Colfax Ale Cellar
Wagon Mound Brown
Wagon Mound, NM may be small but that doesn’t make it any less important. The town of less than 400 people is located at, and named after, a butte called Wagon Mound. The butte actually looks like a Conestoga Wagon and it was given its name by some of the area’s earliest settlers. Throughout the 19th century, Wagon Mound, both the butte and the town, became one of the most significant stops along one of America’s most important pathways: the Santa Fe Trail.
Numerous trails served the U.S. during the 1800s as settlers made their way into the country’s many unorganized lands. The most famous of these is the Oregon Trail but many other routes were traveled as well including the California, Mormon and the Santa Fe Trails. Each of these trails gave people an opportunity to move throughout different parts of the country and were vital to America’s growth. The Santa Fe Trail technically started in Franklin, MO, located roughly in the middle of the state, and then made its way west to Independence, MO following the previously established Great Osage Trail. Independence, now a suburb of Kansas City, was also the starting point for many other routes like the Oregon and California Trails. From Independence, the Santa Fe Trail crossed over 900 miles of difficult terrain through present-day Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma, depending on which route the travelers preferred.
After Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, they opened up a whole new wave of trade into the U.S. At the time, present-day Santa Fe, NM was the capital of the New Mexico Province of the Kingdom of Mexico and the city was a major cultural and economic center. The Spanish had banned trade between Santa Fe and the U.S. but after gaining their independence, Mexicans were very positive on connecting trade routes and within a few months the Santa Fe Trail was established. At the time, much of present-day New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas were claimed by Mexico.
The trail had two commonly used routes. The Mountain Route took travelers along the Arkansas River and into the mountains of present-day Colorado where, at the town of La Junta, travelers would turn south towards Santa Fe. The other route, known as the Cimarron Cutoff or Cimarron Crossing, allowed travelers to shorten the length of the journey but at a high risk as it required crossing the extremely dry sections of present-day Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Much of the trail also passed through land that was occupied by the Comanche Indians and usually required some form of compensation for safe passage. The Comanche were known for raiding wagon trains, stealing horses and keeping travelers on alert at all times. By the 1840s, however, traffic along the trail had become so heavy that it prevented bison, one of the Comanche’s major food supplies, from completing their normal migration patterns and caused Native American populations to decline. Many significant towns were established along the Santa Fe Trail including Dodge City, KS (approximately where the Mountain Route-Cimarron Cutoff split occurred), Council Grove, KS and Las Vegas, NM.
The first party to traverse the trail was led by Captain William Becknell, a renown frontiersman. In 1821, Becknell and four companions spent about two months making their way across the dry lands filled with hostile Indians and found huge profits at the end of their journey. This motivated him to repeat the trek and by his third trip the Santa Fe Trail was established. Wagon trains full of manufactured goods quickly followed, often with the intention of trading for Mexican gold. In 1825, the U.S. acquired a large amount of land (which included much of the trail) from the Osage Indians, declared the route a national highway and travel began to develop even more quickly. By the 1830s, over 2,000 wagons traveled the trail every year and in the 1840s it became an important passageway for military units during the Mexican-American War. The California Gold Rush increased travel even further in the 1850s and Civil War soldiers from both the North and the South used the path in the 1860s. The Santa Fe Trail’s popularity finally declined in the 1880s due to new railroad connections but by this time it was so heavily used that residents in Dodge City claimed that they could stand on top of a mound near their town and, day or night, always see someone traveling along the trail.
Colfax Ale Cellar is located in Raton, NM which was once a stop along the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, a fact they remember with great pride, but they have decided to commemorate Wagon Mound’s history with their Wagon Mound Brown ale. Upon arriving in Wagon Mound, travelers could not only take a break from the trail but it was also just to the north of where the Mountain Route and Cimarron Crossing joined back together, only about 100 miles from Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Trail can still be traveled today as part of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, a National Scenic Byway maintained by the National Park Service, and the Wagon Mound butte has been declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
From the Brewer: This ale was imagined as a response to the question, “If a beer was carried along the Santa Fe Trail, what might is be like?” In truth, a beer along the trail between 1822 and 1878 would have been a rare thing. I imagined an English entrepreneur travelling with a guarded cask of auburn ale, a mild porter with restrained oak, brown malt and biscuit notes... easy drinking. That’s what we made. ABV 4.2%, IBU 22
Jim and Karen Stearns - Owners & Wheel Turners