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Stories from Canyons & Plains

A Trail Threaded With Silver

Money was there to be made in the Santa Fe trade. Bolts of cloth, canned goods, tools, firearms, ammunition, packed barrels of dried corn and apples, brass kettles, beads, and baubles moved west. Buffalo hides, beaver pelts, Navajo blankets, silver pieces, mules, and horses moved east. The trade on the Santa Fe Trail united two countries in trade.

One of the most wanted items in Santa Fe was cloth – calico, bleached, brown. Bought in St. Louis for perhaps 25 cents per yard, that same cloth could bring 5 dollars a yard in Santa Fe. A large trade wagon full of cloth could make a man wealthy.

One of the most wanted items in Santa Fe was cloth – calico

William Becknell’s first trip to Santa Fe was with pack mules. Early traders used teams of mules or horses to pull their wagons. But eventually oxen were found to be more suited: stronger, less likely to break down, and not prized as an item to be raided by Plains tribes.

Teams of six or eight or even ten oxen pulled the huge freight wagons loaded with goods, weighing in at 6,000 pounds. Drivers walked alongside the teams prodding them ever onward, 10, 15 or even 20 miles per day, on the 800+ mile journey for profits. (NPS photo)

In 1825, about $65,000 worth of trade goods were taken over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexican markets. In 1835, that number rose to $140,000; by 1846 it was $1 million; by 1859, $10 million; by 1862, $40 million!

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