Santa Fe Trail map.

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

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.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Santa Fe Trail book tour, part three.

I know I have posted these photos of Santa Fe Trail sites before on facebook, but with this blog I am trying to post them in chronological order. Fancy and I visited many Santa Fe Trail sites this spring for my "Into the Shadowlands" book tour and I am finally getting caught up with this blog. Although we have a few more sites to visit, I am waiting for the fall to resume our Santa Fe Trail adventures. This is part three. Part one took us from Santa Fe to Bernal (via Pigeon's Ranch, Kozlowski's, the Pecos Monument, San Miguel and the Pecos River.) Part two brought us from Bernal to Kearny Gap (via the village of Tecalote) with a view of Hermit's Peak. The next stop along the trail, heading in a northeast direction, would have been the town of Las Vegas. There are a couple of scenes in my book set in Las Vegas and it was fun trying to juxtapose this little town, past (1876) and present-ish (2010) for my story. Founded in 1835, Las Vegas was the first Mexican settlement of note for travelers traveling towards Santa Fe from the American states. Prior to 1835, that distinction had gone to the village of San Miguel along the Pecos River. Las Vegas was also the gateway to the plains. The route up until then (coming from Santa Fe) had been through a mountain pass. Basically the trail skirted the lower fringes of the Sangre de Cristo mountains on one side and rough tablelands with red mesas on the other. Once travelers came through Kearny Gap, they would have got their first glimpse of the plains rolling out as far as the horizon to the east. Las Vegas, nestled up against the mountains along the Gallinas River, had a wild and dangerous past, especially once the railroad came through in 1879. A great book to read about its infamous history (which includes characters such as Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James) is "Wildest of the Wild West" by Howard Bryan. During the trail years, the plaza in 'old town' was where multitudes of freight wagons congregated, loading and unloading their cargoes at the mercantile buildings that lined the square. At that time, the plaza was just a barren open space, its only ornament a windmill scaffold over a well. This windmill came to be known as the "hanging windmill" due to its use as a make-shift gallows by vigilantes. Once the railroad came through, most of the wagon traffic ceased and a 'new town' formed around the tracks a little further east from the old plaza. A park was planted in the middle of the old plaza and many of the adobe buildings were replaced with ornate brick Victorian structures. There are numerous references to Las Vegas by travelers of the trail. Not all of them complimentary! For travelers coming from the east, especially prior to 1846 when General Kearny and his "Army of the West" took Las Vegas for America in his first conquest in the war with Mexico, this would have been their first sight of the traditional humble New Mexican dwellings, which were made of adobe bricks.

Fancy and I standing in the old town plaza park. Behind us is the ornate Plaza Hotel on the northwest corner of the plaza.

The plaza prior to the railroad. As you can see it is just an open square. This photo is looking toward the southeast corner where Bridge Street now joins the plaza.

Another picture from prior to the railroad and the park. Looking down what is now W. National Ave toward the plaza. The plains to the east disappear into the distance. 

The "Hanging Windmill" at the center of the old plaza. This pic is looking towards the northeast corner. The building behind the windmill is where General Stephen Watts Kearny stood and made his speech when he and his army 'conquered' the town in August 1846. 

I won't even try to cover the history of Las Vegas in this blog, or the many stories and characters that unfolded and lived in this rugged little town on the edge of the plains. But in 1846, during America's war with Mexico and its march to fulfill what President James K. Polk called "Manifest Destiny," Las Vegas was the first Mexican settlement that General Stephen Watts Kearny and his "Army of the West" took and claimed  as American territory towards their final goal of reaching, and conquering, California. It was a peaceful take-over of a somewhat bewildered populace. Kearny stood on a roof top at the northeast corner of the plaza and read a proclamation to the frightened people before he and his army continued through Kearny Gap (later named for him) and onto Santa Fe. 

General Stephen Watts Kearny giving a speech to Las Vegas citizens from a roof top of Alcalde Maese's home in the plaza in August 1846. 

Fancy and I outside one of the buildings (the pink one) where Kearny gave his speech. There is another building (out of frame) that is situated right on the northeast corner. 

The speech Kearny gave to the citizens of Las Vegas when his army marched into New Mexico in 1846.

After leaving Las Vegas, trail travelers would have headed northeast towards La Junta (now called Watrous.) Although this stretch isn't quite the beginning of the plains, the flat grasslands certainly open up to the east, giving you an idea of the country ahead. One of my favorite books is called "Overland With Kit Carson" by George Douglas Brewerton. In it George beautifully describes his first impressions of "Buffalo Country" as seen from "the Mora" (another name given to early La Junta) in 1848. 

"Mere words are inadequate to picture forth the vast plains which are emphatically the "Great Prairies of the Far West." I am disposed to believe that the traveler feels this more fully in approaching them, as I did, from the westward than in the easier transition which is experienced in journeying toward them from the alternate hills and dales of the Missourian frontier, where the eye having no standard for comparison becomes familiarized to their peculiar formation, from almost insensible change in the nature of the ground. But here - where their western barriers, the Rocky Mountains, tower aloft like the gigantic coast of an inland sea; where majestic steeps, many of them snow-capped or robed in clouds, seem saying to the grassy waves which skirt their pine-clad bases, "So far shalt thou come, and at our feet shall thy green expanse be stayed" - it is here, I repeat, that the voyageur feels most fully that he is gazing upon an unfamiliar land, for the realization of which no previous experiences of travel could have prepared him.
      Clothed in the verdant livery of spring, or decked in the more luxuriant robes of early summer, they present the appearance of a sea of grass and flowers, save where some stream, fed by mountain snows, stretches across the landscape, marked by the trees which fringe its banks and rear their wall of foliage above an otherwise almost unbroken level."

George Douglas Brewerton, "Overland with Kit Carson."

 La Junta (Watrous) was/is nestled in a fertile valley where the Mora and Sapello Rivers meet, surrounded by pine clad hills and irrigated pastures. From early in the trail's history, several American pioneers set up businesses in what was then Mexican territory. During the 1840s Samuel Watrous (for whom the town was re-named after the railroad came through in 1879) built a home and trading post where the Mora and Sapello Rivers joined and Alexander Barclay built Barclay's Fort (a trading post) along the banks of the Mora River. Later, another La Junta pioneer, William Kronig, took over Barclay's Fort and built a ranch nearby, the Pheonix Ranch, which is still being run today. In the early 1850s, Fort Union was built 8 miles northwest of La Junta, along the Mountain Branch of the trail. With its construction, many of the local ranches grew grain and raised beef to supply the fort.

Fancy and I standing outside Samuel Watrous' house in Watrous, NM
 (formerly La Junta.)

A photo of the old Watrous Store and home taken back in the 1800s. Pretty much from the same spot!

 La Junta was a major gathering place and 'jumping off' point for wagon trains preparing to head to the American states.  It was also where the the two major branches of the trail, the Mountain Branch and the Cimarron Cutoff Branch divided or reunited, depending on which direction you were going. The Mountain Branch was longer but promised more available water and was safer from Indian attacks. The Cimarron Cutoff, the desert route, was shorter but water was scarce and during times of Indian troubles, was far more vulnerable. The two trails divided (or reunited) again in Kansas. During the times of Indian troubles, La Junta was a major rendezvous site for wagon trains headed for Missouri. Travelers would camp and wait until a larger caravan could be formed so they could travel the trail together (generally the Cimarron route.) In those days, they definitely felt there was safety in numbers.

Here is another quote by George Douglas Brewerton ("Overland with Kit Carson") when he passed through La Junta.

"As Independence is the eastern, so may the Mora be considered the western prairie port of the great Santa Fe trail. It is here that the returning caravans make their final preparations for the trip, and catch their last glimpse of even Mexican civilization. The Mora is therefore, during the season of travel, a halting-place of no little importance, and presents at times, when visited by the busy traders, quite a lively appearance; indeed during the summer of 1848 there was scarcely a day which did not witness the arrival or departure from this camping-ground of a fleet of those prairie ships, the unwieldy Santa Fe wagons." 

Fancy and I outside the Sapello Stage Station in Watrous (La Junta.) 
Once the 'home station' for the Sanderson and Barlow Stage it also hosted a post office and "Gregg's Tavern." The owner, George Gregg, was the son-in-law of Samuel Watrous. It is near this spot that the two branches of the Santa Fe Trail, the Mountain Branch and the Cimarron Cutoff Branch reunite, or separate, depending on which direction you were traveling.

View from Shadowlands Ranch in Watrous, NM. 
Behind these elk, you can see the Turkey Mountains.

Some of the mustangs at Shadowlands Ranch in Watrous, NM. 
Behind them you can see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Out there on the plain is Fort Union, 8 miles northwest of Watrous.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Into the Shadowlands book tour, part two.

Fancy and I hit a lot of Santa Fe Trail sites this spring (2018) on my "Into the Shadowlands" book tour. I have spent the last 3 months working on projects around my 'homemade' adobe house but have pretty much worn myself out. Time to catch up on the 1800s!! We still have a few Santa Fe Trail sites to hit but I think we will wait until the fall... when it is cooler.  But here is part two of our Santa Fe Trail tour. My last post left off at Bernal, (between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM.)

After leaving Ojo de Bernal, heading north along the Santa Fe Trail, trail travelers would have come to the tiny village of Tecalote (which means "owl" in Spanish.) Nestled along Tecalote Creek, under the flat-topped mesa known as Tecalote Mesa, this small cluster of rock and adobe buildings was once home to several businesses that catered to travelers of the trail, including a freight outfit owned by George Moore and David Winternitz, a commissary run by George Storz and, in later trail days, a U.S. Army forage station. The most famous of Tecalote's settlers though was Marian Russell, author of the beautiful and poignant memoir of trail days "Land of Enchantment." In 1866, Marian and her husband Richard opened a trading post at Tecalote.

Looking west towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Tecalote Mesa is clearly visible with the distant double-humps of Hermit's Peak a little further north.

Fancy and I standing outside the ruins of an old rock house. Marian Russell's Trading Post would have been built of similar material.

A burro standing in Tecalote Creek. The Santa Fe Trail crossed right near this spot.

After passing through Tecalote, travelers had a choice of a couple of branches of the trail that would ultimately lead them through a mountain pass to the town of Las Vegas and the beginning of the plains. Puerto del Sol (South Pass) was one of them and is now the route taken by both the AT&SF Railroad and the I-25 Interstate. The most common route though was one known as "Puerto Pedregosa" or "Kearny Gap." This site was scene to at least two major events in Santa Fe Trail history, and, due to its strategic location, no doubt countless lesser known events now lost to history. In 1821, American trader William Becknell accidentally 'bumped into' a force of Mexican soldiers and after a peaceful meeting, it led to the opening of the Santa Fe Trail between the United States and Santa Fe, which was then in Mexican Territory. In August 1846, during America's war with Mexico, General Stephen Watts Kearny, leading his "Army of the West," traveled into Mexican Territory along the Santa Fe Trail. The first settlement of note they encountered was Las Vegas, a community nestled along the Gallinas River. His army 'took' the town for America and thus Las Vegas was the first "conquest" in America's goal to expand it's territory all the way to the Pacific Ocean in fulfillment of what was termed "Manifest Destiny."  After "taking" (it was a peaceful take-over with no resistance) Las Vegas, Kearny's army headed southeast towards Santa Fe. The army passed through what was then known as Puerto del Norte (North Pass) along their way and Kearny left a small detachment of troops behind in the pass to protect his rear. Later, this gap was renamed for the conquering General.

Fancy and I standing at the northeast entrance to "Kearny Gap."

Multiple wagon ruts, going in a variety of directions, can be seen just south of Kearny Gap. 

Marker commemorating the major historic relevance of this site. 

Another historical marker.

Stephen Watts Kearny, leader of the "Army of the West."

It is around this point in the journey that the duel-humped summits of Hermit's Peak can be seen. Although not officially on the Santa Fe Trail, this distinct landmark would have been witnessed by all who traveled in the area. Hermit's Peak has a major role in my book "Into the Shadowlands" and so I feel it deserves a spot in this blog! Originally it was known as Tecalote Peak, but was later named for an Italian hermit who made a cave near the mountain's peak his home for three years. Giovanni Maria Augustini was a holy man and world traveler who was known to perform a number of cures and miracles. He traveled southwest along the Santa Fe Trail, arriving in Las Vegas in 1863. When word of his gifts attracted huge crowds, he fled to the cave on the peak for refuge. 

Fancy and I look out at Hermit's Peak and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.