Imagine the Santa Fe Trail back when it once ran stagecoaches and covered wagons during the westward expansion of the 19th century. William Becknell started from Franklin, MO with five other men in September of 1821. It took them almost two and a half long, cold, worrisome months to reach New Mexico, knowing that everyone else who had previously come to trade in New Mexico did not fare well. Governor Facundo Melgares, aware of Mexican Independence, welcomed Becknell and his men and asked them to return to Missouri and bring more goods into New Mexico. Over the years, countless men from the Missouri frontier purchased goods, hired hands and headed for Santa Fe. For almost 60 years the Santa Fe Trail was the conduit which brought goods to New Mexico and the southwest and had sent back silver, furs, and mules. The Santa Fe Trail was a route of commerce but quickly became a route of cultural exchange that is still with us, and still benefits us, today.
Located in central Missouri near the towns of Boonville and Columbia, one could pass right by the site of Franklin and never recognize its great significance in American History. That's due to the fact that the town was founded in 1816 on the banks of the Missouri River on a floodplain. Sure enough, about 1827 the town was flooded and literally washed away. Kit Carson lived in Franklin, joined a wagon train west, and when he returned years later he found the town completely gone. A few houses were saved and moved to New Franklin. Today, if you want to stand on the spot where it all began, look for an unassuming field where a flagpole marks where the center of town once was. This is where Becknell advertised for men to join him on a 900 mile expedition west.
There are several other significant sites in the area worth seeing such as Boone's Lick State Historic Site - a saltworks once managed by Becknell for the Boone family and eventually came to own.
Arrow Rock is a 30-45 minute drive from the Franklin trailhead. The village feels unchanged from the early 1800s, and is beautifully preserved. It was a desirable stopping place for travelers heading west because of amenities like fresh spring water, a gun shop, mercantile, and tavern. The Arrow Rock Landing provided the ferry that Becknell and his group used on their first journey.
The quickest way to Independence from Arrow Rock is on Interstate 70. But the more scenic route is on MO 41/65/24 where you are driving on the original route, and where there are ruts and old historic towns on the way. There is also a lot of signage to help.
Not to be missed is the National Frontier Trails Museum complete with a replica of a freighter with items one would have traveled with on the trail.
Kansas City was a Missouri River port founded in the 1830s. John Calvin McCoy, generally considered the founder, had supplies landed at a rocky point on the Missouri River, which became known as "Westport's Landing." The historic landing itself is no more, having been replaced by modern developments. The town of Westport has been incorporated into Kansas City, but is still known as Old Westport Historic District and includes buildings associated with the Santa Fe Trail. Westport superseded Independence as the major point of embarkation in the 1840s - 1950s. Now, onward through Kansas!