Commerce of the Prairies: Josiah Gregg's Explorations of the American Southwest

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Author: Josiah Gregg

Date: 1831

After the Mexican Revolution in 1821, U.S. merchants began trading in the Santa Fe, New Mexico, area. Josiah Gregg was one of those early traders. Based in Independence, Missouri, Gregg began his southwestern travels in 1831. Commerce of the Prairies, a record of Gregg's experiences, was a complete success. His descriptions of the region's human and physical geography and the maps he made were the best available at the time. Nowadays, it is still considered a classic description of the North American Southwest before the coming of the railroads and an excellent history of the early Santa Fe trade.

Gregg died of exposure and starvation while on an exploratory trip in California's Coast Range in 1850.

Gregg's 1839 Expedition

In this part of the book, Gregg explains his trip in 1839 from the Arkansas River near present-day Oklahoma to Chihuahua, Mexico, via Santa Fe, across hitherto unexplored territory. He describes the Cherokee treatment of debtors and the make-up of his trading party. Gregg's conversations with the Comanche Indians resulted in the acquisition of a fine map of the region from an old chief.

The blockade of the Mexican ports by the French offered strong inducements for undertaking such an expedition in the spring of 1839. Chihuahua is supplied principally through the seaports, so it was evident that the place must be suffering from a great scarcity of goods.

On the 28th of April, Gregg crossed the Arkansas River a few miles above the Canadian fork. There he encountered a Cherokee shop-keeper with an attachment for debt against a free mulatto.

On the 2nd of May, Gregg crossed the North Fork of the Canadian. Westward from that location, there was a small village of Creek Indians, and a shop that was kept by American traders.

Trading Party Members

  • Echu-eleh-hadjo (Crazy-deer-foot), also known as Chuly: An industrious and clever Cherokee, but prone to excesses when he could procure liquor.
  • Tabba-quena (Big Eagle): A Comanche trader who spoke limited Spanish and was best understood by signs.

Tabba-quena's party consisted of about sixty persons, including several squaws and papooses, with a few Kiawa chiefs and warriors.

On the 18th of May, Gregg set out from Chouteau's fort.

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