Susan Shelby Magoffin was the first or among the first white American or non-Indian women to cross the Santa Fe Trail. She traveled as the young and new bride of a successful trader, Samuel Magoffin, who had established business with the Mexicans before he married Susan. Their journey from Independence, Missouri to Chihuahua, Mexico was their honeymoon. On the way, Susan recorded her experiences, perceptions and insights in a diary, which reflected the conditions of her time through her perception. She described that independence existed there along with much free uncontaminated air that fired the mind, feelings and every thought with purity. She was later quoted as calling it a disastrous celebration of that freedom.
She traveled in a rockaway carriage under the meticulous care of her husband, a maid named Jane and a physician, Dr. Masere, who attended to her first pregnancy. Some viewed Susan as traveling in comfort and style, unlike her sisters in the rough Oregon trail. But the carriage was far from comfortable. In fact, it symbolized a landscape that proved quite bleak and harsh for human use -- its wheels patched and mended, its broken top reinforced only by studs made of used lumber, and the shiny black pain made dull by wind-drive sand. Susan recorded such harshness and bleakness in the small and large events of their journey, such as her travails of pregnancy and the premature birth and death of her firstborn.
Susan described the freedom of the outdoors -- the uncontaminated air that filled and purified the mind, the feelings and the thoughts -- and the ways of the slaves they encountered on the way. She was taken ill for a week after delivery but was amazed by the resilience and strength of an Indian woman slave who gave birth to a healthy and strong infant with a minimum of fuss. The woman slave got up half an hour after childbirth, carried a bundle to Arkansas, cut a hole on the ice for water and washed herself and her sturdy newborn. In contrast, Susan was a pampered white woman, supposed to be wiser and more knowledgeable, but instead, lost her first child and languished in poor health. While the Mexicans and the Cheyenne, Utes and Navajo natives and slaved lived in the full radiance and sustenance of the outdoors, she stayed in a dark and cold room at the Bent's Fort in La Junta, Colorado, sick and distressed not only over the loss of her first child but also for the family she left. She was the only white woman in that vast space of thousands of miles and the situation required of her more than self-sufficiency and self-reliance. It demanded the sheer will to survive and the guts few could muster. It must be remembered that the Santa Fe Trail was a commercial trade, not an immigrant, route, hence its arduousness and inclement conditions.
After Spain granted independence to Mexico in 1821, William Becknell brought trade goods to Santa Fe. Before then, trading with the United States was illegal and traders who arrived in Santa Fe were arrested and jailed. Becknell's move paid off and others imitated him, among them Samuel Magoffin, in hundreds of wagon trails of goods crossing the trail every year. The Magoffins' wagon was one of the 75 or 80 that encamped for the night of July 3, 1846 at Pawnee Rock. The following morning, Susan carved her name on Pawnee Rock, with hundreds already impressed on it, while Samuel kept watch for Indian attackers as he held guns and pistols. Susan was so scared of Indians that she trembled.
With the other wagons ahead of them, the driver of the Magoffins hurriedly overtook them to Ash Creek. Failing to observe the precaution of dismounting and walking down, their wagon was thrown off the edge of the cliff and crashed to pieces, but leaving the passengers almost completely un-injured. Susan had to be carried to the shade of a tree, where her face and hands were rubbed with whisky to bring her to herself. Instead, she was welcomed the events as an occasion that tested her husband's oversight and devotion. She pictured the scene as a perfect mess of people, books, bottles, guns, pistols, baskets, bags, boxes and other things.
Susas was the first American woman to see New Mexico and she recorded her surprise at the lack of formality in the dresses of the women she met and found there. She also remarked at their openness, freedom of movement and courage. She observed that the New Mexican women differed from American women in a way, which reflected their respective societies. Married American women enjoyed few legal rights. Property and wages she earned belonged to their husbands. New Mexican women, in comparison, kept their property, wages and even their maiden names, as the custom of original Spanish settlers. She noted that New Mexican women, unlike American women, were not subject to men.
Manifest Destiny was the inspiration posed by drumbeaters of the 19th century before the American people to make annexations of territories their conscious aim. The phrase meant that the United States was destined to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. It was a popular belief wherein the will of God intended the United States expand its natural limits beyond its geographical location. This led to the acquisition of Mexican territory after the Mexican War in 1846 to 1847, the conflict with Great Britain over the Oregon boundaries and the purchase of Alaska in 1867. In addition to that belief in manifest destiny, the Monroe Doctrine and the slavery issue drove large numbers of American settlers in the Mexican territory, the setting of Susan Shelby Magoffin's accounts. People of the 19th century confronted hunger and population pressure and sought for answers westward and away from their settled homes in the Atlantic, where Susan's family lived. The vigor of new independence gave them a sense of an unalienable right and power from God to conquer and occupy the territory between the two oceans. It was the driving force that brought the Magoffins to join the large caravan of other wagons. Manifest Destiny was viewed not only as the consequence of the aggressive nationalism of a young and weak nation but also of a myth. Their population was growing so fast that they believed the existing American territory could no longer hold and feed the swelling population.
At the time, there were large stretches of thinly populated or uninhabited land, occupied by Indians and Spanish-Mexican colonists. Americans of the 19th century held the same view as the European colonizers who believed that native inhabitants must make way for them and move out: the land was rightfully theirs. Claiming or winning it was their mark of intrinsic superiority to the natives. As Americans moved into the West, the Indians also moved deeper and farther into the inner parts of the continent, until they reached Mexico. There they settled in huge numbers in the 1820s, with the first Anglo settlers becoming Mexican citizens and Roman Catholic. But the U.S. government did not favor this change of loyalty and took measures to assert control over the territories.
In 1824, President James Monroe also pledged U.S. protection for Latin American republics just granted independence through his famous doctrine, popularly known as the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine denied European powers the right to intervene in American affairs or to establish new colonies in the Western Hemisphere. President Monroe assured Latin Americans that the United States would henceforth defend their freedom. In the 1840s, nearing the time of the journey of the Magoffins to Santa Fe, England negotiated an armistice between Texas and Mexico, indicating England's intention of placing Texas under its protection. The U.S., at the same time, wanted to buy Texas in 1827 and considered England's similar intent as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and, more importantly, as a threat to the security of the U.S.
But the strongest motivation of the U.S. In acquiring the new territory was the issue of slavery. In early 19th century, the U.S. was divided between the free-labor North that disfavored slavery and the South with a slave economy. The U.S. Constitution gave the slaves states the right to 3/5 of their slaves in determining the extent of their representation to Washington, hence, dominating the House of Representatives. With equal representations between the slave and the free states, they both wanted to increase their political power by increasing the number of new states the Union could conquer.
Mexican Texas soon became the center of attention and controversy, Texas was annexed, but, through short wars, the first decisive U.S. victory was California by the naval force of Commodore John Sloat in early July 1846. American forces claimed San Diego and Los Angeles and 500 to 600 California leaders fled to Mexico. American forces marched to the capital city, Santa Fe, waged a short and bloodless war and occupied it with little…