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Max Moorehead was David Ross Boyd professor emeritus of history at the University of Oklahoma. He was the author of The Presidio:Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands and editor of Josiah Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies, both published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
Historian Marc Simmons is a founder and the first president of the Santa Fe Trail Association. His forty-nine books include six about the Trail and The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest.
Classic historical account of Sante Fe Trail, loaded with fascinating details, stories of Western Expansionism, filled with intimate personal details and observations from a Naturalists eyes. Many of the scenarios described in this book have become basic themes for many modern Western Films.
Historians and hobbyists of the Santa Fe Trail love Josiah Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies, I think, because it's (a) a first-person account from when the trail was still young in the 1830s, (b) decently written and researched, and (c) contains detailed descriptions of seemingly trivial mentions like the types of wagons used, what jobs people held or vegetation encountered.
Pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail weren't exactly known for their literacy, let alone their literary prose, so Josiah Gregg's chronicle is indeed a rarity. That doesn't mean it's not often boring. Check it out if you're curious, but otherwise a summation from other historians should suffice.
I bought this for one dollar while killing time outside an used bookstore. (Sorry, Amazon.) I almost didn't buy it, but, as it turned out, I wish all my dollars were this well spent. For a person without formal training in most of the topics he addresses, this early 19th-century Santa Fe trader offers a highly comprehensive account of his travels on the prairies, as well as his trading missions to Chihuahua and further south. He prided himself on his attention to fact and detail, and offers much information about this brief (two-decade) period of history that i think would otherwise have been lost. He talks about the challenges and joys of prairie travel (it's odd to think of a sextant being necessary on land -- but it was); trading in Santa Fe and difficulties with customs officials in his travels south; different tribes, ranging from "frontier" tribes to "wild" tribes to the settled inhabitants of the Pueblos; clothing, government, and social mores of different tribes; local Mexicans (remember, Santa Fe was part of Mexico); and landscape, geology, flora and fauna. For anyone of that era desiring any information on this topic, Gregg was perhaps the closest thing to Google. He's not totally free of 19th-century prejudices; like nearly all whites of that time, he takes it for granted that European civilization is the gold standard, and judges tribes according to what he deems to be their proximity to that standard. Still, he is not prone to sweeping statements; he tries to be objective and even-handed, and largely succeeds, at least relative to many other books of the era. If anything, the book might have been better if he had injected a bit more of his beliefs snd philosophy. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book for anyone who wants an overview of that time and place in American history.
Written over 150+ years ago, Josiah Gregg penned a firsthand account of not only his travel experiences during his tenure as a Santa Fe trader but also provides a compendium of insightful observations of people, places and things. His Santa Fe Trail journeys were amazing undertakings and evidently he was a remarkable business man. Leaving Van Buren, Arkansas on a year long expedition to Chihuahua, a sixteen hundred mile round trip, he starts his trek with two wagons and returns 12 months later with thirty-nine: Quite a tidy profit indeed! Yet at no time does he focus on his trading prowess. Rather, his focus is always on whom he met, what he saw and how he dealt with everything from Indians to Mexican soldiers and customs agents.
Gregg is a gifted writer who displays multifaceted interests. An international businessman, wagon trail boss, negotiator and author, he is also an anthropologist, geographer, geologist, ethnologist and quite accurate historian. Gregg debunks many of the myths that surround the Santa Fe Trail. For example, there were few Indian depredations, and when there were, it was almost always a case of mistaken identity. It seems Americans were quite safe, while Texans were fair game, quite hated by the Comanche, Pawnee, Osage, etc. Customs agents aside, relationships with the Mexican population were quite warm and the trade, as mentioned above, quite good. So far from American protection, Gregg never once mentions theft, gangs or outlaws while moving across the trail. One gets the feeling that people banded together for protection and took those responsibilities seriously. The reader is treated to detailed descriptions of various Indian tribes and Gregg appears to have had special warmth for the Comanche. He is quite critical of Spain and Mexico's Indian pacification programs which his direct observation asserts was little more than slavery. If his comments are somewhat scathing, they are also quite humorous.
You will enjoy this book. Gregg is a stickler for interesting detail and his maps are first rate. But what I found most intriguing was the demographic detail he assembled for the 22 year period, 1822 - 1843. If his figures are correct, and we have no reason to doubt his accurately evaluating his competition, the number of men and wagons engaged in the trade in any given year seldom exceeded 200 and 80 respectively, while total freight shipped was seldom greater than 80,000 tons. The low volume of goods reflects the smallness of the respective population centers and explains why, for the most part, Indian interest was limited to horses. No one, not Indian, Mexican, Texan or American wanted to impede this trade route. The 600 mile trail from the States was almost 3 times shorter than the Vera Cruz, Mexico City, Chihuahua, and Santa Fe alternative. Moreover, the prices charged were cheaper and the quality far superior.
This is a remarkably well written work that provides a direct look at America's Manifest Destiny in action and Gregg provides an extraordinary look into the people of that time and place.
In doing research, what I mainly do now when I read, I find there are old standby's that relate to early history, exploration and discovery. Commerce has and always will be a standard history of the American Exploration and Travels. Many details escape the new authors that did not escape the older ones. Commerce is written as journal as Gregg travels the trails across early frontiers. I find this information is like being there with him as he discovers, escapes the attacks of Indians, and like eager little boy, opens up the new frontier to others to follow. His advice proved valuable to the early travelers as well as valuable to the arm chair adventurer.