From the Junior Wagon Master booklet (additional content below):
In 1821, William Becknell left Franklin on his first trip to Santa Fe. He crossed the Missouri River by ferry and arrived at a landing below the tall bluff overlooking the river. The traders then climbed the bluff and filled their water barrels at the spring. The next day they headed overland following the Osage Trace through the Prairie of the Arrows. Although Becknell said he was hunting wild horses, he had brought trade items to sell. These were manufactured cloth such as muslin, broadcloth, calico, and linen. He may have also included buttons, buckles, razors, hoes, shovels, axes, and other tools. The villagers of Santa Fe yearned for these manufactured goods and were willing to trade silver pesos for the products.
The landmark in the Missouri River that guided Becknell to this place was called “Rock of the Arrows.” The Osage and other Indian tribes of the area used the fragments of the large flint rock to make their arrowheads and other tools. Eight years after Becknell’s first trip to Santa Fe, a town was started on the bluff south of the Arrow Rock Ferry. The town got its name, Arrow Rock, from the landmark. Many freighters traveled through Arrow Rock on their way to Santa Fe.
As you walk down Main Street of Arrow Rock you can see its stone gutters. These were built by slaves. Prior to the Civil War many slaves lived on plantations and farms in this area. In Old Franklin, in a gutter that looked like this one, Becknell supposedly showed off how much money he made on his trade trip by slitting open bags of Mexican silver coins and letting them fall into the stone gutters. Whether the story is true or not, it became clear that a lot of money could be made on the Santa Fe Trail. There are many interesting places to visit in Arrow Rock. In fact, the entire town has been named a National Historic Landmark. One of the most familiar landmarks in Arrow Rock is the Huston Tavern which was owned by Joseph Huston. In trail days many well-known travelers stopped here.
Additional content on the town and ferry courtesy of Arrow Rock State Historic Site:
The site was first mentioned on d’Anvilles map, Carte de la Louisiane, (1732) and titled as Pierre a Fleche—“Rock of the Arrow”. Explorers for hundreds of years made notations of passing or visiting the “Rock of the Arrow”. Lewis and Clark commented that it was a good place for a town or fort. William Clark returned to and camped out at the place in 1808 with the First Infantry Regiment on their way to build Fort Osage.
The best known crossing occurred in 1821 when William Becknell opened the Santa Fe Trail. From Becknell’s journal:
“Our company crossed the Missouri River near the Arrow Rock on the first day of September 1821 and encamped six miles from the old ferry…Having made arrangements to return, on the 22nd day of May, 1822, I crossed the Arrow Rock Ferry, and on the third day our company, consisting of 21 men, with three wagons concentrated.”
Becknell’s opening of the Santa Fe Trail signaled the beginning of America’s westward movement, a signature historic event. As a result, the site of the Arrow Rock Ferry and the area known as Cox’s Bottoms became the epicenter of commerce with thousands of westward--‐bound wagons crossing the site.
The Arrow Rock Ferry continued with heavy wagon traffic to include the Indian Removal period, the Gold Rush, and the Civil War. Mormon leader Joseph Smith crossed at least two times on foot. Eight years later Arrow Rock was formed.
The Arrow Rock Ferry and joining property now preserve the oldest tracks of the Santa Fe Trail.