Becknell opens trade on the Santa Fe Trail - HISTORY
Year
1821

Becknell opens trade on the Santa Fe Trail

On this day, Missouri Indian trader William Becknell arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sells his goods at an enormous profit, and makes plans to return the next year over the route that will become known as the Santa Fe Trail.

Pure luck made Becknell the first businessman to revive the American trade with Santa Fe. Fearing American domination of the region, the Spanish had closed their Southwest holdings to foreigners following the Pike expedition more than a decade earlier. They threw the few traders who violated the policy into prison and confiscated their goods. However, Becknell and other merchants continued to trade with the Indians on the American-controlled eastern slope of the southern Rockies. While on such an expedition in the fall of 1821, Becknell encountered a troop of Mexican soldiers. They informed Becknell that they had recently won their independence in a war with Spain, and the region was again open to American traders. Becknell immediately sped to Santa Fe, where he found a lucrative market for his goods, and his saddlebags were heavy with Mexican silver when he returned to his base in Franklin, Missouri.

The next summer Becknell traveled to Santa Fe again, this time with three wagonloads of goods. Instead of following the old route that passed over a dangerous high pass, however, Becknell blazed a shorter and easier cutoff across the Cimarron Desert. Thus, while much of the route he followed had been used by Mexican traders for decades, Becknell’s role in reopening the trail and laying out the short-cut earned him the title of “Father of the Santa Fe Trail.” It became one of the most important and lucrative of the Old West trading routes; merchants and other travelers continued to follow the trail blazed by Becknell until the arrival of trains in the late 1870s.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Oklahoma enters the Union

Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory collectively enter the United States as Oklahoma, the 46th state.Oklahoma, with a name derived from the Choctaw Indian words okla, meaning “people,” and humma, meaning “red,” has a history of human occupation dating back 15,000 years. The ...read more

Hessians capture Fort Washington

During the Revolutionary War, Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen and a force of 3,000 Hessian mercenaries lay siege to Fort Washington on Long Island. Throughout the morning, Knyphausen met stiff resistance from the Patriot riflemen inside, but by the afternoon the ...read more

Goebbels publishes his screed of hate

On this day in 1941, Joseph Goebbels publishes in the German magazine Das Reich that “The Jews wanted the war, and now they have it”—referring to the Nazi propaganda scheme to shift the blame for the world war onto European Jewry, thereby giving the Nazis a rationalization for ...read more

New Fatherland League launched in Germany

On this day in 1914 in Germany, a small group of intellectuals led by the physician Georg Nicolai launch Bund Neues Vaterland, the New Fatherland League.One of the league’s most active supporters was Nicolai’s friend, the great physicist Albert Einstein. Together, Einstein and ...read more

Notre Dame ends Oklahoma record winning streak

On November 16, 1957, Notre Dame beats Oklahoma 7-0, ending the Sooners’ 47-game, 1,512-day college football winning streak. The game also marked the first time in more than 120 games that Oklahoma didn’t score a single point. Sooners fans were stunned. Some cried; some sat in ...read more

Pizarro traps Incan emperor Atahualpa

On November 16, 1532, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, springs a trap on the Incan emperor, Atahualpa. With fewer than 200 men against several thousand, Pizarro lures Atahualpa to a feast in the emperor’s honor and then opens fire on the unarmed Incans. ...read more

The Sound of Music premieres on Broadway

Did the young Austrian nun named Maria really take to the hills surrounding Salzburg to sing spontaneously of her love of music? Did she comfort herself with thoughts of copper kettles, and did she swoon to her future husband’s song about an alpine flower while the creeping ...read more

Fyodor Dostoevsky is sentenced to death

On this day in 1849, a Russian court sentences Fyodor Dostoevsky to death for his allegedly antigovernment activities linked to a radical intellectual group. His execution is stayed at the last minute.Dostoevsky’s father was a doctor at Moscow’s Hospital for the Poor, where he ...read more

First Harry Potter film opens

On this day in 2001, the British author J.K. Rowling’s star creation–bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter–makes his big-screen debut in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which opens in movie theaters across the United States. Based on the mega-best-selling fantasy novel of ...read more

Construction begins on deadly bonfire

For nearly a century, students in College Station, Texas, created a massive bonfire—self-proclaimed to be “the world’s largest”—prior to their school’s annual football game against their archrival, the University of Texas. The beloved pre-game tradition had been canceled only ...read more

Ed Gein kills final victim Bernice Worden

Infamous killer Edward Gein murders his last victim, Bernice Worden of Plainfield, Wisconsin. His grave robbing, necrophilia, and cannibalism gained national attention, and may have provided inspiration forthe characters ofNorman Bates in Psycho and serial killer Buffalo Bill in ...read more

Battle of Campbell Station, Tennessee

On this day in 1863, Confederates under General James Longstreet fail to defeat a Union force under General Ambrose Burnside at the Battle of Campbell Station near Knoxville, Tennessee.After the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,in early July 1863, General Robert E. Lee, ...read more