Notes: IV. To Santa Fe

Notes for William Becknell: IV. To Santa Fe

Note 1. Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (May 7, 1819), p. 3.

Note 2. Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (Sept. 3, 1819), p. 3.

Note 3. Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains Performed in the Years 1819 and ’20 by Order of the Hon. J.C. Calhoun, Sec’y of War: Under the Command of Major Stephen H. Long, Vol. I, Philadelphia: H.C. Carey and I. Lea (1823), pp. 88-96.

Note 4. Howard County, Mo., Deed Book D, pp. 80-81. In the deed, Prichard is described as a resident of the town of Franklin.

Note 5. Howard County, Mo., Deed Book D, pp. 108-09 (Robert Briggs to Drury Prichard, NE 1/4 of Section 34, Township 54N, Range 22W, on Sept. 4, 1819); Howard County, Mo., Deed Book E, pp. 32-33 (Harrison G. Rogers to Drury Prichard, half of SW 1/4 of Section 24, Township 56N, Range 16W, on Sept. 4, 1819 “to be divided agreeably to quantity and quality”).

Note 6. Note from D.R. Prichard to Abraham Barnes, Nov. 19, 1819, James Riggin v. Drury Prichard, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 4, Folder 99 (Microfilm C32820), Missouri State Archives.

Note 7. Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Book 2, p. 169.

Note 8. “A Delinquent List of Taxes for the year 1818,” Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser, Vol. XII, No. 483, St. Louis, Mo. (Dec. 1, 1819), p. 1.

Note 9. Howard County, Mo., Deed Book E, pp. 230-31 (Drury R. Prichard to William Becknell, half interest in SW 1/4 of Section 24, Township 56N, Range 16W, on Jan. 8, 1820).

Note 10. The parcel sold to Becknell was in territory that later temporarily became part of Chariton County, then was outside of any county boundaries, then became part of Macon County in 1837.

Note 11. St. Louis Gazette and Public Advertiser, St. Louis, Mo. (Sept. 5, 1821), p. 2 (citing as its source the “Boons Lick Intelligencer”).

Note 12. Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (July 29, 1820), p. 2. Becknell was also listed as “Capt.” in the newspaper report of the July 28, 1821 dinner. See Note 11 above.

Note 13. “Complete Statement of votes in Howard & Cooper counties,” Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (Sept. 9, 1820), p. 3.

Note 14. James Allcorn (Alcorn) was a first cousin of George W. Evans, the husband of Becknell’s sister-in-law, Hannah Chribbs Evans. See the page “Jesse Evans: XI. Post Mortem.”

Note 15. Joseph Cooper v. William Becknell, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 5, Folder 122 (Microfilm C32822) and Folder 135 (Microfilm C32823), Missouri State Archives.

Note 16. Henry V. Bingham, adm. of Fall v. William Becknell, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 5, Folder 123 (Microfilm C32822), Missouri State Archives.

Note 17. Thomas Thewt v. William Becknell, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 4, Folder 53 (Microfilm C32820), Missouri State Archives.

Note 18. Amos Ashcraft v. William Becknell, James Morrison, and Jesse Morrison, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Book 2, pp. 478-79. The date of the loan stated in Larry M. Beachum, William Becknell: Father of the Santa Fe Trade, El Paso, Tex.: Texas Western Press (1982), p. 23.

Note 19. Thomas A. Smith v. William Becknell & Co., Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 5, Folder 168 (Microfilm C32823), Missouri State Archives.

Note 20. Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (June 25, 1821), p. 3.

Note 21. Larry M. Beachum, William Becknell: Father of the Santa Fe Trade, El Paso, Tex.: Texas Western Press (1982), p.19.

Note 22. Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Mo. (Aug. 14, 1821), p. 3.

Note 23. Joseph Cooper v. William Becknell, Howard County, Mo., Circuit Court Case Files, Box 5, Folder 122 (Microfilm C32822) and Folder 135 (Microfilm C32823), Missouri State Archives.

Note 24. “Journal of two Expeditions from Boon’s Lick to Santa Fe,” Missouri Intelligencer, Franklin, Missouri (April 22, 1823), pp. 2-3.

Note 25. For an example of Mary Becknell’s writing, see the page “1860 – Mary Becknell’s Letter to Her Sister.”

Note 26. Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, Vol. I, New York: J. & H.G. Langley (1845), pp. 21-24. A complete transcription of Gregg’s book is available at: Following is the portion that describes Becknell’s activities:

During the same year [1821], Captain Becknell, of Missouri, with four trusty companions, went out to Santa Fe by the far western prairie route. This intrepid little band started from the vicinity of Franklin, with the original purpose of trading with the Iatan or Comanche Indians; but having fallen in accidentally with a party of Mexican rangers, when near the Mountains, they were easily prevailed upon to accompany them to the new emporium, where, notwithstanding the trifling amount of merchandise they were possessed of, they realized a very handsome profit. The fact is, that up to this date New Mexico had derived all her supplies from the Internal Provinces by the way of Vera Cruz; but at such exorbitant rates, that common calicoes, and even bleached and brown domestic goods, sold as high as two and three dollars per vara (or Spanish yard of thirty three inches). Becknell returned to the United States alone the succeeding winter leaving the rest of his company at Santa Fe.

The favorable reports brought by the enterprising Captain, stimulated others to embark in the trade; and early in the following May, Colonel Cooper and sons, from the same neighborhood, accompanied by several others (their whole number about fifteen), set out with four or five thousand dollars’ worth of goods, which they transported upon pack horses. They steered directly for Taos, where they arrived without any remarkable occurrence.

The next effort of Captain Becknell was attended with very different success. With a company amounting to near thirty men, and perhaps five thousand dollars’ worth of goods of various descriptions, he started from Missouri, about a month after Colonel Cooper. Being an excellent woodsman, and anxious to avoid the circuitous route of the Upper Arkansas country, he resolved this time, after having reached that point on the Arkansas river since known as the ‘Caches,’ to steer more directly for Santa Fe, entertaining little or no suspicion of the terrible trials which awaited him across the pathless desert. With no other guide but the starry heavens, and, it may be, a pocket-compass, the party embarked upon the arid plains which extended far and wide before them to the Cimarron river.

The adventurous band pursued their forward course without being able to procure any water, except from the scanty supply they carried in their canteens. As this source of relief was completely exhausted after two days’ march, the sufferings of both men and beasts had driven them almost to distraction.

The forlorn band were at last reduced to the cruel necessity of killing their dogs, and cutting off the ears of their mules, in the vain hope of assuaging their burning thirst with the hot blood. This only served to irritate the parched palates, and madden the senses of the sufferers. Frantic with despair, in prospect of the horrible death which now stared them in the face, they scattered in every direction in search of that element which they had left behind them in such abundance, but without success.

Frequently led astray by the deceptive glimmer of the mirage, or false ponds, as those treacherous oases of the desert are called, and not suspecting (as was really the case) that they had already arrived near the banks of the Cimarron, they resolved to retrace their steps to the Arkansas. But they now were no longer equal to the task, and would undoubtedly have perished in those arid regions, had not a buffalo, fresh from the river’s side, and with a stomach distended with water, been discovered by some of the party, just as the as rays of hope were receding from their vision. The hapless intruder was immediately dispatched, and an invigorating draught procured from its stomach. I have since heard one of the parties to that expedition declare that nothing ever passed his lips which gave him such exquisite delight as his first draught of that filthy beverage. This providential relief enabled some of the strongest men of the party to reach the river, where they filled their canteens, and then hurried back to the assistance of their comrades, many of whom they found prostrate on the ground, and incapable of further exertion. By degrees, however, they were all enabled to resume their journey; and following the course of the Arkansas for several days, thereby avoiding the arid regions which had occasioned them so much suffering, they succeeded in reaching Taos (sixty or seventy miles north of Santa Fe) without further difficulty. Although travellers have since suffered excessively with thirst upon the same desert, yet, having become better acquainted with the topography of the country, no other equally thrilling incidents have subsequently transpired.

It is from this period — the year 1822 — that the virtual commencement of the SANTA FE TRADE may be dated. . . .

Note 27. David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest 1540-1846, Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press (1980), p. 54.

Note 28. See the page “1813 – Deposition in McKnight v. Morrison.”

Note 29. Alphonso Wetmore to John Scott, Aug. 19, 1824, Petition of Sundry Inhabitants of the State of Missouri, upon the Subject of a Communication Between the Said State and the Internal Provinces of Mexico with a Letter from Alphonso Wetmore Upon the Same Subject, February 14, 1825, 18th Cong., 2d Sess., Washington: Gales & Seaton, printer (1825) (republished in Augustus Storrs and Alphonso Wetmore, Santa Fe Trail, First Reports: 1825, Houston: Stagecoach Press (1960)).