Kit Carson to Trinidad
Freighting Trip in 1870

     The Kansas Pacific Railway pushed westward out of Kansas in 1869, extending its tracks into Colorado Territory where the fledgling town of Kit Carson was in its first stage of development. In March 1870, the Southern Overland Mail Company move its offices to Kit Carson; and in short order, Kit Carson took on the appearance of its Kansas counterpart with the usual array of dance halls, gambling houses, and saloons, in addition to the more respectable business houses associated with the commission firms and the railroad.

     With both the stage and railroad headquarters relocated at Kit Carson, a stage route was developed to Fort Lyon. Running due south from Kit Carson, the new road connected with the established route of the Fort Wallace-Fort Lyon Road at the Big Sandy station and continued on to Fort Lyon, a distance of 55 miles. There, it struck the Bent's Fort Road of the Santa Fe Trail.[1]

     The stage route is not to be confused with the freight road developed by George McBride and Dick Wootton, principal owners of the Kit Carson and Fort Union Bridge Company. The freight road ran south from Kit Carson to a point a few miles north of the Big Sandy station. From that location, it departed southwest to a ranch on a stream identified by Ado Hunnius as Big Creek. From the ranch, the road turned south to Bent's Old Fort where it merged with the Bent's Fort Road.[2]

     The stage route to Fort Lyon and its freighting counterpart to Bent's Old Fort became, for a three -year period, the eastern ends of the Santa Fe Trail. From those two points, stage and freight traffic pursued the Bent's Fort Road to Fort Union and Santa Fe. Both roads met their demise in 1873 when the Kansas Pacific built a spur from Kit Carson to Las Animas, Colorado.[3]

     There is a paucity of information with respect to the freight route. However, a brief glimpse of the road is found in "A Diary of a Freighting Trip from Kit Carson to Trinidad in 1870," P. G. Scott's account of his 21-day trip. Additional insights into the Bent's Fort Road were detailed by Scott as he proceeded southwest of Bent's Old Fort to Trinidad, Colorado, and on into New Mexico Territory.[4]

     Scott was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1841. At age 13 he moved with his family to Canada. There he attended school and prepared for a teaching career. However, when his health broke, his doctor advised him to go "west" in search of a better climate for his lung trouble.[5]

     Excerpts from Scott's diary begins with the entry for August 17, 1870:

     "Left Atchison August 17 (1870) at 6:10 A. M. and arrived at (Kit) Carson at 7:30 on the 18th. The country looks pretty well till near Lawrence. Stayed at Lawrence for 8 1/2 hrs and got acquainted with an Irish-American woman. Promised to call when I go back. Saw nothing of the country will next day and boy that time we were past all farming. About 9:00 o'clock saw a herd of about fifty buffalo and continued seeing them now and then till after noon, when we saw no more. Nothing after that but prairie dogs. Saw lots of dugouts and lots of old ones. Saw Indians or Mexicans at one place piling wood and their oxen stampeded. The land is all alkali, having an appearance as if salt were sowed on it. In the buffalo range the prairie is literally covered with bones and carcasses in every stage of decay. There is actually nothing to describe abut the route here, prairies with scarcely any grass, dugouts at every station. Saw two antelopes, some buffaloes, etc. Everyone carries a pistol apparently and when buffaloes crossed the track a great number were drawn to get a shot at them, and one man with a carbine, hit one we thought."

     Atchison, Kansas, was the second city to be organized in Kansas Territory. An important place in the development of western-bound traffic, it served as the base for the Butterfield Overland Despatch and, for a time, as the eastern terminus of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.[6]

     Lawrence, Kansas, established in 1854, was a popular stop on the Kansas Pacific Railway. How Scott traveled from Atchison to Lawrence remains moot. In 1870 there was no rail service between the two towns. Perhaps he traveled by stage or steamboat from Atchison to Kansas City and then westward to Lawrence.[7] Alkali refers to a powdery white mineral, a soluble salt, which spoils drinking water.[8]

     "Slept in Music's store at Carson and thus saved $1.00. Looked around in the morning and what piles of wagons, oxen and Mexicans. Not one word of English can they speak. Was disappointed in getting out with Romaro, and went to hunt another train, but if I had not got a blacksmith to speak to them I would never have found where one of them was bound. There are quite a number of wooden houses, lots of tents, dugouts, etc., with plenty of saloons, drinking and gambling. These Mexicans are small, thin, dark, dirty, ragged, and generally ugly looking beings."

     Music's store had reference to the commission house of Webster, Musick and Cuniffe.[9] Romaro probably refers to Eugene or Vincente Romero. Eugene served as and agent for such commission houses at Otero, Sellar and Company and Chick, Browne and Company, both which were located at Kit Carson. Vincente transported freight for the Fort Union Quartermaster Department.[10]

     Here and elsewhere, Scott's observations of his Mexican companions are negative. Similar prejudiced characterizations were typical of other Anglos. Beyond their physical appearance, others were quick to impugn their character. Janet Lecompte quoted Charles Bent as an example: "The Mexican character is made up of stupidity, obstinacy, ignorance, duplicity, and vanity." Joseph Gregg, Rufus Sage, and George Baxter described Mexicans in similar terms.[11]

     "Great numbers of 'prairie schooners,' oxen, tents, etc., all around here like 100 gypsy encampments. No fancy cooking apparatus. I wonder how I will like it. I am going with Dolore Pathea. Got acquainted with Mr. L. F. Warder, Fort Union, New Mexico, and he says that if I had not had my passage paid, he would have taken me with him and not charged me a 'red.' He gave me his address and told me to call if ever I went his way. I will have to stay here another night. Mr. ------------ made the bargain for me and I pay $10 and gave the half in advance."

     The identity of Pathea has not been found. This may be a misspelling or unclear reading of Perea, a family long engaged in trade between New Mexico and Missouri. Luther F. Warder, native of Missouri, was probably a civilian employee at Fort Union at the time. He was a member of the Mora County (New Mexico) Stockgrowers Association in 1881. He died in Colfax County, NM, in 1925 at age 87. Red is an abbreviation of red cent, a large copper coin minted 1793-1857. In colloquial terms, it had reference to a trivial amount.

     "Started from Carson at 7 o'clock Saturday, August 20th, and in one-half hour came to a sandy bottom where there were several mule wagons stuck, but by dint of whipping and shouting they got through. In our train they put nine yoke of oxen to one wagon but it took a great deal of cracking of these terrible bullock whips before we got through. The 'lash' of these whips is about 12 to 14 feet long and the handle about two feet with a buckskin 'cracker' and the crack of them is like a pistol going off. These fellows can swing their whips round their heads and strike a terrible blow."

     Train was the shortened form of wagon train, the usual designation for a caravan. The literal meaning of train refers to something which trails behind such as a bride's train. Mexican oxen were typically smaller than their American counterparts. Thomas Burns, an early settler in Kansas Territory, described them as 'small Mexican cattle, many of them black or black-and-tan in color and they all have short horns.'[12]

     James Mead concurred with Scott's assessment of the Mexicans' skill with the whip. He wrote, "The drivers were well known as bull 'whackers' mostly semi-Indian, half civilized, brown skinned, with hair of jet hanging on their shoulders. wielding lashes with such skill as to cut a rattlesnake's head off at twenty feet, or cut through the hide of a refractory ox."[13] Contrary to the Mexican use of the whip, Tom Cranmer advised American freighters, "I would therefore most emphatically denounce the practice of beating oxen under all circumstances."[14]

     Scott's "crack of them is like a pistol going off" is not without scientific validation. In 1959, U. S. Army scientists set up instruments and measured the speed of a popper (cracker) as it banged. At the instant of the noise, they discovered the popper exceeded the speed of sound, thus the noise results from breaking the sound barrier.[15]

     "Quite cold; could wear winter clothes. When we got through the sand the oxen were turned out to graze about 9 A. M. They then proceeded to gather dry dung to make a fire with which to do some cooking - and such cooking. If I can partake of it I need never complain of being fastidious. I do not think these Mexicans ever wash, and the hand that piled up the dung for the fire and lit it was soon up to the wrists in the dough for the 'cakes.'"

     In the absence of wood, buffalo dung (chips) provided a ready source of fuel. The French called the manure bois de vache, wood of the cow.[16]

     "Dined at 11 o'clock on coffee, cakes, and fresh meat, cooked in a deep frying pan; each got some coffee in a tin cup and all hands sat round the frying pan and dipped their bread in the pan among the gravy, or rather water and red pepper, and picked the pieces of meat out with their not over clean hands. The old Mexican boss apologized to me for having no plates but on looking he said, 'By gosh, yes, I've found one,' and so I had it to eat my meat off of, the old fellow rubbing it clean with his own hands.

     "The country round here - Carson - is a little rolling but is almost pure sand, grows a little short dry grass, almost too short for animals to get a bite at all, and a plant that looks like southernwood and which does not grow very high but is very plentiful. The water is mostly alkali and bad for stock. In the creeks there is only a waterhole here and there. At Carson they have bored 1,200 feet and have not got pure water yet."

     The short grasses observed by Scott included buffalo grass and grama grass. Colonel Richard Dodge described both: "The Arkansas Valley at Fort Lyon is covered with tall, fine-looking grass, which the large herds of domestic cattle will scarcely touch, preferring to go eight or ten miles away from the river to feed upon the buffalo-grass of the high plain. Another curious fact in this connection is that the cattle under such circumstances return to the river for water only on alternate days. Another good grass is called 'bunch-grass.' Neither this nor the buffalo can be cut for hay, which, if required, must be cut from the taller but coarser and greatly less nutritious grasses of the bottoms."[17] The southernwood identified boy Scott was not a true sage, although it is commonly called sagebrush. It is Artemsia nova, a member of the wormwood family.[18]

     "Sabbath, August 21st. Not much like Sabbath in this wilderness, and when they wake in camp it will be less like it. How I would like to be taken home for one day, but as that cannot be I must try to keep Sabbath on the plains. Camped last night at 8 1/2 o'clock and had supper, which was like dinner, only as our camp was on a ridge of pure sand and a strong wind was blowing, it had quite a mixture of sand in it. I went to sleep in a wagon at 10 P. M. and some time in the night the old Mexican asked me if I would stay or go on with the wagon as they were going to double for a two hours' trip through sand. I said I would go on. Soon I heard the whips crack and the shouting begin and between sleeping and waking felt them going down hill and heard them stick, etc., for, it seemed to me, a long time, when the old man again put in his head and told me they were going back and asked if I would watch the wagon.

     "Got up at 5 A. M. and found the wagon I slept in one-half mile from the rest, fast in the sand. Found the rest of the wagons, with 22 more, by the dry bed of a stream with holes dug where water stands. This water is strongly alkali so I had a good wash, but a poor drink."

     Notice Scott's concern for the Sabbath, the first of several times he remarked upon keeping the religious day. Sabbath was a formality not often observed by freighters, Mexican or American. There is one outstanding exception. The Russell, Majors and Waddell Company prohibited work on Sunday. Included in the company's instructions to its personnel was the following admonition: "We expect our trains to observe the Sabbath, and whenever an opportunity occurs to hear preaching, embrace it."[19]

     Frontier travelers often found water to be scarce. A common practice was to dig a hole in a dry stream bed creating a reservoir into which water would seep. Such is demonstrated in Thomas Lester Bryant's account at Rock Creek in eastern Kansas. He wrote, "Spades were put to active service and in 4 feet we found the best of water."[20]

     "Monday, 22d. Started last night at 3 1/2 P. M. to take the wagons over the next 3 miles. They put 11 teams to one wagon and by dint of a great deal of whipping the last one containing my bed was got through about 12 P. M. I got acquainted with an American on the camping ground and learned a few words of Spanish. I got my supper from him. They were waiting to recover five stray mules. For dinner we had cakes fried in gravy, some pork fried, water put in the gravy and one cupful of red pepper, making a mixture hot enough to excoriate the mouth of any one but a Mexican. I ate a little of it. Walked out here last night over the sand. I did not follow the road but took a straight course, being directed by the sight of the wagons, sometimes, and the cracking of the whips.

     "Got up this morning at 6 1/2 A. M. and find we are camped on sand with sand as far as can be seen all round, with a very little dry grass, and while breakfast is cooking I write this. I see more pepper sauce preparing. While writing an old Mexican, belonging to a train which is camped beside us , came and looked over my shoulder. Last night I saw 14 yoke of oxen drawing one wagon."

     Notice Scott's reference to the "road." In general, frontier routes were known as roads, sometimes traces, infrequently trails. Scott made mention of "11 teams to one wagon," no doubt because of sandy terrain. William Bell reported a similar situation in 1867 with a Mexican train on the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road: "When one of these wagons stuck fast in a gulley, it was amusing to see the enormous amount of brute force which was applied to pull it out. The oxen from two of the wagons which had passed safely across would be attached to the one in difficulties, making a continuous string of from eighteen to twenty yoke. To accomplish even this, usually required an amount of swearing and torturing on the part of the drivers which would be startling to the nerves of men not reared on the plains. When all was ready, and a dozen 'bull-whackers' had taken their places along each side of the line of oxen, a frightful shout would fill the air, followed by the fierce cracking of whips on the devoted hides, and the usual chorus of endearing terms."[21]

     "Tuesday, 23rd. Started last night at 3 P. M. and were soon out of the sand when we had good roads but vegetation is much the same. It hardly ever rains here,'ergo' things cannot grow. Very dusty, so I rode most of the time till we camped for supper. Saw a few antelope. Stopped 2 hours, starting at 9 P. M. It was nice and cool so I walked, then I drove for the boss. At 1 A. M. a wheel broke. The boss stayed with the wagon and they hitched the oxen to the 'sutler' wagon and I drove, walking all night. We got to water at 5 A. M. , the cattle very tired, and men too. After all it is only stagnant holes in a kind of creek bed and is not good. I wish I had a good drink. Made 27 miles since 3 P. M. yesterday, going slow most of the time. I saw and old Mexican catching lice on his shirt; he came and sat down right beside us and did it, taking his shirt off and going over it carefully. I also see a few scrubby trees by the water, the first I have seen within 200 miles of here."

     Ergo is an archaic word from Latin meaning therefore, hence. Scott's preparation for a teaching career equipped him with a vocabulary uncommon on the frontier. Sutler was the original title of the civilian appointed to operate a retail business at army posts. In 1867, the designation was changed to post trader. Regardless, the title of sutler continued in unofficial use for some time. Apparently, the sutler wagon was the vehicle used to transport goods from the railhead to Fort Union by someone who contracted with the post trader, perhaps Pathea. the record indicates that Fort Union's post trader from April 17, 1866, to April 17, 1869, was C. W. Adams. His successor was John C. Dent, October 6, 1870, to April 12, 1878. No evidence remains as to an interim post trader.[22]

     "Wednesday, 24th. Stayed in the same spot all night. Retired at 10 P. M. and slept till 7:30 A. M. Had breakfast at 10 A. M. Saw a new way of leave taking by embracing. The men were busy last night fixing the wheel, putting in new spokes. Positively nothing new. The wind blows a gale today and I wish we were off. Breast a little worse today and very bad cough. 'Tell it not in Gath.' I ate a piece of prairie dog and half cooked at that, this for supper last night. The water is so alkaline at our last watering place that they think it has killed and ox belonging to a train which is camped beside us. They have been skinning it and have brought the meat in, going to eat it I suppose. Helped to 'set' the tire on the wheel that was broken, a kind of a rough job."

     American caravans also began their "nooning" at that hour. Tom Cranmer wrote, "Corral about 10 o'clock, and lay by four hours; here you rest during the heat of the day, but if you get breakfast before the morning drive, you will be in the dust, and the heat of the day."[23] Scott's use of the word embracing is cryptic. One meaning of the word is encircling. Scott meant that the wagons drawn up in a circle were dispatched in a circuitous manner as they departed. Scott's reference to "Breast a little worse today and very bad cough' confirms his lung disorder, tuberculosis, known as consumption in the nineteenth century. 'Tell it not in Gath' is an Old Testament quotation from II Samuel 1:20. Evidently, Scott felt he should not make a public complaint about his health; so he confided to his diary. As to the prairie dog, during his first trip to Santa Fe, William Becknell "killed and sampled the flesh of one of these rodents and pronounced it strong and unpalatable."[24]

     "Thursday, 25th. Started at 5 P. M. from our last camping ground, traveled 2 hours, had supper, then traveled 3 hours more. I drove part of the time. Camped for the night at 12 P. M. Started again in the morning and got to water at 12 M. Saw a few ducks in it. Had a wash. The water is salt. Two more trains camped beside us. The oxen when together number 106. Have had no breakfast so far, but got a piece of bread. Had an invitation from the old man to go to his place. We had a wood fire to cook supper last night, having brought some in a wagon. The very smell of the wood burning brought back old times to memory."

     Whenever possible, wood or chips would be gathered along the way and saved for the campfire. James Mead recalled, "Underneath each wagon a net was slung, made of hides or sacks sewn together, filled with buffalo chips for fuel, or sometimes, a log of driftwood was swinging."[25]

     "The men were busy with their cattle while I sat looking into the fire and thinking, not 'building castles in the air,' but looking at the ruins of those that had fallen as I thought, but caught myself rebuilding before I knew - vain work! Thinking of the time I used to sit by the fire in the sugarbush when Jane and I worked so hard to make sugar. Those times are gone never to return, never! To look back they seem to have been pleasant times, though I thought them hard enough then. I would love to see Canada again in health, and all the dear friends it contains. God grant that I may. Slept well last night. The country dry and barren as usual. I told the boss that I saw ducks, when he took his rifle and went out and shot one."

     Cattle was a common designation for oxen. Sometimes, they were called working cattle to distinguish them from animals used for beef or dairy products. Evidently, Scott was reminiscing about a long lost love in the Canadian woods where he and someone made sugar, perhaps made love.

     "Friday, 26th. Got to the Arkansas River, a little before sundown and camped beside Bent's Fort, an old Indian trading post. The fort is built of sundried brick, in a square with houses leaned up against the wall on the inside. The wall is about 10 feet high and the roofs of the shanties slope inward. The stables occupy one side of the square. Several lines of stage cross here and there is a P. O. in which I put a letter. There is a large herd of horses and mules and 400 cattle belonging to Price who lives at the fort. In the inside there is a large yard where they run in the stage, etc. The roofs of the houses are made of poles covered with a thin stratum of clay and not calculated to hold out water I should think. They of the fort say it is 55 miles to Carson."

     At the time of Scott's arrival, Bent's Fort was a stage stop on the Southern Overland Mail line. There, the branch line to Pueblo started.[26] The station was operated by a Mr. Price. He and his partner, Mr. Lander, were local cattlemen.[27]

     "The river where we crossed it is in two branches, each as large as the Maitland at Codirich. It runs quite rapidly, is clear and has a fringe of trees along its banks most places and a narrow strip of green grass, behind which rise sand bluffs. The bed of the river is sandy and we stuck, of course, and after trying 20 yoke of oxen in vain, we got help, and by uncoupling the two wagons that are drawn behind each other we got through. As the water is quite deep the drivers had to strip to their work. Had a piece of melon, some green corn, and onions for supper, also tasted buckwheat mush without salt. Slept well, and got up at sunrise but do not feel very well today."

     "Maitland at Codirich" refers to Maitland River, which flows into Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, where the town of Godirich is located. The wagons crossed the Arkansas River near Bent's Fort to avoid the toll at the bridge a few miles upstream.

     "Saturday, 27th. Started last night near sundown and traveled 5 miles along the bank of the river. The land is barren right to the water's edge in most places, only a little dry grass. Camped near where there is a bridge across the river; a very common wooden affair. The men lives in a little flat roofed house with a kraal (corral) beside it. He charges $!.00 toll for a wagon and when the stream is high it cannot be forded. He also has a great many cows. We saw a great many of them today with calves at foot. Our crowd cooked no dinner yesterday and some of us got our suppers at a neighboring camp. I do not know how the rest did. I retired at 9 1/2 P. M. and slept well, though the wind blew hard and we had a little rain. I got up at 7 A. M. , had breakfast and we started at 8 A. M. Saw glimpses of the river for two hours. I drove most of the forenoon as the old man was out hunting. We camped at 11:30 A. M. at a waterhole in a creek bed, but the water is too dirty to wash. Here we met the boss and had dinner. I feel a little better today. Saw Pikes Peak and Greenhorn Mountains very plain, looking the same as those I fancied I saw before."

     The toll bridge built by McBride and Wootton had charges, according to Morris Taylor, of fifty cents per wagon at low water, not more than $1.50 during other times.[28] The mountains seen by Scott were Pikes Peak and Spanish Peaks, some 70 miles in the distance.

     "Sabbath, 28th. I drove the oxen most of the afternoon. We traveled 18 miles yesterday. We came to a ranch, two miles from out camping ground, where there is a well. We drew water and drank and also filled our kegs. The water had not a very good taste, but it was clean and cool and on the whole was the best drink I have got since I left Lawrence. We camped at dark and I had a wash and supper and then retired about 9 1/2 P. M. Did not sleep very well till next day. Got up at 6 A. M. and found them hitching up. Started at 7 A. M. The land seems nearly as barren as ever but the bluffs begin to be partly covered with low bushy cedars. The road is very dusty and it is not possible to get out of it. Sabbath makes no difference to anyone here as far as I have seen yet. Traveled most of the day close to the sand bluffs, following the course of a creek bed. Camped at 11 1/2 A. M. by the side of a salt creek and close to a ranch. Two hunters joined us in the forenoon. They and the boss went up to the ranch, and brought back some curds, melons, and green corn, also a little meat. They could not wait till dinner was ready but fell to and ate the curds. corn, etc., as soon as they came back. It is rather amusing to see the effect the fresh meat has had on all hands but the old boss. I guess he has eaten too much carrion in his life to be so easily affected. I have a headache today. I wonder what the people in Canada, in my old home are doing. They will manage to keep Sabbath a little better than they do here."

     The ranch Scott mentioned was the Iron Spring station established in 1861 about forty miles southwest of Bent's Fort. The water there had a high iron content. Such is in keeping with Scott's complaint of the water, "had not a very good taste." [29] "Ranch" was derived from the Spanish rancho, a small ranch. Throughout the West, a ranch, often spelled ranche, designated any isolated place of habitation. Along frontier roads, ranches originated to cater to the needs of travelers. Sometimes called road ranches or trading ranches, they often served as mail stations. Ranch and station were often used in a synonymous fashion.

     The cedar mentioned by Scott is actually juniper. Then, as now, people in the Southwest refer to the species as cedar. Blevins described the tree as, "stunted, shaggy, twisted."[30] The creek bed mentioned by Scott was Timpas Creek which flows into the Arkansas at present La Junta, Colorado. The salt creek noted by Scott referred to the presence of alkali. The second ranch identified by Scott was Hole-in -the-Rock station about fifteen miles southwest of Iron Spring.[31] Curds are the coagulated part of milk produced in the making of cheese. Again Scott refers to his health, "I have a headache today."

     "Monday, August 28th. Camped at dark last night and had supper about 9 P. M. I retired near ten and slept well though it was quite cold. Got up at daylight and had a good wash and so had one of the hunters. Since yesterday noon the land is more rocky, the bluffs higher and more abrupt and covered with a denser growth of trees, mostly cedar. The lower land has greener grass and there are more dry water-courses. The road is much more uneven and looks as if it had been very wet some time ago. The look of the country has improved today. It is fully as rocky but the trees are in patches and strips in the plains and their short stems and round bushy tops reminds me of an old orchard; while perhaps a pile of rocks nearby answers for houses. Saw a shepherd's fire last night; heard the sheep bleat and the shepherd shouting and singing, and in this forenoon's travel we saw 4 large flocks of sheep. These men must have a very lonely time. I don't envy them a but. This morning I saw the mountain at the foot of which Trinidad is situated. It is 2 1/2 or 3 days distant and seems quite high. I wonder what luck lies at the foot of it for me."

     Scott's reference to the "plains" is instructive. The plains are populated by short grasses as opposed to the prairie which is the home of the tall grasses. Prairie is derived form the French with reference to meadow, a place of tall grass. Generally speaking, the short grass country begins in central Kansas and extends westward to the Rocky Mountains.

     "Camped after 3 1/2 hours' travel near a little shanty, but built of stone. I drove all forenoon, the boss being hunting. We drove the cattle to water at a hole beside a pile of rocks. We saw some rabbits and the boys killed one with a stone. Our gang seems fully as dirty, ill supplied with provisions, and careless about cooking as any I see. We often get only two meals per day, a piece of cake in the hand being the third. I feel the pain in my breast today pretty bad."

     Notice that Scott made a mistake in dating the diary. He wrote Monday, August 28. He should have written August 29. Notice he complains again about his health.

     "Tuesday, 30th. Drove the oxen all day yesterday, the boss being hunting. He and one of the men who joined us the other day brought in three antelope, nice and fat they were. Camped for supper and had some half-cooked antelope and started again and drove part of the night. After about an hour the boss drove and I went to sleep in the wagon and slept till day. Had more antelope for breakfast, started and drove 4 1/2 hours. I got a sight of Trinidad. The boss pointed it out to me at the foot of a mountain and by the side of a stream. Killed a rattlesnake on the road and saw snow near the top of a mountain. Had an invitation from the boss to go to his place when I pleased and stay as long as I liked. As we came down into the valley we saw corn and wheat by the side of the river, the first I have seen since I left Lawrence. There are no fences that I can see. Gave the boss 50 cents with which he bought curds and they are busy eating them now. The land has been more destitute of grass today than it was yesterday. There are patches of wild sunflowers now right beside the grain but not half as large as I saw in Kansas near the Missouri River. Drove all forenoon and feel very much fagged. Still I am a good bit better than I was. Lots of mountains to right, left, and in front, peak rising beyond peak."

     The mountains Scott mentioned were the Raton Mountains. Trinidad, which Scott saw at a distance, had its 1859 origins with a saloon operated by Gabriel Gutierrez and blacksmith shop run by Joe Walker. In 1861, John Witlock, Chief Surgeon of the New Mexico Volunteers, laid out a townsite of five streets.[32]

     Once again , Scott expressed displeasure with his health, "feel very much fagged."

     "September 1st. (August 31st.) Our train camped near the banks of the Picketwire. I saw some Mexicans threshing wheat by driving sheep round on it while it is spread on a hard mud floor, the stack of loose wheat being built in the center. No farming without irrigation. The wheat is miserable looking and the corn more miserable still. A great deal of it will not be worth gathering. These Mexicans are a miserable looking set, living in miserable looking houses (mud) with poor crops. I believe they are content if they can keep the life in without attempting more. A few sheep and goats, a few asses, and sometimes a few cows, and stock cattle - that is the more wealthy - and we have the sum and substance of the Mexican wealth. There are a few low trees along the river; and, along the bottom, there are ditches for irrigation. I left the train 4 1/2 below Trinidad and walked up. I found that Mr. Rice was not at home. I inquired about work and could have got heavy work but could hear of no light job. Finally I was directed to Mr. Sayer who lives in New Mexico. I went with him. Trinidad is built on the east bank of the Picketwire. The houses are nearly all built of doby, of one story and have a mean appearance. The people are nearly all Mexican, the Americans being nearly all business men or gamblers. Trinidad is at the foot of a peak called 'The Devil's Tea Table.' I got my trunk into Mr. Sayer's wagon and we started at near twelve o'clock and traveled nearly all the way among the mountains, the Raton spur. We saw a few patches of grain and a few Mexican huts and then nothing but peak after peak, some quite high, others quite low and covered with grass. These mountains are covered mostly with pine trees, scrubby and pithy, not being much use for anything as they are full of knots and won't split. a few willows and cottonwoods along the creeks and beautiful grass in the valleys make a few really beautiful spots. The grass being short makes them look like a shaven lawn, and with company I could have wished to spend a while in one of these romantic places."

     Picketwire refers to El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio, the River of Lost Souls in Purgatory. The Spanish legend is that the river was named for some killed somewhere along the stream's course, and without absolution were condemned to purgatory. In time, the French shortened the name to Purgatoire; and later Americans called the river Picketwire.[33] The mud houses observed by Scott were made of adobe. Elsewhere, he refers to the building material as "doby," an Anglo abbreviation for adobe.[34]

     The Reverend Elijah J. Rice came to Las Animas in 1869 and established the Methodist Episcopal Church. Subsequently, he opened the city's first public school, Rice Institute. He left a promising career in Kansas, serving on the faculty of the University of Kansas and later as president of Baker University. Like Scott, he came "west" to seek a better climate for his consumptive condition. Notice that Scott inquired as to the possibility of light work. evidently, he was not able to engage in strenuous labor.[35]

     Smith A. Sayers leased some land from Lucien Maxwell near the south end of Raton Pass in1868. There, he established a forage station for the army at Willow Spring.[36] The mountain referred to by Scott as the Devil's Tea Table was Fisher's Peak, originally called Raton Peak.[37]

     The pine trees noted by Scott were pinons, common to the canyon country of the Southwest.[38]

Scott:      "September 4th. came to Sayer's on the night of August 31st and did not feel very well next day. I did not do a great deal; helped him to fix a bed on the 'bar' and found sawing and planning rather more than I was able for. Next day I went with Job Sayers to the Sugarete River to gather plums. We were gone nearly all day and got a good few but they are not yet ripe. I would have enjoyed myself very well if I had been gathering them for some one at home. . . ."

     Scott's health evidently prevented him from "sawing and planning" or any hard labor. The plum trees of which Scott wrote were Prunus Americana, described as follows: "shrub or small tree 25-30 feet high and rarely 12 inches in diameter; trunk short, usually dividing near the ground; crown broad, with many spreading branches; usually spreading by shoots form the roots into dense thickets."[39] The acorns Scott noted refer to the fruit of the pinon tree called pinon nuts. The nuts were considered a delicacy by both Indians and Mexicans. Pinon is a Spanish word, literally pine nut.[40]

     "Wednesday, September 7th. Not much taking place but everything about the usual way. Trains passing and repassing every day, oxen or mules. 340 soldiers passed here yesterday enroute for Fort Union. They were the hardest looking set of soldiers I ever saw, dirty and ragged, their toes sticking through their boots, etc. Their officers ordering them about very sharply and they very tired looking and travel worn. Some Mexicans came along today with asses and large packs of apples and they charged very high for them."

     So ends the brief diary of P. G. Scott, which chronicles his travel on the freight road from Kit Carson to Bent's Fort and on to Willow Spring on the Bent's Fort Road of the Santa Fe Trail. After a brief sojourn in New Mexico, Scott moved to Trinidad; and in the following year, he made his way to Las Animas, Colorado.[41]

     Even the most casual reader will notice two concerns expressed by Scott, the Sabbath and his health. In Las Animas, he was afforded a semblance of society wherein the Sabbath could be properly observed, and somewhere along the way he regained his health. Upon his death in 1930, he was lauded as follows: "He was for many years cashier and later president of the Bent County Bank at Las Animas and took a prominent part in the development of the Arkansas Valley."[42]

     Scott was not unlike others who preceded him on the Santa Fe Trail for health's sake, namely Josiah Gregg and Matthew Field. Gregg recovered his health to write the time honored Commerce of the Prairies. Field, a one time thespian and would-be poet, made his mark with the New Orleans Picayune which published his account of Santa Fe Trail travels, later published in Matt Field on the Santa Fe Trail collected by Clyde and Mae Reed, and edited by John E. Sunder. Scott's little diary, not will known, nevertheless provides a singular view of the freight road from Kit Carson to Bent's Fort plus details of the Bent's Fort Road not generally known, i.e., Fisher's Peak called the Devil's Tea Table.


  1. Janet Lecompte, "The Mountain Branch: Raton Pass and Sangre de Cristo Pass," The Santa Fe Trail: New Perspectives (Denver: The Colorado Historical Society, 1987), 63. This variant of the Santa Fe Trail was not known as the Mountain Pass during the historic period. Rather, it was called the Bent's Fort Road.

  2. David K. Clapsaddle, "The Fort Wallace-Kit Carson-Fort Lyon Roads," Wagon Tracks, 8 (February 1994): 11-14.

  3. Ibid., 13.

  4. P. G. Scott, "A Diary of a Freighting Trip From Kit Carson to Trinidad in 1870," The Colorado Magazine, 8 (July 1931): 146-154.

  5. "Editorial Notes," Ibid.

  6. Wayne C. Lee and Howard C Raynesford, Trails of the Smoky Hill (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1980), 51-52; Richard L. Douglas, "A History of Manufacturers in the Kansas District," Kansas State Historical Society Collections, 11 (Spring 1909): 102-103.

  7. Frank W. Blackmar (ed.), Kansas, vol. 2 (Chicago: Standard Publishing Company, 1921), 112-113.

  8. Winifred Blevins (ed.), The Wordsworth Dictionary of the American West (Ware, Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions, Ltd., 1993), 5.

  9. P. G. Scott Papers, Colorado State Historical Society.

  10. Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest (Santa Fe: National Park Service Southwestern Cultural Resources Center, 1993), 557, 569-570.

  11. Janet Lecompte, Pueblo, Hardscrabble, and Greenhorn (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978), 71-72.

  12. Thomas F. Burns, "The Town of Wilmington and the Santa Fe Trail," Kansas State Historical Society Transactions, 16 (1910): 599.

  13. Schuyler Jones, ed., Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains 1859-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986), 46-47.

  14. Tom C. Cranmer, Rules and Regulations, By Which To Conduct Wagon Trains (Drawn by Oxen On The Plains) (Kansas City, MO: Commercial Advertiser Job Rooms, 1866), 11.

  15. Robert West Howard, The Wagonneer (New York: G. P. Putman's Sons, 1964), 33. It is interesting trivia question to ask what part of a wagon train on the Santa Fe Trail could travel faster than the speed of sound.

  16. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 35.

  17. Richard Irving Dodge, The Plains of North America and Their Inhabitants (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), 79.

  18. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 200.

  19. Raymond W. and Mary Lee Settle, War Drums and Wagon Wheels (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 176.

  20. Thomas B. Hall, M. D., Medicine on the Santa Fe Trail (Arrow Rock, MO: Friends of Arrow Rock, 1987), 28.

  21. William A. Bell, New Tracks in North America (Albuquerque: Horn and Wallace Publishers, 1965) 26-27.

  22. Oliva, Fort Union, 685.

  23. Cranmer, Rules and Regulations, 25-26.

  24. Larry M. Beachum, William Becknell: Father of the Santa Fe Trail (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1982), 26.

  25. Jones, Hunting and Trading, 50-51.

  26. Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971), 147.

  27. Ibid., 150.

  28. Morris F. Taylor, Trinidad, Colorado Territory (Trinidad: Trinidad State Junior College, 1966), 104.

  29. Ibid., 78, 111.

  30. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 49.

  31. Taylor, First Mail West, 86, 117.

  32. Ibid., 23-24.

  33. Hobart E. Stocking, The Road to Santa Fe (New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1971), 270.

  34. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 3.

  35. Taylor, Trinidad, 96, 105, 120.

  36. Nancy Robertson, "Post Office Oak Letters," Wagon Tracks, 4 (November 1989), 18.

  37. Marc Simmons, Following the Santa Fe Trail: A Guide for Modern Travelers (Santa Fe: Ancient City Press, 1984), 133.

  38. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 174.

  39. Richard J. Preston, Jr., Rocky Mountain Trees (New York: Dover Publications, 1947), 189.

  40. Blevins, Wordsworth Dictionary, 174.

  41. Scott, "Diary of a Freighting Trip," 154.

  42. "Editorial Notes."
         Used With Permission of the Author
         David Clapsaddle

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