The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995

The Great Wagon Train Expedition of 185o
BEN E. PINGENOT*
IN LATE JUNE 1850, A LARGE SUPPLY TRAIN CONSISTING OF 340 TEAMS
pulling loaded wagons; 1,8oo mules; 500 beef cattle; numerous oxen,
horses, and other animals, numbering 4,000 altogether; 450 civilians;
and 175 soldiers set out from Fort Inge in present Uvalde County on a
585-mile journey to El Paso del Norte. In command of the wagon train
was Bvt. Maj. John T. Sprague,' with three companies of mounted in-
fantry. Sprague's mission was to resupply the Third Infantry Regiment at
the Pass of the North and to provide a military escort for the civilian
contractors who hoped to establish a flourishing trade with outposts on
the trail to California. Although other wagon trains and small parties
had traversed the road since it opened the year before, this was the
largest military escorted wagon train to cross southwestern Texas by the
southern route and the first for which a day-by-day record of the journey
remains. Major Sprague kept a journal from Fort Inge to the train's ar-
rival in El Paso. However, until the recent discovery of Sprague's jour-
nal,2 only fragmentary information was known regarding this major
* Ben E. Pingenot, a past president of the Texas State Historical Association, is a historian and
rare book dealer in western Americana. He is the author of Simngo (College Station: Texas A&M
University Press, 1989), and he is currently editmng the memoirs of Ma. Gen Zenas R Bliss.
'John Titcomb Sprague, born in New York state in 1810 o, was commissioned a second lieu-
tenant in the Marine Corps in 1834 but resigned in 1837 to accept a commission as a second
lieutenant in the Fifth Infantry, transferring the next year to the Eighth Infantry He went to
Florida as an aide to Bvt. Maj. Gen Alexander Macomb in 1839 during the Second Seminole
War. Upon the arrival of Col. William Jenkins Worth's Eighth Infantry in Florida in 1840,
Sprague, as regimental adjutant, became Worth's aide and later his son-in-law. He won a brevet
to captain n 1842 for meritorious and successful conduct m the Seminole campaign and was
promoted to that rank in 1846. Two years later he was breveted to the rank of major for his con-
duct during the Seminole War. Francis B. Heitman, Hstoncal Register and Dzctionary of the United
States Army, from its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 19o3 (2 vols.; Washington, D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1903), I, 912 (cited hereafter as Heitman, Hstorical Register); Dan
L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia ofFrontier Bzography (3 vols.; Glendale, Calif.. Arthur H. Clark Co., 1988),
III, 1350,John Titcomb Sprague Papers, National Archives, Washington, D C (cited hereafter as
Sprague Papers, NA).
'"Journal from Fort Inge, Leona, Txs. to El Paso del Norte, Texas, between the 1st day ofJuly
and the 16th day of September 1850. for the use of the Wagon Master," by Captain and Brevet
Major John T. Sprague (cited hereafter as Sprague, "Journal"). The document consists of ten
lined, legal-size pages, written in ink on both sides m Sprague's hand. It was discovered in 1980
by Mr. and Mrs. Karl R. Messmer tucked away in the hbrary of Mrs. Messmer's ancestral home in

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed August 23, 2014.