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Bill Thayer

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Adventures in the Santa Fé Trade, 1844‑1847

by James Josiah Webb

[image ALT: A photograph of a rather somber-faced thin man probably in his forties, with a full head of slightly wavy hair, parted on his left, looking straight at us. He wears 19c civilian clothing, seated with his left leg crossed over his right, his left arm resting on his leg, his right on the armrest of the chair. He is James Josiah Webb, an American merchant of the Santa Fé Trail.]

James Josiah Webb
From a photograph taken about 1863

edited by
Ralph P. Bieber

 p13  Preface

On January 15, 1888, James Josiah Webb, residing on his farm near New Haven, Connecticut, began to write the story of his adventures in the Santa Fé trade. He was then in his seventieth year. Though about three decades had passed since his return from the Far West, time had not dimmed his memory, nor lessened his interest in prairie life. After he had recorded but three years of his career, he succumbed to an attack of pneumonia, from which he died, March 22, 1889. His story remained unfinished. Still, because of its portrayal of important characters and events, it is published as a contribution to the history of the southwestern frontier.

The editor has reproduced the original manuscript with a few alterations. He has corrected spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing, and has changed capitalization to conform to the format of the publisher. He has made no attempt to revise sentences, alter grammar, or change word order. Additions have been made solely to clarify the meaning of the author, and these, with the exception of chapter headings, have been enclosed in [brackets] .

For aid given in the preparation of this work, the editor acknowledges his indebtedness to Mr. Paul Webb,​a attorney at law, New Haven, Connecticut; Mr. George A. Root, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka; Miss Stella M. Drumm,​b librarian, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; Mr. Clarence E. Miller, assistant librarian, St. Louis Mercantile Library Association;  p14 and to Professors Richard F. Jones and George B. Marsh, of Washington University, St. Louis. The editor is also under deep obligation to his wife, who rendered constant assistance.

Ralph P. Bieber

Washington University
St. Louis, Missouri
March 21, 1930

Thayer's Notes:

a Paul J. Webb, 1885‑1976, a grandson of James Josiah Webb.

[decorative delimiter]

b Stella Madeleine Drumm (later, Mrs. Stella Atkinson), 1886‑1946, urged Susan Magoffin's daughter Jane to allow publication of her mother's diary, and would become the editor and publisher of the diary. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846‑1847 is a classic of Santa Fé Trail literature.

 (p4)  Contents





Across the Plains in '44


A Venture in the Santa Fé Trade


Second Journey Across the Plains


A Winter Trip


To Mexico Ahead of Kearny and Doniphan


A Prisoner in Chihuahua


To the Fair of San Juan de los Lagos


Returning to Chihuahua


Homeward Bound

[decorative delimiter]

Technical Details

Edition Used

The book was first published in 1931 by the Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, California, but the copyright was not renewed in 1958 or 1959 as was required by the law at that time in order to be maintained, and the book has thus been in the public domain since Jan. 1, 1960: details here on the copyright law involved. The edition transcribed here is the 1995 Bison Book edition, which opens with an additional "Introduction to the Bison Book Edition" by Mark L. Gardner, pp7‑12, to which 1995 copyright is asserted: those pages remain under copyright and are therefore not reproduced onsite.

There is also a map on pp16‑17, which appears to have been drawn for the Bison Book edition; while there is no explicit claim of copyright on it, in 1995 U. S. law did not require one, and I have therefore regretfully not reproduced it. It is a fine informative map tracking the trails followed by James Webb from Independence, Missouri thru Kansas and New Mexico (one of them clips thru the far west corner of the Oklahoma panhandle) to Santa Fe, then almost due south for a much longer distance down to San Juan de los Lagos.


The first edition of the book contained 9 illustrations, and apparently the Bison Books edition meant to reproduce them all, as listed in the following table; but although my copy appears to be complete, it ends on p301, and p303 with its map, unfortunately, is not found in it. If you can supply this map, please drop me a line, of course.

 (p6)  Illustrations

James Josiah Webb

From a photograph taken about 1863


Samuel Combs Owens

From a daguerreotype. Courtesy of Sue Adair Owens


Arrival of the Caravan at Santa Fé

From Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, New York, 1844


Independence, Missouri, about 1850

From Charles A. Dana, The United States Illustrated, New York [circa 1853]


Chihuahua about 1850

From Álbum Pintoresco de la República Mexicana, Mexico, [circa 1850]


Suburbs of Chihuahua about 1850

Courtesy of Missouri Historical Society


Plaza of Aguascalientes about 1850

From Álbum Pintoresco de la República Mexicana, Mexico, [circa 1850]


Battle of Sacramento, February 28, 1847

From Álbum Pintoresco de la República Mexicana, Mexico, [circa 1850]


Map showing Trails traveled by James J. Webb, 1844‑1847

Engraved by Max Mayer from material gathered by the editor



As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.) My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the chapters are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was very well proofread, with only six typographical errors I could find; since they are trivial, I made the corrections, merely marking them with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

The editor has made a lot of emendations in brackets to Webb's text: most of them supplying a word or two, and like this one, [they are] often quite unnecessary.

A number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchors at their exact places in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

[image ALT: A lithograph of a Western scene. In the background, a gently hilly landscape with one distant snow-covered peak on the viewer's right. In the foreground, a dirt road traveled by a group of some thirty men, some on muleback, accompanying two covered wagons and several oxen; they are traveling toward the viewer's right and generally into the background, where a small town canned be dimly made out. Many of the men are raising their hats high in the air. The scene depicts the arrival of a caravan at Santa Fé, New Mexico in the 1840s, and serves as the icon on my site for the book by James Josiah Webb, 'Adventures in the Santa Fé Trade, 1844‑1847'.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is my colorization of an 1844 lithograph depicting the arrival of a caravan at Santa Fé: the frontispiece to Vol. I of Josiah Gregg's book, borrowed by Bieber and reproduced by him on p109 of this edition.

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Site updated: 19 Jan 22