- Over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard by Rowland Willard
This edited collection is the culmination of dedicated work by librarian and historian Joy L. Poole. Poole meticulously edited the travel diaries of Dr. Rowland Willard as well as an autobiography written later in his life. These primary sources provide a useful tool for researchers interested in the Great Plains, the Santa Fe Trail, and early nineteenth-century medicine. Willard wrote his first diary as he traveled west across the Santa Fe Trail from St. Charles, Missouri, to Taos, New Mexico, and then south to Chihuahua, Mexico, from May 6, 1825, to January 20, 1827. The second diary includes the doctor’s return trip to New Orleans from Matamoros via the Gulf of Mexico. Willard then traveled north along the Mississippi River by steamboat to St. Louis from August 12, 1827, to May 18, 1828.
Poole’s work as an editor is commendable. The author includes numerous footnotes providing the reader with a deeper historical context and clarifying many of Willard’s journal entries. In addition, Poole corroborates Willard’s accounts with other primary sources including travel diaries, newspaper articles, and genealogical records. These contributions demonstrate Poole’s prowess as a historian. Poole also incorporates biographical information on the individuals that Willard encountered on his journey. Poole’s introduction situates the journey in the context of the nineteenth century, including the commerce on the Santa Fe Trail and the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
Lastly, this collection offers researchers useful ethnographic information pertaining to indigenous people of Mexico, American travelers, descriptions of the Great Plains, and early medical practices including bleeding, leeching, and purging. For instance, Willard describes his encounters with bison on the Plains and contributes numerous journal entries to the medical practices he performed on his patients. Poole notes that Willard wrote his autobiography much later in life, drawing information from the diaries. The autobiography elaborates on several of the entries and continues the practice of elucidating life as a frontier doctor in Mexico. Significantly, the writings of Dr. Willard capture a glimpse of life on the Santa Fe Trail and the day-to-day interactions involved in this journey. This edited collection will be of interest to scholars in [End Page 335] several fields of history as it offers firsthand accounts of travel across the Great Plains, nineteenth-century medical practices, and interactions with Native people in Taos as well as Mexican cultural practices across several cities in Mexico.