Josiah Gregg.

Commerce of the prairies : or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, during eight expeditions across the great western prairies, and a residence of nearly nine years in northern Mexico online

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Online LibraryJosiah GreggCommerce of the prairies : or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, during eight expeditions across the great western prairies, and a residence of nearly nine years in northern Mexico → online text (page 1 of 20)
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In midmg another to the list of wcAb which WfjB •!•
ready been published, appearing to bear more or less directl j
up(Ni the subject matter of tiiese TolumieS| I am aware that
my labors make their appeal to the public under serious
£sadvantages. Topics which hare occupied the pens of
frring and Murray and Hoffioiany and more recently^ of
Kendall, the g;rapluc historiographer of the ^ Texan Santa
Vi Expedition," may fiurly be supposed to have been so
entirely exhausted, that the entrance of a new writer in
the lists, whose name is wholly unknown to the republic
of letters, and whose pretensions ate so humble as niine,
may be looked upon as an act of literary hardihood, for
which there was neither occasicm nor excuse. In view of
this * foregone ccmdusion,' I trust I may be pardoned for
{Hre&cing my literaiy oflfering with a few words in its justi*
fication, — ^which will affi>rd me an occasion to explain the
circumstances that first led to my acquaintance with lifo
upon the Prairies and in Northern Mexico.

For some months preceding the year 1831, my health
had been gradually dedinii^ under a compGcation of



duKxiic difeasef y which defied every plan of treatment
that the sagacity and science <^ my medical friends could
deyise. This morbid condition of my q^stem, which ori-
ginated in the fiuniliar miseries of dyspepsia and its kindred
infirmities^ had finally reduced me to such a state, that, for
nearly a tw^vemonth, I was not only disqualified for any
systematic industijr| IA4 s^ dg^tj^t^ 4U[ rarely to be able
to extend my walks beyond the narrow precincts <^ my
diamber. In this hopeless condition, my physicians ad-
yised me to take a trip across the Prairies, and, in the
chaise of air and habits which such an adrenture would
inyolve, to seek that health which their science had £E^led
to bestow. I ipsepted their suggeisuon, and^ without hesi-
tation, proceeded at once, to make the necessary |>reparation8
for joining one of diose spipg Carayans which were annu-
jBJly startine from t^e United St^t^, for Santa. Fi^. . .
'Hie efiecti; of . this jpumey were; in, the first pisipe to
re-establish ifkj health, and, i^ the second, to b^et J^mmj
sion for Prairie life which I neirer expect to survive. . At
the conclusion of the season which followed my first trip, I

•.. : ■ * =1 I .•.•'.:•. /■ . ,' . :' ' .1 . ^ * ,:

became interested as a proprietor in the Santa Fe Trade,
ai^ ^ontipued to be so„ to a greater or less extent, f9r the
eight succeedii^ years. ^ During the.whple^of th^ above
periods I crocu^ the Prairi^ ^ight di£fer^t times ; ^ and,
witkthe exception of the time ibx^ spent in travelling to
and firo^ the greater purt of the nine yeais of which I s^ieak^
werepa£»ed in Northern Mexipo^

Having been actively engaged and largely interested in
the cqmmei^ of that pountsy and across the Prairies,
for so long a period, I feel that I have at least haa oppor-


tiuutiMfinr ol^ieivmtbi&y^^iMm ibe Mj&dta o€ wbicb i hi^i^
yentiffed to lhe^ iaperiiw to. tlioae a^oyed %y .aay ^wrU^
&9Yrh9 bare preceded JOfte..! Btit aot'eren an attempi bas
befof^.Jt^een mi4e to pmei^t anj f^ aeeovnt of the oi^
xtf the Saata Fi^Tiade and modes of eondactmg: H ; nor of
Ihe early Untoiy ai]id pceaeat condifoA of the peofde df
Iifew Mexico; iKv of.tbe Indiafitnbeaby whk^.Uie wild
attd Hmedaiteed tegioni of that depaHment are hihabited.
I thivdtl nlay also iwrare ny readers diat most of ihe fiskcti
preac»ted in my aketch of the natural hlstoiy of the Pno-
riea, and <tf the Indian tribei who inhabit them, ure now
{mUisbed iat the fot time* As I bffre not sought to make
lb treatiie opon tiiese std^eets, i have not 4elt eon^^eOed,
for Ae ^urpooe 6£ girag my papers #f)»metry and com^
^teaess, td entot to any extent upon grounds wUeh haT%
already been occupied by other levellers ; but have coit-
tsnled myself ,widi piPaseathig iric^ matters. and observa-
1|ona as I thought least ^^yto^hsfve cotae before under
tfaer notice of my read^ns. \.

I am pei^wtly.senttbie, however, tfiaty in the selection
t>f matter, and in the executibn of my Work, it is very
tan from being what it should be, and whiit, in more capabU
handi, ^ might have been. I cHdy trust, that, with all its
iiB|»eriections, it may be found to contain some new and not
unimportant fiicts, whieh may be thou^t, iasome measure,
to justify my appearance far once in ^se capacity of a book**
maker ; for whidi vocation, in all other respects, I am free
to confess myaelf very poorly qualified*

This work has been jtrepaied cMefty fionf a journal
which I have been in the habit of keeping from my youth


.rui PREFA€£« ^

^apwtgdy and in wiiieh I wu cordbl to preserve manonoH
Ji^ of my obB^ralbiis while engaged in the Santa F6
,Tnde,-*^tlioiigh witbont the remeteit intention of eret ap-
propriating them to the present purpose. Inaddition||iow-
jever) I hare eminnced every opportnnitjr of procuring au*
'tiientic infimnaiion throng others, iipon audi matters aa
were beyond my own sphere of obaenratioki.. f^m mate-
rials tibus oelleeted I hare received much asnstance in th6
j^r^paration of Uie diapters from the nxth to &e fifteenth
inclusive, of thefint vdnme, which «re chiefly ^^oted ti
the early histoiy of New Mexico, and tl^ manners, cns^
ioms and institntions of its people. For firvors thns con^
ferred, I beg in particiilar to make my acknowledgments
taSiLisHA Stani^t, Esq., and Doctors Samitsl B. Bobbs
and David Waldo, whose names have been long and fh^
Torably associated with the Santa F6 Trade.

Though myself cradled and educi^ed upon the bdiaa
border, and fiuniliar with the Indian charaefer frcMn mf
infiftncy, I am yet greatly indebted, finr information upon
that suliject, to many intelligent Indian traders, and otbeiv
lesid^t upQn our border, with whose ample experience I
have been frequency &vored.

Yet, while I recognize my indebtckbess to others, I fe^
bound, in self-d^nce, to redaim in a single case, at leasf,
the watf$ oi my own pen, which have been dignified widi
a place in the pages of a coten^rary writer. During the
years 1841 and 1843, I contributed a num^r of letters
upon the history and condition of the Santa ¥i Trade, etc.,
to the Galveston >^ Daily Advertiser" and the ^^ Aikaodsas
Intelligence," under the signatures of "J. G." atid *^G.',"


ranrAGS va

poHiOBS <}f whidb I hfTO hid ooctskm to iDaert in Urn
pi«iM?nt Tolmies. In Captain Manyai'a recent woik^ ea«
tjtted <^ Monsienr Violet,?' I waa not a little annoyed
(when I fretume I on^^ to hare been flattered) to find
lai|;e portiona rf tfaia ctNcreqpondence copied, nmdi of iA
eerMiHi, without the alighteat inthnatkm or adaiowledf^
ment whatever, of the aoorce firom whence tl^y wnepio*!
cored. The public are already ao (amili«r with the long
aeiieaof litmniy laxceniea of which that&moua work waa
the product, that I should not have peaumed to empha*
aiae my own grievance at all here, but that the appearance
of the same material, frequently in the aame worda , in dieae
Yoiumea, m^t, unleaa accompanied by some expkna*
tion, expoae me to a charge of piagiarism myself, ampng
those who may never have seen nqr or^nal letters, or
vriio are not yet aware that '^ Mcmaieur Violet'' was an*
ofoing which had evidentiy been intended for the ahar of
Mercury rather than of Minerva.

In my historical aketches of New Mexico, it might have
been naturally expected tiiat some notice would be taken
of the Texan Santa Ft Expedition of 1841, the events tl
which are ao dosely connected widi the history of thai
c<»uitiy. I declined, nowever, to enter upon the topic ;
for I considered that n<me who had seen Mr. Kendall's ac»
count of that ill-fiited enterprise, would have any induce-
ment to consult these pages upon the subject ; and for
those who had not,I felt sure the best thing I could do» was
to direct their attention at once to its attractive pages.

The mapa vriiich accompany the preaent vrotk will be
found, I believe, substantially c<Nnrect; or uKMre ao,at least,


llNm kxtj otfieni, of ttote regioiii, wlkfa hate hem pih
liAed. They hare been peq^gred, for tto most' ]^an,
from penorial obtenratieiiB. -ThoiM pohioni'^of :tibe 6o«nitiy
imbkitk Hunrenot becBiefete tor ob a u r v e iiqp»el^hi|ve ehtefly
been kid dpwii from xnaniiaaqpt ma^ Idndly ftmuihed
»e by txpmmimd'Md lelfiiMe^ttmdeis itifd thippeiiis ^^
aim frcm the nape prepared iiiMler ihecWj^rrisiini of
United States sonreyon^ ^ I

The aRangenent I l^e adopted leeni to^nqtiii^ a 1^^
ofeiqdaiialioiLi That ^xiemler nay the hett^iuidfiiri^^
tfaefreqiieatiiatioea, tt {he«oiitie4of ^niypeni^
of the SabtaP^ Txade, thefintphafttehaaheea devoted
tft the deTdqpimIt bf itaeady histeiy. And, iboaf^ the
iroMto ctf inj obaenratiQiiii in Kocthmrn Mcodeo^iBd iqwa
ihe PMhie(^ at on the faoBdery ave aQBoetiBJes intet)*-
ipened thnm{^ii^iiatiative>^I have^tdca great jdegvie^
Ifigeeted liad ariiai^pad .theaat into diifagt ehi^tetti^ oodvpy^
hig from the sixth to the fifMAth incHttirevcf die ^fiM
rehtmei and the eevtiti last chaplctei <£ Ifae Mednd. i Thii
fl9ft wii$ Tes^M to with ata^ of-gmag,,^^ com^
yectness to:t^e woil^ ]aiiid;re)ic:£i]|^lhe;joi:uaMd^ aus^f^
poariUoy fifOil^ !BiNridbi)diis d«^^

' . .-,.:-■,: '■■.;.•■■; [ i^ •: I .;f.Oi^;>


.u .u— . ^ :-.■ i - •



Origiii.and prbgriesfll^ Dey^pmoH^ the Saat* F§ Tr«d«
— Oiqp^in Pike's HanMiir«^Para|tj^^L& Iisnd^-^Kzpe-
ditioa of McKni^l'.W <»UMi»«-Okiinl-^BeelRi«ll— Coef-
per^^Sn^exiDgs qf Ciplaia Beekaett and hia CompanioiiB
— F^^Iairo^BQti0iiM>f wheeled Ydbieles^Coloiiel Mar-
msjlcdc^— Ko^UUty Qf the, ladiate— Hterimiiiati^BS-^Iji-
diaA|UlMq9^la«l^mc( of Ontilige»-^Ma)or Riley^ Bseort
— Axfaoyed, jby^ 1^ rTndttMfi Govemawiit- Prokeetion-^
Comj^nitioQ o|. ^ .Cai«rviui» . . • 17


Head Ctnarters of the Santa F^ Trade— Independence and
its .LtfUfh -A^. Pfairitf Trip aa exb^leBtilleaaLedy for
chrpme ,lptisease»— dnj^ta for th^. Jotoney^ Wagons^,
Moleaand Qzen^^-yArtof Ijoading Wagons-— Roinaitclng
Profi^n^y* of Tn^v^ellerat-The D^artare— Storms ' and ^
Wag(xaM»xyersr*-(laagnur#s^-«Txicks«f naranding In-
dians^^-Cooncil Gltovs-H-Fancy vemu ^UaMty— Election-
eering .on t^ Prairies -t-« The Organitatioa-i^ Amateur
Trwrellers and Loafers^-jDoties of the Watdi—Costomes
and Eqoipmeat of the Pajrty - -TiB^rB for the loamey, l2


The * Catch up* — Breakinf up of the Encampment — Per-
versity of Males— Under Way — ^The Diamond Spring —
Eccentrieities of Oxen — ^First Qlance of the Antelope—
Buffalo Herds and Prairie Novices — A John Oilpin Race
-—Culinary Preparations^A Buffalo Peast— Appetite of



Prairie Travellers— Troubles in Fording Streams— Fresh
Alarms and their Causes — A Wolfish Frolic — Arkansas
~ RiT«r — ^Pleasing Scenery — Character of the Country — ^Ex-
traordinary Surgical Operation — The * Pawnee Rock ' —
Salutary Effects of Alarms — New Order of March — ^Prai-
rie Encampment and * Upholstery' — Hoppling and Teth-
ering of the * Stock ' — Crossing the Arkansas-— Qreat Bat-
tle with Rattlesnakes — A Mustang Colt and a Mule
Fracas—* The Caches 'r— Their Ot^^in, and Significatioii
ofihcT^rm, * 7 . ''. ' i .' ' ;- r-r,^^



A Desert Plain— Preparation for a * Water-Scrape' — ^Acci-
dent to a French Doctor — Upsetting of a Wngom and its
Consequences— A Party &f Sioax Warriors — The first
real Alarm^Confusion in the Camp-— Friendly Demon-
strations C^ the Indians*— The Pipe of JPeace — Squaws
and Papooses — ^An Bzteffipor&ry VillBge - «-Lo8e our Track
— Search after the Lost River — ^Horrible Prospective-
The Cimarron Found at last— A Night of Alarms — In-
dian Ser^ade and Thieving — Indian Diplomacy— Hail-
stones and Hurricanes— Position ni the Captain of a
Caravan^ — ^His Troubiesi his Powers and Waait of Powei^
— More Indians— 'Hostile Encounter — ^Results cmT the Skir-'

; inish — The * Battle-Ground' — Col. Vizcarra and the GJros
Ventres, ...... 70


A Beautiiul Ravine— «* Runners' Starting for Santa Fi$ —
Fourth of July on the Prairies — The (Xbolero or Buffalo-
hunter — Mournful News of Captain Sublette's Company
—Murder of Captain Smith and another of the Party by
the Indians— Carelessness and Risks of Hnnters^-Capb>
tain Sublette's Peril — Character and Pursuits of the Ci-
boleres-^The Art of Curing Meat — ^Purity of the Atmos-
phere — The 'Round Mound'— * The Mirage or False
- Ponds — ^Philosophy' there<^— Extensive and Interesting
View — ^Exaggerated Accounts by Travellers of the Buf-
falo of the Prairies — Their Decrease — A * Stampede ' —
Wagon Repairing — Rio Colorado or Canadian River-
Meeting between old Friends — ^Mexican Escort — Disor-
ganizing of the Caravan — Dreadful Thunder-storm —
First Symptoms of Civilization — San Miguel— Arrival at
Santa F6 — Entry of the Caravan— First Hours of Recrea-
tion — Interpreters and Custom-house Arrangements — A
Glance at the Trade, etc., ... • 87

dbyGoogFe *

ootiTSNTs xiit

' . - CflAFTER VI.

Sketches of the Eariy Historf of Santa F6«^im Ezplora*
V tlons — Why called New MexkcM-MeukOfial of Ofiate-—
His Colony — Captain Ley va's prior Settlement — Singular
Stipulations of Oflate — InceAtivee presented by the Crown
to Colonizers— Enormities of Spanish Conquerors — Pro-
gress of the new Colony — Cxoel LAbon^ of the Ahorigi*
nes in the Mines*-tUvoU of the Indians la 1680 — Mas-
sacre of the Spaniar(}s-r-9anta F6 Besieged-^ Battles —
Remaining, Spanish. Population ^ally evacuate the Pro-
vince-p-Paso del Norte - - Iuhuman Murder of a Spanish.
Priest — Pinal Recovery of the Country— Insurrection of
' 1837— A trophecy— Shocking Massaicre of the Gh>vemor
and other distinguished Characters — American Mer-
charts, and Neglect of our Government — Governor Ar-
mijo: his Intrigues and Success— Second Gathering of
Insprgents and their final Defeat^ . . • . tl9


(lH%raphical Position of New Mexico — Abtenea of naviga-
ble Streams — The Rio del Norte — Romantic Chasm —
Story of a sunken River — Mr. Stanley's Excursion to a
famous Lake-«-Santa Fj and its LocalitiffiielMul^i^rrioi! '


20 Mcknight and com&ades.

Santa Fe in safety. But these new adventu*
rers were destined to experience trials and
disappointments of which they had formed
no conception. Believing lliat the declara-
tion of Independence by Hidalgo, in 1810,
had completely removed those mjurious re-
strictions which had hitherto rendered all
foreign intercourse, except by special permis-
sion from the Spanish Crovemment, illegal,
they were wholly unprepared to encounter
the embarrassments with which despotism
and tyranny invariably obstmct the path of
tlie stranger. They were doubtless ign<»rant
that the patriotic chief Hidalgo had already
been arrested and executed, that the roy-
alists had once more regained the ascend-
ency, and that all foreigners, but particularly
Americans, were now viewed with unusual
suspicion. The result was that the luckless
traders, immediately upon their arrival, were
seized as spies, Uieir goods and chattels con-
fiscated, and themselves thrown into &e
calabozos of Chihuahua, where most of them
were kept in rigorous confinement for the
space of nine years; when the republican
forces under Iturbide getting again in the
ascendant, McEnight and his comrades
were finally set at liberty. It is said that
two of the party contrived, early in 1821,
to return to the United States in a canoe,
which they succeeded in forcing down the
Canadian foii of the Arkansas. The stories
promulgated by these men soon induced
others to lauach into the same field of entei^



|m^, among whom was a merchant of Ohidi
naiaaed Gclenn, who, at the time, had an lb-
dian tmdmg-hoose near the mouth of tiie
Verdigris river. Having taken the circnitouai
route iUp the Arkansas towards the mountaini^
this pioneer trader encountered a great deal
of trouble and privation, but e ventu^y reach-
ed Santa Fe with his Uttle caravan, before the
close of 1821, in perfect safety.
. Duting the same year, Captain Beckhell,
df Missouri, with four trusty companions^
Went out to Santa F6 by the far western
prairie route. This intrepid httle band starte4
frota the vicinity of Franklin^ with the origi-
nal purpose of trading with the latan or Co
manche Indians ; but having fallen in acci-
dentally with a party of Mexican fangerd^
when near the Mountains, they were easily
prevailed upon to accompany them to tibe
new eniporium, where, notwithstanding tiie
trifling amount of merchandise they were
possessed of, they realized a very handsome
pioBt The fact is, thatup to tins date New
Mexico had derived all her sappHes £rom
the Internal FrcMBnces by the way of Vem
Cruz ; but at sucxTexorbitant rates, that com-
mon calicoes, and even Uieached arid 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 aione the succeeding winter,
leaving the rest of his company at Santa Fe*
The favorable reports brought by the enter-
prising Captain, stimulated' o&ers to embso^

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In fhe trade ; and early in fhe folloimg May^
Colonel Cooper and sons, from the same
neighborhood, accompanied by several others
(their whole number about fifteen), set out
with four or fire thousand dollars' worth of
goods, which they transported upon pack-
hcnrsea They steered directly for Taos»
where they arrired without any remarkable
occurrence. -

The next eflfort of Captain Becknell was
attended with very diflferent succesa Witii
a company amountii^ to near thirty men, and
perhaps five thousand dollars' worth of goods
of various descriptions, he started from Mis*
souri, about a month after Colonel Cooper.
Being an excellent woodsman, and anxious
to avoid the circuitous route of tiie Upper
Arkansas country, he resolved this time, after
having reached that point on the Arkansas
liver since known as the * Caches,* to steer
more durectly for Santa F6, entertaining little
or no suspicion of the terrible trials which
awaited him across tiie pathless desert. With
no other guide but the starry heavens, and, it
may be, a pocket-compassMtfie party embark-
ed upon the arid plains wich extended fiir
and wide before them to the Cimarron river.

The adventurous band pursued their for-
ward 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 suflferings of both men and
beasts had driven them sSmost to distraction.



The fofAom band were at last reduced to Hie
crael necessity of killing their dogs^ and cut-
ting off the ears of their mules, in the vain
hope of assuaging their burning thirst with
the hot blood. Tlus only serv^ 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 call-
ed, and not suspectii^ (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 undoubt-
edly have perished in tiiose arid regions, had
not a buffsdo, fresh fiom the river's side, and
with a stomach distended with water, been
discovered by some of the party, just as the
last rays ci hope were receding from their
vi&don. The hapless intruder was immedi-
ately dispatched, and an invigorating draught
procured from its stomach. I have since
heard one of the parties to that expedition
declare, that nothing ev^ passed his lips which
gave lidm such exquisite delight^as his first

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Online LibraryJosiah GreggCommerce of the prairies : or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, during eight expeditions across the great western prairies, and a residence of nearly nine years in northern Mexico → online text (page 1 of 20)