The big medicine trail is a series of trails made by the act of migrating animal herds for thousands of years. Bison, elk, horses, and deer led early people out of the harsh full regions of the Ice Age and centuries later, the made the way for most of influential explores during the exploration of the west. Some of these trails survive as modern highways.
Bison have migrated over the northern land bridge for many years. Not only until the later into the Ice Age had humans followed these creatures. Humans followed them and settled in modern New Mexico. Once the Ice Age finished, those humans found their settlement turning drier and hotter so the followed a herd of bison to the east and settled in, today referred as, the Great Plains. Once the land bridge melted, it forced the bison to stop their migration, therefore they also settled in the Great Plains. Tribes also settled on bison migration routes; for instance these tribes can hunt buffalo on an annual basis. Horses were introduced to North America by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. As the horses bred and became wild, they formed herds which migrated on a limited scale (compared to buffalo). Herds of wild horses supplied Native American tribes with the means to create the horse culture of the great plains.
Daniel Boone led exploration into the mid-west, yet migrating animals led Boone there in his expedition. From Virginia to Kentucky, many Indian tribes gave their trails, which were carved out by buffalo migration, and linked them together to make one trail called The Wilderness Trail, or Daniel Boones Trail. After the trail was opened, Daniel Boone decided to extend the trail to Ohio, following masses of bison estimated as high as sixty million.
Lewis & Clark
Lewis and Clark followed bison and horses in their expedition. "The whol face of the country was covered with herds of Buffaloe…" explains Meriwether Lewis as written in his journal while crossing the Great Plains along the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark followed horses through impassable rapids since migrating horses are known to follow along rivers. The Rocky Mountains seemed as almost an impossible to climb, but as they followed migrating bison, they found passages and gaps that they would have never have found if it weren’t for migrating bison.
The Santa Fe Trail
The buffalo migration impacted the smooth and mild Santa Fe Trail. On September 1, 1821, Captain William Becknell left Arrow Rock, Missouri to explore the southwest. Most people doubted that he would find the trail to Santa Fe including his arrival back to Arrow Rock. He came back four months later with a map of the trail. Mapping the trail would have not been successful without the guidance of migrating buffalo. These buffaloes led him to water sources; a constant guarantee of survival in the desert. Although this trail was easy to follow, it was between the United States and French territories. The area was called ‘neutral zone’ and was unprotected since no one claimed it. Hence, travelers on the trail encountered many robberies. By 1880 a railroad, now referred as the Santa Fe Railroad, was built on the trail which increased trade between Missouri and the Western United States.
El Camino Real
Before El Camino Real was established, it was a medicine trail that Indians walked on. Father Junípero Serra explored and found these medicine trails and claimed that it was his discovery. El Camino Real opened trade for the Spaniards and the French. This trail made trade less hazardous and cheaper compared to sailing the Pacific.
The Gila Trail
The Gila Trail is probably the oldest major trail of the United States. It is estimated to be at least 15,000 years old. Commonly, as for most trails, the Gila follows rivers. The trail follows from Mexico to Zuni, New Mexico. The first ones to explore the Gila, excluding Native Americans, was a slave named Esteban. Esteban was granted freedom from Charles V of Spain if he completely mapped the Gila Trail. Once Esteban reached the town of Zuni, the native there thought he was a god and was immortal. These natives tested his immortality by shooting arrows at him, which proved him mortal. Two centuries later, Father Eusibio Francisco Kino established missions along the trail which brought many people using the trail. The missions guaranteed a safe trip on the trail. During the Gold Rush, Forty-Niners used the Gila Trail massively to get to California.