Thursday, September 23, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - Comfort Of Home

In the words of Marion Russell...

The spring of 1860 found us still in Fort Leavenworth.  It also brought to us the first, faint rumblings of civil war.  We heard much talk of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Missouri Compromise, the Dred Scott Decision, and the John Brown Raid.  Perhaps mother grew tired of hearing so much of the nation's unrest.  Perhaps like Will and me, she was just homesick for the west.  One morning when we three were eating breakfast at a small round table and Will and I were talking about the wonders of Santa Fe, she pushed her chair back quickly and stood up to say, "Keep still!  I am as homesick as you are.  I can stand no more of this talk of the plaza.  We are going west again as soon as ever I can get passage in a wagon train for us."

Will and I whooped.  We ate no more breakfast, for we were too happy.  I remember saying that if I ever got back in sight of the mountains I would never leave.  I was to discover that for many years, perhaps never, I was not to be master of my destiny.  It seems I have always had to go where others lead me.  Even today I wait in land not of my choosing.  I wait, as I wait, I keep thinking of that land of dim distance and long silence.

Mother said that perhaps this time we would go to Sutter's Fort stopping a while in Santa Fe, of course.  We secured passage this time in a large Government train of two-hundred wagons.  The wagon master was a Mr. Hamilton.  The train was sufficiently large that we did not feel much fear of the Indians, beside that Uncle Sam had been busy erecting forts along the trail.  At these forts soldiers were stationed to protect the traveling public.  By this time I felt quite grown-up for I was fifteen and Will was seventeen.  

I was now old enough to help mother with the camp cooking and, since she had no boarders this time, she too, enjoyed the trip more.  Sometimes I walked by the side of the wagon with Will and the driver.  Frequently, I sat by my mother on the high spring seat of the wagon and crocheted diligently.  I made four yards of fine, white lace to edge my someday-to-be bridal petticoat.

At last the brakes of the Missouri lay behind us and our white ships were sailing across the wide sea of grass.  At Council Grove we spent the Sabbath.  The grocery-man did not remember me, for I had grown tall.  I wore a long dress, and braids of brown hair were coiled coronet fashion around my head.  He did remember Mother the moment that he saw her alight from the wagon, and he came with both hands outstretched to meet her.  We camped by the store that night and I remember how a Kaw Indian came and traded the grocery-man a shaggy red pony for a sack of white bolted flour.  While we stood watching another Kaw came and the grocery-man traded him the pony for a buffalo hide filled with yellow Indian corn.

Illustration by James Waitling
The buffalo were still numerous.  Sometimes we had to take pains to avoid them.  The country here was so level that we could see for miles in all directions and the sun seemed to come up or go down like a great yellow disk right into or out of the earth.  Sometimes we heard a noise like thunder and then a great herd of wild horses would swoop past us.  Wild horses were becoming quite common.  They were descendants of horses that had been stolen from wagon trains along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.  Each herd was led by a stallion.

This trip across the plains we did not follow the Cimarron Cut-off but went by the way of Raton Pass and Bent's Stockade.  Bent's Stockade was a sort of gathering place for the hunters and trappers.  It was a bit like a present day country auction.  A white man would  hold up something he wanted to trade.  The Indians would crowd around and do a lot of grunting.  Then one of them would step forward and offer a blanket or a buffalo robe in exchange.  The market for beads was not so brisk.  The Indians now wanted guns and gunpowder.  The more Indians present the better the trading, and for that reason there were always Indians lounging around Bent's Stockade.

One evening at sunset we found ourselves on the banks of the Purgatoire River, where the town of Trinidad, Colorado now stands.  Our trail led us past a tall white bluff where an Indian stood, tall and straight watching our wagons ford the river.  Along the southern bank ran a buffalo trail, and a log jacal (usually a brush shelter built to protect against wind, storm or sun) stood there among the brush and cedars.  The tall white bluff where the Indian stood we call today "Simpson's Rest," in honor of an old pioneer whose grave is there.  The old jacal was replaced in later years by the Cardenas Hotel.  Many adobe houses were to spring up along the trail where our covered wagons camped that evening in 1860.  I remember how I lay that night and looked out across the shining ford of the Purgatoire river into the moon-drenched country across which we had traveled.  I did not realize then that I would end my days in Trinidad beneath that tall bluff; that often when sleep defied me I would look at that same moon-drenched country and remember that camp of covered wagons.

Next morning while more than a hundred little breakfast fires were sending spirals of blue smoke heavenward, two Mexicans came from among the scrub cedar leading a little burro laden with venison.  I remember how gladly we traded gunpowder for venison.  We were not permitted to trade guns or gunpowder to the Indians.

Breaking camp while it was still early, our cavalcade began the steep and tortuous ascent of the Raton Pass.  Today we glide easily over hairpin curves that in 1860 meant broken axles and crippled horses.  The trail was a faint wheel mark winding in and out over the fallen trees and huge boulders.  Midday found us only a little way above the present site of Morley, Colorado.  Our horses were jaded and tired, six of our wagons had broken axles.  We made camp where a little icy cold spring bubbled by the wayside.  We rested, ate and tried to repair some of the damage done to our wagons.

I always remember the smell of the wild choke-cherry and the pungent odor of pine that greeted us that first morning.  To our left lay what we call today "Fisher's Peak," but what we knew then as Raton Mountain.  They said that great mountain side was infested with a specie of great, grey packrat known no place else.  The mountain was called by the early day Mexicans "Rat Mountain."

Once more we came to Fort Union and found Captain W.R. Shoemaker ordinance officer there.  He was esteemed and respected by both the civilian and military population.  His worth has been commemorated by naming the beautiful canyon on the Mora River east of Fort Union, Shoemaker Canyon, in his honor.

Marion found comfort in her memory... "I remember how I lay that night and looked out across the shining ford of the Purgatoire river into the moon-drenched country across which we had traveled.  I did not realize then that I would end my days in Trinidad beneath that tall bluff; that often when sleep defied me I would look at that same moon-drenched country and remember that camp of covered wagons."  

Simpson's Rest (with the Trinidad sign a top it)... There is a family connection and history with the Trinidad sign (are you surprised?).  My Great-Grandfather lead the first crew to install and electrify that sign! 

Fishers Peak (now a State Park) 

and Morley are prominent land marks in my area.  The picture of Fishers Peak was taken from our front yard.  The ascent over Raton Pass is not nearly as treacherous as when Marion made it, but it does often cause issues when we have heavy rain and of course in the winter with snow and ice.  

Marion lived out her life west of Trinidad in the beautiful Stonewall Valley... yet her heart remained in Santa Fe and on the Trail ~ Where your heart lies is where you find comfort ~ the Comfort of Home.

The modern day comforts of home are much different than Marion's.  And the modern day conveniences are often under appreciated.  But tell me...  

What is one thing that brings you comfort?

Stay Pieceful!


Get your pattern, make your block and then share it!  Don't forget to use the hashtags #PiecesoftheSantaFeTrail #PiecesoftheTrail #PiecesoftheTrailSewAlong and tag me on instagram @MelvaLovesScraps or share to my fb page Melva Loves Scraps.  
Be sure to come back and link up your block for a chance to win a fat quarter too!

Linking with:

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter
Put Your Foot Down at For the Love of Geese
Needle & Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation
BOMS Away at Katie Mae Quilts
Can I Get A Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Off The Wall Friday with Nina Marie
Brag About Your Beauties at From Bolt to Beauty
Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
Friday Foto Fun at Powered by Quilting
Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts
Oh Scrap! at Quilting is More Fun Than Housework
Sunday Stash at QuiltPaintCreate
Patchwork & Quilts at The Quilting Patch
Scrap Happy Saturday at Super Scrappy


  1. I so look forward to each of these excerpts, Melva. Thanks for sharing them and the blocks with us. We have many comforts of home and I would be hard-pressed to choose just one! I am very grateful for all the modern conveniences we have!

  2. It certainly wasn't an easy trip for them to make back then, and yet how they seemed to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing the photos and the family connection to Trinidad. One thing that brings me comfort - my family, where love and laughter abound. :-)

  3. The thing that most brings me comfort is the sound of my children's voices. Listening to these 40-ish men talk and laugh with each other, their wives and their children sets my heart at ease and brings joy to my soul.

  4. I have so enjoyed this story. Are we going to find out why Marion didn't get back to Santa Fe?
    Memories and family bring me comfort.

  5. In 1985 we were on a trip out west with our travel trailer. Coming down into Colorado from the Raton Pass, we blew a tire on the trailer. The 2 kids and I stayed with the trailer on the side of the road while a traveling Good Samaritan gave Hubs a ride into town to get a replacement tire. Ah, memories...

  6. Love your block and staging, wish I were that creative. Excited to see this finished. Thank you for linking up.

  7. A roof over my head, surely brings me comfort! What stories and such interesting connections you have. Thanks for linking up to TGIFF!

  8. Unlike so many who do not have, I appreciate the comfort of a roof over my head and someplace to call home. I'm certainly appreciating these stories as well. A place we lived that was beautiful was Walla Walla. Another was when we were in the Grays Harbor area of WA State. Each area has its own beauty, and its own areas where they need something else added.

  9. This post always is so interesting and well written. You bring the past to life! Thank you. What brings me comfort is hand stitching in a chair with my cat Spice in my lap.

  10. What a beautiful post Melva! I have received the Land of Enchantment book and look forward to reading every word. I am really taken with this story, probably because I have loved New Mexico and southern CO for such a long time. What a gorgeous view from your front yard!
    I often tell my kitties that they are my joy and comfort (and they are!), but when you get right down to it, my comfort is in my home and the sound of my husband's voice.

  11. That is a cool block! Van you just imagine what it was like back then....

  12. Lovely story! How fascinating is your personal history. Thanks for sharing it and the new block on Wednesday Wait Loss.

  13. Lovely new block, and a great story! Thank you for sharing