By Lynn Moncus: QCS columnist
When the present becomes a bit too overwhelming, I tend to retreat to quieter times in history in order to relax for a moment and to think about the times that were.
By looking at a couple of maps drawn in 1849 by Lt. J.M. Simpson, I was able to glimpse Quay Valley and the Llano Estacado as it might have appeared during that company’s trip from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe. Big Tucumcari Hill and Little Tucumcari Hill later became Tucumcari Mountain and Bulldog Mesa, but their importance as landmarks surely helped a lot of explorers find their directions.
According to the notes, the company was 434 miles from Fort Smith when they made Camp No. 43 near those mesas. This was listed as Kiowa and Comanche country and described as having fairly good buffalo and prairie grass along most of the trail.
Watering holes, springs, and creeks are marked, as are places in which wood is readily available and places from which it should be hauled for the next camp. Suggestions for taking short cuts from the main trail are also made for those who might not have wanted to make as many camps as the ones marked. We can see that the riders made 22 camps between here and Santa Fe and had traveled 819 1/2 miles from Fort Smith.
We can only imagine how pleased they were to reach the end of the trail and to be able to make many formal reports.
Once that was done, they were probably faced with the return trip unless their orders sent them in another direction.
Often they traveled little more than 10 miles between camps because they were drawing the maps and exploring some of the country on each side of the trail. We can almost see them riding along slowly while viewing that rather pristine, yet-to-be-settled landscape and wondering what they might see over the next rise or across the next creek. The silence must have been most restful, interrupted only by the creaking of saddle leather, the jangle of spurs, and the soft clop clop of the horses’ hooves. They could actually hear the sounds of the birds and watch wild animals in their natural habitats.
Although they were following a wagon road most of the way, they were on trails occasionally and probably felt they were the first explorers to see some of this land. Of course explorers had been coming through here since the early 1500s, and each new troop saw this country from a different perspective. The Indians had viewed it as a great hunting area long before the 1500s; the Spaniards saw it as a vast addition to their claims for Spain; and the later troops, as an expanse to be settled by the coming population.
On the 1849 expedition, we can imagine the joys of finding a cool spring by which to camp and plenty of wood to burn while a good supper was being prepared. We can almost see the beautiful night skies lighted by brilliant stars and can hear the howling coyotes in the distance. We can feel the thrill of thinking we were the first ones to stand on a particular patch of ground and to view a beautiful vista.
Of course, we can still enjoy some of those feelings if we take the time to wander in our countryside away from all dwellings and noise. We can climb onto a rock, look into the distance, relax, and be most thankful we live in this beautiful land.