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Old Spanish Trail - Historical Overview

The Major Reason for Travel

horses - a major reason to trade with California
The major reason for travel on the Old Spanish Trail was trade between New Mexico and California, primarily by New Mexican trade caravans, which traveled between Santa Fe and Los Angeles between 1829 and 1848. Caravans usually left on the three-month journey in the fall, primarily carrying woolen goods produced in New Mexico. They returned the following year, having traded their goods for horses and mules. The size of caravans seems to vary from year to year. Some of the documented trading parties include: Antonio Santiesteban and 30 men in 1831; José Avieta and 124 men in 1833-1834; José Antonio Salazar and 75 men in 1839-1840; Francisco Estevan Vigil and 35 men and others (possibly about 134 people) in 1841; Tomás Salazar and 170 men in 1843; and Francisco Estevan Vigil and 209-225 men in 1847. Little or no information seems to be available as to the size of the caravans in 1838, 1840, and 1845. There are no annual trade caravans identified for 1834-1835, 1835-1836, or 1846. There were other travelers, such as Santiago Martín, who went to California with 15 men in 1832 for personal reasons rather than trade.

Overall, the available information on the size of caravans, and to a greater extent the quantity of merchandise carried to California tends to be vague. The 1841 Vigil group was reported by a Frenchman, Duflot du Mofras, as consisting of 200 New Mexicans and 60 or more North Americans. Duflot suggested that the annual caravans routinely consisted of 200 men, and they returned to New Mexico with about 2,000 horses. However, the known information as to caravan size (see preceding paragraph) suggests that the size of the caravans and the numbers of livestock (see below) brought back varied from year to year. In some years, the documented number of livestock was more than twice du Mofras’ estimate and in others only a fraction of that amount.

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