The Santa Fe Trail Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

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  • 0:04 Sante Fe Trail
  • 0:53 Origins of the Trail
  • 1:54 Use of the Trail
  • 2:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

How would you have traveled to the western part of the United States without a car, train, airplane, or bus in the 1800s? Find out how the Santa Fe Trail got started and how it changed in this lesson.

Santa Fe Trail

In the early 1800s, the United States looked very different from the way it does today. The country was acquiring new states, but there were no trains, cars, or airplanes to take people to these areas. Instead, people had to travel by wagons, usually pulled by animals called oxen, which was a much slower way to go.

As more people made the trip westward, they started following certain routes, or ways, to get from one place to another. One of the most famous routes was the Santa Fe Trail, which went from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Between 1821 and 1880, thousands of people used the trail to move not only themselves but also animals and goods.

When you hear the name 'Santa Fe Trail,' you might think of a set path. However, the trail changed many times over the years due to conflicts with Native Americans, flooding, wars, and other events.

Origins of the Trail

While Spain still ruled New Mexico, traders from the United States were not allowed to do business in the area. After Spain lost power in 1821 and New Mexico became part of Mexico, American traders began looking for new ways to sell their goods.

William Becknell was a trader from Franklin, Missouri, who opened the trail. Along with five other people, he traveled to Santa Fe where he made money from trading before returning home. Becknell traveled 934 miles in a trip that took less than three months. The next time Becknell visited Santa Fe, he used the shorter Cimarron Route, traveling toward the Cimarron River and over the mountains.

Soon, caravans, or groups of pioneers and wagons, traveled this route, looking to do business and make money in Santa Fe. Fearing attacks from Native Americans, the caravans hoped that by traveling together, they could defend themselves.

During and after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the U.S. Army used the Santa Fe Trail. After the war, New Mexico became a territory of the United States (1850).

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