado last spring.

A geographical survey map of the Rayado area from 1876 ~ the year in which my book "Into the Shadowlands" is set. Any and all 'roads' on this map are wagon roads. This was before the railroad came into northern New Mexico. You can see the wagon road heading north, through a gap alongside Rayado Mesa from Ocate to Rayado.

A view of the Rayado area looking from southeast. 

Wagon ruts at the base of Rayado Mesa where the road enters the Rayado area from Ocate, to the south.

This caption speaks for itself!

The interior courtyard (placita) of the "Kit Carson House," now run as a museum by the Philmont Scout Ranch.

One of the rooms inside the "Kit Carson House," set up to show life on the frontier in a typical New Mexico style house.

Fancy and I outside Maxwell's house in Rayado. 

The distinctive landmark called the "Tooth of Time" between Rayado and Cimarron.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Santa Fe Trail, Into the Shadowlands book tour, Part Seven.

So, I am finally back! Once again, I was side-tracked by house projects. Since I have a 'homemade' adobe house, I suppose that will always be the case. But, I now have a new log/adobe room where I have set up my dining table which, more than likely, will be used more for writing than eating. When I last posted in this blog, Fancy and I had visited "Round Mound," Rabbit Ears" and "McNees Crossing" along what was once the Cimarron Cutoff Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. We were traveling as if we were headed northeast, away from Santa Fe, towards the 'Eastern States.' For now, that is as far as we went along that branch. After that, the trail crossed into what is now Oklahoma and Fancy and I are mostly focussed on the New Mexico stops along the route. My book "Into the Shadowlands" does not follow this route of the trail, but I was curious about it and soon fell in love with it.

For this latest post, I will follow the "Mountain Branch" of the Santa Fe Trail which started where the two routes divided at La Junta (now Watrous,) New Mexico. Again, if you were traveling northeast, away from Santa Fe. If you were heading towards Santa Fe from Missouri, the routes divided in Kansas, a little bit west of Dodge.  The Cimarron Cutoff Branch was shorter but dryer and more prone to Indian attacks. The Mountain Branch took longer but it was considered safer with much more reliable water. As I said, my book "Into the Shadowlands" takes place along this branch of the trail and there are many scenes (past and present) set at most of the sites Fancy and I visited this spring.

The first major stop, after leaving La Junta (Watrous,) would have been Fort Union. Established in 1851, in part to help protect travelers of the trail from Indian attacks, it actually had three incarnations. The first fort (1851-61) consisted of a few log buildings, nestled up against a bluff to the west of the current ruins. Later, that site became the Ordinance Depot and those ruins are still visible. The second Fort Union (1861-62) consisted of a massive star-shaped earthworks. It was built to help defend the Santa Fe Trail against the Confederate invasion, which never came. (The Confederate Army was thwarted at the Glorieta Pass, approx 100 miles southwest of Fort Union.) Construction of the third and final Fort Union was started in 1863. I just LOVE this place. Most of it was built of adobe and stone and the ruins of this fort are quite extensive, even today. Fort Union is only 8 miles from where I live (in Watrous) and I love to visit it at least once a year, preferably in the off-season when I can have the place to myself, and wander the grounds. I had no trouble writing nostalgic scenes set in this place in my book as I always get an intense feeling of nostalgia when I visit it. I am not the only one. Marian Russell met her husband at Fort Union and had many fond, first-hand memories of it. She married her true love in its military chapel and she and her husband, Richard, lived next door to Colonel Carson (Kit Carson) on its grounds for a while. In her beautiful memoir "Land Of Enchantment" Marian recounts visiting the ruins of Fort Union when she was an elderly lady.

"At Fort Union I found crumbling walls and tottering chimneys. Here and there a tottering adobe wall where once a might howitzer stood. Great rooms stood roofless, their whitewashed walls open to the sky. Wild gourd vines grew inside the Officers' quarters. Rabbits scurried before my questing feet. The little guard house alone stood intact, mute witness of the punishment inflicted there. The Stars and Stripes was gone. Among a heap of rubble I found the ruins of the little chapel where I had stood - a demure, little bride in a velvet cape - and heard a preacher say, "That which God hath joined together let no man put asunder." I found the ruins of my little home where Colonel Carson once had stood beneath a hanging lamp. I heard or seemed to hear again his kindly voice, "Little Maid Marian, you cannot go. I promised your mother to take good care of you." The wind moaned among the crumbling ruins and brought with it the sound of marching feet. I saw with eyes that love to look backward, a wagon train coming along the old trail. I saw a child in a blue pinafore. It was little Maid Marian on the seat of an old covered wagon."

There are many references to Fort Union in countless memoirs, letters, diaries and documents from the 1800s. Too many to reference here. Needless to say, I love reading about it, in its prime. In the book "I married a Soldier" by Lydia Spencer Lane, she and her husband spent time in the very first Fort Union and later in the 'newer' version.

"The Lieutenant was ordered to remain at Fort Union, and all we had in the way of furniture, etc., was soon settled in the quarters assigned us. They were built of logs, and old, but cosy and homelike, and, with our good cook and nurse, we enjoyed housekeeping after our weeks and weeks of travel. "

A later quote:

"We had not been particularly comfortable at Fort Union, but we were sorry to leave. We liked the old log quarters, up towards the hills, much better than the new adobe houses, planted right down on the plain, which was swept by the winds all summer long. How they did howl! About ten o'clock every morning they woke up, and whistled and moaned, and rose to wild shrieks, doing everything wind ever does in the way of making a noise."

Lydia was not the only resident of the new Fort Union to lament the wind. I thoroughly enjoyed a book called "Frontier Cavalry Trooper" which comprises the letters of Private Eddie Matthews who was posted to Fort Union between the years 1869 and 1874. In it there is a treasure trove of information about the daily life of a soldier at the fort.

"The only objection I can find here is the miserable wind. Talk of March wind in the States, why it is not a comparison to this place. Wind, wind, and sand all the time. This Post is built on a plain. There is nothing to break the wind, therefore giving it full sway."

Fancy and I look out at the ruins of Fort Union.

A photograph of the Mechanic's Corral at Fort Union.

Officer's Quarters at Fort Union.

A photo of the ruins of the fort's hospital that I took while wandering the ruins during a snow storm. A key scene (both past and present) happens here in my book "Into the Shadowlands." I have included a quote from my book on the photo.


" And now I have little news to tell which occured at Louma Padra (Loma Parda,) a Mexican town seven miles from here. There are several drinking saloons and two dance halls in the town and plenty of Mexican Women in the town to dance. The third Cavalry had two or three men Killed over there by Mexicans. Few nights ago a couple of Mexicans beat a Bugler of D Company. He came over to Camp and reported it to the men."

Private Eddie Matthews, "Frontier Cavalry Trooper."

The village of Loma Parda is little more than ruins now. In its day, it was a thriving town along the Mora River just a few miles southwest of Fort Union. To many historians it is referred to as "Sodom on the Mora" due to its reputation for violence and vice. It boasted many brothels and 'dance halls.' Even though it was off-limits to the soldiers of Fort Union, it was too much of a temptation for those lads and many of them lost more than their shirts at the gambling tables and 'cribs' that thrived in the village. Of course I have a scene set here in my book!

Fancy and I outside the ruins of what was once Baca's Dance Hall in Loma Parda.

Fancy and I ride by what was once the Livery Stables in Loma Parda.


Heading northwest out of Fort Union along the main branch of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail (actually there are numerous routes travelers could take out of the fort. Some go to Loma Parda, others go towards Las Vegas (by-passing La Junta) and others to the town of Mora via the La Cueva Mill,) the next major landmark would be the village of Ocate with its towering crater. I have another critical scene set here in my book. The trail passed by here on its way to Rayado and Cimarron. Susan Shelby Magoffin camped here (heading south towards Santa Fe) with  her husband Samuel Magoffin's ("Mi Alma" - my soul) trade wagon train in 1846. She makes reference to it in the diary she kept, "Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico."

"Sunday 23rd. Ocate Creek. Camp No. 17. We are getting in among the hills, pigmy Mountains, again. Our camp last night was at the foot of one, which I ascended. At the top I found a thicket of pine trees, and fearing lest a hungry bruen might be lurking in them, or a tiger cat - rather the worst of the two when one comes to fighting with them, for while Mr. Bruen will squeeze you gently till all breath has left you, the other will scratch and bite and tear with his long talons till death comes to relieve the sufferer. I did not dare venture farther, but returned to camp. 
         This morning I have rode some on horse back - the road has been rough and I found it rather more agreeable than the carriage. Mi alma drives today, getting into settlements has inspired one of our drivers - Sandevel - with new love for his padre, madre y mujer (father, mother, and wife); so last night he petitioned to go ahead to see them, and will meet us at the road, the junta (junction), a place where this and the Cimerrone road joins and the waters of some two or three arollas (arroyos - streams)."

The "Junction" (Junta) Susan refers to is none other than Watrous! Where, as she says, the Cimerrone road (Cimarron Cutoff) and the Mountain Branch meet. 

The scenery around Ocate, New Mexico.

Fancy and I standing in front of Ocate Crater. This photo does not do it justice. It towers above the plain and can be seen for many many miles. I can clearly see it from my living room window in Watrous! In this photo (taken in the spring) you can see that Fancy and I are being subjected to those howling winds that both Eddie Matthews and Lydia Spencer Lane referred to!


Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Santa Fe Trail, Into the Shadowlands book tour, Part Six.

Last spring, Fancy and I managed to travel to many of the New Mexico, Santa Fe Trail sites. Both along the Mountain Branch of the trail and the Cimarron Cutoff. This is my version of a book tour for my novel "Into the Shadowlands" which is set along the Mountain Branch of the trail in 1876.... with a modern day twist! Although I posted these visits on facebook as and when I did them last spring, I originally visited them out of chronological order. For this blog, I have been posting them as the travelers of the trail would have encountered them if they had been traveling northeast, from Santa Fe, towards Missouri. So, once again, we resume our journey as those long ago pioneers and traders would have done. After leaving the famous camping spot and navigation landmark of "Round Mound," the next feature the travelers would be heading for is the distinctive duel rock formations known as "Rabbit Ear Mountain." There are two stories behind how this landmark got its name. One is that, from certain angles, these two rock outcrops look like a pair of rabbit ears sticking up out of the flat plain. The other is that, during Spanish times, a Cheyenne Indian chief called Rabbit Ears was killed by the Spanish in the vicinity. As the story goes, he was called Rabbit Ears due to his frostbitten ears, which were black tipped like the local jack rabbits that run all through the southwest. George Champlin Sibley surveyed the route during the very early years of the Santa Fe Trail, 1825-1827. In those days it was a brand-new trade route between the American states and what was then Mexican Territory. The Cimarron cutoff route was the original route used by traders and Sibley's journal "The Road to Santa Fe" follows his travels as he and his crew surveyed the road, pointing out landmarks, water sources, mileage (measured in 'chains') and pasturage. Below is one of his diagrams of distinctive land formations as he saw them entering into New Mexico from the northeast. As it happens, this entry in his journal is from October 12th... my birthday! Number 2 in the sketch is "Rabbit Ears," and number 3 is "Round Mound." This illustration was drawn from a campsite near McNees Crossing of the north Canadian River. ... our next point of interest. In Sibley's day, they called it "Louse Camp Creek"....

"A considerable party of People left this place this Morning, & to judge from appearances, left in some haste. We suppose they are Hunters from the nearest Spanish Settlements; and I think it probable have been hunting on the Semarone (Cimarron.) They may have taken alarm at our Party, & are hastening home in the supposition that they are pursued by Indians. This is all conjecture however. Upon some fragments of old Clothing which some of our People picked up, there were some body lice found; which circumstance confirmed us all in the belief that the camp had been occupied by Spaniards. We took the precaution to Pitch our Tents at a respectful distance from the old Camp. The Creek having no name, we now gave it the name Louse Camp Creek."

George Champlin Sibley, "The Road to Santa Fe."

A sketch of landmarks as seen from the northeast, probably in the vicinity of McNees Crossing. This was drawn by George Champlin Sibley in his journal when he surveyed the Santa Fe Trail between 1825-1827.

"Rabbit Ear Mountain," with antelope, as seen from the southwest, near "Round Mound."

Fancy and I with "Rabbit Ear Mountain" behind us. This photo was taken from the east of this famous monument.

Heading northeast from "Rabbit Ears," not far from what is now the Oklahoma border, travelers crossed the north Canadian River at McNees Crossing, a rocky stretch of river bed in what is mostly a sandy creek. Wagon travelers preferred to cross where the river beds were solid enough to support the weight of heavy trade wagons. As stated above, this crossing didn't have an official name in Sibley's time but in the fall of 1828, two young men, McNees and Monroe, were ambushed and shot by Indians as they napped ahead of their wagon train on the banks of the river (now known as Corrumpa Creek.) When their wagon train caught up with them, McNees was dead and was buried on the spot.  Monroe, who was mortally wounded, was carried forty miles to the Cimarron where he died and was buried "according to the customs of the Prairies." Unfortunately, retaliations by white traders and friends of the slain young men, perpetrated on innocent Indians they encountered further down the trail, led to counter retaliations and so hostilities back and forth escalated for several years. 

It was also at McNees Crossing that Josiah Gregg, a famous Santa Fe Trail trader and writer of the book "Commerce of the Prairies" celebrated July Fourth in 1831 in what was then Mexican Territory. It was also in the Rabbit Ear's vicinity that his party encountered a Mexican Cibolero, or buffalo hunter. 

"These hardy devotees of the chase usually wear leathern trousers and jackets, and flat straw hats; while, swung upon the shoulder of each hangs his carcage or quiver of bow and arrows. The long handle of their lance being set in a case, and suspended by the side with a strap from the pommel of the saddle, leaves the point waving high over the head, with a tassel of gay pari-colored stuffs dangling at the tip of the scabbard. Their fusil, if they happen to have one, is suspended in like manner at the other side, with a stopper in the muzzle fantastically tasselled."

Josiah Gregg, "Commerce of the Prairies."

Fancy and I standing on the rise along the western bank of McNees Crossing.

Me standing on the rocky 'bottom' of McNees Crossing. The water is low after a very dry winter. (Photo taken in spring.)

Wagon ruts leading down to McNees Crossing from the east.

Historical marker near McNees Crossing.

Today, McNees Crossing is on private land and the owner is welcome to folks coming to visit this historical site. But PLEASE be sure to CLOSE THE GATE as you come and go. As you can see from one of the photos, there are cows grazing along the creek and so visitors should be vigilant about the safety of all livestock they encounter. For my book tour, I am just (for now) covering the New Mexico stops along the Santa Fe Trail. From McNees Crossing the trail would have continued northeast through Oklahoma and on into Kansas where it reunited with the other branch of the trail (the Mountain Branch) either at Chouteau's Island or at the Cimarron Crossing of the Arkansas River, not too far west of the famous Caches landmark of the Santa Fe Trail. Along the way, there would have been very little water, hence the Cimarron Cutoff route was often referred to as the Desert Route. 

STAY TUNED TO MORE OF OUR SANTA FE TRAIL TRAVELS! NEXT TIME: Fancy and I will travel to various sites along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.... this route is featured in my novel "Into the Shadowlands."

Monday, September 3, 2018

Into the Shadowlands, Santa Fe Trail book tour, Part Five.

Heading northeast from "Point of Rocks," trail travelers would be looking out for the distinctive landmark "Round Mound." From some angles it looks like just one conical mound growing out of the flat plain like a pimple. But, from other angles, you can see that it is actually two mounds with other smaller hills nearby. Even though my book "Into the Shadowlands" is not set along the Cimarron Cutoff branch of the Santa Fe Trail, I really enjoyed visiting its landmarks. The "Round Mound" was definitely one of my favorite spots. I was lucky enough to get permission from the land owner to 'trespass' (it is on private land) and not only did Fancy and I (and Holly my dog) get to ride around the 'mound,' but we also got to camp near its base and Holly and I hiked to its peak. There are many accounts written about this popular spot in the diaries and memoirs of long ago travelers. Josiah Gregg wrote about it in his wonderful book "Commerce of the Prairies" (1844,) as did George Douglas Brewerton in his book "Overland with Kit Carson" (1848.)

Fancy and I standing near "Round Mound." 

The photo above is deceptive. From this vantage point, the "Round Mound" looks quite small, but it is much taller than it appears. Many a traveler commented on the fact that things far away, looked closer than they actually were due to the clear, high-altitude air. 

"This hill is known as the "Round Mound" ~ a name derived from its circular, cone-like top. It is visible in clear weather from a distance of many miles; and as the optical delusion occasioned by the extreme rarity of the pure and transparent atmosphere of the Great Prairies continually deceives the beholder into the belief that much lesser elevations are close at hand when they are in reality some miles distant, it is by no means an uncommon occurrence for parties of two or three to detach themselves from the passing caravans for the purpose of visiting this remarkable locality. I, for one, have a painfully distinct recollection of the weariness with which my friend Mr. Danvar and myself dismounted to stretch ourselves upon the greensward at its base, after accomplishing the five instead of three miles which we had fondly imagined to lie between us and the object of our curiosity."

George Douglas Brewerton, "Overland with Kit Carson," 1848

Holly and I at the top of "Round Mound," looking towards the south and west.

A sketch by Josiah Gregg of the view from the top of the "Round Mound."

"As the caravan was passing under the northeast base of the Round Mound, it presented a very fine and imposing spectacle to those who were upon its summit. The wagons marched slowly in four parallel columns, but in broken lines, often at intervals of many rods between. The unceasing 'crack, crack' of the wagoners' whips, resembling the frequent reports of distant guns, almost made one believe that a skirmish was actually taking place between two hostile parties."

Josiah Gregg, "Commerce of the Prairies."

The plains around "Round Mound" were at the heart of Buffalo Country.
(Photo taken near Watrous.)

"...although at some seasons (and particularly in the fall) these prairies are literally strewed with herds of this animal. Then, 'thousands and tens of thousands' might at times be seen from this eminence."

Josiah Gregg.

Although Fancy, Holly and I visited "Round Mound" in the spring, when the grass is yellow and dry, most folks who travelled the Santa Fe Trail chose to travel during the summer months. Nobody wanted to risk being caught in a prairie blizzard! Summer is monsoon season in New Mexico and there are frequent thunderstorms and, if we have good rains, everything can be green and lush. 

"But having once reached the summit, fatigue was all forgotten as the delighted eye took in the wide expanse; on every side, a vast extent, probably upward of one hundred miles of country, was presented to our view.  If we had been disposed to linger at our resting-place below, we now felt strongly tempted to make a long stay upon the crest. The distant wagon-covers of the far-off train had dwindled into snowy specks upon a perfect sea of vegetation. The emerald hue of the verdure at our feet faded with increasing distance into bluer tints, which in their turn became gray and misty as they neared the hazy horizon."

George Douglas Brewerton.

George and his friend Mr. Danvar had to cut short their sojourn at the crest of "Round Mound" when they spotted their horses (who had been tethered at the base of the mound) running away towards the caravan! The two men had to scramble as quickly as they could down the steep and rocky hillside to try and catch up with them! I thought of those guys (as well as the many others who had climbed to the summit from a passing wagon train) as I hiked up to the top. I felt a real connection to them as I gazed out at almost exactly the same view. 

At the base of "Round Mound."

I lay here (above photo) for a while, once I had climbed back down from the summit. I thought of George and Mr. Danvar lying right at this spot after they had "dismounted to stretch ourselves upon the greensward at its base, after accomplishing the five instead of three miles...." After enjoying a rest, they had to psyche themselves for the climb which they commenced with "heavy hearts." 

"Such a gettin' up, or, to speak more strictly, such a falling down, I never hope to see again. Thrice we halted upon the way and voted Round Mound a humbug, and our self-imposed excursion a most intolerable bore. Then Danvar would insist upon stopping to give vent to strong expressions; and yet another delay was due to a slip, which destroyed my equanimity and carried away the seat of a pair of buckskin pantaloons at one and the same moment."

Like I said, "Round Mound," has been a real favorite of mine in all of my Santa Fe Trail landmark visits. Not only is it a beautiful spot but I could so clearly feel the ghosts and hear their words as I rested, climbed and enjoyed the far-reaching views.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Into the Shadowlands, Santa Fe Trail book tour, Part Four.

At La Junta, NM (now Watrous,) the wagon trains could choose between two different routes of the Santa Fe Trail on their voyage northeast to Missouri. The Mountain Branch and the Cimarron Cutoff. The Mountain Branch was longer but offered plenty of sources of water and safer passage from potential indian attacks. The Cimarron Cutoff Branch (the original route taken by the first traders to travel the Santa Fe Trail,) was more direct but had less reliable water and, during times of indian troubles, was more vulnerable. It crossed the plains (rather than skirting the base of the mountains) and so traversed very flat and open ground. Any kind of rock formation, hill or mountain would have been visible from miles away and so many of these became critical navigation markers for those traveling the trail. Although my novel "Into the Shadowlands" takes place along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, I was very excited to visit many of the major landmarks of the Cimarron Cutoff Branch this spring with my horse Fancy and my wee dog Holly. Since I have yet to complete my 'Mountain Branch version of the trail' (I hope to ride the Raton Pass this fall,) I will start by following the Cimarron Cutoff for this chapter of my blog. The next stop (and navigation landmark) for those traveling the Cimarron Cutoff trail after leaving La Junta would have been Wagon Mound. Early travelers of the trail thought it resembled a covered wagon pulled by oxen (from a distance and in profile!) and so that is how it got its name. Near its base there was a spring and so this was an ideal rest stop for caravans although the surrounding buttes and hills also made it an ideal spot for ambush. In 1850, a party of mail carriers were ambushed a half a mile from the foot of Wagon Mound. The mail wagon, traveling to Santa Fe from Fort Leavenworth, had been accompanied by ten men when it was attacked in the early hours by a large band of Jicarilla Apache and Ute Indians. All members of the group were killed by arrows. Their bodies were discovered by a party of traders who passed by the Wagon Mound a few days later on their way north but they turned back to Las Vegas to report the grisly scene. A military detachment was immediately sent to investigate, led by a Lt. Ambrose E. Burnside. When the soldiers reached the spot, they found the wagon surrounded by the bodies of dead men, horses and mules as well as indian arrows and mail sacks ripped open with their contents strewn around the prairie. Some pieces of mail had been impaled on the spikes of Yucca plants. This attack, amongst others, led to the construction of Fort Union, 8 miles northwest of Watrous (La Junta,) which is just twenty miles south of Wagon Mound, in 1851. The Wagon Mound was also where the daughter of an Apache chief, Lobo Blanco, was killed. She had been captured in a skirmish between U.S. troops and Apache Indians on the outskirts of Las Vegas in 1849.  When the military had taken her to Wagon Mound, where they demanded she point out the location of the Apache camp, the girl had tried to escape. She was shot by her captors and this event contributed to triggering an uptick in violence and attacks along the trail, including the infamous attack of the White family at "Point of Rocks." 

My dog Holly, Fancy and me on a mesa at Watrous (La Junta.) Behind us you can see the profile of Wagon Mound 20 miles to the northeast.

Fancy and I at the base of Wagon Mound on the Cimarron Cutoff branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

Wagon Mound as seen from the north.

After Wagon Mound, wagon trains would have headed northeast across the open plains towards a landmark known as "Point of Rocks," a large mesa that jutted out onto the plains. Along their way they would have had to cross the Canadian River. A stretch along the river that offered a natural rocky bottom became know as the Canadian Crossing (El Vado de las Piedras.) There are many references to "Point of Rocks" in the journals and memoirs of folks who traveled the Santa Fe Trail. It was not only a vital navigation landmark but was also a popular camping site. In October 1849, James M. White, his wife Anne, their baby daughter and a black female servant, plus a handful of other men were attacked by Jicarilla Apaches as they camped near "Point of Rocks." All of the men were killed immediately but Anne White and her baby and the servant girl were captured and taken away. The story of these captives is a tragic one which I will only summarize here. When word of their capture reached Las Vegas, a search party was quickly formed. One of the party who went on the rescue mission was Kit Carson, who joined a company of dragoons led by Maj. William N. Grier. After reaching the massacre site, they trailed the indians east for 10-12 days. Eventually, after tracking the indians through occasional snow, the soldiers caught up with the Jicarillas but alas, not in time to save Anne White. Well, they were in time but Anne was killed just before her liberators could save her. The opportunity for a stealth attack was unfortunately lost (much to Kit Carson's disgust) and once the presence of the rescue party was detected, the indians killed Anne before she could be saved. Her body was found, still warm, with an arrow in her heart. Nothing was discovered of her baby or the black servant girl.  To those in the rescue party, Anne's death was probably a blessing. Her condition was grim and signs of trauma, starvation and disease were all about her body. That said, it sounded like she had held out hope for rescue. Some accounts have it that Anne had left clues for the trackers to follow. It seemed that Anne had even tried to escape when she realized that rescue was so close at hand. She may have even guessed (or hoped) that it was Kit Carson who was part of the party. As the story goes, near Anne's body was found a small book about the legendary mountain man and soldier. Kit Carson was famous in his own day and many a pulp novel had been written about his exploits (fact and fiction) which were very popular in the East. Anne had evidently read about this famous New Mexico citizen and perhaps even hoped that this heroic figure was somewhere out there, coming to her rescue.... which he was. 

Thanks to the kindness of Faye Gaines, the owner of the "Point of Rocks Ranch," I was lucky enough to be able to ride my horse Fancy around the "Point of Rocks" landmark. I could truly feel what it must have been like to be camped out there on the trail with vast, open views of the plains and mountains rolling out in every direction.    

Fancy and I in front of "Point of Rocks." Sadly this camera angle really dwarfs the rock formation, which actually towers above us.

My dog Holly, me and Fancy up in "Point of Rocks." Behind us you can see the flat open plains disappear into the horizon.

A lone grave marker of a long ago trail traveler stands in solitary memory of all those trail travelers who passed by this spot.

Wagon ruts near "Point of Rocks."

Antelope stand in front of the 'mirage' of "Point of Rocks," as seen from the northeast. Mirages were a very common phenomenon along the trail and many travelers made mention of them in their journals and memoirs.

I would like to say here that these stories of indian 'depredations' and attacks are very one-sided. Most of history is recorded by the white travelers of the trail and so it is told from their perspective. Violence was committed by both sides and, in truth, as we all know, more harm was done to the indians and their culture and their way of life by white man than was ever done to the masses of white settlers and traders who trespassed on and eventually seized their native lands.