Santa Fe Trail Survey Reaches Point of Rocks

On  Wednesday, October 19, 1825, George Champlin Sibley’s Santa Fe Trail Survey expedition arrived at Point of Rocks, New Mexico. But they didn’t head to Santa Fe.

Sibley was one of three Commissioners named to head up the United State’s survey of the road between Missouri and Santa Fe that had been inaugurated by William Becknell four years earlier. The survey had two purposes: 1. to facilitate trade with Mexico and 2. to negotiate with the Native American tribes along the Trail for safe passage for future travelers.

George Sibley was the only Commissioner to cross the international boundary into New Mexico. However, when he arrived at Point of Rocks, he didn’t continue south along the Trail to Santa Fe. Instead, arguing that it was too late in the year to travel safely to the capitol, Sibley headed west across the Sangre de Cristos to Taos, where his business associate Paul Baillio was located.

Oct 19 illustration.Sibley photo.Source Noble.272.cropped

Sibley spent the winter of 1825/26 in Taos, where he completed the map of the American portion of the Trail and waited for permission to complete the Mexican portion. Although there’s no evidence he ever travelled the portion between Point of Rocks and Santa Fe, he felt confident enough of that section to note that there was no need to make physical alterations it, since “the open nature of the country” enabled wagon to pass “without the least difficulty … with no other labor than removing a few logs, poles, etc.” (Gregg, 201).

In any event, in 1827, Sibley completed his work and returned to Missouri in 1827, where he and his wife established the Linden Wood School for Girls, which would later become the Linden Wood College, and is today Lindenwood University. In Missouri, he is probably best known for this school. In New Mexico, his name is still more closely associated with the survey of the Santa Fe Trail and the mystery of why he didn’t actually travel the full length of the Trail.

Sources: Kate L. Gregg, ed., The Road to Santa Fe, the journal and diaries of George Champlin Sibley, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1995; Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Fur Traders and Trappers of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1997; Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971

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THE FOURTH TIME

She could be incandescently angry and Gerald’s trip to Santa Fe and back had taken a week longer than he’d told her it would, so he braced himself as he opened the cabin door. But Suzanna barely raised her head from the rocking chair by the fire. She wasn’t rocking. Her shawl was clutched to her chest, her face drawn and gray under the smooth, creamy-brown skin. She glanced at Gerald, then turned her face back to the flames, her cheeks tracked with tears.

Gerald’s stomach clenched. “What is it?” he asked. “The children?”

Suzanna shook her head without looking at him. “The children are fine,” she said dully. She moved a hand from the shawl and placed it on her belly. The tears started again and she looked up at him bleakly. “This is the fourth time,” she said. “There will—” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “There will be no third child,” she choked, and he crossed the room, knelt beside her, and wordlessly took her into his arms.

from The Valley of the Eagles

Former Taos Trapper Dies in Los Angeles

On Wednesday, October 3, 1866, trapper William Wolfskill died at age 68 in Los Angeles, California, where he’d emigrated from New Mexico.

Born in Kentucky, Wolfskill had arrived in New Mexico as part of William Becknell’s second (1822) Santa Fe Trail expedition and was based in Taos for the next eight years. During that time, Wolfskill trapped on the San Juan, Gila, and Colorado Rivers, and participated in mule and horse trading missions to Missouri.

On one of those missions, in late 1824, Wolfskill joined an expedition to northwest Chihuahua led by a Captain Owens. There, they purchased horses and mules to export to Missouri. Shortly afterward, Owens was killed in an Indian raid. Wolfskill and another man rounded up the mules that had escaped capture, bought more, and took them all to Alabama, where they sold for a nice profit.

Oct 3 illustration.Wolfskill, William, ca.1831_(CHS-1765)
William Wolfskill

But the two men didn’t keep the money for themselves. Instead, Wolfskill took it to Boone’s Lick, Missouri, where he handed over the funds to Captain Owens’ family.

In late September 1830, Wolfskill left New Mexico and never returned. He led a party of about 20 men acrossed the Great Basin into southern California, in the process opening what is today called the “Old Spanish Trail.”

Wolfskill had originally intended to trap beaver in California, but when this turned out to be impractical, he and fellow trapper George Yount turned to hunting sea otter instead. This project seems to have been lucrative, because by 1838, Wolfskill had the funds to join his brother in buying a  4,000-vine Los Angeles vineyard, which would eventually grow to 85,000 vines.

Agriculture must have been more enjoyable than trapping, because three years later, Wolfskill planted the first commercial orange grove in California. These activities formed the basis of a kind of agricultural empire that would introduce the Australian eucalyptus, the soft-shelled almond, the chestnut, and the persimmon to California.

Certainly, by the time he died, Wolfskill had traveled a long way from Kentucky and accomplished a great deal besides trapping furs.

Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Fur Traders and Trappers of the Far Southwest, Logan: Utah State UP, 1997; Daniel J. Weber, The Taos Trappers, Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971.

DECISION POINT

Three years after the Great Rebellion, Henry still drifted. There was nothing behind him in Georgia and nothing further west than San Francisco. Not that he wanted to go there. The California gold fields were played out.

But he needed to get out of Denver. A man could stand town life only so long and he’d been here three months. The Colorado gold fields were collasping, anyway. Played out before he even got here.

“Been too late since the day I was born,” he muttered, putting his whisky glass on the long wooden bar.

“I hear tell there’s gold in Elizabethtown,” the bartender said. He reached for Henry’s glass and began wiping it out. He knew Henry’s pockets were empty.

“Where’s Elizabethtown?”

“New Mexico Territory. Near Taos somewheres.”

Henry nodded and pushed himself away from the bar. “Elizabethtown,” he repeated as he hitched up his trousers. “Now there’s an idea.”

from Valley of the Eagles

Two American Governors for New Mexico

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1846, just over a month after Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny seized New Mexico for the United States, he appointed Virginia-born Taos businessman Charles Bent as New Mexico’s first American civil governor. When Kearny and the majority of his 1700-man force headed on to California to participate in acquiring it as well, Colonel Sterling Price, as senior U.S. Army officer in New Mexico, became its military governor.

Sept 22 illustration.Bent

Bent had been in Nuevomexico since 1829, first as a fur trapper, then as a Santa Fe trail trader based in Taos. He occupied his post as Governor less than four months. In mid-January 1847, he died at the hands of a New Mexican mob protesting the American occupation.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, Colonel Price, supported heavily by American businessmen and trappers in New Mexico, crushed that rebellion and assured that New Mexico would remain part of the United States.

Sept 22 illustration.Price

Ironically, Price’s own career would include participation in an even larger rebellion against the nation he had helped to force on New Mexico. Following a term as Governor of Missouri, he joined the Confederate Army, rising to the level of General. He died on September 29, 1867, almost exactly 21 years after he took over as military governor of New Mexico.

Sources: Leroy R. Hafen, Ed., Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest,  Logan: Utah State UP, 1977; Marc Simmons, New Mexico, an interpretive history, Albuquerque, UNM Press, 1988

CALLING THE JURY

Judge Palen flattened his palms against the rough wooden table that served as the Court bench and scowled at Sheriff Calhoun. “Are you telling me that you called twenty-one men for jury duty and only seven showed up?”

Calhoun was a big man, but he fingered the broad-brimmed hat in his hands like a schoolboy. “Yes, sir.”

“Well, go get fourteen more.”

The Sheriff nodded, turned, and crossed the creaking wooden floor.

Palen turned his attention to his seven potential jury members. “All right,” he said. “Now how many of you are going to have good excuses for not fulfilling your civic duty?”

Three of them sheepishly raised their hands. Palen nodded to his court clerk to begin taking their excuses and closed his eyes. And he’d thought this appointment as Chief Justice of New Mexico Territory and Judge of its First Judicial District was a logical step up from postmaster of Hudson, New York. He suppressed a sigh. How he missed the broad sweep of the river, the bustle of the town’s port. He grimaced and opened his eyes. Only four jurymen left. Damn this town, anyway. The whole of New Mexico Territory, for that matter.

 from Valley of the Eagles

Fire Destroys Etown!!

On Tuesday, September 1, 1903, a fire that lasted a little over an hour destroyed almost all of Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s business district and began the demise of the 36-year-old municipality.

The blaze began around 2:15 p.m. in a defective stove flue at Remsberg & Co. Mercantile. By three o’clock, nothing was left of the store except $300 in merchandise and the company’s books and cash on hand.

Sept 3 illustration.SF NM 9 4 1903
Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 4, 1903

In the meantime, the flames had spread to the Mutz Hotel next door. From there, Harry Brainard’s saloon and warehouse caught fire, then the general store next to Brainard’s. Flying embers ignited the Moreno Hotel and it was also destroyed.

By 3:30 p.m., almost all of Etown’s mercantile district had been reduced to ashes. The only store left standing was Herman Froelick’s.

Although the Mutz Hotel would be rebuilt in stone, the conflagration was the beginning of the end for Etown. Over the next two years, miners, store owners, the local schoolteacher, and even Elizabethtowns’ favorite vegetable wagon man would flee town for other locales. Some of the remaining buildings would eventually be dismantled and then reassembled in what is now the Village of Eagle Nest, three miles to the south.

It’s a little amazing what a single fire can do.

Sources: The Elizabethtown New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Dumas, Texas, 1961; September 4, 1903, Santa Fe New Mexican