Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
CARAVANS OF THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT

IN THE ROSTER of the historic highways of America none is more famous than the Santa Fe Trail. The reports of golden trading opportunities that Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike carried back from New Mexico in 1807 spread in Missouri. Although the imprisonment of the Robert McKnight expedition of 1812 dampened the ardor of the Yankee traders, by 1821 they were ready for another attempt to open trade with the Spanish. The New Mexico trade as it was finally opened, however, was an adjunct to the American fur trade.

The Missouri Intelligencer of June 25, 1821, contained a proposal by William Becknell under the head of "An article for the government of a company of men destined to the westward for the purpose of trading for Horses and Mules and catching Wild Animals of all description." His scheme as outlined was thereafter known as the "first article" and was important in the organization of the Santa Fe trade. Every man was to fit himself for the three months' trip with horse, rifle, ammunition, and clothing. He was to furnish an equal part of the fitting out of the trade and to receive an equal part of the product. If the company consisted of thirty or more men, it was thought ten dollars a man would suffice to purchase the necessary merchandise with which to trade. It was distinctly understood that all were to share alike. There was to be no division of the profits until the party returned to the Missouri. Every man upon joining the expedition was to put up fifty dollars as surety that he would go. This was to be forfeited in case he withdrew unless he was prevented from making the journey by reason of some unavoidable accident. Every eight men should have

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