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Texas and part of Mexico & the United States, showing the route of the first Santa Fe Expedition

W. Kemble
New York, 1844

W. Kemble, Texas and part of Mexico & the United States, showing the route of the first Santa Fe Expedition, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1844, Map #94035, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

President Mirabeau Lamar conceived the Santa Fe Expedition to direct trade into Texas and bring New Mexican territory under Texan control. Brigadier General Hugh McLeod led over three hundred soldiers, merchants, teamsters, and other travelers from Kenney’s Fort near Austin on June 19, 1841. The convoy included twenty-one ox-drawn carts bearing supplies and over $200,000 worth of merchandise. Hunger, thirst, and attacks from Indigenous groups beleaguered the expedition as it slowly angled northwest toward the New Mexican capital. In September, advance scouts reached settlements near Santa Fe, only to be greeted by Mexican troops. The entirety of the Texan force was captured peacefully on October 5, thus ending the Santa Fe Expedition.[1]

The expedition departed Austin, heading north into the Western Cross Timbers.

This map appeared in George Wilkins Kendall’s 1844 book, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition. While it does not break new ground in terms of its cartography, W. Kemble’s work is important because it showcases an early point of international contention between Texas, Mexico, and the United States.[2] Kemble traces the caravan’s route north from Austin through buffalo herds’ grazing lands and across the Brazos River into the Western Cross Timbers, an unforgiving, hilly terrain marked on the map by crude drawings of trees. It turned west at the Chihuahua Trail and followed the Wichita River (mistakenly thought to be the Red River) toward Santa Fe.[3] After their capitulation, the map details the prisoners’ protracted march through numerous Mexican towns en route to Mexico City, and authorities held most of them in Perote Prison until April 1842.

From the Cross Timbers, McLeod led the Caravan west toward Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe Expedition was far from the first attempt to link Anglo commerce to New Mexico. Other courses appear on the map, including “Mr. [Albert] Pike’s Route” linking Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to Taos, New Mexico, and “Mr. [Josiah] Gregg’s Route from Van Buren to St Fé 1839.” McLeod’s excursion followed the latter from a point the map identifies at the “R. Colorado.” In Narrative of the Texan Santa Fé Expedition, Kendall notes that in mapping the Cross Timbers, he drew heavily from both men’s knowledge of the region and that they agreed with his remarks on the Red River.[4] Beginning in the 1830s, Gregg completed numerous successful merchant trips across the plains into Mexico. In 1844, after his final return to the United States and time spent traveling in Texas, he published Commerce of the Prairies: The Journal of a Santa Fe Trader. This definitive study of the Santa Fe Trail aided future explorers and cartographers, including Randolph B. Marcy and George B. McClellan.[5]

The Texan prisoners endured an extremely long march from Santa Fe to Mexico City, and most were held in Perote Prison until April 1842. [click to enlarge]

Kendall’s book circulated the Santa Fe Expedition’s story and Kemble’s map to a broad audience, but it was not the would-be profiteer’s only outlet. Kendall had founded a New Orleans newspaper, The Picayune, in 1837 that advocated for Texas’ annexation and American westward expansion as it grew in popularity. The Picayune published twenty-three of Kendall’s letters written during his imprisonment and an extended account of the expedition upon his return to New Orleans in 1842. Together, these letters detailing the prisoners’ treatment and the wide distribution of the book and map increased exposure to the incident and helped to rekindle American interest in Texas in the years leading up to the U.S.-Mexico War.[6]

  1. H. Bailey Carroll, “Texan Santa Fe Expedition,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texan-santa-fe-expedition; Thomas W. Cutrer, “McLeod, Hugh,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mcleod-hugh.
  2. James C. Martin and Robert S. Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513–1900, Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1999, 131.
  3. Anonymous, “Cross Timbers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/cross-timbers.
  4. George Wilkins Kendall, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fé Expedition, United Kingdom: Wiley & Putnam, 1844, ii. Available online via Google Books.
  5. H. Allen Anderson, “Gregg, Josiah,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gregg-josiah; H. Bailey Carroll, “Santa Fe Trail,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/santa-fe-trail; Thomas W. Cutrer, “Pike, Albert,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pike-albert.
  6. Thomas W. Cutrer, “Kendall, George Wilkins,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kendall-george-wilkins.

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