Re-enactor makes history palatable
Hill City actor and speaker Marla Matkin, who will portray three real-life women of the Santa Fe Trail in a free program at 7 p.m. Thursday at Goessel’s city building, spends a lot of time doing historical portrayals.
“It’s trying to present history in a form that’s a little more palatable,” Matkin said.
She will portray Susan Magoffin, who kept a diary of her travels on the trail, Dona Maria Gertrudes Barcelo, who ran a gambling hall and brothel in Santa Fe, and Marion Sloan Russell.
Magoffin’s journal recounts her 15 months on the trail. She and her husband took that long on the trail because they were doing business as they traveled, Matkin said.
“They stayed at Santa Fe for a while,” Matkin said.
Matkin also will portray Dona Maria Gertrudes Barcelo, who ran a saloon and gambling house in Santa Fe.
She was widely known for playing three-card Monte. Most of her fortune came from it, Matkin said.
“She seemed to kind of psych men out,” Matkin said. “She had an exceptional power over men.”
Matkin’s third portrayal will be Marion Sloan Russell.
“She’s my favorite,” Matkin said. “She endured a lot. She traveled the trail with her mother, who had a couple of kids and told the children the fathers had died.”
According to the National Park Service, Marion Sloan Russell first traveled the trail at age 7. Her mother’s savings were stolen, and she ultimately opened a boarding house in Santa Fe.
“In her 80s, she took a car trip down the trail, and it wasn’t the same for her,” Matkin said.
Matkin’s Goessel reenactment of the lives of the women is in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the trail. Anniversary events were extended because of COVID-19.
“Now things are starting to pick up again,” she said. “People are wanting to get out and see things.”
The Santa Fe Trail was primarily for commerce, she said.
“It became an international trade route,” Matkin said. “They took hardware and textiles down to Santa Fe. It was also a military route.”
Most traveled in caravans of 100 or more wagons.
“You could meet anyone on the trail,” Matkin said.
Fort Larned was the midway point on the trail, which was used from 1821 to 1880.
“Then the train came along, and it was no longer necessary to travel by wagon,” she said.