Santa Fe Trail map.

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

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.


STAT TUNED FOR MORE OF OUR SANTA FE TRAIL TRAVELS!