When wagons reached rivers or streams would they cross before nightfall or wait until morning? How would you find the answer to this and other questions?
The answers can be found in the journals and books written by people who traveled the Trail. Josiah Gregg was one of those travelers. In his book, Commerce of the Prairies, Gregg explains the reason why most caravans crossed rivers and streams before camping. If it rained upstream or at the site during the night the stream might become flooded and the banks too slippery to go down. Then the wagon train would be delayed, maybe several days. Another reason to cross when they arrived was that oxen rarely pulled as well in “cold collars.” If they had been pulling the wagons all day they would not fight crossing the water in the evening. If they waited until the next morning, the well-rested oxen often rebelled and would not pull across the water.
Susan Magoffin was another trail traveler who kept a journal of her travels. Her journal was also published as a book, Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico. In the book, Magoffin describes the troubles her caravan had in crossing Cottonwood Creek.
On June 25, 1846, Magoffin wrote, “We found the colonel in a sad predicament indeed. He had one wagon fast in a mud hole with the tongue twisted off, and the others so much disabled he could not move them.” Magoffin also mentioned a natural corral for animals formed by the bend in the creek at this spot.
Cottonwood Creek soon became an important camping spot on the Trail. As the travelers went west from here they would seldom find wood for fi res or wagon repairs and there was more danger of Indian attacks. However, during the next stage of the trip, they saw buff alo. You will notice a red granite engraved stone here. There are several of these red granite markers in any sites along the Santa Fe Trail. Perhaps you have already seen one of them. Years ago the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) made it a project to mark the Santa Fe Trail so that people would never forget its importance.
See also Stop 71.