Horseback Over the Santa Fe Trail
By Curtiss Frank
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In the early 1970s, Curtiss Frank and Jack Underhill, a pair of mismatched thirty-somethings who had been chums since boyhood, decided to ride horseback over the old Santa Fe Trail, or at least over a several-hundred-mile section of the far end of it. And the motive for the trip? Curtiss Frank says that reading the many firsthand accounts of the earliest trail travelers stirred up his blood and got him to wondering what it would be like to retrace the original pioneer route with the aim of reliving the experience and also discovering what physical evidence of the past remained visible.
As the author notes, other adventurers had undertaken the same journey, going by foot, horseback, or even wagon. But uniformly, they had used public roads, which today in many places are at a considerable distance from the original Santa Fe Trail. What Frank and Underhill proposed was to find the actual historical ruts and stay in them across private ranchland and open country so as to make a faithful retracing of the authentic route followed by the nineteenth-century freight caravans. This is their story.
CURTISS FRANK, in his own words, “grew up with an inordinate interest in things most others had given up on. From the mule wagons of the family plantation in Mississippi to the law cases of his father’s Wall Street firm, his tastes careened between intellectual and hands-on concerns. Initially inspired by Francis Bacon, he developed several ten year plans to achieve comprehensive goals only to be subverted by the mysteries. The result has been an inability to choose among the occupational categories offered by the census and other simpleminded formats. His career has included college professor, logger, farmer, builder, stone mason, innkeeper, and now writer. Each has been a love affair.”
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