Society for the History of Discoveries


Hyslop, Stephen G. Bound for Santa Fe: The Road to New Mexico and the American Conquest, 1806-1848. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. 514 p. ISBN 0806133899.

Stephen G. Hyslop interweaves two narratives of the Santa Fe Trail in Bound for Santa Fe: The Road to New Mexico and the American Conquest, 1806-1848. One narrative is a history of the trade route extending from the Missouri frontier to the New Mexican capital of Santa Fe, linking the United States and Mexico through commerce. The other narrative tells of military conquest, depicting the Santa Fe Trail as the U.S. Army’s avenue of deployment in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848. Accommodation and opposition are Hyslop’s themes: the accommodation of individuals from differing cultures to each other through the interactions of the marketplace, and the opposition that arose as different cultures impinged on each other. Primary source materials form the foundation of the book, and its themes are presented through selected passages from the writings of participants in the life of the Santa Fe Trail, adding great interest to the historical account. 

The book is organized into three parts. Part One, “The Santa Fe Trail as an Avenue of Exchange (1806-1848),” explores the origins and development of the Santa Fe trade. Part Two, “The Road to New Mexico (1821-1846),” follows the trail from St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe and on into Chihuahua. Part Three, “The American Conquest (1846-1848),” deals with the New Mexico campaign of the U.S.-Mexican War.

Part One opens with a location map that shows the two routes of the Santa Fe Trail, the Mountain Route along the Arkansas River and over Raton Pass, and the Cimarron Route, a desert crossing to the Cimarron and Canadian Rivers. Towns, forts, campsites, tribal areas, rivers, and desert crossings are indicated on the map, making it an excellent reference for the text, but the map is unfortunately so reduced in scale that it is difficult to read; a fold-out or two-page map would have been more suitable. Chapters in Part One include “The Ambiguous Venture of Zebulon Pike (1806-1807),” treating Pike’s expedition as the initiation of exchange between the United States and the Spanish southwest; “Many Nations to Contend With (1808-1821),” discussing the tribal groups who inhabited the territory crossed by the trail; “Foundations of the Trade (1821-1829),” describing William Becknell’s inaugural trip on the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 and other early travelers; and “Authors on the Trail (1829-1848).” The authors were nearly all from the United States, and their efforts created a body of literature of the Santa Fe Trail that became important, Hyslop maintains, in drawing others down the trail. He introduces many writers, some well known and others little known, whose works are the sources for the chapters that follow.

The chapters of Part Two divide the Santa Fe Trail into geographical sections, presenting travelers’ observations of places and occurrences along the way, while Part Three presents the war events in chronological order. Separate chapters are devoted to the points of embarkation at St. Louis, Franklin, and Independence. Further chapters explore Council Grove; the buffalo country of the Great Plains; the Arkansas River crossing; the Cimarron route; Bent’s Fort on the Mountain Route; and New Mexico, with two additional chapters on the trade in Santa Fe and the Texan Santa Fe expedition of 1841. Part Three is divided into chapters that cover the westward march of Colonel Stephen Kearny’s Army of the West in 1846; the takeover of Santa Fe; the U.S. occupation of New Mexico; Colonel Alexander Doniphan’s capture of El Paso; the New Mexican uprising at Taos; and the exploits of Doniphan’s army and accompanying traders in Chihuahua. A final chapter titled “Costs and Consequences” considers commentary from three perceptive travelers who observed the effects of the American conquest on relations among Mexicans, New Mexicans, Indians, and Americans.

Bound for Santa Fe holds interest for historians of geographical discovery because of its focus on original travel literature. The events of the Santa Fe trade and the U.S.-Mexican War, as well as the interconnection between the commerce of the trail and U.S. expansionism, are well known, but Hyslop highlights an intimate view of the Trail through selections from writers who experienced it. He also contributes a telling of the story that an audience of contemporary readers will appreciate for its respectful attention to the southwestern cultures that the American adventurers encountered. Bound for Santa Fe is a well-crafted book that makes skillful use of primary source materials to produce a thoughtful and readable account.

Paula Rebert
Albuquerque, New Mexico


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