Monday, March 17, 2008

The First Trip On The Camino Real


At least 24 of my direct line ancestors, out of 500 or so "First Colonists", have been identified as having come over the Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro with don Juan de Onate on his 1597 expidition.

This was 23 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

This was 96 Years before don Diego de Vargas would lead the remanants of the colony back to Santa Fe from the El Paso del Norte area during the re-conquest.

This was 179 years before the American Revolution.

This was 206 years before Lewis and Clark began their journey to the west.

This was over 225 years before travel over the future Santa Fe Trail by Americans would become common.

The Camino Real trek was dangerous, very dangerous. Much more so than the trek across the future "Santa Fe Trail" would be hundreds of years later. Don Juan de Onate and his colonizers traveled it in 1597/1598. The remanants (decendants of the original settlers) of the colony traveled it when fleeing the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Don Diego de Vargas and the remenants of the colony, decendants of the original settlers, traveled it again in 1693 - 1695. These colonizers traveled in large groups of men, women and children along with their provisions, including livestock to start or restart the colony.

Reference a book titled "The Last Conquistador, Juan de Onate and the settling of the far Southwest" by Marc Simmons. There it states: "The column that don Juan de Onate led, when completely lined out, stretched more than two miles, it's length studded with fluttering pennants and spiked with polearms, such as lances, hatchet like halfberds, and wicked half moon blades, or media lunas. In the vanguard, like a pair of colorful sails, the crimson and gold standard of the king and the richly ornamented standard of Onate. Upon closer examination, separate elements could be distinguished: eighty wagons and ox carts rumbling on their heavy wheeles, the loads covered with stout white canvas. Two coaches drawn by mules and owned by don Juan de Onate. Three small pieces of artillery and seven thousand head of livestock, beef cattle, spare oxen, horses, pack mules, donkeys, sheep and goats. And finally, the people, Onate's colonists, over five hundred souls."

To put the don Juan de Onate's Camino Real trek into perspective we can look and see that it came 206 years before Lewis and Clark would "find the way west" in 1804.

The Lewis and Clark men were gathered and in the winter of 1803 - 1804 were trained in Illinois across the Mississippi from St. Louis, the starting point. In May of 1804 they set out up the Missouri, and the next winter was spent at the Mandan Native American villages near present day Bismark, North Dakota. In 1805 the hardest part of the journey was made. After reaching the three forks of the Missouri River, and naming the three branches after Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin in loyalty to the administration, they followed the Jefferson as far as they could. Then their Shoshone guide, the remarkable woman Sacajwea, helped to obtain horses, which were introduced by don Juan de Onate's settlers, for them to continue across the high Rockies. They crossed the contiental divide at Lemhi Pass and went over the Bitteroot Mountains through Lolo Pass. They had reached the land of westward flowing rivers and for part of their way they followed the Clearwater River down to the Snake River. The Snake took them to the Columbia River where they spent a miserable, rainy winter season at Ft. Clatsop, a crude post they built on the Pacific Coast.

In the spring they started back across the continent. In July of 1806 the party split up for a time in order to explore as much territory as possible. Lewis went with a group down the Marias River, while Clark and most of the men decended the Yellowstone River; they were reunited on the Missouri at the mouth of the Yellowstone on August 12 1806. The party arrived back at St. Louis on September 23, 1806 and were greeted with much acclaim.

To further put it into perspective we quote Josiah Gregg in his book on the Santa Fe Trail and writing about travel there in 1831. The book titled "Commerce on the Prairies" and he writes "very seldom that any lives are lost in encounters with them (Indians) , in the course of 20 years since the commencement of the trade, I do not believe there have been a dozen deaths upon the Santa Fe route (trail), even those who have been killed off by disease".

Reference a book "Los Capitalistas" by Susan Calafate Boyle, on page 29 it states, "The nearly seventeen hundred miles separating Santa Fe and Mexico City were not as formidable an obsticle as the hardships of the trip. The terrain was rugged, the Indian threat was always present, and scarce water was found often in fetid springs or pools.... only rendered tolerable by necissity". Historian Albert Bork (Nuevos Aspectos) remarked that the character of the territory between Missouri and New Mexico was ideal compared to the extremly difficult nature of the roads leading into the interior of Mexico.

From "By Force of Arms, the Journals of don Diego de Vargas. 1691 - 1693" written by John L. Kessel and Rick Hendricks. New Mexico's racially mixed Spanish population grew slowly from a few hundred during Onate's properietorship to almost three thousand members by 1680. The royal governor, his appointees, the Franciscans and members of some fifteen or twenty econimically and socially prominant families formed the upper layer of this frontier society. Most of the remaining colonists worked for them. Because New Mexico lay at the far reaches of the Camino Real and attracted few immigrants, its residents intermarried until almost everyone was related. Hispanic New Mexico became a colony of cousins.

Again we quote Josiah Gregg in his book "Commerce on the Prairies" written in 1831. If we exclude the unsubjugated savages, the entire population of New Mexico, including the Pueblo Indians, cannot be set down, according to estimates I have been able to obtain at more than 70,000 souls. Divided as follows; white creoles 1,000, Mestizos or mixed Creoles 59,000, Pueblos 10,000 and Americans, scarcely 20.