Opened as a trade route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, the Spanish Trail became a major link connecting New Mexico and southern California from 1829 to 1848. It was used chiefly by New Mexican traders, who found a ready market for woolen goods--serapes, rugs, blankets, bedspreads, yardage--in the California settlements. Pack trains with as many as a hundred traders left Santa Fe in annual caravans. The textiles were exchanged in California for horses and mules, which were then marketed in New Mexico. Traders returning to Santa Fe often drove as many as a thousand or more animals, some of them, perhaps, having been stolen from the herds of the California missions and ranchos.
As they passed through Paiute country in Utah and Nevada, some traders victimized the Indians by taking slaves to add to their stock of trade goods. Women and children were in demand as slaves both in California and New Mexico.
Occasional travelers followed the trail to California, among them American trappers, entrepreneurs, and government agents, as well as settlers from New Mexico. Mounted Indians were commonly seen along the eastern sections of the trail.