François Xavier Aubry (Aubrey), explorer and merchant, was born near Maskinongé, Quebec, on December 3, 1824, to Joseph and Magdeleine (Lupien) Aubry. In his teens he went to St. Louis as a merchant clerk. At the outbreak of the Mexican War he borrowed money, purchased wagons, and entered the Santa Fe trade. He became very successful and was noted for his efficiency and reliability. His solo return trips from Santa Fe to St. Louis were accomplished so quickly and accompanied by such dangers that he received much publicity in the nation's press. He kept journals of most of his trips, and these were printed in papers from St. Louis to New York.
By 1849 Aubry was one of the leading frontier merchants. He believed that Chihuahua and Texas showed promise as trading venues. In February, with merchant Charles White, Aubry traveled via Socorro and El Paso to Chihuahua. He wholesaled his goods, returned by the same route, and was in St. Louis by late August. But the profit was slight because the war was over; Mexican ports were open to European and American vessels, so Chihuahua had less need of the St. Louis-Santa Fe connection.
Still thinking of new ventures, Aubry concluded that the Texas-Chihuahua market might be rewarding if the excessive charges on the Missouri goods could be avoided. On December 1, 1849, he left Santa Fe with twenty empty wagons, turned east at El Paso, followed the Neighbors-Ford route, and traveled beyond San Antonio to Victoria. He filled his wagons at Victoria and on February 15, 1850, headed west; he reached El Paso on April 27, delivered his goods to Chihuahua, and was back in Santa Fe in early June.
The trip was profitable but not easy. Beyond the Pecos Aubry ran into a severe snowstorm and lost forty mules in one night. American Indians made the frontier especially dangerous, but Aubry had sixty armed men with him. Near the Davis Mountains he had an encounter with Marco's Apaches. Marco and Aubry discussed travel and friendship, and Marco pledged harmony. However, his pledge did not extend to Mexicans: "We have had for a long time no other food than the meat of Mexican cattle and mules, and we must make use of it still, or perish."
Aubry made one more Texas-Chihuahua trip. He left Santa Fe in mid-August of 1850, arrived in San Antonio in late November and purchased goods, and then went to Chihuahua via El Paso; but he was no longer enthusiastic about this route. He wrote to the Daily Missouri Republican from San Antonio, admitting that American Indian problems in Texas were so severe and distances so great that San Antonio-El Paso could not replace the St. Louis-Santa Fe route. The Republican specified other problems, including the Chihuahua market glut, the shortage of grass and water, and "the class of Whites known as gamblers, horse thieves and cut throats."
Aubry made a few more St. Louis-Santa Fe trips and found an important shortcut on the Santa Fe Trail, known as the Aubry Cut-Off (northwest of the Cimarron route). Still desiring more adventure, excitement, and profit, he made two Santa Fe-California trips in 1853–54, moving thousands of sheep over inhospitable lands to San Francisco. On his return trips he located an important wagon (later railroad) route along the thirty-fifth parallel. This wagon route led to a dispute with Maj. Richard H. Weightman, a prominent New Mexico figure. On August 18, 1854, the day of his return from California, Aubry met Weightman in a Santa Fe cantina. After a heated argument over the merits of the wagon route, Weightman threw a glass of liquor in Aubry's face, Aubry pulled a pistol, and Weightman fatally stabbed him with a Bowie knife.