Missouri was the trailhead state for the U.S. end of the Santa Fe Trail through most of the Trail’s history, and arguably benefited the most of any state from its existence. Missouri traders from the town of Franklin, like William Becknell, helped pioneer the Santa Fe Trail, dramatically expanding on the earlier efforts of small-time French and Spanish traders from the area.
In time, towns like Independence and Westport, Missouri, became major outfitting centers for Santa Fe trading caravans, and were entrepôts for the much-needed Mexican silver coins that flooded into the specie-poor republic from the New Mexican trade. Even Missouri’s official state animal, the mule, may have derived its widespread fame as a result of the superior mules that were acquired by traders and driven back across the Trail from New Mexico for the Missouri market.
Recognizing the vital role that the Santa Fe Trail would play in the destiny of Missouri and the nation at large, Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton prevailed on Congress in 1825 to appropriate money for a full survey of the road to Santa Fe, and treaties with Indian tribes to allow its passage through their lands.
Artist Charles Goslin’s painting on our Missouri River Outfitters chapter page illustrates the well-worn Santa Fe Trail ruts to the west of Independence, Missouri, made as wagons and carriages of every description “hit the trail” for Santa Fe.