Explore Tucson Arizona / Historic Landmarks

El Presisio San Augustin del Tucson

At one time a Papago Indian village stood where present day Tucson is. The first Jesuit priest visited the Tucson area in 1692 and the Franciscans followed after that.

In 1775 the Spanish built El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson to help solidify their claim to the northern frontier of New Spain. One positive reason for the selection of Tucson as a garrison site was provided by the Native Americans themselves.

tucson in the 1800's

Tucson in the 1800’s

The Spanish first built the Tubac Presidio, about forty miles south of Tucson in 1751. This was following an Indian rebellion in which Tubac was razed and most of its inhabitants slain.

When the Spaniards built their missions along the California coast northward from San Diego in 1769, there was a need for protection for an overland route to frontier California from Sonora. Because of this the Spaniards ordered the garrison at the Tubac Presidio transferred northward to the new presidio in Tucson. The Tucson Presidio would be built along the Santa Cruz River across from Pimam Tucson.

st anns tubac arizona

St Anns Church in Tubac Arizona

Visiting St. Anns Church

While St. Anns Church is in Tubac Arizona, just a short drive south of Tucson, it is worth adding it to your Tucson trip planner. Along with it’s deep Spanish history, today, Tubac is a growing art community and offers fine resorts, shopping and dining.

A guided walking tour map of Tubac is available from any of the town merchants and at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

St. Ann’s Church, which stands on Calle Iglesia near Placita de Anza in Tubac, is a relatively modern reminder of the presence of the Catholic Church in the area for most of 250 years.

Construction of a new church on the site of the original churches was begun in 1910 after parishioners mounted a fund drive, and St. Ann’s Church was completed in 1912.

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Photo of the reconstruction Presidio San Agustin del Tucson northeast bastion, 2009.

Building El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson

The social structure of the entirety of colonial Spanish America had been built around a base of food-producing Native Americans. In fact one big reason why the site for the new presidio in Tucson was chosen  was because of the close proximity of the Indians.

Defense officials could rely, they assumed, upon the Native American gardens at Tucson providing the garrison with at least some of its food needs. The site also offered adequate pasturage and firewood resources.

The new Tucson garrison was responsible with building the presidio.  Tucson garrison at first lived on an open post. A typically defensive fort was not built immediately at the new location, even though some Apache bands had been stealing horses and raiding and killing settlers near Spanish outposts to the east since 1773.

The first actual fortifications erected apparently consisted of a wooden palisade. Some of the houses of citizens and soldiers were outside the palisade. Eventually an earthen defensive wall surrounded the military post, although some members of the garrison and civilians still lived in houses outside the wall.

tucson historic district

Tucson Historic District street photo

The El Presidio Historic District

As one of the oldest continually inhabited areas in the country, Downtown Tucson has no shortage of history. Located downtown at Washington and Church Shttp://tripsintohistory.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10483&action=edit&message=10treets, the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson is a re-creation of the northeast corner of the original 1775 Spanish presidio.

The walls of the Presidio were said to have run along Washington Street on the north, Church Street on the east, Pennington Street on the south, and Main Avenue on the west. Each wall was reported to be approximately 750 feet long.

The El Presidio Historic District is a residential neighborhood containing adobe and brick buildings in the Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American and Eclectic architectural styles. The district is on the site of a prehistoric Hohokam Indian site and the original presidio. The Tucson Presidio Trust hosts Living History Festivals, October through April, where visitors can sample Spanish colonial food, listen to stories of old Tucson, learn period crafts and see musket and cannon fire.

The El Presidio Historic District is located north of West Alameda Street and west of North Church Street.

southern pacific steam locomotive exhibit

Southern Pacific locomotive exhibit outside Tucson Railroad museum

Tucson and the Southern Pacific Railroad

There’s one thing about Tucson Arizona that differentiates it from many of the other towns in southern Arizona and New Mexico. While the Southern Pacific Railroad certainly added to the growth of Tucson, the difference is that Tucson was a key settlement long before the arrival of the railroad.

Where some Arizona towns grew in direct relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the story of Tucson, as explained above has all to do with the Spanish fort on 1775. Also, one time during the American Civil War Tucson served as the capital of the Confederates western Arizona region.

reno locomotive of the virginia and truckee railroad

reno Locomotive built in 1872

The Old Tucson Studios

This is a site you want to be sure to visit when in Tucson Arizona. The Old Tucson Studios is a replica of an old western town that was built in 1939 for the movie “Arizona”. The studios have also been used for many western movies and TV films. The studios offer visitors stage coach rides as well as rides on a narrow gauge railroad.

Also see the staged old west gunfights and stunt performances. Also see Old Tucson’s very own “silent” movie star, The Reno locomotive. The locomotive is stationed at the north end of Old Town Tucson. The Reno has more than 100 film and television credits. From Interstate 10 exit at Speedway Blvd and head west following signs to Old Tucson. From Interstate 19 exit at Ajo Way (AZ 86) and head west following signs to Old Tucson Studios.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Western Civil War Trips

Drive the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

A La Jolla California Getaway

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is also located in Old Town Tucson adjacent to the train station. The museum address is 414 N. Toole Ave. Tucson, AZ. Here you can explore much of the town’s railroad history regarding the Southern Pacific Railroad.

southern arizona transportation museum

Southern Arizona Transportation Museum adjacent to the Tucson Train Depot

Outside of this Old Town Tucson museum is the famous Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive #1673. Southern Pacific locomotive #1673 is one of 105 of its type originally numbered 1615-1719. During it’s operation on the Southern Pacific it traveled over one million miles, primarily in freight service in the Southern Arizona region.

The locomotive was built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York in the year 1900. The SP locomotive #1673 was retired in 1955 and donated to the city of Tucson. In December of 2000, the old engine and tender were brought home to the historic Southern Pacific depot in downtown Old Town Tucson.

Hotel Congress

Now here is an old hotel with quite a history. The Hotel Congress, located in Old Town Tucson and across the street from the Tucson train station, in itself is a living piece of Tucson history.

historic tucson hotels

Historic Hotel Congress

The Hotel Congress is a historic building located in downtown Tucson and built in 1919.

The train station directly across the street at the rear of the hotel. The Hotel Congress building was added to the National Historic Register in 2003. The hotel is a valuable part of the Old Tucson community.

The Hotel Congress is conveniently located downtown and is extremely well restored right down to the rotary dial phones in the rooms. The Hotel Congress is also home to a Tap Room, the music venue Club Congress and an excellent restaurant. Club Congress is a music venue attached to the historic hotel. The music venue was opened in 1985. You’ll also find a great patio for food and beverages and it’s a good place to people watch.

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos of Congress Hotel, Southern Arizona Transportation Museum and Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive from Trips Into History Collection. Remainder of photos and images in the public domain.)

Famous Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles

A Western Frontier General

The Indian Wars are what thousands of books have been written about, both nonfiction historical accounts and dime novels. Fighting Indians is also what we remember most about the famous frontier generals of the period but in reality many were involved in civilian matters as well.

General George Crook House

General George Crook House

Visit the General George Crook House

The General George Crook House is located in the Miller Park neighborhood of North Omaha Nebraska. It’s on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and it would makes a good trip stop when visiting Omaha. The Crook House was used as the headquarters for the Department of the Platte during the general’s tenure and also for later commanders.

The Crook House was visited by both Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes. The house was eventually  taken over by the Douglas County Historical Society and was refurbished in the 1980’s. It’s open for both tours and special events.

The Expeditions of General George Crook

General George Crook was involved in many events on the western U.S. frontier, being part of the Sioux Indian Wars of the mid 1870’s as well as Comanche campaigns among others.

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General Crook's Expedition after the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Crook was also involved in matters not strictly military in nature and with nothing to do with fighting Indians or western pioneers. This was a part of frontier military duty that probably hasn’t been heavily written about in history books.

The Posse Comitatus Act

During the very early Civil War reconstruction period, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act which really was an extension of an Act passed in 1807.

The Posse Comitatus Act put a limit the military’s potential involvement in civilian affairs. In other words, it’s intent was to keep the army from being a domestic police force. Local and state law enforcement was charged with that duty.

This law was actually one of the founding principles of our government. Being passed in 1867, the act went into effect at about the peak time of westward expansion. Towns were springing up almost every day and when the transcontinental railroad was completed, in 1869 the emigration westward reached even new heights. To be sure, the U.S. Army had it’s hands full trying to protect settlers and keeping trails open. At about this time the army was also attempting to write treaties and relocate Indians to reservations.

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Actor in 1903 film The Great Train Robbery

The Army Goes After Train Robbers

One interesting story concerns the army’s role in chasing after train robbers.

A Union Pacific train was robbed at Big Springs Nebraska on September 18, 1877. The  robbers netted personal items from the passengers and about $60,000 in gold coins. This certainly was one of the great robberies of the time. After the robbery the outlaws split up into two groups and headed south. The Union Pacific offered a $10,000 reward mostly due to the amount of gold coins stolen which was enormous for the time.

Civilian posse’s headed out after the robbers which was normal. What was different in this case was that General George Crook ordered troops dispatched from both Fort Robinson and Fort McPherson to join the pursuit. Eleven of his troops joined Sheriff George W. Bardsley of Hayes City Kansas and a short time later confronted two of the bandits near Buffalo Station Kansas. A shootout ensued and two of the robbers were killed.

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General George Crook bronze statue, Fort Omaha

Reward Money

If it sounded like a good outcome, it really wasn’t. There was a legal battle over the reward money and a few years later Bardsley collected $2,250 and the eleven soldiers had to split a total of $1,002. The tale is that Sheriff Bardsley claimed all the credit. While General Crook was known to have a liberal interpretation of Posse Comitatus, in most cases when the army involved itself in civilian affairs it drew loud criticism.

The army’s dilemma was that the relatively new settlements in the west often times had inadequate law enforcement but at the same time the army had to act in some capacity when high profile trouble erupted and a $60,000 train robbery qualified as high profile.

Regardless of the controversy generated, General Crook was known to have ordered his soldiers into civilian matters on several occasions. You can just imagine the political infighting that ensued trying to interpret the Posse Comitatus Act. Today we have much clearer lines of jurisdiction but in the wild west of the late 1800’s with local law enforcement somewhat sketchy this line was blurred at best.

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Pullman Car Exhibit at Texas Transportation Museum, San Antonio

Labor Trouble and the Pullman Strike

Another high profile civilian incident that ended up involving the army was the 1894 Pullman Strike in Chicago. While Chicago isn’t really the western frontier, the story is revealing as to how military intervention can turn political.

The period after the Civil War saw it’s share of labor unrest. Immigrants had arrived by the thousands searching for work. Regarding labor unions, The Knights of Labor reached it’s zenith in the 1880’s and had it’s greatest victory with the Union Pacific Railroad strike.

The primary goal of the Knights was the eight hour workday. Alkso miners as a group called many strikes involving both pay and working conditions. In the second decade of the 20th century one of the most bloodiest labor uprisings took place in Ludlow Colorado when coal miners struck and were attacked by the Colorado Militia. This incident also eventually drew in federal troops to stop the bloodshed.

Several economic downturns  from the 1870’s onward aggravated the labor situation and in this case it involved the Pullman strike in Chicago.

pullman company chicago

Pullman Company circa 1900

During an economic downturn the Pullman Palace Car Company lowered worker’s pay 25% while leaving corporate manager’s pay the same. Union activists and avowed socialists entered the picture. Tempers flared and violence was inevitable. George Pullman stuck to his guns. He wasn’t going to bargain with his workers and he wasn’t going to even speak with the strikers.

General Nelson Appleton Miles, another big figure from the Indian Wars both on the plains and in Arizona (Geronimo surrendered to Miles) and a Civil War veteran, was sent in with 12,000 troops augmented by U.S. Marshals on orders of President Grover Cleveland to end the strike. Miles had one of the more colorful army careers and eventually in 1895 was elevated to the post of Commanding General of the U.S. Army.

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Early photo of Nelson Appleton Miles

The use of force against civilians by federal troops was a very controversial topic at the time. During the confrontation several strikers were killed in the and that in itself led to further violence. The situation spiraled out of control. A tremendous amount of property damage occurred. During the strike Eugene Debs, the socialist organizer, was arrested and tried for inciting violence and destroying private railroad property. Debs, after two trials and being represented by Clarence Darrow was found guilty of a lesser charge and actually served six months in jail.

See the Trips Into History article on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Sill Oklahoma

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

Garryowen and George Armstrong Custer

When the Pullman Strike was over the army took a great deal of criticism. The criticism was that Nelson Miles was getting too close with George Pullman and kept his troops in Chicago longer than necessary. In situations like these the army is wide open for accusations of taking sides.

Regardless of this incident, Nelson Miles was considered one of the frontier’s more successful army generals. The town of Miles City Montana was named in the General’s honor. Pullman himself was criticized for his “company town” philosophy whereas workers were dependent on his company for their homes, groceries, everything. They lived in homes within Pullman’s own town outside Chicago.

pullman strikers

Pullman strikers in Chicago

Many historians have pointed out the irony of having rank and file troops used to subdue the nation’s labor force. If anything, the typical non commissioned soldier had much more in common with the labor unions of the late 1800’s made up mostly of newly arrived immigrants than he did with the industrial tycoons of that period. Many U.S. Army troops were themselves immigrants.

As a memorial to the 1894 Pullman strikers, a rose and herb garden was planted in Chicago in the 1980’s to commemorate the strike. It’s location is 11111 S. Forestville Ave.

Recommended books on the subject of the western frontier generals and 1800’s labor unrest include General Crook and the Western Frontier by author Charles M. Robinson III…My Life on the Plains: Or, Personal Experiences with Indians by George Armstrong Custer…The Pullman Strike : The Story of a Unique Experiment and of a Great Labor Upheaval by Almont Lindsey.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

The Woman Called Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane is a name that will forever stay in the history of the American West. When anyone now brings up the name Calamity Jane the real question is who exactly was this woman called Calamity Jane? What was she famous for? Why does her name still come up today?

The exploits of Calamity Jane were many and her life paints a vivid picture of surviving in the old west, and surviving as a woman.

calamity jane

martha Jane Canary aka "Calamity Jane"

Great Western Trip Stops

Before going into the colorful and amazing life of this famous frontierswoman, there are several excellent venues to learn more about her and the old west frontier in general.These include the Dakota Discovery Museum located in Mitchell, SD. Lots of interesting information and exhibits about the western frontier and about Calamity Jane. Mitchell id located about 74 miles west of Sioux Falls.

Another interesting stop is the Yellowstone Gateway Museum in Livingston Montana. Here you’ll find good information about Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody and others. Livingston is located about 28 miles east of Bozeman.

If your trip takes you to Deadwood South Dakota you may want to visit the final resting site of both Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery can be reached by bus with tour guides from Main Street in Deadwood. This is a a very old cemetery and offers a good reflection of Deadwood and the Black Hills area history during the very early years.

In Princeton Missouri, the birthplace of Calamity Jane, you can enjoy the Calamity Jane Days Fall Festival which is held each September. Princeton is about 115 miles north/northeast of Kansas City.

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The Black Hills of South Dakota

A Woman Named Martha Jane Canary

Who history knows as Calamity Jane was born Martha Jane Canary in 1852 in Princeton, Missouri. In 1865 the family moved west to Virginia City, Montana, a growing gold mining town in the outer reaches of the frontier. Keep in mind that this was some eleven years prior to Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn.

To arrive in Montana one had to traverse usually hostile Sioux Indian territory. Not always easy. When you head out on a western road trip today you can take along a travel guide. During the mid 1800’s your only trip adviser were your instincts.

Young Martha’s Trip West

The overland trip took five months and during this time the young Martha Jane learned to hunt for food with the male members of the traveling party. Her mother unfortunately died shortly after their arrival in Montana. The family was on the move once again, this time to Utah.

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Fort Bridger circa 1850's

The tale was that Martha’s father died shortly after their arrival in Utah and she took her siblings back to Wyoming and settled at Fort Bridger. To support her siblings Martha took a variety of jobs, everything from dishwasher, ox team driver, dance hall girl, cook, nurse and waitress. Some stories claim she even became a prostitute. This accusation came from the later years she spent in Deadwood.

Martha gained a reputation as a tough frontier woman wearing men’s clothing, chewing tobacco, drinking like a frontier man and she became an excellent shot with her guns. Her life travels took her from Montana all the way to Arizona and then back north again..

A Cavalry Scout

In 1870 Martha became a scout for George Armstrong Custer in Wyoming and wore a soldiers uniform. Her Arizona travels was with the army in their quest to put the Indians back on their reservations. During the 1870’s Calamity Jane was very much involved with the U.S. Army in several Indian campaigns in the Wyoming and Montana areas. She worked with Generals Terry and Crook around the Powder River area which was the hotbed of Sioux Indian activity.

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Deadwood Dakota Territory, 1876

A Move to Deadwood

After Martha’s involvement with the army ended she moved to Deadwood Dakota Territory, at that time a large mining center in the Black Hills area. Her adventurous life their took another turn, this time as a pony express rider delivering mail between Deadwood and the town of Custer some fifty miles away. Deadwood was also a town that Bill Hickok, Martha’s friend, spent a good deal of time at.

Becoming Calamity Jane

If you’re reading about the exploits of Calamity Jane, at some point you will want to know how she took on that name. The story is that during the Indian Wars Martha came to the rescue of a Captain Egan near Goose Creek, Wyoming (now Sheridan, WY) who was ambushed by Indians and himself shot while losing a good amount of his troops.

Martha heard the gunfire, turned to see Captain Egan shot and reeling in his saddle. She galloped to his aid, took him on her horse before he fell, and rode away with him to the safety of the fort. At that point in the tale, Captain Egan proclaimed her “Calamity Jane“.

Like many old west tales, there was a bit of disagreement as to whether the story was true. Some claimed it was not. Some say she simply was given the name because of her rowdiness and that men had to beware of her so as to avoid a “calamity“. Others of course disagree with that version.

calamity jane and wild bill hickok in deadwood

Wild Bill Hickok

If the tales are true then Martha Jane Canary no doubt was a very talented frontier woman. If she was a scout for the army then she would have to have been an outstanding horseman and shot. She would have to have had tremendous survival instincts.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Robbers Roost and Canyonlands National Park

The Great Western Cattle Trail

An excellent book about the life of Calamity Jane is, Calamity Jane : The Woman and the Legend by James D. McLaird.

Calamity Jane’s Latter Years

We do know that in 1893, Calamity Jane joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as a horseback rider and trick shooter. In later years she settled at a ranch in Montana and tried her luck as an innkeeper. She was married along the way to a Texan and then moved to a ranch in Colorado.

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The Gem Theater in Deadwood, 1878

Martha had a daughter named Jane who ended up with foster parents. She was later reported depressed and had a drinking problem which most felt had it’s origins in her earlier wild life on the frontier and in Deadwood. Eventually she returned to Deadwood and took on cooking and housekeeping duties at the brothel she was earlier connected with.

Calamity Jane died in 1903 at the age of 51 in Deadwood. She is buried next to her friend Wild Bill Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, SD.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)


Searching For Old Pioneer Wagon Trail Ruts

A fun and educational experience on your western road trip is to view old wagon ruts from the boom days of the Overland Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. Searching for old pioneer wagon ruts through the western U.S. and learning of the history about that era can be a fun vacation experience for the entire family.

Even today, reminders of the pioneer emigration westward are still visible in many sections of these historic routes. Some sections of course are today on private land but a good many are preserved in national and state parks throughout the west.

Two popular sites to view pioneer wagon ruts are Lake Guernsey State Park in Wyoming and Fort Union in northeastern New Mexico.

guernsey state park wyoming

Guernsey State Park Museum, Wyoming

Wyoming’s Lake Guernsey State Park

This site is a must see during your Wyoming vacation. If you’re just traveling through Wyoming, this is one of the finest side trips you can add to your itinerary.

Inside Lake Guernsey State Park is a separate National Historic Landmark named the Oregon Trail Ruts.The best examples of wagon wheel ruts put there by wagon trains, many made by wagons weighing  2,500 pounds, are a few miles to the south of Guernsey in southeastern Wyoming. This area of Wyoming was crossed by the 1841-1869 era Oregon Trail. Today, in several parts of Wyoming, remnants of The Oregon Trail can still be seen. Some of the best examples are the ones located around Guernsey Wyoming.

conestoga wagon

Conestoga Wagon

Guernsey Lake State Park also offers numerous exhibits about the Civilian Conservation Corp and buildings from the era. The buildings were constructed of timbers and hand-forged iron by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. The park which contains the Guernsey Reservoir on the North Platte River  was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996.

The historic Guernsey Lake State Park is located northwest of Guernsey Wyoming about 100 miles north of Cheyenne.

Fort Union National Monument New Mexico

Fort Union National Monument is located between the cities of Raton and Las Vegas New Mexico, a bit closer to Las Vegas and just to the west of Interstate 25. The partial ruins of the adobe structures that were built at this important fort have been saved and restored and are fascinating.

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Santa Fe Trail markings within Fort Union

Fort Union was a crucial western fort for several reasons. The fort was located at a point where two segments of the old Santa Fe Trail intersected. The fort was an important supply base for travelers on the trail and also offered a degree of protection. The railroad would not come through the area until 1879 therefore the Santa Fe Trail was a major trade route. Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was literally a commercial highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Spain was not warm to the idea of settlers from the east traveling to Santa Fe. In fact they regarded the lands south of the Arkansas River as part of their territory and prohibited trade with the Americans to the east. The Mexican government formed after Spain was ousted from North America in the early 1820’s took the opposite approach and encouraged the trade the Santa Fe Trail made possible.

The historic Buffalo Soldiers also had a presence for years at Fort Union. This included the 9th and 10th cavalry units and the 24th and 25th infantry units.


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Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts outside Fort Union National Monument

Fort Union would also be key during the Civil War years when Confederate troops tried unsuccessfully to reach and attack it.

The Confederates made a move to the north and occupied  Old Town Albuquerque for about thirty-nine days. They made an advance northward to the east of Santa Fe in an effort to cut off Union supplies and forces on the Santa Fe Trail. The result was a battle at Glorieta Pass, just about twenty miles east of Santa Fe along what is now Interstate 25. Union forces from Fort Union and Colorado Volunteers defeated the Confederate troops at the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

The wagon ruts at Fort Union can be seen within the National Monument itself and are marked. Ruts are also very visible outside the park between it and Interstate 25.

More Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are found on the links below…

Re-Riding the Old Pony Express Trail

The Black Canyon Arizona Stagecoach Route

The National Ranching Heritage Center / A Texas Treasure

wyoming oregon trail wagon ruts

A section of Oregon Trail through Wyoming

More Sites to Add to Your Trip Planner

Additional trail sections where 1800’s pioneer wagon ruts can be viewed include the 350 acre Rock Creek Station Historical Park. The park is about a 123 mile drive southwest of Omaha Nebraska near the town of Fairbury.

Another good site that takes in the Santa Fe Trail is the Cimarron National Grassland. The Cimarron National Grassland is located in Morton County Kansas with a small part in Stevens County. The grassland includes twenty-three miles of the old Santa Fe Trail and wagon train ruts are clearly visible. The Cimarron National Grassland is located about 112 miles southwest of Dodge City Kansas.

Yet another excellent viewing site is just nine miles west of Dodge City Kansas on Highway 50. Here you can view the wagon ruts from a convenient boardwalk.

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts from Trips Into History Collection. Remainder of photos and images in the public domain)


The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Old Northwest

The Land of Western Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company

Much of the settlement of Western Canada had it’s origins in the old Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the earlier years, the Hudson’s Bay Company was said to have published a study declaring that the land in western Canada was unfit for agricultural purposes. Perhaps the report was slanted to help keep out the farmer. The report of course was proven to be untrue. Regarding the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly, there was a contentious trial in 1849 against a trapper who was accused, by the HBC, of trading in illegal furs. The trader was found guilty of breaking the Hudson’s Bay monopoly, but because of an angry armed crowd present during the trial, the judge didn’t fine the defendant.

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Watchtower at old Fort Vancouver

This 1849 trial was most likely the key event that turned the tide against the HBC monopoly and, by 1870, the government dissolved the monopoly altogether and opened up trapping to anyone.

This was also an event that opened up the Canadian West to farming as well.  It was that year, 1870, in which the Canadian government purchased the rights to the Northwest from the Hudson’s Bay Company. This move in 1870 created opportunities for Canadians in the east who had been thinking of heading west. The completion of the western railroad first to Winnepeg, then on to Calgary and eventually into British Columbia accelerated settlement. To give you an idea of the railroad’s major role in settling western Canada, Canadian Pacific agents operated in many overseas cities. Immigrants were often sold a package that included passage on a Canadian Pacific ship, travel on a CP train, and land sold to them by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

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Weaponry exhibit at Fort Vancouver

Canadian West Ranching

The year 1870 was also a pivotal year for Canadian ranching. Just as in the U.S., the western ranching industry had the encouragement of government. During 1881 the Canadian government passed an act which allowed anyone to lease up to 100,000 acres at a cost of just one cent per acre per year. Granting or leasing acreage at a very low cost was something done by both the Spaniards and the Mexicans to help settle their territories in Texas, New Mexico and Alta California. The method proved successful for them as well as for the Canadian government decades later.

The ranch land was leased and the cowboy entered the western Canadian culture. While the Canadian cowboy and his American counterpart dressed similarly, there were a few distinctions. The history books point out that, unlike their American brothers, the Canadian cowboy seemed not to have the same negative baggage. Some might say that quite a bit written by the dime novelists of the era embellished the “negative’ exploits of the American cowboy. I think that when all was said and done both the Canadian cowboy as well as his brothers to the south put in a hard days work for their wages.

historic homes at fort vancouver

A home for Army generals built at Fort Vancouver

Visiting Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver in Vancouver Washington just across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon is one of the best ways to learn more about the Hudson’s Bay Company and it’s impact on the Pacific Northwest.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site today is a reconstruction of the old Hudson’s Bay fort as it would have appeared in the early 1800’s. Fort Vancouver at one time served as the headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia region.

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The Pearson Air Museum at Fort Vancouver

The reconstructed buildings within the Fort’s walls are on their original sites. Adjacent to the fort is Pearson Field which today is operated as a city owned small aircraft field but does have the distinction of being the oldest operating airfield in the United States.

An excavation of the old site of Fort Vancouver took place beginning in 1947. According to National Park Service information, some two million artifacts were discovered at the excavation site. During the years during and after the excavation there were those who desired to keep the area an archeological site. In  1954, the area was was officially designated a site to preserve the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1965 Congress gave the go ahead for a complete reconstruction.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are found on the links below…

A Trip to Historic Portland Oregon

Visiting The Dalles Oregon

Two excellent books regarding the Hudson’s Bay Company and it’s impact on both Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest include…The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company by author George Bryce and Hudson’s Bay Company Adventures : Tales of Canada’s Fur Traders by author Elle Andra-Warner.

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View of the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located on the northern shore of the Columbia River, is easily accessible and makes a great addition to your Pacific Northwest trip planner.

The site is just across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon in Vancouver Washington. The two cities are connected by the Interstate 5 bridge.

When on Interstate 5, turn off at the Mill Plain Blvd exit and follow the signs to the fort’s Visitor Center which is on East Evergreen Blvd. At the Visitors Center you can obtain detailed maps which can be used for your walking tour. The Visitors Center is located on a hill just north of the fort. The walking tour map information contains details of each of the site’s structures.

The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Visitors Center showcases interesting exhibits and offers visitors the opportunity to view several short films by request. It’s one of the best sites to learn about the settlement of the Pacific Northwest.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)