People on the Trail…. Matthew C. Field


“The Santa Fe Trail – Its History, Legends, and Lore”

David Dary

In 1839 a small caravan of eighteen traders with a few wagons left Independence on the firsts day of July bound for Santa Fe. There were several Mexican citizens in the party, including Don Antonio Jose Luna and Jose de Jesus Branch, whose home were in Taos. There also were a handful of Americans, including Matthew “Matt” C. Field, a twenty-nine-year-old actor who had given up the theater and joined a caravan heading for Santa Fe. We know more about his caravan than the larger annual trading party because Field kept a journal.

 Although his journal was mostly in verse, Field later wrote of his adventures in a series of articles published in the New Orleans Picayune. The small caravan in which he traveled passed near Pawnee Rock in late July. Of the landmark Field wrote: “Pawnee Rock springs like a huge wart from the carpeted green of the prairie. It is about thirty feet high, and perhaps a hundred around the base. One tall, rugged portion of it is rifted from the main mass of rock, and stands totally inaccessible and alone. Some twenty names are cut in the stone, and dates are marked as far as ten years back.”

 Field’s caravan reached Bent’s Fort in mid-August and soon continued west to follow the mountain route through Raton Pass. Of that journey Field wrote:

 “Not the most beautiful, but certainly the wildest and most romantic scenery which we saw in our whole travel, was while making our way through a range of hills which formed, as it were, a youngish growth of the high mountains we saw beyond. In performing this part of our journey, we were obliged to follow the wandering of a clear, pebble paved stream, called the Ratone, and sometimes, where cliff and precipice utterly barred our way, the wagons were obliged to be drawn along in the bed of the creek. At once place, so difficult was our progress, that we advanced but a mile and a half in a day. Overhanging branches and projecting roots were obliged to be cut away, and heavy rocks removed, for the creek was barely wide enough to admit the wagons between the rugged banks… One unfortunate wagon was upset three times, and once right into the creek. A shelving ascent had been prepared with sticks and stones to enable the wagons to leave the water, at a place where no further progress in it could be made, when the body of this unlucky vehicle turned directly over, leaving twenty-five hundred weight of merchandise in the water, while the relieved mules dashed up the bank with its wheels. A surly and dissatisfied driver had charge of this wagon, and it was strongly suspected that he occasioned the mischief by design. The place was truly most awkward and dangerous, but still, while he met three disasters in one day, the other wagons all came through safe.”

“The Santa Fe Trail – It’s History, Legends and Lore”
By David Dary
Alfred A. Knopf; Borzoi Book  – New York, 2001
ISBN 0-375-40361-2