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Tales of trail brought to life

Staff writer

“It is the human story, when it’s told and repeated, that will keep the trail alive.”

That’s what Marla Matkin said to the applause of 64 people who came to Goessel city building Thursday to hear her re-enact the lives of three women who traveled the Santa Fe Trail.

Women were active participants on the trail, Matkin said. The trail was a commercial route, not an immigrant trail, as other western trails were.

“It had a whole different energy, feel, and dynamic,” she said. “You could meet all kinds of people along the trail.”

Along the trail, travelers would meet gold seekers, mountain men, adventurers, traders, and merchants.

The biggest challenges travelers faced were illness, accidents, and weather.

Those weren’t the only challenges, however. Rugged terrain and water — or the lack of it — also posed challenges.

Wagons used for travel were not made to cross rivers.

“But you’ve not going any farther if you don’t attempt it,” Matkin said.

The wagons and the animals that pulled them had to be carefully tended.

“You have to remember this was your means of transportation,” Matkin said. “There was no AAA then.”

Matkin’s first portrayal was of Susan Magoffin, who kept a diary of her travels with her husband. As Matkin recounted Magoffin’s story, she frequently read portions of the diary.

Her portrayal of Dona Maria Gertrudes Barcelo brought to life a woman who learned early in life that she had an extreme power over men.

“Ladies, isn’t that fun to think about?” Matkin asked.

Barcelo had a choice between home and family or wealth and fame.

“You know what she chose,” Matkin said.

Barcelo made her living operating a gambling house and saloon in Santa Fe.

The third woman Matkin portrayed was Marion Sloan Russell, whose family first traveled the trail when she was 7 and traveled it four more times.

Russell’s memoirs were published as a book. Its title, “Land of Enchantment,” inspired the slogan of New Mexico.

After her mother’s savings were stolen, her mother opened a boarding house in Santa Fe.

Years later, the family returned east and lived in Kansas City.

“We left not knowing how homesick we would be for Santa Fe,” Matkin said.

In Kansas City, Russell became engaged.

There, she became engaged, but not for long.

“My mother said, ‘I think after the wedding I’ll go west again.’ Go west without me? I gave the ring back,” Russell wrote.

Years later, she wrote: “I still stand listening for the sound of wheels that never come.”

Last modified Oct. 26, 2022

 

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