Ambitious adventurer with a head for business

By Bartee Haile


James Wiley Magoffin and four traveling companions were arrested as spies in New Mexico on Sep. 27, 1846 and detained for the duration of the Mexican War. Why the oldest of ten children left Kentucky in the early 1820’s is unclear.


The most logical explanation is that he wanted to make his own way in the world without having to answer to a rich and overbearing father. Instead of heading west into the American wilderness, Magoffin chose a different land of opportunity – Mexico, which was celebrating its recent independence from Spain. In 1824 or 1825, he boarded a ship for Tampico that was blown ashore by a Gulf storm. He might not have lived through the Texas layover had not a schooner captain spotted him and his fellow survivors and provided them with a ride to Matamoros.


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