March 6th, 2021 at 2:00 PM


by: Joy L. Poole

Email Paul Figueroa for details

One of the first Anglo-Americans to record their travels to New Mexico, Dr. Rowland Willard (1794–1884) journeyed west on the Santa Fe Trail in 1825 and then down the Camino Real into Mexico, taking notes along the way. This edition of the young physician’s travel diaries and subsequent autobiography, annotated by New Mexico Deputy State Librarian Joy L. Poole, is a rich historical source on the two trails and the practice of medicine in the 1820s.

Few Americans knew much about New Mexico when Willard set out on his journey from St. Charles, Missouri, where he had recently completed a medical apprenticeship. The growing commerce with the Southwest presented opportunities for the ambitious doctor. On his first day travelling the plains of the Santa Fe Trail, he met the mountain man Hugh Glass, who regaled Willard with stories of his wilderness experiences. Conducting a physical examination of Glass, Dr. Willard provided the only eye witness medical account of Glass’s deformities resulting from a grizzly bear attack. Willard referred to the mountain man as Father Glass, a testimony to his age. He visited Santa Fe, practiced medicine in Taos, then traveled south to Chihuahua, arriving during a measles epidemic. Willard treated patients in Mexico for two years before returning to Missouri in 1828.


Willard’s narrative challenges long-accepted assumptions about the exact routes taken by pack trains on the Santa Fe Trail. It also provides thrilling glimpses of a landscape densely populated with wildlife. The doctor describes “a great theater of nature,” with droves of elk and buffalo, and “wolf and antelope skipping in every direction.” With his traveling companions he hunted buffalo by crawling after them on all fours, afterward making jerky out of bison meat and boats out of their hides. Willard also details his medical practice, offering a revealing view of physicians’ operating practices in a time when sanitation and anesthesia were rare.

The Santa Fe Trail and Camino Real took Willard on the journey of a lifetime. This account recalls the early days of the Santa Fe Trail trade and westward American migration, when a doctor from Missouri could cross paths with mountain men, traders, Mexican clergymen, and government officials on their way to new opportunities.

Joy L. Poole is Deputy State Librarian for the New Mexico State Library, former Director of the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, Museum of New Mexico, and former museum administrator for the Colorado Historical Society. She also was cofounder of the Santa Fe Trail Association and author of Great Plains Cattle Empire: The Thatcher Brothers, 1875-1945 (Texas Tech University Press, 2000).


The Taos County Historical Society is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1952 and dedicated to the
recording and preserving of the irreplaceable in Taos County. Membership is open to anyone upon payment of dues.
For additional information on the programs, activities and history of Taos visit the Society's website at www.taoscountyhistoricalsociety.org

The Society encourages support through membership.

2021 Winter
Issue #49


Browse the Ayer Y Hoy's Winter 2021 issue:

• Peter Joseph:
An Unrecognized Entrepreneur
by John B. Ramsey & Corky Hawk

• Peter Joseph-Freemason
by Dave Cordova

•Taos: Melting Pot of the Southwest
by Gilbert Andres Archuleta

• The History of the
Ranchos de Taos Plaza
by Van Dorn Hooker

2020 Summer
Issue #48

Browse the Ayer Y Hoy's Summer 2020 issue:

• Obra de Agricultura
by Michael Miller

• Blue Lake Was A Turning Point
by Rick Romancito

•Evolution of Taos County
by Dave Cordova

• Captain Milton Potts: A Colorful Taoseño
by William Christmas

• A Sweet Refuge
by Jim Levy

• Taos Contributes For Support of the Troops
by Robert J. Torrez

2019 Fall - Issue #47

Browse the Ayer Y Hoy's Fall 2019 issue:

• John Dunn's Story: 1857 - 1953
by Polly Raye

• Our Responsibility to History
by Rick Romancito

• Piñon
by Michael Miller

• The Literary Scene
by T.N. Luther

The Taos County Historical Society was formed in 1952 for the purpose of "... preserving the history of the Taos area...". It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization managed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Monthly meetings, the first Saturday of the month are held at Kit Carson Electric Boardroom with a featured speaker are open to the public and supported through memberships. These are also open to anyone upon payment of annual dues. For more information visit the Society's website, ww.taoscountyhistoricalsociety.org

Taos County Historical Society
has successully launched
"TAOS: A Topical History"

320 pages, 26 chapters and contributors.

Mil Gracias, A THOUSAND THANKS, does not begin to cover the many, many individuals to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. This debt is not only the living but also to those men and women who long ago began to preserve the journals and documents we now depend upon for knowledge of the past: the chroniclers who accompanied the explorers and settlers and who, dusty, tired and hungry, sat in the light of a candle to record in their journals the events of the day and the Franciscan clerics who made detailed reports of their canonical visits to the mission churches of Nuevo México.

Corina A. Santistevan
Acknowledgements in "Taos: A Topical History"

If you would like to order a copy from the
Taos County Historical Society
please send a check for $40 (book+shipping) payable to
Taos County Historical Society and mail to:

Taos County Historical Society
PO Box 2447
Taos, NM 87571

Email us

Phone: (575) 770-0681

PO Box 2447 • Taos, NM 87571