David Dary, winner of the Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award and Westerners International Best Nonfiction Book Award, has now written a comprehensive history of The Santa Fe Trail. The book, THE SANTA FE TRAIL: Its History, Legends, and Lore, takes the reader on a journey through the historical development of the trail as a trade route from New Mexico to Missouri. This remarkable journey covers a period of almost 400 years.
In the beginning it was hardly a trail at all. It was a mere winding path that had alternative routes through sometimes hostile country. Over the years the government finally came to realize the value of a trade route and had the trail marked. Travelers were subjected to many hardships along the way, such as a lack of water and attacks on their caravans of wagons and livestock.
As trade started to grow, US Troops were assigned to protect the traders. Sometimes this worked, other times it did not. There were many who did not live to tell of their experiences, but those who did left behind a remarkable number of resources, and author David Dary has uncovered them in the process of researching his book. In the bibliography such items listed include books, government documents, pamphlets, booklets, articles, and more. The book also contains 111 illustrations, from maps and photos to drawings.Dary's ability as a journalist is what makes this historical account interesting to read. He has made one of the most important developments in US history available in a format for all to enjoy, with lively accounts and biographical notes of those who were involved from the early to the latter days of the trail.
Today the trail is often not easy to identify unless you know where to look. While parts have been preserved as historical landmarks, other sections are just ruts in the ground where wagons loaded with goods once traveled. If you read THE SANTA FE TRAIL and then go visit the areas written about in the book, you will no doubt have a better appreciation of those that have traveled before you. They in many ways paved the way, and it is up to us and future generations to understand how the trail came to be founded and to understand its history. Dary's book is a wonderful place to start.
Reviewed by Dave Taylor on November 14, 2000