Saturday, February 3, 2018

Maps and Trails

Fort Smith-Santa Fe Trail & Gila Trail to Fort Yuma

Maps are part of our research into family history and genealogy.  Learn the names of the trails and early roads on your maps.  I have a project where I am tracking the family of Robert D Tweedy from Conway County, Arkansas.  They travelled from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to what is now Los Angeles, California, in 1852.

George Tweedy was 8 years old in 1852 and on the Johnson wagon trail

Family lore told me they travelled on the Santa Fe Trail, but... that trail had two branches, one began in Independence, Missouri, and then on to Santa Fe in the New Mexico territory.  There was also a southern route.  This went from Fort Smith, Arkansas, following the Canadian River into New Mexico, and then on to Santa Fe.  

Using some keyword searches it did not take me long to track the Tweedy family on the Fort Smith-Santa Fe Trail.  I located the name of the wagon train captain, William Johnson, and the date he left on their journey, 17 April 1852.  Knowing these dates allowed me to research events and the family's path for that year.

If you use some logic with your internet searches, you will find details about your ancestors travels and the trails they used.  For example, I was able to locate the name of the wagon master, William Johnson, I located descendants of other families that were on that particular wagon train. Captain Johnson’s parents lived near Fort Smith, Arkansas, and were also on the 1852 wagon train lead by their son.  In my mind's eye,  I could easily see Alfred Johnson, son of Captain Johnson, and their families, talking to my kin, Robert D Tweedy and his family, around a night fire, hopefully, over coffee served in an enameled steel cup.  You could even hear the coyotes. 

The journey was a long one.  There was harsh terrain and the normal difficulties of travel by wagon on less than prime roads.  There were also hostile Indians.  The Johnson wagon train made it to Sante Fe and then went on another trail that would lead them to California.  This was the Gila Trail, which went from Santa Fe into southern New Mexico, southern Arizona territory, to the Colorado River crossing in the southwest Arizona territory.  
Fort Yuma 1860s
Work with a map, follow the route travelled by you ancestor.  You can find where they crossed rivers, what Indian tribes were hostile, what dangers they faced.   Captain Johnson’s 1852 wagon train had a particularly hazardous journey.  War had broken out between the Yuma Indians and the settlers and US Army.  The Yuma tribe conducted a series of bloody raids against both setters and the US military.  The Yuma Indians raids succeeded in closing down the small military fort near the crossing of the Colorado River.  

US Cavalry circa 1852

Fortunately, for my Tweedy kinsmen, and all on Captain Johnson’s wagon train, help arrived before the party had to make the Colorado River crossing. US Army Captain Heintzelman with 150 cavalry troopers deployed in the area to protect the river crossing. Captain Heintzelman and his men engaged a large group of over 300 Yuma warriors and defeated them.  The fort which had been abandoned earlier, was reoccupied by the US cavalry and named Fort Yuma.  The Colorado River crossing was secured.  Johnson’s wagon train reached Fort Yuma late in October or early November.  Their journey from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Fort Yuma, Arizona Territory, took six months.  From there the trip became somewhat less dangerous and they arrived in what is now the Los Angeles in the winter of 1852.

When you research, do not neglect your geography. Maps are a joy and tell stories.  Learn how to use them, to explore with them.  

© 2018 Barry R McCain 

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