The Santa Fe Trail and Santa Fe

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember.

This week on our program, we take you to a city in the American Southwest: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We begin at the Santa Fe Trail, or what remains of it. The ground still shows the path cut deep into the earth by the wheels of thousands of wagons. The Santa Fe Trail began in the state of Missouri, the 19th century gateway to the wild and largely unexplored West. The trail ended about 1,200 kilometers away, in Santa Fe.

Wagons traveled the Santa Fe Trail from 1822 until a railroad replaced it in 1879. No one kept a total. But records from 1858 show that as many as 1,800 wagons made the trip that year.

The Santa Fe Trail was an important international trade route. It carried goods south into Mexico and north into the United States. But traders were not the only ones who traveled it.

Settlers, government officials, hunters, gold seekers, soldiers and American Indians all used the trail. So did storekeepers, hotel workers, lawyers, blacksmiths -- all the people needed to expand the young nation. They found places to live and work along the trail.

The National Park Service says that in 1822, trade along the Santa Fe Trail totaled 15,000 dollars. By 1860, it was more than three million. Today that would be worth 53 million dollars.

The Santa Fe Trail dates back to 1821. A businessman named William Becknell believed he could earn a lot of money by moving trade goods from Missouri to Santa Fe. He was right.

He began his first trip in September of 1821. He carried his goods on the backs on mules. He reached the center of Santa Fe in November. The next year he used wagons so he could carry more goods to sell.

Eighteen twenty-one was also an important year in the history of Mexico. That was the year Mexicans got their independence after years of revolt against Spanish rule. Spain had protected Mexico's borders with laws barring trade with the United States. With the coming of Mexican independence, the Santa Fe Trail became the major trade link between the two countries.

American Indians have lived in the Southwest for thousands of years. The area surrounding the Santa Fe Trail included the hunting grounds of the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, the Comanche, the Arapaho and the Apache. It was also the homeland of the Osage, the Kaw, the Ute and the Pueblo Indians.

Early relations between the Indians and the settlers moving West were mostly peaceful. But misunderstandings and conflicting values led to violence as more people came. Mexican and American troops rode with the wagons to provide protection.

Wagon trains -- groups of wagons -- rode in four lines across the land when they passed through dangerous country. If attacked, the wagons could quickly form a circle for defense.

An average wagon train included 25 to 35 wagons pulled by oxen. They traveled about 24 kilometers a day. The trip in each direction could take 50 days or more.

Mules were faster. For example, in 1857 a stagecoach pulled by six mules took 20 to 25 days to travel from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe. The distance was 1,200 kilometers. Later, a stagecoach could make the trip in 13 to 14 days by moving day and night and changing animals often.

Whichever kind of animal pulled the wagons, moving along the Santa Fe Trail was generally unexciting. Travelers mostly had to deal with mud, dust, insects and heat. But there was the danger not just of attacks but also floods, fires, winds and storms.

One result of the continued expansion of United States territory was the Mexican-American war. It began in 1846. A force known as the Army of the West used the Santa Fe Trail to protect American traders. It also used the trail to take control of an area that is now New Mexico and part of California. 

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war in 1848. It gave the United States nearly all of what is today the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

The government built a series of bases in the New Mexico territory to protect the settlers and goods moving along the Santa Fe Trail. The largest was Fort Union, about 120 kilometers from Santa Fe.

The area of the Santa Fe Trail around Fort Union was also involved in the American Civil War. By 1862, the trail was the main supply line for Union forces in the Southwest.

Confederate forces moved into New Mexico from Texas. They wanted to seize the territory and Fort Union in an effort to find paths to the Pacific Ocean and to the gold fields of Colorado. But they never reached the fort.

Union forces defeated them on the Santa Fe Trail at Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. The battle secured control of the supply line for Union forces. It also ended Civil War activity in the Southwest.

Today, Fort Union is preserved by the National Park Service as an outdoor museum on the Santa Fe Trail. Visitors can explore the ruins of the buildings and the ruts made by wagons. And they can follow the path of the trail over a modern highway. A stone marker shows the spot where the Santa Fe Trail ended in the city's historic central plaza.

New Mexico became the 47th state in January of 1912. But Santa Fe has a longer history of serving as a capital city than any of the other capitals of the 50 states.

Santa Fe was the capital of the Spanish kingdom of New Mexico beginning in 1610. It was the capital of the province of Nuevo Mexico when Mexico became independent. And it was the capital of the New Mexico territory before the territory became a state.

The seat of government in Santa Fe for the Spanish, the Mexicans and the American territory was a building called the Palace of the Governors.

The Palace of the Governors on the central plaza is the oldest continually occupied public building in the country. Today it houses the state history museum. Local Indians sell jewelry and other handmade goods along the front of the building.

Most of the buildings in Santa Fe are low and earth colored, a mixture of Spanish and native styles. These buildings are made of adobe brick. Adobe is sun-dried earth and straw.

Santa Fe means "Holy Faith" in Spanish. All around is mountains and desert. The city is more than 2,000 meters above sea level, near the southern Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico. Magazines in recent years have listed Santa Fe among the best places to live in the United States.

Santa Fe is known especially for art. More than 250 galleries and dealers make it one of the largest art markets in the country. In 2005 Santa Fe was named a UNESCO Creative City -- the first American city to get that honor.

City officials estimate the population at 70,000. The United States Census Bureau says two percent are American Indian and about half are Hispanic or Latino.

The two biggest employers in the area are government and the hotel and food service industry.

Each year more than one million people visit Santa Fe. But, like many places affected by the recession, the numbers were down in 2008. A city report says economic activity last year totaled almost three billion dollars, a four percent decrease from 2007.

The report says spending remains flat or in decline in the local economy. A spokesman for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Steve Lewis, says economic activity last month was down five percent from February of last year. He says hotels have been reporting cancellations, which is rare for Santa Fe.

Santa Fe is preparing to celebrate its four hundredth anniversary. Sixteen ten was when it became the capital of Spanish New Mexico. Activities will start this September over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Three nights of concerts are planned. Leaders from Spain, Mexico and the United States have been invited, along with American Indian leaders.

The celebration will continue through 2010. Organizers say they need all that time to include all that needs to be remembered about the history of Santa Fe.

Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. Be sure to join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.