For 60 years beginning in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail was the main travel artery linking Santa Fe with Missouri and the eastern United States.
Along this well-worn path, stagecoaches transported settlers, traders, explorers, and fortune seekers. Supply wagons brought manufactured goods and mail coaches delivered communications from the east to towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Soldiers followed the Santa Fe Trail on their way to the border during the Mexican-American War.
This 900-mile superhighway was part of a trade route that extended from the Southwest to the East Coast and Europe. The journey from St. Louis to Santa Fe took about 8 weeks.
While some travelers witnessed clashes with Indians, raging storms, flash floods, and other legendary “perils of the trail,” the vast majority of cross-country treks were uneventful.
The annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War brought increased military and civilian traffic. A number of army forts rose along the trail to protect travelers and military supply lines from raids by Plains Indians and other perceived threats.
The arrival of the railroad in Santa Fe in 1880 signaled the end of the trail. Roads and highways now follow some of the original path, along with museums, forts, historic landmarks, and other trail-related sites.