Youth program updates from the Santa Fe Trail Association

by Janet Armstead, Director of the Junior Wagon Master Program, Santa Fe Trail Association

The Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA) has been developing age-appropriate educational activity booklets for its Junior Wagon Master Program since 2008 and holding Santa Fe Trail Youth Trips, which use these booklets, every two years since 1985. These opportunities have exposed thousands of youth to the Santa Fe National Historic Trail (SFNHT). SFTA is currently seeking funding to prepare for another printing of these booklets: Cavvy (ages 5-7), Freighter (ages 8-11), Bullwhacker (ages 12-14), and Scout (ages 15-adult). Also, the trip leaders are thinking that 2021, which is the 200th anniversary of the SFNHT, might be a good time to schedule the last youth camping trip. 

For more information, contact program director Janet Armstead:

Junior Wagon Master Program

A family from Colorado proudly show off the Junior Wagon Master badges they won. Photo Credit: Janet Armstead

In 2007, the Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA) Education Committee was approached by the National Park Service (NPS) and were asked to develop a program designed for youth that would enhance and engage their visit along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail (SFNHT).  

The program was to be similar to the Junior Ranger program offered by the NPS, except that this youth program would cover five states, and 1,000 miles, and the intent of the NPS was to use it as a prototype for other national historic trails.  

Work began in 2008 through a Challenge Cost-Share, and the SFTA Education Committee developed four age-appropriate educational activity booklets: Cavvy (ages 5-7), Freighter (ages 8-11), Bullwhacker (ages 12-14), and Scout (ages 15-adult). The historic information remains consistent in all of the booklets, with the activities being modified to be age appropriate. In 2012, NPS printed and distributed two of the booklets, created the reward badges, and fulfilled requests for rewards. 

By 2015, with a change in administration, goals and priorities, SFTA was informed that National Trails Intermountain Region would not print the remaining two booklets or the original two booklets, nor would they continue to administer the program. SFTA was asked to take over complete administration and maintenance of the program. Since 2015, SFTA has completed the graphic design files to print the remaining two booklets, and has made some updates to the original two.  

Currently, all four booklets are in print and are distributed at sites throughout the length of the SFNHT. Booklets can also be ordered from SFTA, or can be downloaded and printed from the SFTA website. 

The purpose of the program is to promote preservation of the trail by encouraging families to become more knowledgeable about the trail and to actively study the trail’s historic sites. Participants who complete a specific number of activities, scan the project pages, and send them to SFTA to be checked are then rewarded with the title of Junior Wagon Master and a Wagon Master badge appropriate to the level achieved.  

The program remains popular with families traveling the Santa Fe Trail, and is especially popular with home-schooled youth. SFTA has completed two printings of the booklets, and is currently seeking funding to prepare for a third printing.

Where to find the Jr. Wagon Master booklets:

Download and print your own from the SFTA Website: 

Printed copies of the booklets may be ordered from: 

Pick up in person at the partner sites.  A list of those sites can be found at:

Travel the Trail with Story maps: and then scroll down to the Story Maps section

Santa Fe Trail Youth Trip

Hiking Bandelier during the Santa Fe Trail youth trip. Photo Credit: Robert Hamilton

The 19th Santa Fe Trail Youth Trip is in the books! The 56 youngsters, all 11 and 12 year olds, left Wamego, KS on Sunday, May 26, 2019, joining the historic trail at the rendezvous point of Council Grove. 

This train consisted of two commercial buses, two vans, and a large U-Haul. The 20 chaperones, most of them teachers, led the students through three sections of the Junior Wagon Master booklets as well as the Junior Ranger Booklets for all the National Park System (NPS) parks visited.  

Following the trail to Dodge City, the group took the Cimarron Cutoff and headed south, stopping at as many sites as could be put into each day.  Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA) members met the group all along the trail giving them sustenance and special knowledge about their specific sites. Detours had to be made in central Kansas due to high water levels. Upon reaching Santa Fe, the youngsters did their best to help the economy of the area.  

Christine Day and Janet Armstead, SFTA members, are the wagonmasters of this train, which runs every two years. What started as a school trip on the Oregon-California Trail in 1983, moved to the Santa Fe Trail in 1985 because it was a shorter trail and covered the entire state of Kansas and became its own entity. Day and another teacher, Marcia Fox, led the group until 2003 when Armstead, who had been a teacher chaperone on the trip, took on the leadership duties when Fox retired. It is estimated that these ladies have taken more than 1,500 students down the trail.

Leaving Santa Fe, the train heads north, going over Raton Pass to Trinidad. Since some of the students had never seen the mountains, the caravan went up the Highway of Legends going around the Spanish Peaks.  After stops at Bent’s Old Fort and Boggsville, they headed east on the long trail toward home. The whole trip took them ten days.

Highlights of this trip were camping at Fort Union National Monument and finding frost on the tents in the morning. Also, stopping at the Bar NI Ranch in Colorado, the last home place of Marion Russell. What a beautiful setting! Many SFTA chapters met the group, and three chapters provided a meal — everyone on the train loved not having to cook those nights!

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.