By Sean Todd, Library Assistant
Texas has always attracted the adventurous, but few had the opportunity, combined with the skill, to write at any length about their experiences. That’s what makes George Wilkins Kendall’s 1844 Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition so special. As an experienced newsman, Kendall’s words bring to life an exciting narrative against the backdrop of the Republic of Texas.
Before Kendall came to Texas, he had already achieved success in the highly competitive newspaper business. After extensive travel throughout the United States as a young man and writing for newspapers in Boston and Washington, D.C., Kendall landed in New Orleans, where he co-founded the New Orleans Picayune in 1837. Kendall was not slowed by his success, and his interest began to turn to the Republic of Texas.
He learned that the President of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar, was planning an expedition to Santa Fe in 1841. For years Santa Fe was a trading hub for all of western North America, making it a center of wealth. Lamar and many in Texas argued that Santa Fe was on the Texas side of the Rio Grande and therefore a part of Texas. The main goal of the Santa Fe Expedition was to open trade. However, if the military company found residents of Santa Fe wishing to be part of Texas, the expedition was to secure the region for the Republic.
“Texas and Part of Mexico and the United States Showing the Route of the First Santa Fe Expedition,” by William Kemble, printed in Kendall’s Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, 1844
Kendall jumped at the chance to join the expedition, first traveling to Texas, then leaving for Santa Fe with the large party in June 1841. After becoming lost, the expedition was soon captured in New Mexico by the Mexican Army. The prisoners were marched to Mexico City, and Kendall chronicles severe treatment during the journey southward. Following months of imprisonment and illness, Kendall secured his release in April 1842.
Upon his return to the United States, Kendall wrote about Texas and his experiences in Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, which became a popular book throughout the United States and Europe. After further adventures covering the Mexican-American War and the 1848 revolutions in Europe, Kendall returned to Texas. In 1856 he moved with his family to land he purchased near New Braunfels. He raised sheep and continued to write—achieving further successes in both fields. Kendall lived the rest of his life in Texas.
This plate, “A Scamper Among the Buffalo,” by J. G. Chapman, appears in the front of the 1844 edition of the Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition; it was chosen to highlight Kendall’s experiences during the expedition, when hunting in the open spaces of Texas was a common sight.
The popularity of Kendall’s Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition is both a testament to Kendall’s writing and to the growing interest in Texas in the 1840s. As the annexation of Texas to the United States became a major political topic and settlers continued to come to Texas, Kendall’s book was widely read. Demand for the text remained consistent through the decades after the first copy was printed in 1844. Other editions were printed in 1845, 1856, and well into the 20th century, with new editions coming out in 1929 and 1935. The 1844 editions found at The Texas Collection are small and worn, but remarkable artifacts that can directly connect any reader to the days of the Republic of Texas.
Kendall, George Wilkins. Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition. New York: Harper Brothers, 1844.
Kendall, George Wilkins. Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition. Edited by Gerald D. Saxon and William B. Taylor. Dallas, TX: William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, 2004.
“Print Peeks” is a regular feature highlighting select items from our print collection.