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Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest

Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Trail

THERE WAS Independence on the Missouri River, then eight hundred miles of twisting trail across hills, plains, and mountains, all uninhabited save by a few wandering Indians and uncountable buffaloes. Then there was Santa Fe. On west of it lay nearly a thousand miles of wild broken lands before one came to the village of Los Angeles. But there was no trail to Los Angeles. At Santa Fe the trail turned south and after crawling over the Jornada del Muerto -- Journey of the Dead Man -- threading the great Pass of the North (El Paso) and crossing a vast desert, reached Chihuahua City.

Looked at in one way, Santa Fe was a mud village. In another way, it was the solitary oasis of human picturesqueness in a continent of vacancy. Like that of Athens, though of an entirely different quality, its fame was out of all proportion to its size. In a strong chapter, entitled "A Caravan Enters Santa Fe," R. L. Duffus (The Santa Fe Trail) elaborates on how for all travelers the town always had "the lure of adventure." Josiah Gregg doubted whether "the first sight of the walls of Jerusalem were beheld with much more tumultuous and soul-enrapturing joy" than Santa Fe was by a caravan topping the last rise and, eight hundred miles of solitude behind it, looking down on the town's shining walls and cottonwoods.

No other town of its size in America has been the subject of and focus for as much good literature as Santa Fe. Pittsburgh and dozens of other big cities all put together have not inspired one tenth of the imaginative play that Santa Fe has inspired. Some of the transcontinental railroads probably carry as much freight in a day as went over the Santa Fe Trail in all the wagons in all the years they pulled over the Santa Fe Trail. But the Santa Fe Trail is one of the three great trails of America that, though plowed under, fenced across, and cemented over, seem destined for perennial travel -- by those happily able to go without tourist guides. To quote Robert Louis Stevenson, "The greatest adventures are not those we go to seek." The other two trails comparable to the Santa Fe are also of the West -- the Oregon Trail for emigrants and the Chisholm Trail for cattle.

For additional literature see "Mountain Men," "Stagecoaches, Freighting," "Surge of Life in the West."


Death Comes for the Archbishop, Knopf, New York, 1927. Historical novel.

CONNELLEY, W. E. (editor)

Doniphan's Expedition, 1907. Saga of the Mexican War. OP.


El Gringo, or New Mexico and Her People, 1856; reprinted by Rydal, Santa Fe, 1938. OP. Excellent on manners and customs.


The Santa Fe Trail, New York, 1930. OP. Bibliography. Best book of this century on the subject.


History of Travel in America, 1915; revised edition issued by Tudor, New York, 1937.


Commerce of the Prairies, two vols., 1844. Reprinted, but all OP. Gregg wrote as a man of experience and not as a professional writer. He wrote not only the classic of the Santa Fe trade and trail but one of the classics of bedrock Americana. It is a commentary on civilization in the Southwest that his work is not kept in print. Harvey Fergusson, in Rio Grande, has written a penetrating criticism of the man and his subject. In 1941 and 1944 the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, issued two volumes of the Diary and Letters of Josiah Gregg, edited by Maurice G. Fulton with Introductions by Paul Horgan. These volumes, interesting in themselves, are a valuable complement to Gregg's major work.


The Old Santa Fe Trail, 1897. A mine of lore.

LAUGHLIN, RUTH (formerly Ruth
Laughlin Barker)
Caballeros, New York, 1931; republished by Caxton, Caldwell, Idaho, 1946. Essayical goings into the life of things. Especially delightful on burros. A book to be starred. The Wind Leaves No Shadow, New York, 1948; Caxton, 1951. A novel around Do˝a Tules Barcelˇ, the powerful, beautiful, and silvered mistress of Santa Fe's gambling sala in the 1830's and '40's.


Down the Santa Fe Trail, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1926. Delectable diary.


No High Adobe, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1950. Sketches, pleasant to read, that make the gente very real.


Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains, London, 1847. In 1924 the second half of this book was reprinted under title of Wild Life in the Rocky Mountains. In 1950, with additional Ruxton writings discovered by Clyde and Mae Reed Porter, the book, edited by LeRoy R. Hafen, was reissued under title of Ruxton of the Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. Santa Fe is only one incident in it. Ruxton illuminates whatever he touches. He was in love with the wilderness and had a fire in his belly. Other writers add details, but Ruxton and Gregg embodied the whole Santa Fe world.


The Old Santa Fe Trail, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1939.

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