Observations on the Gallego Diary
by
Mark Simmons

Reproduced with permission of Wagon Tracks editor
Wagon Tracks
Volume 7 February 1993 Number 2

     Publication by Michael L. Olsen and Harry C. Myers of the translated and annotated 1821 Gallego Diary in Wagon Tracks (November 1992) is certainly a landmark event in Trail studies. It resolves some old questions and raises new ones, but on the whole it is an exciting and eye popping discovery. Why someone had not found and used this document before is difficult to understand.

     Recently, after reading the diary, historian David J. Weber wrote me and said that since it placed the meeting of the Mexican and American parties at a location near Las Vegas, New Mexico, the theory I had advanced back in 1971 seemed confirmed. The theory, which appeared in my privately printed booklet, Opening the Santa Fe Trail, and was afterward reprinted in the Westport Historical Quarterly (1971) held that William Becknell had intended from the very beginning of his 1821 maiden trip to go directly to Santa Fe. That was in contrast to Josiah Gregg's statement, accepted by most later writers, that Becknell was bent on trading with the Comanches and only well into the trip, when he chanced to bump into a Mexican troop, was he persuaded to go on to Santa Fe. The Gallego Diary appears to demonstrate that, indeed, Mr. Becknell was making a beeline for New Mexico's capital, using a well worn Spanish trail that he'd picked up somewhere below the Raton Mountains.

     If I was right on this point, the diary shows that I was miles off target on another one, that is, the exact number of men in the Becknell Expedition. On June 25, 1821 he had advertised in the Missouri Intelligencer for the enlistment of 70 men to go upon the plains. In my aforementioned booklet, I had speculated that perhaps as many as 20 to 30 men had actually composed the final party. But the Gallego Diary conclusively establishes that the party numbered only Becknell and five companions.

     To me this is one of the most exciting and valuable new facts to come from the diary. With any luck, future research will turn up the names of the five men accompanying Becknell. Others have previously suggested that trappers Joseph R. Walker, William Wolfskill, and Moses Carson (eldest half brother of Kit) are possible candidates. However, at this time I know of no documentary evidence tying them or any one else definitely to the 1821 journey to Santa Fe, other than William Becknell himself.

     I would like to raise a question about Olsen and Myers's identification of Captain Gallego's Puertocito de la Piedra Lumbre which they contend is todays Kearny Gap, just south of Las Vegas. That is the point Gallego says he first encountered Becknell, so identifying the location precisely becomes a matter of some historical interest. "Puerto" means gap, and "puertocito" means little gap.

     The editors note that the stream that now flows through Kearny Gap is called Agua Zara Creek, but formerly it was known as Piedra Lumbre Creek. If that information is solid, then the Puertocito do la Piedra Lumbre surely ought to be our Kearny Gap. My information, however, is that Kearny Gap before it took that name in 1846, or shortly thereafter, was traditionally known as the Puerto del Norte and another gap several miles south, through which 1-25 now passes, was called Puerto del Sur, or in other words North Gap and South Gap. Furthermore, a third gap on the main trail existed about two miles southwest of Kearny (or North) Gap.

     This third one was the Puertocito Pedregosa (translated as Rocky Little Gap). It is shown, along with the other two nearby gaps, on the map in my guide, Following the Santa Fe Trail, page 178. The similarities between this name and that of Gallego's gap, I think, are striking. Both are called Puertocito. And in each case, the second element in the name has to do with "rock." Pedregosa signifies "rocky" and piedra lumbre literally means "lighting stone," but can specifically refer either to flint or milky quartz, probably because both were used in New Mexico with a steel to strike sparks in firemaking. Thus I'm asking, could Gallego's Puertocito de la Piedra Lumbre have evolved after 1821, ultimately to become the Puertocito Pedregosa?

     Similarities, while suggestive, are not in themselves valid historical evidence. They are merely red flags that warn us to reexamine the problem. In fact, as I indicated, Olsen and Myers may have properly identified Kearny Gap as the earlier Puertocito de la Piedra Lumbre. In any event, they have scored an outstanding coup in bringing the Gallego diary to light.
Used With Permission From:
Leo Oliva, WT editor

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