Santa Fe (English)

Santa Fe was nearly two hundred years old in 1806. It was founded in 1609-10 on the site of an ancient Pueblo Indian ruin by the conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta, who named it Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis, or "Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi." During the 18th century it served as the administrative, military and missionary headquarters, and trade center of the vast Spanish frontier territory, the Provincias Internas.

It was the subject of much interest on the part of many political strategists in the United States at the time. Jefferson directed Meriwether Lewis to gather as much information as he could concerning the possibility of trade with merchants there, and during the winter of 1803-04 Lewis considered conducting a personal reconnaissance of the Indian route to Spanish country that led up the Kansas River. Jefferson quickly vetoed the idea, perhaps because he already was making plans for the exploration of the Red River—which he erroneously assumed would lead directly to the old city.

In July of 1806 General James Wilkinson, Governor of Upper Louisiana, sent Lieutenant Zebulon Pike with a party of twenty-one men up the Kansas, Arkansas and Canadian Rivers, ostensibly bound for Santa Fe and the headwaters of the Red. In February of 1807 they were captured by a Spanish military detail on the Rio Grande, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Pike was jailed for a short time in Santa Fe, and escorted back to Natchitoches by the end of June. There was some speculation at the time that Pike's journey was part of a secret strategy to link up with Freeman and Custis, though that was never proven to be true.

On August 3, 1804, William Clark was told by a trader on the lower Missouri River that Santa Fe could be reached in twenty-five days from St. Louis via the Arkansas and Kansas Rivers. On August 15, 1805, a Shoshone told Lewis his people "could pass to the Spaniards by the way of the Yellowstone River in 10 days." Both claims represented miscalculations or miscommunications, and reflected the common misapprehension that the headwaters of the Missouri River were closer to New Mexico than they really are. Today the highway distance from St. Louis to Santa Fe is 1,029 miles, and from the vicinity of Salmon, Idaho, where the Shoshones lived, is 975 miles. If modern highways are, overall, roughly congruent with old Indian trails, then overland travel times, averaging thirty miles per day, would have been about 34 and 32.5 days, respectively.

On September 17, 1806, just six days from the end of their 28-month journey, the Corps of Discovery met a party under the command of Captain John McClallen, or McClellan, who claimed he was bound for Santa Fe via the Platte River to open trade negotiations with the Spanish. Clark remarked in his journal, "Capt McClellins plan I think a very good one if strictly prosued &c." However, there is no evidence McClallen ever reached Santa Fe.

Trade relations between the U.S. and Santa Fe began immediately after Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. The Santa Fe Trail, which began at Independence, Missouri, opposite the mouth of the Kansas River, was opened in that year by trader William Becknell, and served as the main line to the Southwest until the Santa Fe Railroad was completed in 1880.

Based on Dan Flores, J&SE,10; Santa Fe—A Historical Perspective and Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. Santa Fe Trail.