Explorers, Traders, and Slavers: Forging the Old Spanish Trail, 1678-1850

By Joseph P. Sánchez | Go to book overview

Preface

THIS BOOK IS by no means a definitive history of the efforts of Hispanic frontiersmen to develop trade routes to the Great Basin between 1678 and 1850. Nor is the book an attempt to present a comprehensive study of the Hispanic dream to found a direct emigration route from New Mexico to California between 1776 and 1850. Rather, this book endeavors to identify salient themes and historical personages in the early history of the Old Spanish Trail and its many variants. A definitive history would be impossible, for the origins of the Old Spanish Trail begin in an unspecified antiquity when Native Americans first blazed a rough trail from an unknown geographic point. It was they who conceived a route running from the Great Salt Lake to the pueblos on the Río Grande and later to the Spanish settlements of New Mexico. Also, it was they who traveled southwest to California's San Joaquin Valley for trade or war with tribes in those remote areas. Like all trails throughout the Western Hemisphere that evolved into modern highways, the Old Spanish Trail developed from a series of Indian trails that ran from the upper Río Grande to the Great Basin via the Great Salt Lake.

When Ute traders first realized that a "new" people--the Spanish-- had settled among the Pueblo Indians of the Río Grande in 1598, the various routes they had used to the Pueblo lands took on added significance. Later, in the 1670s, when Spanish colonials in New Mexico became more aware of the presence of "Yutas" among them, the historical trail began to evolve, but its origins were from the northwest in Utah, not from New Mexico.

A definitive history also cannot be written about the Hispanic efforts to learn about the route or blaze new variants of it. History begins with a written word, and few frontiersmen who could write left accounts about their exploits along the many routes that came to be known as the Old Spanish Trail. In the beginning, contact between Utes and Spaniards, unless officially sanctioned, went unrecorded. Later, when Spanish officials prohibited trade with Utes in their country, Hispanic frontiersmen wisely chose not to leave a paper trail which could implicate them in disobeying Spanish law. Only when some were caught and

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