Army Freighters to Santa Fe

When the war with Mexico broke out Col. S. W. Kearny was ordered to lead a small army of 1,701 officers and men on a forced march across the Great Plains and capture Santa Fe, 873 miles away, before reinforcements could be sent from Chihuahua. To supply Kearny’s troops with food, clothing, equipment, and munitions on the unprecedented march and for a year after their arrival at their destination, required 900 wagons, 10,000 oxen and mules, and 1,000 teamsters. Under the time-honored method, the government pro-vided the wagons and animals and hired civilian drivers. During the fiscal year 1846-1847, 459 horses, 3,658 mules, 14,904 oxen, 1,556 wagons, and 516 packsaddles were used in supplying Kearny’s army and reinforcements sent out to New Mexico under Col. Sterling Price.

Although the customary method of transporting military stores for the army had always given satisfaction elsewhere, it proved almost a total failure in supplying the troops in New Mexico in 1846-1847. The principal reasons were lack of experience in han-dling wagon trains on the part of officers in the quartermaster’s de-partment, the ignorance of drivers, Indian depredations, and the hard fact that freighting upon the Santa Fe trail was entirely dif-ferent from anything the army had ever undertaken. While the officers in that department struggled heroically to perform an impossible task they observed that the traders’ caravans left the Missouri river on schedule, rolled along successfully day after day, had  little trouble with the Indians, and arrived safely at their destination.