When traders moved west from Missouri on the Santa Fe Trail, they traveled out of the tall grass prairie
and onto the buffalo grass-covered plains. In this area, there were buffalo herds, Plains Indians, and limited water sources. On William Becknell’s first trip in 1821, he brought a pack train of horses. He followed the Arkansas River west into present-day Colorado and then crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into New Mexico. This became known as the Mountain Route or the Bent’s Fort Route.
In 1822, William Becknell took his second trip with farm wagons. Because of the heavy load of his wagons, he took a different route. Becknell crossed the Arkansas River and moved the caravan toward the Cimarron River. Between the two stretches of the rivers, it was difficult to find reliable water. Mexican traders called this area the Jornada, meaning “a day’s journey.” This part of the Santa Fe Trail became known as the Cimarron Route, and later the Cimarron Cutoff. Cimarron is a Spanish word for wild and unruly.
The Cimarron Crossing of the Arkansas River was the half-way point of the journey between Independence and Santa Fe. In the earlier years of the trail, the Arkansas River crossing was the international boundary between United States and Mexico. After the Mexican War in 1846-1848, you didn't enter another country when crossing the Arkansas River. The United States now owned the beginning and the end of the trail territory. The Mountain and Cimarron Routes joined together at Fort Union in New Mexico before they entered into the city of Santa Fe.
This introduction to the Mountain and Cimarron Routes of the Santa Fe Trail are linked to the physical site of Cimarron Crossing Park.