Commercial, military and national expansion road starting near Larned, Kansas and leading to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Historical Data of Some Kind
The earliest date of official existence of the Santa Fe Trail was 1821. However, the route was formed over time by the passage of horses and wagons prior to the time of its official naming. It stretched from Kansas to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The Santa Fe Trail was in use from 1821 - 1880 according to the records of the National Park Service, which now presides over the route as a National Historic Trail. Until 1846 it was an international commercial highway (said term meaning something different than it does today). In 1846, with the Mexican-American War underway, the American Army of the West used the trail for its invasion of New Mexico. After the end of that war, the trail became a national road that connected the new southwest territories to the rest of the nation. Gold seekers heading to California used the trail to stumble along towards their desired riches later on, but the coming of the railroad through New Mexico made the Santa Fe Trail feel much like an old abandoned lover as it it ceased to be an important part of travel to the west.
Different parts of the trail were known by different names. Old Santa Fe Road, Fort Hays Road and Fort Dodge Road were names of parts of the trail passing through Kansas. Further south, the names became more forboding, from the "Dry Route" and "La Jornada del Muerto" which was the Mexican name for the southern part of the trail, meaning "Dead Man's Journey." Forts and trading posts were prevalent along the Santa Fe at one time, but then that dastardly railroad really ruined everyone's good time.
A Movie That Had Little To Do With The Trail
One of the highest grossing movies of 1940, Santa Fe Trail featured Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland and Ronald Reagan. The movie is more of a highly romanticized re-telling of the John Brown/Harper's Ferry legend than about the Santa Fe Trail. Early on we have Errol Flynn as Jeb Stuart and Ronald Reagan as George Armstrong Custer attending West Point and dealing with Van Heflin as Rader, a seething, angry cadet with very strong abolitionist tendencies. Jeb Stuart and Custer don't have too much to say on the topic and seem to be a 19th century version of politically correct thinkers. After a bit of a brawl, Rader gets thrown out of West Point and everyone else has a nice, pleasant graduation ceremony.
At the ceremony, our leading men cast their eyes upon the beautiful and quick witted Kit Carson Halliday, portrayed by Olivia de Havilland. They have a musical-style, good-natured competition for her affections while she laughs at their folly. Later we learn she always had a thing for Errol Flynn's Jeb Stuart, as she seems to remember being in other movies with him. We get to see Ronald Reagan lose out, but only for a moment, as Jefferson Davis is at a party with them and his attractive blonde daughter takes an immediate fancy to Reagan's Custer.
They chase and clash with a very creepy John Brown and his associates (including the angry, sedative needing Rader) leading up to the attack on Harper's Ferry, where Errol Flynn saves the day and everyone gets to have a party again.
There is also a very odd scene in the movie where all the West Point cadets hang out with an Indian fortune teller/future seer who tells them they will all end up as enemies and predicts an oncoming war that will put them at odds with one another. They all laugh and drink and look for another party to go to at this point.
The only time the Santa Fe Trail comes into play in the film is when our heroes help lead a wagon caravan along the trail to New Mexico. They sing a song while they travel along the trail.