, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 12, 2007

Santa Fe Trail explorers were from Three Forks

The first Americans who came and settled in the Three Forks area must have had a great sense of adventure. Many of them, in addition to establishing trading posts along the rivers, ventured out on well-documented expeditions throughout the American West.

At one of these early trading posts, built by Nathaniel Pryor, plans were finalized for an expedition into Spanish Territory in 1821. Pryor was a veteran of Lewis & Clark’s “Corps of Discovery” and never lost his interest in exploration.

The expedition had actually begun at Fort Smith where Pryor’s trading partner, Col. Hugh Glenn, met another retired soldier named Jacob Fowler who expressed a desire to travel west and asked for Glenn’s assistance. Glenn and Fowler left Fort Smith in August 1821 and traveled to Pryor’s post on the Verdigris River.

With Glenn and Fowler, Pryor discussed the possibility of traveling all the way to Santa Fe. Their objective would be to see if trade with the Spanish might be possible.

The problem with such an expedition would be in finding the best route. At that time, the Santa Fe Trail had not yet become a major trade route, in part because the Spanish had not been receptive to trading with Americans.

Most travelers through the western region of Oklahoma and Colorado stayed close to the Arkansas River because water was scarce elsewhere. This route later was referred to as the “wet” trail.

The Three Forks explorers followed the north bank of the Arkansas River, leaving Pryor’s trading post in September of 1821. But they veered away from the river in what is today Colorado, creating what became known as the “dry” route of the Santa Fe Trail. Theirs is the first recorded effort to reach Santa Fe along the “dry” route.

The Glenn-Fowler Expedition continued to the Pueblo area of Colorado. Here Fowler remained to construct a stockade while Col. Glenn continued south to Santa Fe. Glenn secured permission to trap in the Rio Grande valley from Mexican authorities. Mexico had gained independence from Spain, so Santa Fe was now in Mexican territory.

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