800 Yards in a Day… Hardship on the “Mountain Branch” of the Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail broke into two branches in present-day western Kansas. The more traveled route, the Cimarron Branch, followed the Cimarron River, traveling through what is today the far southeastern corner of Colorado, the Oklahoma panhandle, and the northeast corner of New Mexico. This route was also known as the “Dry Route” since water was often scarce. Also, traveling through Comanche, Kiowa and Prairie Apache country, it could be more dangerous.
The other route, the Mountain Branch, continued to follow the Arkansas River, crossing that river in the vicinity of modern-day La Junta to reach the Purgatoire River and crossing the mountains via Raton Pass. Though more watered and safer, this route was longer and more difficult, especially crossing the pass.
Susan Magoffin, who kept a diary of her journey on the trail in 1846, wrote of the difficulties. From her diary entry for August 15, 1846:
… We came to camp about half an hour after dusk, having accomplished the great travel of six or eight hundred yards during the day.
“Still in the Raton, traveling on at a rate of half mile an hour, with the road growing worse and worse . . . Worse and worse the road! They are even taking the mules from the carriages this P.M. and half dozen men by bodily exertions are pulling them down the hills. And it takes a dozen men to steady a wagon with all its wheels locked—and for one who is some distance off to hear the crash it makes over the stones, is truly alarming. Till I rode ahead and understood the business, I supposed that every wagon had fallen over a precipice. We came to camp about half an hour after dusk, having accomplished the great travel of six or eight hundred yards during the day.”