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The Santa Fe Trail was an overland international trade route, military road, and pioneer migration trail in central North America between the United States and Mexico from 1821 to 1880. Shortly after Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, William Bicknell, a merchant-trader opened the Santa Fe Trail as a lucrative trade route from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. During most of its history the trail was used to carry wagon loads of trade goods between Missouri and New Mexico. In 1846 at the start of the Mexican War the United States Army used the Santa Fe Trail to invade and later supply New Mexico. At the end of the war Mexico ceded territory that would become California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico to the United States. Some American forty-niners used the Santa Fe Trail on the way to the California gold fields. Before long, ox teams pulling wagons began to carry more and more pioneers from the United States into New Mexico and the western states. Eventually, in 1880, the old wagon trail was replaced by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway which mostly followed the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City into Colorado and New Mexico.
Part of the reason the Santa Fe Trail was a success was because it linked the United States to two other significant trade routes, the Camino Real, and the Old Spanish Trail, all forming a hub in Santa Fe. Since 1598 the Camino Real had been used to carry settlers and goods from Mexico City and Chihuahua to Santa Fe. When the Santa Fe Trail opened these Mexican goods could be traded for goods from the United States. In 1829-1830 the Old Spanish Trail also was opened connecting Los Angeles to Santa Fe making even more merchandise available for trade.
Settlers followed trails because forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, or deserts blocked other routes. If an ancestor settled near a trail, you may be able to trace their place of origin back to another place along the trail.
American pioneer settlers who followed the Santa Fe Trail to Colorado, or northern New Mexico would appear in land records, censuses, and possibly county histories. Few appear in lists as the earliest settlers because the Spanish speaking pioneers from old Mexico via the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro preceded them by many years.