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The Changing Trail


Kelley Hewett Pounds


    A fire blazed in the front yard while members of the Kayser, Hewett and Autry families tuned up guitars, fiddles and banjos for an impromptu "musical."  Practice notes drifted on piņon smoke and the vanilla-scented breeze that whispered through Ponderosa pines.  On the front porch the children gathered at the feet of Old Hans Kayser, who had agreed to tell stories of the "olden days" when his parents had first settled in the Manzano Mountains.
    That memory came to mind when a new e-mail friend, Laura Kayser, found out I was writing a series of articles about women on the Santa Fe Trail.  You see, "Old Hans" was the son of Lucinda Wiseman Trieloff Kayser, the woman purported to have been the last woman to cross the Santa Fe Trail by wagon.  Laura told me she and her husband (Lucinda's grandson) had a copy of her diary.  Would I like to read it and use it for an article?
    "Yes!" I replied, stunned by my good fortune, especially since I had grown up in a mountain community homesteaded by Lucinda's family and mine.   I attended school with her great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, and my sister married one of her great-grandsons.
    Now, because of those childhood memories, stories told by firelight, and an e-mail message from a new friend, I finally realize how quickly industry and technology can change our world.   I understand how people must have first felt about the telegraph and the telephone.
    Change.   Progress.  It was inevitable, even for the Santa Fe Trail.  When William Becknell opened commerce with Mexico in 1821, there were no American settlements in Kansas.  Even after the Civil War, the only way to ship merchandise and "manpower" across the plains was by wagon train.  But by 1877, Lucinda Wiseman Trieloff, her new husband Carl Trieloff, and his ten-year-old daughter Emma, traveled the trail alone.  Their single wagon no longer needed the protection of others, and their trail was no longer scouted by a wagon master, but by steel rails and locomotive engines.
    In her diary entry dated July 10, 1877, Lucinda herself noted the changes that had occurred in a short period of time.  " . . . Our road is still across the almost level prairie or what was once called the plains.  Eight years ago there could hardly a house be found along the road.  Only once in a while a stock ranch.  Now it is settled all along.  I don't think we traveled more than a mile anywhere without passing a house. . . ."
    Another clue to the degree of change that had taken place was the number of miles Lucinda often recorded traveling per day.  Twenty-six miles.  Twenty-eight miles.   Thirty.  Such distances indicate a vast improvement in travel conditions from a time when fifteen miles was considered a good day's journey.  Their relatively easy progress might also have been due to the fact that they weren't hauling 5000 pounds of goods for trade in Santa Fe as those before them had done.
    It seems the only things about the trail experience that didn't change were the swarms of mosquitoes and the everlasting frustration a woman feels when having to deal with the stubborn man in her life.  This last bit of understanding came with a knowing smile when I read this: "While in Great Bend Carl saw a man who told him there was a little town down below . . . so Carl concluded to go and see it and, if it suited him, he thought to buy a house lot, build a house and go to work.  So in the morning we came back across Walnut Creek and stop[ped] for dinner.  Now I guess he has concluded to go on again.  I wish he knew what he was going to do. . . . O Carl, it seems to me you do not think how much you dislike to wait when you are ready to go. . . ."
    Today, with our progressive ideas about sexual politics and gender equality, some might think women like Lucinda meek and weak-willed for leaving behind friends, family and an established home to relocate at the whims of their husbands.  But even though Lucinda left Manhattan, Kansas in tears, she soon adjusted to her new adventure.
    How many of us today would be willing to cook over an open fire under threat of an impending rainstorm, trek across miles of prairie in long skirts without hope of finding a rest stop with indoor plumbing, ride a donkey for the first time down a steep mountain pass, or settle in a land where we might not see our nearest neighbor for weeks or months at a time?  Never mind the prospect of finding rattlesnakes curled up in our beds or giving birth alone in the dead of winter.
    When Lucinda and Carl arrived at Watrous, also known as La Junta, in the New Mexico Territory, they camped beside a lake near the home of William Kronig, a friend of Carl's.  Carl then left Lucinda and Emma behind in order to beat the deadline for purchasing a wagon yard, saloon, and mercantile business in a place called La Joya.  After a tearful farewell, afraid she might never see Carl again, Lucinda resigned herself to wait for his return.  He soon did, and the Trieloffs traveled south to La Joya to begin their new life.
    Before long they had a son, Frederick, who entered the world roughly the same time the railroad reached New Mexico.  And by 1880 the Santa Fe Trail as people had known it ceased to exist, while its descendant, the Santa Fe Railroad, gave birth to a new era.
    In 1884, Carl became ill and died.  Lucinda continued to operate their business alone, but when her store began to suffer outlaw raids, John Becker, the Belen merchant who supplied her with merchandise, sent his employee, Paul Frederick August Kayser VI, to help and protect her.
    August Kayser--known today by many as P.F.A.K. in order to distinguish him from the many Pauls and Augusts that have followed--also had an interesting history.  Originally from Kiel, Germany, he spoke seven languages fluently.  Among his many adventures, including a stint on a boat owned by a Russian nobleman and a trek through the Amazon jungle, he was at one time a resident of Isleta Pueblo and was married temporarily to an Isleta woman.  As a result of his talent with languages he developed a written version of the Tiwa language, and on several occasions he escorted delegates from Isleta Pueblo to Washington, D.C.
    Lucinda and August married in October 1886, and a year later Paul Frederick August Kayser VII (Hans) was born.  In 1890, August was offered a job by a well-known Estancia Valley sheepherder whom August had met aboard the ship that had brought them both to America.   But when Lucinda and August arrived in the Estancia Valley, they were astounded to find out their employer and his partner had been murdered.  Having traveled thus far, they decided to claim a homestead in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains.  August was soon operating a sawmill, and during the winter he and Lucinda taught school in the area's small Hispanic villages.
    All told, Lucinda and August had seven children of their own, all of whom lived to adulthood.   And Hans, the avid storyteller of the Kayser brood, put his own stamp on the course of progress in New Mexico.  With a team of mules and a fresno, he proved instrumental in the construction of the rail bed between Belen and Mountainair, a town named for the fresh breezes blowing down from the Manzano Mountains.
    In 1981, eight years after the death of Old Hans, a railroad station sign bearing the name "Kayser" was erected to commemorate his decades of loyal service to the Santa Fe Railroad.  It seems fitting that "Old Hans," son of the last woman to cross the Santa Fe Trail by wagon, son of the German immigrant who walked that same trail before rows of white canvas bonnets gave way to ribbons of steel stretching into the horizon, should earn such an honor from a railroad born on the Santa Fe Trail.
This article first appeared in the July/August/September 1998 issue of Calico Trails

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