William Becknell "Father of the Santa Fe Trail" lived on a farm a few miles northwest of the Missouri town of Franklin. There was a spring very near Becknell's property, Boone Lick Spring. The spring and its saline water were sufficient to attract people from St. Louis and point east to come to the area and distill it for the salt it contained. They came so often that they created a trail and called it the Boonslick Road.
In the summer of 1821, William Becknell of Franklin, Missouri put a notice in the "Missouri Intelligencer" stating he was making up a party to go "westward, for the purpose of trading for horses and mules and catching wild animals of every description." On September 1, 1821, his party crossed the Missouri River at Arrow Rock and set out along what would become in a few years the Santa Fe Trail.
Franklin, located across the Missouri River from Boonville, was founded in 1816. It was one of the most flourishing towns west of St. Louis until 1826-27, when the Missouri river changed its course and washed the town away. After the Mighty Missouri washed Franklin away many of the residents moved to higher ground two miles to the north and started what they called New Franklin.
The Santa Fe Trail had several points of departure over the years. William Becknell, and his party started for Santa Fe in 1821 from Old Franklin, Missouri, the Original starting point of the Santa Fe Trail. Their return with substantial profits heralded the opening of the era of the Santa Fe Trail. They arrived back home on January 22nd, with their rawhide bags full of Mexican silver coins. According to legend, upon returning from his second trip to Santa Fe, William Becknell cut open the leather bags and silver coins rolled into the gutters along the streets. The excitement in area rose to an all time high. News of the overthrow of Spain had reached this frontier outpost months before, but nobody knew that the attitude of the Mexican government would be so friendly to American traders.
Though its reign as queen of the trail was short, Old Franklin holds an important place in the history of the Santa Fe Trail. For William Becknell's pioneering expeditions of 1821 and 1822 both were conceived and outfitted here. Many of the trail's great figures called Old Franklin and its envirouns home, including Becknell, M. M. Marmaduke, and Kit Carson. At the center of Main Street in Franklin, Missouri a marker sits that on one side has inscribed on it "The End Of The Boone's Lick Road" on the other side it states, "The Beginning of the Santa Fe Trail".
The town of Arrow Rock, incorporated in 1829, was a significant site on the Santa Fe Trail. Traders began outfitting the wagon trains to go to Santa Fe at this location after the flood destroyed Franklin. Arrow Rock Landing, located on the Missouri River by Arrow Rock, was in use from 1811 to 1927. Ruts of the road from the landing to the community of Arrow Rock may still be identified.
Santa Fe Springs is in the valley west of the landing at Arrow Rock. It is also known as Big Spring, a place that early traders, including William Becknell used as a point of departure on the trail, or stopped to rest and water horses and oxen.
Also in the town of Arrow Rock is a place called Huston Tavern, it was built around 1834 by Joseph Huston. Many who traveled on the Santa Fe Trail stopped here.
Outside of the hamlet of Petersburg you will find a DAR marker, the base of the marker reads "Cooper's Fort." Cooper's Fort was built during the war of 1812 for the protection of local settlers by brothers Benjamin and Sarshall Cooper. Benjamin led a party with pack mules to Santa Fe in 1822 at the same time Becknell was taking out the first wagon Train. Fort Cooper was lost to a flood in 1844, but another flood in the year of 1903 revealed the location of the old Fort.
Boonville, Missouri is mentioned as a starting point for some of the Santa Fe Trail caravans in the very early years of the Santa Fe Trail. Like many of the towns along the Missouri, Boonville had a landing where cargo could be unloaded from St. Louis steamboats and placed in freight wagons. A steep cobblestone street led upward from the landing to brick and frame warehouses where the freight could be stored.
From the town of Arrow Rock, the Santa Fe Trail went to the west to the town of Lexington, Missouri. Although the town of Lexington is seldom mentioned in connection with the Santa Fe Trail, Lexington has quite a connection. It was the center of the freight trade and company headquarters of such freight company's of Aull Brothers, John, James and Robert. Branch stores in Richmond, Liberty and Independence made this the largest business enterprise on the Missouri frontier and the first chain store in the state. Lexington was also headquarters for the freighting firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell. This freighting company hauled freight for civilian and the military in the 1850's.
Lexington sits atop a bluff on the south bank of the Missouri River. It to had a landing at the base of the bluff and once was a major shipping point for trade goods. Tour Lexington, Missouri, one of the trade centers of the Santa Fe Trail.
Fort Osage, located in the northeast corner of Jackson County, near the town of Sibley, Missouri, was the first occupation of the county by the United States and the most westerly and successful of the 28 such posts operated under the United States factory system. The Fort and its adjacent factory/trading post were constructed between September and November, 1808 by the St. Charles Dragoons and the First U.S. Infantry under the direction of William Clark, newly appointed Commander of Militia and Indian Agent for the Louisiana Territories, and under the command of Captain Eli B. Clemson.
The structures represented an established federal policy to regulate the rapidly growing fur trade, discourage British traders from the North and Spanish merchants from the South, and to provide protection for the new western settlements from the Osage and other tribes of the area. While supervising the construction of the Fort, Clark signed a treaty with the Great and Little Osage deeding to the Osage all territories west of a line beginning approximately 27 miles east of the mouth of the Kaw River and running south from the Missouri River to the Arkansas state line. In return, the Great and Little Osage removed their villages to the vicinity of the Fort and relinquished their claim to all lands east of this line.
During its brief history, the Fort hosted many important events and individuals. The trading house continued in operation until 1822, when the United States factory system was abandoned under pressure from the fur companies.
George Sibley, in July of 1825 used Fort Osage as mile post "0" to lead a party of U. S. government commissioners to survey of the Santa Fe Trail. The next summer, after negotiations with the Mexican government, the route was surveyed to Taos. Final surveys and corrections were completed in the summer of 1827. By this time the traders to Santa Fe had already marked their trail. The survey was useless to them. The mounds of dirt that the survey team used to mark the trail was all but gone from wind, rain and the huge herds of buffalo.
The field notes and maps of the survey team would have been valuable information to a newcomer of the trail, but they were put away in Washington and never used. Not until in later years when historians of the trail began to look for information did this useless survey and field notes of the time, become the backbone for the research of the Santa Fe Trail. About the only good the survey did was the August of 1825 treaties with the Osage and Kansas Indians. From that time on these tribes gave no serious trouble to the wagon trains and traders who went up and down the trail.
The log fort, reconstructed on the original site, it one of the must see places on the Santa Fe Trail. Blockhouse, soldiers quarters and the trading post are all on location. The trading post is stocked with trade goods of that time period. Part of the original foundation and walls can be seen. The living quarters of George Sibley and his wife contains period furnishings and a porch at the rear provides a overview of the Missouri River.
From the founding of Independence in 1827 until 1850 the town served as a main outfitting point on the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail for it's traders. Goods were shipped in by riverboats and transfered to freight wagons for the trip to Santa Fe. Two landings near Independence were used. The oldest being the Blue Mills Landing located about six miles to the northeast of Independence Square and Independence Landing about three and one half miles north of Independence Square. Blacksmiths, wagon and harness makers, livestock traders and local merchants all had a profitable business through these years.
From its founding in 1832, Westport began to encroach on the Santa Fe trade monopoly held by Independence. Westport's advantages were an upstream landing, avoidance of the difficult Big Blue River crossing, and more room for pasturage of draft animals. Coincidental with the great flood of 1844, which wiped out the Independence landing, Westport became headquarters for a number of ambitious merchants. By 1845 the tandem of Kansas City and Westport were fairly dividing the trade with Independence. Five years later Kansas City was the main terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. From Franklin to Westport, Westport remained the main shipping point longer than any of the places that preceded it to the east. Only Fort Leavenworth, Kansas rivaled Westport as the point of origination of wagon trains for travel to Santa Fe after 1850.
Economically, Kansas City and Westport were inextricably one from the beginning. At the first were the wharves and warehouses for the riverboats, at the second the mercantile establishments that supplied the traders. Within a few years the two were practically merged into one great emporium commanding a trade that dwarfed earlier efforts. Where a few hundred wagons had once traversed the prairies, now thousands embarked for Santa Fe, carrying millions of dollars worth of goods. The Santa Fe Trail became the life line to the great Southwest.
Government freighting comprised a large share of Kansas City's business in 1860 when the army depot supplying the West's military posts was moved there from Leavenworth. But the next year secession struck the Kansas/Missouri frontier, nearly killing the Kansas City trade. Until 1863, border disturbances disrupted the Kansas City market and most traders used the protected "Government Lane" from Fort Leavenworth and Leavenworth City to reach the Santa Fe Trail.
But Kansas City was the natural terminus of the trade and by 1865 it was again the center for the private traders. Its revival as a wagon freighting capital was short lived however, for in 1866 the railroad began moving west, and with it went the eastern terminus of the trail.
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