The best books on the Santa Fe Trail for history buffs

Who am I?

Historian Doug Hocking grew up on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation of New Mexico. He knows her peoples, towns, and trails. He has completed advanced studies in history, his first love, anthropology, and historical archaeology. Since retiring as an armored cavalry officer, Doug has owned his own business. With this background he has insight into America’s great commercial road, the Santa Fe Trail, and into battles and soldiering. He understands Apache lives as few others do.


I wrote...

Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache

By Doug Hocking,

Book cover of Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache

What is my book about?

Before the Civil War, the Jicarilla Apache were the terror of the Santa Fe Trail closing it to traffic on three occasions, cutting New Mexico off from the United States. At the Battle of Cieneguilla, the Jicarilla handed the Army its worst defeat in the West. Out of 60 dragoons, the cavalry lost 22 dead and 34 wounded while the Jicarilla suffered only two losses. Kit Carson, by turn, was their enemy, their friend and neighbor, their Indian agent, and finally led their last war party against the Comanche. The last tribe to be put on a reservation, the Jicarilla forged their own future by threatening to stop being a tribe so they could take up homesteads on the land they wanted. 

The books I picked & why

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The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

By David Dary,

Book cover of The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

Why this book?

Dary set out to tell the whole story in easily accessible language introducing the student to a wide range of excitement on this trail that built America and made it great. From 1830 until the Civil War, the United States had no national bank and relied on the silver dollars brought from Mexico over the trail as its currency. Fortunes were made and lost and Missouri, the terminus of the trail, became powerful.

The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

By David Dary,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Santa Fe Trail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A prize-winning historian of the Old West brings to life the people who laid down the Santa Fe Trail and opened commerce with Spanish America. He uses first-hand accounts and contemporary records to give us a vivid recreation of a time and place crucial to America's westward expansion.


Commerce of the Prairies: Life on the Great Plains in the 1830's and 1840's

By Josiah Gregg,

Book cover of Commerce of the Prairies: Life on the Great Plains in the 1830's and 1840's

Why this book?

Gregg traveled the trail many times relating its wonders and its economics. He tells his own story of adventure on the plains. Commerce may sound boring, but Gregg was a keen observer and commented on all that he saw, treating it as fresh and new. He talks of the customs of Mexicans and Native Americans as well as of what each wanted in trade. 

Commerce of the Prairies: Life on the Great Plains in the 1830's and 1840's

By Josiah Gregg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Commerce of the Prairies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic account includes the following chapters:

I. Santa Fe Trade
II. The Departure
III. Catch Up
IV. A Desert Plain
V. Arrival at Santa Fe
VI. Sketches of the History of Santa Fe
VII. Geographical Position of New Mexico
VIII. The Mines of New Mexico
IX. Domestic Animals and Their Conditions
X. Condition of the Arts and Sciences in New Mexico
XI. Style of Dress in New Mexico — Customs
XII. Government of New Mexico
XIII. Military Hierarchy — Religious Superstitions and Ceremonies
XIV. The Pueblos
XV. The Wild Tribes of New Mexico
XVI. Incidents of a Return Trip…


The Mexican Road: Trade, Travel, And Confrontation On The Santa Fe Trail

By Mark Lee Gardner,

Book cover of The Mexican Road: Trade, Travel, And Confrontation On The Santa Fe Trail

Why this book?

This is a collection of articles including some by Marc Simmons, Gardner’s mentor and frequent writing partner. The pair are the greatest experts on the trail to be found. If you can locate a copy, its articles provide a broad perspective on where Santa Fe Trail research has taken us in recent years by people who love the trail and its peoples.

The Mexican Road: Trade, Travel, And Confrontation On The Santa Fe Trail

By Mark Lee Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mexican Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thirteen papers on the Santa Fe Trail, of which ten are reprinted from the April 1989 issue of Journal of the West . Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.


Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard

By Rowland Willard, Joy L. Poole (editor),

Book cover of Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard

Why this book?

Dr. Willard traveled the trail in the 1820s. He met Hugh Glass, the Revenant as Hollywood named him, and inspected his wounds. Willard brought medicine to New Mexico and Mexico where the Catholic church had made life difficult for doctors. He describes the treatments he used and it’s truly remarkable that any of his patients survived.

Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard

By Rowland Willard, Joy L. Poole (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the first Anglo-Americans to record their travels to New Mexico, Dr. Rowland Willard (1794-1884) journeyed west on the Santa Fe Trail in 1825 and then down the Camino Real into Mexico, taking notes along the way. This edition of the young physician's travel diaries and subsequent autobiography, annotated by New Mexico Deputy State Librarian Joy L. Poole, is a rich historical source on the two trails and the practice of medicine in the 1820s.

Few Americans knew much about New Mexico when Willard set out on his journey from St. Charles, Missouri, where he had recently completed a…


Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847

By Susan Shelby Magoffin, Stella M. Drumm (editor),

Book cover of Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847

Why this book?

Teenaged and highly observant Susan spent her honeymoon on the Santa Fe Trail with her husband a Santa Fe trader as they accompanied the Army of the West on its invasion of Mexico. She provides a woman’s perspective and much more. At a time when very few women have trailed to New Mexico, Susan wrote of the amazing things she encountered giving us a woman’s perspective. 

Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847

By Susan Shelby Magoffin, Stella M. Drumm (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June 1846 Susan Shelby Magoffin, eighteen years old and a bride of less than eight months, set out with her husband, a veteran Santa Fe trader, on a trek from Independence, Missouri, through New Mexico and south to Chihuahua. Her travel journal was written at a crucial time, when the Mexican War was beginning and New Mexico was occupied by Stephen Watts Kearny and the Army of the West.

Her journal describes the excitement, routine, and dangers of a successful merchant's wife. On the trail for fifteen months, moving from house to house and town to town, she became…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mexico, doctors, and the Mexican–American War?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mexico, doctors, and the Mexican–American War.

Mexico Explore 137 books about Mexico
Doctors Explore 58 books about doctors
The Mexican–American War Explore 10 books about the Mexican–American War

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Old Santa Fe Trail, A Wicked War, and The Dead March if you like this list.