Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’


Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Henry Gordon died at his ranch on Gordon Creek near O’Neal Park at the age of 101. Born near St. Louis in October of 1832, Gordon lived a full career “Out West” and represents a true picture of a cowboy.

Last week we pointed out that slaves were the most lucrative trade products on the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and Los Angeles, Calif.
Low-scale immigration from New Mexico to California used parts of the trail in the late 1830s when the trapping trade began to die. New Mexicans settled in Southern California via this route. Some settled first in Politana, then established the twin settlements of Agua Mansa and La Placita on the Santa Ana River. These were the first towns in what became San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The family of Antonio Armijo moved to Lower California and his father acquired Ranch Tolanos. A number of Americans, mostly naturalized Mexican citizens in New Mexico and formerly in the California trade over the Old Spanish Trail of the fur trade days, settled in Southern California and became important citizens in later years. Among these were Luis Rubidoux, John A. Rowland, William Workman, Benjamin Davis Wilson and William Wolfskill. It seems unlikely, but it’s a fact that many of the earliest settlers of Southern California reached that locality by way of a trail traipsin’ across southwestern Archuleta County.
Returning to the slave trade and horse-stealing subject of earlier columns, it is also interesting to note that American Indian selling American Indian constituted a significant portion of those illicit shenanigans.
Most of the horse raids were made by Mexicans, ex-trappers, and American Indian tribes, primarily Utes, most famously Walkara. These predators stole, altogether, hundreds of thousands of horses. The Paiutes suffered the most harm from the slave trafficking. They were an extremely poor tribe and often sold their children in order to survive. The consequences of this human trafficking had a long-standing effect on those who lived along the trail. Even after the trail was no longer in use, intermittent American Indian warfare along the trail often resulted from the unscrupulous traders and raiding American Indians.
John Fremont, “The Great Pathfinder,” used this route in 1844 with Kit Carson as a guide. Trade along the Old Spanish Trail continued into the 1850s. Starting about that time trails that could accommodate freight wagons replaced the old pack trail route. No one ever managed to drive a wagon the full length of the old trail because of the rugged terrain it crossed.
Next week we’ll begin telling the tale of another pathfinder in 1859, U.S. Army Engineer Capt. John N. Macomb.