By Jim Misunas
LARNED – Fourth-grade classes at Northside Elementary School heard the “A Tale of Two Towns,” which tells about the birth of the Santa Fe Trail through the eyes of 11-year old George Becknell. “A Tale of Two Towns” features a story about a father’s birthday gift to his son – a treasure chest.
Ellen Jones, Park Ranger, Fort Larned National Historic Site, presented “A Tale of Two Tons,” in the traveling trunks educational program that local historian David Clapsaddle started. Northside students in classes taught by Jennie Erway, Blake Ploger and Doug Anderson heard, “A Tale of Two Towns.”
Each student received a cardboard “treasure box,” similar to what the young George Becknell was given in 1821. George saved valuable keepsakes in his treasure box. To George, the most important treasure in the box was a Spanish Milled Dollar that his father had given him. Clapsaddle said the dollar showed symbols important to the Mexican heritage, including an eagle clutching a snake that showed Mexicans where to build their nation’s capital — Mexico City.
“He kept these things in his chest under his bed,” Jones said.
As a class exercise, Clapsaddle and Jones instructed Northside students to gather items kept in a treasure box that might’ve been discovered in the 1800s.
The students will have two weeks to decorate and collect treasures for their box and will be asked to write a brief essay about the items they collected that could date back to the 1820-1880s time. Three winners will be awarded gift cards from the Western National Bookstore at Fort Larned.
“We want the students to use their imagination and collect items that might have been around in the 1800s,” Clapsaddle said. “It could be anything from a knife, a yo-yo and even a feather.”
To help with the story, real artifacts, mementos and pictures are shown from a vintage wooden footlocker from the Santa Fe Trail era, which began with Becknell’s journey in 1821. Jones illustrated the story with photos of groundhogs, buffaloes, jackrabbits, wild horses and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. The students were able to see a musketball, a shell, a rattlesnake tail and a turkey beard.
Col. Howard Becknell, George’s father, owned a store in Franklin, Mo., founded in 1816 on the north bank of the Missouri River. The town was named for scientist Benjamin Franklin.
Col. Becknell joined five men and a string of pack horses loaded with trade goods from Franklin to an unknown destination in September 1821, the first expedition to Santa Fe. Col. Becknell pioneered the first 900-mile crossing from Missouri to Santa Fe, N.M in 1821. The Santa Fe Trail Wet and Dry Routes passed through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.
“They had tons of merchandise that would be taken to Santa Fe,” Jones said. “The goods came to Franklin on a steamboat.”
Reaching Santa Fe in November, Becknell sold the merchandise and returned to Franklin in January 1822. In the same year, Becknell led a second expedition to Santa Fe with 21 men, three wagons, and trade goods valued at $3,000. The merchandise was sold in Santa Fe for $60,000, a 2,000 percent profit.