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Comanche kill mountain man Jedediah Smith

Comanche kill mountain man Jedediah Smith

Jedediah Smith, one of the nation’s most important trapper-explorers, is killed by Comanche tribesman on the Santa Fe Trail.

Smith’s role in exploring the Far West was not fully realized until modern scholars examined the records of his far-ranging journeys. As with all of the mountain men, Smith ventured west as a practical businessman working for eastern fur companies. His goal was to find new territories to trap beaver and otter and make trading contacts with Native Americans.

READ MORE: 6 Legendary Mountain Men of the American Frontier

Nonetheless, beginning in 1822 when he made his first expedition with the fur trader William Ashley, Smith’s travels provided information on western geography and potential trails that were invaluable to later pioneers. Smith’s most important accomplishment was his rediscovery in 1824 of the South Pass, an easy route across the Rocky Mountains in modern-day western Wyoming. The first Anglo-Americans to cross the pass were fur traders returning east from a Pacific Coast trading post in 1812, yet the news of their discovery was never publicized. Smith, by contrast, established the South Pass as a well-known and heavily traveled route for fur trappers. A few decades later, it became a part of the Oregon Trail and greatly reduced the obstacles faced by wagon trains heading to Oregon and California.

Despite having opened many new territories for future pioneers, Smith had little to show for his years of dangerous efforts. In 1830, he returned to St. Louis, determined to go into the mercantile business and draft detailed maps of the country he had explored. Before he could get started, however, an associate convinced him to take a supply of goods to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

With a party of 83 men, Smith left St. Louis in early 1831 and headed south along the Cimarron River, a region known to be nearly devoid of potable water. Despite his years of wilderness experience, Smith was apparently overconfident in his ability to find water and did not take adequate supplies from St. Louis. By mid-May, the party’s water supplies were almost exhausted, and the men started separating each day to search for waterholes.

On May 27, 1831, Smith was riding alone when a hunting party of Comanche Native Americans attacked and killed him.


Jedediah Smith, salah satu peneroka penjelajah yang paling penting, dibunuh oleh Comanche Indians di Santa Fe Trail.

Peranan Smith dalam membuka Far West tidak sepenuhnya dihargai sehingga para sarjana moden meneliti rekod perjalanan jauhnya. Seperti semua orang gunung, Smith menceburi barat sebagai ahli perniagaan praktikal yang bekerja untuk syarikat bulu timur. Matlamatnya adalah untuk mencari wilayah-wilayah baru untuk memerangkap pemangsa dan pemangsa dan membuat hubungan dagangan dengan Orang Asli Amerika.

Walau bagaimanapun, bermula pada tahun 1822 apabila beliau membuat ekspedisi pertamanya dengan peniaga bulu William Ashley, perjalanan Smith memberikan maklumat mengenai geografi barat dan laluan yang berpotensi yang tidak ternilai untuk perintis kemudian. Pencapaian yang paling penting Smith adalah penemuan semulanya pada tahun 1824 di Pas Selatan, laluan mudah melintasi Pergunungan Rocky di Wyoming barat moden. Anglo-Amerika pertama yang menyeberangi laluan itu adalah pedagang bulu yang kembali ke timur dari pos perdagangan Pasifik pada tahun 1812, namun berita penemuan mereka tidak pernah dipublikasikan. Sebaliknya, Smith menubuhkan Pas Selatan sebagai laluan yang terkenal dan sangat mengembara untuk perangkap bulu. Beberapa dekad kemudian, ia menjadi sebahagian daripada Trail Oregon dan mengurangkan banyak halangan yang dihadapi oleh kereta api kereta menuju ke Oregon dan California.

Dalam tempoh tujuh tahun yang akan datang, Smith mengisi banyak tempat kosong lain di peta Far West. Walaupun telah membuka banyak wilayah baru untuk perintis masa depan, Smith tidak banyak menunjukkan untuk tahun-tahun usaha berbahaya beliau. Pada tahun 1830, dia kembali ke St. Louis, bertekad untuk pergi ke perniagaan dagang dan merancang peta terperinci mengenai negara yang telah diterokainya. Walau bagaimanapun, sebelum dia dapat memulakan, sekutunya meyakinkannya untuk mengambil bekalan barangan ke Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dengan pesta 83 orang, Smith meninggalkan St. Louis pada awal 1831 dan menuju ke selatan di sepanjang Sungai Cimarron, sebuah wilayah yang dikenali sebagai hampir tanpa air minuman. Walaupun tahun pengalamannya di padang gurun, Smith nampaknya terlalu yakin dalam kemampuannya untuk mencari air dan tidak mengambil bekalan yang mencukupi dari St Louis. Menjelang pertengahan bulan Mei, bekalan air parti hampir habis, dan lelaki mula memisahkan setiap hari untuk mencari air mani.

Pada hari ini pada tahun 1831, Smith menunggang sendirian ketika parti pemburu Comanche Indians menyerangnya. Dikejutkan dan lemah akibat kekurangan air, Smith tetap berjaya menembak salah satu Comanche sebelum dia dibanjiri dan dibunuh.


Jedediah Smith, en af ​​landets vigtigste fangerudforskere, dræbes af Comanche-indianere på Santa Fe Trail.

Smiths rolle i åbningen af ​​Fjernvesten blev ikke fuldt ud værdsat, før moderne lærde undersøgte optegnelserne over hans vidtrækkende rejser. Som med alle bjergmændene, torde Smith vest som en praktisk forretningsmand, der arbejder for østlige pelsfirmaer. Hans mål var at finde nye territorier til at fange bever og oter og skabe handelsmæssige kontakter med indianere.

Ikke desto mindre begyndte Smiths rejser fra 1822, da han foretog sin første ekspedition med pelshandleren William Ashley, information om vestlig geografi og potentielle stier, som var uvurderlige for senere pionerer. Smiths vigtigste præstation var hans genopdagelse i South Pass i 1824, en let rute over Rocky Mountains i den moderne vestlige Wyoming. De første angloamerikanere, der krydsede passet, var pelsforhandlere, der vendte tilbage øst fra en handelspost i Stillehavskysten i 1812, men nyheden om deres opdagelse blev aldrig offentliggjort. Smith derimod etablerede South Pass som en velkendt og stærkt rejset rute for pelsfiskere. Et par årtier senere blev det en del af Oregon Trail og reducerede stærkt hindringerne for vogntog mod Oregon og Californien.

I løbet af de næste syv år udfyldte Smith mange andre blanke pletter på kortet for Fjernvesten. På trods af at have åbnet mange nye territorier for fremtidige pionerer, havde Smith kun lidt at vise for sine år med farlige bestræbelser. I 1830 vendte han tilbage til St. Louis, fast besluttet på at gå ind i handelsmarkedet og udarbejde detaljerede kort over det land, han havde udforsket. Før han kunne komme i gang, overbeviste en medarbejder ham imidlertid om at tage en levering af varer til Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Med et parti på 83 mand forlod Smith St. Louis i begyndelsen af ​​1831 og satte kursen sydpå langs Cimarron-floden, et område, der vides at være næsten blottet for drikkevand. På trods af sin mange års vildmarkserfaring var Smith tilsyneladende alt for selvsikker i sin evne til at finde vand og tog ikke tilstrækkelige forsyninger fra St. Louis. I midten af ​​maj var partiets vandforsyning næsten opbrugt, og mændene begyndte at skilles hver dag for at søge efter vandhuller.

På denne dag i 1831 kørte Smith alene, da et jagtparti af Comanche-indianere angreb ham. Forvirret og svækket af vandmangel, formåede Smith ikke desto mindre at skyde en af ​​Comanche, før han blev overvældet og dræbt.


Comanche kill mountain man Jedediah Smith - HISTORY

"I wanted to be the first to view a country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that run through a new land."

No Mountain Man held more potential for enriching the world’s understanding of the American West than did Jedediah Smith. His contribution, which was enormous, was still only a fraction of the full potential of what he might have revealed had not an encounter with Comanche warriors ended his life early. For Jedediah Smith trapping was a means to fulfill his main interest which was exploration. During his eight years in the mountains, no contemporary American (see David Thompson for the Canadian who outdid Jedediah Smith in exploration and mapping) traveled across more unknown western wilderness than he did. He kept meticulous records and journals, and drew maps, which clarified the geography and history of the country through which he passed.

Jedediah Smith was an outstanding individual, within a group of outstanding men. However Smith did not fit the stereotype of the typical mountain man. He never drank, never used tobacco, never boasted and was rarely humorous.

Another rare quality was his strident faith. Smith was very religious and often prayed and meditated. Smith’s abilities as a leader and competence in the field easily gained the confidence of those around him, and he quickly rose to leadership of a brigade of mountain men, a group of self-reliant men who were seldom commanded, but would willing follow those in whom they had confidence.

Born in 1799 in Bainbridge, New York, the wandering spirit was planted in Jedediah as he and his family moved several times in an effort to stay on the edge of the frontier boundary.

By the year 1822, Jedediah found himself in St. Louis just as William Ashley and Andrew Henry were putting together their first expedition to the Upper Missouri River. Jedediah signed on with the expedition as a hunter. Following Ashley’s disastrous attempt to get by the Arikara villages in 1823, Jedediah was tasked as a captain, to lead one of two brigades by horseback, overland into the upper Yellowstone region. In this year, 1823, Jedediah was attacked by a grizzly bear, nearly losing his scalp and an ear. James Clyman would be tasked with “sewing” Smiths scalp and ear in place. This is the same year that Hugh Glass encountered his grizzly bear while traveling with the brigade led by Andrew Henry. A year later, in 1824, Jedediah led another of Ashley's brigades deep into the central Rockies where he rediscovered the forgotten South Pass, which was later to become key to the settlement of Oregon and California.

In 1825, William Ashley would take Jedediah as a partner in his fur company, as Andrew Henry had retired, nevermore to return to the mountains. It was at this time that Ashley discovered that the real wealth in the Rockies was in supplying trade goods, necessities and foo-foo-raw to the annual mountain rendezvous. In a complicated transaction in 1826, he sold out his share of the partnership to a new set of partners, Jedediah Smith, David Jackson and William Sublette. Ashley would continue to provide the partners with the supplies they needed in the mountains, and would pack out their annual harvest of furs and skins.

Leaving the July, 1826 Rendezvous in Cache Valley, Jedediah Smith was to take a brigade into the unknown southwest to explore its potential for beaver. In a grueling march, Smith and fifteen men would travel down along the Wasatch Range, follow the Virgin River down to the Seetes-kee-der (Colorado River) to the Mojave Indian villages. From there he traveled westward through the Mojave desert, thence across the San Bernardino Mountains. On November 26, 1826 he led his emaciated party down to the San Gabriel Mission where they were received with hospitality by the Franciscan Padre.

The Mexican Governor, José María Echeandía, however, viewed them with suspicion as either invaders or spies. The concept of trapping beaver as a vocation was so foreign to the Governor that he persisted in calling Smith and his men “pescadores” or fisherman. The Governor was unable to believe that Smith and his men had unintentionally crossed 1,000 miles of the desert buffer separating Mexican California from the United States. There followed two frustrating months for Smith and his men as the Governor waffled on whether to imprison the Americans, expel them, hold them pending instructions from Mexico City, send Smith to Mexico City, or even to decide to make a decision.

With the assistance of a friendly American sea captain, the Governor was persuaded to allow Smith and his men to leave California by the same route they entered. To Smith this meant the populated portion of California, and once across the San Bernardino Mountains, he proceeded northward along the west flank of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, trapping and seeking the Rio Buenaventura River, which Smith expected to be able to follow back to the 1827 Rendezvous. By late May the men had accumulated a considerable quantity of beaver, however, no route across the mountains was discovered.

With rendezvous less than two months away, it was imperative that Smith find a way to cross the mountains. Smith decided to leave most of his men in camp on the Stanislaus River, while he, Robert Evans and Silas Goble would take word back to his partners at rendezvous. After forcing a passage across the snow bound mountains, Smith and his men crossed the barren basin and range country. Smith described a land of “High rocky hills afford the only relief to the desolate waste… The intervals between are sand barren Plains.” Tormented by thirst and heat, the horses giving out, exhausted by their struggles through the loose sand, even the confident Smith lost hope of surviving.

However, on June 27th the men glimpsed the Great Salt Lake to the northeast, and by July 3, 1827 had arrived at the place of rendezvous on the south shore of Bear Lake. Smith and his men had been given up as lost, and his arrival in camp caused a considerable commotion.

To see a map showing the path traveled by Jedediah Smith from July 1826 to June 1827 click here, but be patient, this takes a while to load.

In less than ten days, Jedediah was on the trail back to California. He had told his men on the Stanislaus River to wait for him no longer than September 20, giving him only nine weeks to get back. With 18 men he set off on July 13, 1827.

Certain that his men and horses would not survive the basin and range crossing, he led them on the longer route which he had taken in 1826, guiding his party down the Colorado River to the villages of the Mojave Indians.

The Mojave Indians were not friendly this time, having recently had a violent encounter with trappers out of Mexican Santa Fe which had gone badly for the natives.. At a time when Smith and his men were vulnerable ferrying horses and equipment across the river, several hundred Indians attacked. Ten men were immediately killed. The remaining nine survivors had only five guns and their knives to fight off several hundred Indians. Smith and his men prepared for a last ditch stand in a grove of cottonwood trees near the edge of the river. As the Indians closed in, Smith had his two best marksmen fire at extreme range. The first shots killed two and wounded a third. At this the Indians withdrew in panic and Smith and his survivors were able to escape into the Mojave Desert.

The outlook was still grim, with one badly wounded man, no horses, little food, and not even a container for water. Smith decided to again test the hospitality of the Mexican Californians in the San Bernardino Valley. There, he was able to obtain horses and supplies. Moving to the north he rejoined the camp on the Stanislaus River on September 18, only two days before his promised return.

Needing additional horses and supplies to move the entire party, Smith was once more time forced to test the hospitality of the Californians. Again Smith found himself under the power of Governor Echeandía, where he was subjected to three months of bureaucratic and legal torment. More than ever, the Governor was convinced that Smith must be a spy. Finally, towards the end of December, Smith was able to break loose from the Mexican bureaucracy and turn his path northwards up the Central Valley.

Not finding a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Smith and his men continued north traveling along the coast of northern California and into the Klamath Mountains. Traveling became increasingly difficult with jagged mountains and sheer cliffs. The ocean provided no relief as the forested slopes fell steeply to the waters edge with no beach.

By mid-July, Smith’s party had reached the Umpqua River and were camping on its banks. Kuitsh Indians came to trade. They seemed to be friendly, however, previous encounters with these Indians were less than congenial and Smith was wary. On July 14, while Smith and one men were scouting a river crossing, about a hundred Indians came into camp, ostensibly to trade, but with the intension of attacking. Only one man was able to escape the massacre at the camp, the remaining fifteen men were axed to death.

Once again, alone and destitute, Smith and his surviving men decided to seek aid from the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. By August 8th, all of the survivors of the massacre on the Umpqua River had arrived in Fort Vancouver. Although the Hudson’s Bay Company was fighting an economic war on behalf of Britain against the Americans with the goal of control of the Columbia basin, John McLoughlin, Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver treated the survivors with respect and generosity. McLoughlin sent a brigade to accompany Smith and his survivors back to the massacre site. There they were able to recover 26 horses, most of the furs, various items of equipment, and most importantly the journals and records of Jedediah Smith and his clerk, Harrison Rogers. Eleven bodies were buried, the remaining four were never found. On returning to Fort Vancouver, the Hudson’s Bay Company purchased Smith’s horses and furs and extended the hospitality of the fort through the winter months.

Leaving Fort Vancouver in the spring of 1829, Smith made his way back to the Rocky Mountains where he rejoined David Jackson at Flathead Lake. From there the two partners turned to the south, meeting William Sublette at rendezvous at Pierre’s Hole.

With two disastrous years behind him, Smith had not yet contributed to the success of company of Smith, Jackson and Sublette. For the fall/spring hunts of 1829-1830 Smith would lead a strong brigade into Blackfoot country. Harassment by the Blackfeet drove the trappers out, but not before they had amassed a large quantity of beaver. In St. Louis the value of the companies catch for the year exceeded $84,000.

A map showing the track of Jedediah Smith from the Rendezvous of 1827 to the Rendezvous of 1829 is shown here, but be patient this takes a while to load.

At this time the company of Smith, Jackson and Sublette was dissolved, selling out to Tom Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb and Jean Baptiste Gervais, who named themselves the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

Smith, Jackson and Sublette dissolved for a combination of business and personal reasons. Beaver were becoming increasingly scarce, and competition with other fur companies, particularly John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, was becoming fierce. Jedediah’s mother had died in 1830 and he was feeling his neglect of his parents. He provided a large sum from his share of the profits as a pension for his father. He purchased a house and farm in St. Louis. His intentions were to publish a book and maps, laying before the public his vast store of geographical knowledge. But first he had one gap to fill in, the country between St. Louis and Mexican Santa Fe.

In the spring of 1831, a pack train to Santa Fe was organized by Smith, Jackson and Sublette. Of that fateful trip Dale Morgan writes:

"South of the Arkansas lay a plain, forty or fifty miles wide, which had to be crossed to the Cimarron – a river as inconstant as the Mojave. This plain, “the water scrape”, was not only dry but flat, utterly featureless, and the more bewildering for the maze of buffalo trails which furrowed its surface. No discernible trace marked the course of the wagon road across this desert and Jedediah’s party struck it at an especially bad time, when the country was parched by drought. They had been three scorching days without water, and the teams were on the point of perishing when, on May 27, a last desperate effort was made to find water. Men were sent out in various directions, and Jedediah in company with Fitzpatrick headed south, to a deep hollow which should have provided water, but the hole was dry. Instructing Fitzpatrick to dig for water, Jedediah pushed on south toward some broken ground, perhaps three miles off.

None of his friends ever saw Jedediah again. What became of him was learned only after the search was given up and the party went on to Santa Fe. Mexicans who traded among the Comanche rode into the city carrying his pistols and rifle, and from their understanding of what the Comanche said come the details of Jedediah Smith’s death.

Apparently a Comanche hunting party, numbering fifteen or twenty men, lying in wait for buffalo at one of the water holes along the Cimarron, saw Jedediah approach and kept themselves concealed until he was too close to escape. Jedediah had seen too much of the West, and knew too well the reputation of this most savage of all the Shoshonean tribes not to be able to appraise his chances. A brave front was his only hope, and he rode directly up to the red men. A brief colloquy followed, but neither could understand the other, and they paid no attention to his signs of peace.

The Comanche began to spread out. Watchfully Jedediah tried to keep them from getting behind him. His horse danced nervously, and was suddenly startled into wheeling. Instantly the Comanche fired at Jedediah’s exposed back, a musket ball entering his body near the left shoulder. Gasping at the impact, Jedediah turned his horse and leveled his rifle at the chief, killing him with the single shot he had time to fire. Before he could draw his pistols, the rest rushed on him with their lances, thrusting and stabbing.”

Thus ended the life of Jedediah Smith at age 32.

For more information regarding Jedediah Smith see also:

A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific , by Robert M Utley, published 1997 Henry Holt and Company. 392 pages.

Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West , by Dale Morgan, published 1953, Bobbs-Merrill Co.

Dale, Harrison Clifford (Editor): The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific 1822-1829, with the original journals of William Ashley, Jedediah Smith and Harrison Rogers . 1941, Published by the Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale California. This book is listed with primary sources because it contains transcriptions of the original journals of William Ashley, Jedediah Smith and Harrison Rogers, Smiths clerk on his second expedition to California.


Jedediah Smith, jeden z najdôležitejších prieskumných ľudí v oblasti lovu zajatcov, zabili Comanche Indians na Santa Fe Trail.

Smithova úloha pri otváraní Ďalekého Západu nebola plne ocenená, kým moderní vedci nepreskúmali záznamy jeho ďalekosiahlych ciest. Rovnako ako u všetkých horských mužov sa Smith pustil na západ ako praktický podnikateľ pracujúci pre východné kožušinové spoločnosti. Jeho cieľom bolo nájsť nové územia na chytanie bobra a vydry a nadviazanie obchodných kontaktov s domorodými Američanmi.

Začiatkom roku 1822, keď uskutočnil svoju prvú výpravu s obchodníkom s kožušinami Williamom Ashleym, však Smithove cesty poskytovali informácie o západnej geografii a možných trasách, ktoré boli pre budúcich priekopníkov neoceniteľné. Smithovým najdôležitejším úspechom bolo jeho opätovné objavenie v roku 1824 južného priechodu, ľahká trasa cez Skalnaté hory v dnešnom západnom Wyomingu. Prvými angloameričanmi, ktorí prešli cez priechod, boli obchodníci s kožušinou, ktorí sa v roku 1812 vracali z obchodného miesta na tichomorskom pobreží na východ, ale správy o ich objavení neboli nikdy zverejnené. Smith naopak založil South Pass ako dobre známu a ťažko cestovanú trasu pre lovcov kožušiny. O niekoľko desaťročí neskôr sa stal súčasťou Oregonskej chodníky a výrazne znížil prekážky, ktorým čelia vlakové vagóny smerujúce do Oregonu a Kalifornie.

Počas nasledujúcich siedmich rokov Smith vyplnil na mape Ďalekého západu mnoho ďalších prázdnych miest. Napriek tomu, že Smith otvoril mnoho nových teritórií pre budúcich priekopníkov, nemal veľa času na to, aby preukázal svoje nebezpečné roky. V roku 1830 sa vrátil do St. Louis, odhodlaný ísť do obchodnej oblasti a navrhnúť podrobné mapy krajiny, ktorú preskúmal. Predtým, ako mohol začať, ho však spolupracovník presvedčil, aby prevzal dodávku tovaru do Santa Fe v Novom Mexiku.

Louis so stranou 83 mužov opustil St. Louis začiatkom roku 1831 a zamieril na juh pozdĺž rieky Cimarron, oblasti, o ktorej je známe, že je takmer bez pitnej vody. Napriek svojim dlhoročným skúsenostiam v divočine bol Smith zjavne presvedčený o svojej schopnosti nájsť vodu a nezabral adekvátne zásoby od St. Louis. Do polovice mája boli zásoby vody takmer vyčerpané a muži sa začali každý deň oddeľovať, aby hľadali priechody.

V tento deň v roku 1831 Smith jazdil sám, keď na neho zaútočila poľovnícka skupina Comanche Indians. Smitha, ktorý bol omámený a oslabený nedostatkom vody, sa mu podarilo vystreliť jednu z Comanche skôr, ako bol ohromený a zabitý.


Jedediah Smith, unul dintre cei mai importanți exploratori de capcană din țară, este ucis de indienii Comanche pe traseul Santa Fe.

Rolul lui Smith în deschiderea Far West nu a fost pe deplin apreciat până când savanții moderni nu au examinat documentele călătoriilor sale îndelungate. La fel ca cu toți oamenii de munte, Smith s-a aventurat spre vest ca un om de afaceri practic care lucrează pentru companiile de blană din est. Scopul său era să găsească noi teritorii care să prindă castorul și vidra și să facă contacte comerciale cu nativii americani.

Cu toate acestea, începând cu 1822 când a făcut prima sa expediție cu comerciantul de blană William Ashley, călătoriile lui Smith au furnizat informații despre geografia occidentală și potecile potențiale care au fost de neprețuit pentru pionierii de mai târziu. Cea mai importantă realizare a lui Smith a fost redescoperirea lui în 1824 a South Pass, un traseu ușor de-a lungul Munților Stâncoși, în vestul Wyoming. Primii anglo-americani care au trecut de trecere au fost comercianți de blană care se întorceau la est de la un post de tranzacționare din Coasta Pacificului în 1812, totuși vestea descoperirii lor nu a fost niciodată publicizată. Smith, prin contrast, a stabilit Pasul de Sud ca un traseu binecunoscut și foarte călătorit pentru capcanele de blană. Câteva decenii mai târziu, a devenit o parte a Oregon Trail și a redus mult obstacolele cu care se confruntă trenurile cu vagoane care se îndreptau spre Oregon și California.

În următorii șapte ani, Smith a completat multe alte pete goale pe harta îndepărtatului. În ciuda faptului că a deschis mai multe teritorii noi pentru viitorii pionieri, Smith a avut prea puțin de arătat pentru anii săi de eforturi periculoase. În 1830, s-a întors la St. Louis, hotărât să intre în afacerea mercantilă și să elaboreze hărți detaliate ale țării pe care o explorase. Înainte de a putea începe, totuși, un asociat l-a convins să ia o livrare de bunuri la Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cu o petrecere de 83 de bărbați, Smith a părăsit St. Louis la începutul anului 1831 și s-a îndreptat spre sud de-a lungul râului Cimarron, o regiune cunoscută a fi aproape lipsită de apă potabilă. În ciuda anilor săi de experiență în sălbăticie, Smith aparent a fost prea sigur în capacitatea sa de a găsi apă și nu a luat provizii adecvate de la St. La jumătatea lunii mai, aprovizionarea cu apă a petrecerii era aproape epuizată, iar bărbații au început să se despartă în fiecare zi pentru a căuta găuri de apă.

În această zi din 1831, Smith călărea singur când o partidă de vânătoare a indienilor Comanche l-a atacat. Ametit și slăbit de lipsa apei, Smith a reușit totuși să tragă unul dintre Comanche înainte să fie copleșit și ucis.


Death of A Mountain Man

On May 27, 1831, Jedediah Smith’s desperate attempt to find water for his wagon train led him off the main trail of the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail down Sand Creek, a tributary of the Cimarron River. While watering his horse, with his guard down, Smith was ambushed and killed by a small party of Comanches, after he killed their chief.
— “The Trapper’s Last Shot” by William T. Ranney, Courtesy The Beinecke Library, Yale University —

“Yet was he modest, never obtrusive, charitable, ‘without guile,’…a man whom none could approach without respect, or know without esteem. And though he fell under the spears of the savages, and his body glutted the prairie wolf, and none can tell where his bones are bleaching, he must not be forgotten.”

The anonymous eulogy to Jedediah Smith was published in Illinois Monthly Magazine in June 1832. The author’s view of Jed Smith’s character and motives differs from the views of Maurice S. Sullivan and Dale L. Morgan, the scholars who have worked most fully on his life. I see Smith as a man torn by conflicting allegiances—the values of his church and his society, and the values he learned and lived by in the wilderness. The evidence of his letters to his family seems to be that he judged his life as a mountain man to be wicked that conviction seems to have been deep and sincere. He seems to have damned himself for his love of wildness in the same way that settlers would later damn most mountain men for it. So he went home in an attempt to live by his beliefs he professed.

Smith says nothing about his decision to return to the mountains in 1831. Though it was only a partial turning back to his former way of life, I think it expressed a strong-felt need, a need he probably chastised himself for. So what is remarkable here, to me, is the conflict between professed values and the values he actually lived by. When his anonymous eulogist said that Smith made his altar the mountaintop, he meant that as a tribute to Smith’s ability to live in Christian faith in the mountains. The irony may be that Smith made the mountaintop his altar in a different sense—that he replaced, symbolically, the altar of the Christian Church with his mountaintop as an object of worship.

I believe that Smith, had he lived, would have been unable to stick to his decision to become a respectable citizen of the settlements.

A descendent of Puritan New Englanders, Jedediah Strong Smith was born in 1799, the oldest of four brothers, and raised on the edge of the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio frontiers.
— True West Archives —

The Pious Man of the Mountains

Jed had been aware, from the beginning that he was unlike most of the men in the mountains. He was learned, for one thing. He was serious—serious about his religion, serious about turning a profit, serious about writing a book and making maps. He didn’t go for debauchery: He stayed away from Indian women and didn’t join in the rendezvous carousing. He tried to practice his religion in a profane environment.

Jed, a Christian in the Puritan tradition, regarded making money as one of a man’s positive duties, and thought of unused capital as an evil. He now had to decide on some use for his capital. Well, he might go to Ohio and that farm eventually, but he wanted some business venture in the meantime. The role of gentleman farmer may have pulled at his fancy, but not strongly enough. He hired Samuel Parkman, a young man who had gone to the mountains in 1829 and come back with Jedediah, to copy out his journals and help him make his maps. That was one important enterprise.

He also thought that he might go into a partnership with Robert Campbell. He discovered, though, that his Irish friend had gone home to Ireland Robert’s brother Hugh, who lived in Richmond, Virginia, informed Jed that Robert’s health was failing again. He wrote to Hugh with good wishes for Robert’s well-being and a fervent wish that the two friends might be together again. In the spring, he added, he would still have capital to start a business with Robert.

Younger brothers Peter and Austin had wanted to follow ’Diah to the mountains. Another young man, J. J. Warner, came to Jed for advice on how to become a mountain man Jed talked him out of such a pagan life. So Jed began to think of the West again—not Absaroka and Cache Valley, this time, but Santa Fe. Maybe he could explore the possibilities of trade with the Mexican provinces.

He missed the mountains. Writing t o Hugh Campbell on November 24, 1830, just a month back from the mountains, he admitted, “I am much more in my element, when conversing with the uncivilized Man, or Setting My Beaver Traps, than in writing Epistles.”

He decided to put off going home. He did miss his father, his teacher Dr. Simons, and his brother Ralph. But that could wait. Business, he told them, was too pressing. He didn’t add that the lure of wild country was too strong.

Jedediah Smith’s Christian piety was a moral compass he did not waver from when it came to his relationship with American Indian women during his 10-year career as a fur trapper in the American West.
— “Giving a Drink to a Thirsty Trapper” by Alfred Jacob Miller, Courtesy The Beinecke Library, Yale University —

He made up his mind for Santa Fe. That was less risky than beaver trapping, even though the route lay through Indian country. He knew the business of supplying, and plenty of trappers were operating out of Santa Fe and Taos. He could get Peter, Austin, and J. J. Warner started in the world, give them a taste of the trail and the mountains, and still not be shot at by Blackfeet. At first he thought that he himself might not go along—he’d just handle the business end. But by the end of January, Jed had determined to hit the trail again. He wrote General Ashley for help in getting a passport.

He could explain it all to himself. He was making a good investment he was going into a business he knew he was g iving a hand to young men of enterprise. Besides that, he could go beyond Santa Fe and see the Southwest. That was the only part of the entire West he did not know firsthand a trip there would let him complete his map. He didn’t have to believe that he was giving in to the perverseness of his wicked heart, or to an uncivilized love of wild places.

Bill Sublette and David Jackson, meanwhile, had been waiting for Tom Fitzpatrick to arrive with confirmation of their deal to take supplies to rendezvous in the summer of 1831. But Fitzpatrick had not shown up. They had already arranged to buy the provisions and equipment. Stuck, they elected to go with Jed. Legally, the two parties would be separate, and Sublette-Jackson would get an independent passport and hire their men and sell their goods independently. But the outfits would travel together as far as Santa Fe. So, by late March of 1831, Jedediah Smith, who had tried to commit himself to the settlements by buying a farm, a fine house and two servants, was back in the mountain trade with his old partners.

In 1831, after 10 seasons tramping, trapping and trading across the West, Jedediah Smith thought he might settle back into civilization in St. Louis, Missouri. But the siren call of the trail—as well as the opportunity to establish new profitable trading partners in New Mexico—led the veteran mountain man to organize a wagon party to Santa Fe with three of his most trusted compadres of the beaver trade: Bill Sublette, David Jackson and Tom Fitzpatrick.
— “Mural of Western Trappers and Mountain Men” by Alfred Jacob Miller, Jackson Lake Lodge, Courtesy Gates Frontiers Fund Wyoming Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress —

The Siren Call of the Trail West

They set out from St. Louis on April 10 with 22 wagons, including one bearing a six-pound cannon, and 74 men. Before they reached the frontier, two more independent wagons and nine more men joined them. Near Lexington, Missouri, they camped for final preparations. Jed took the precaution of making a new will, since he was heading back into Indian territory. But they still had several hundred miles of beautiful rolling plains before any possible danger.

Then they had a surprise in camp: Tom Fitzpatrick rode in. He was headed for St. Louis, two months late, to contract with Sublette and Jackson for supplies for the 1831 rendezvous.

The Irishman explained: Henry Fraeb and Jean Baptiste Gervais had gone to Snake country Jim Bridger, Milton Sublette and he had moved back to the Three Forks area, again in strength, to cash in on Blackfoot country. They had made a good hunt but during the winter they had heard nothing from their other two partners. Finally they decided to take a chance on buying a new outfit anyway. But Fitz hadn’t gotten away until March to make the express to the settlements. What could be done about the outfit?

Jackson and Sublette were not carrying exactly what they would have taken to the mountains. They were supplying two towns as well as possibly some trappers. They decided that if Fitzpatrick would go along to Santa Fe, they would supply him there. Sublette and Jackson would let him have two-thirds of the outfit, and Smith the other third. The credit of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was good with these old friends. But Fitzpatrick would have to get the goods to rendezvous on his own. And since it was already into the first week of May, he would be plenty late.

So they set out for Council Grove. They had no troubles that they weren’t used to— drizzle for days at a time, miry ground and willful mules. At Council Grove they stocked up on wood for axles—the country was barren from here on—and got organized into disciplined units for traveling safely through Indian territory. Before long a war party made a charge on the wagons, but the cannon scared them off. A little later the clerk for Sublette and Jackson dropped behind the party to hunt and was killed by Pawnees. The Santa Fe Trail was not looking as trouble-free as it was supposed to be. This expedition, though, had an unsurpassed congregation of masters of the craft of the plains and the mountains. Jed Smith, Bill Sublette, David Jackson and Tom Fitzpatrick were four of the half-dozen most skilled mountain men living.

In 1826, Jedediah Smith was the first to lead a party of trappers to California from Salt Lake, south to the Colorado River, and then west across the Mojave Desert and San Bernardino Mountains. Returning under extreme conditions, he crossed the Sierra Nevada and the states of Nevada and Utah to Salt Lake.
— “Trappers Starting for the Beaver Hunt” by Alfred Jacob Miller, True West Archives —

They followed the Arkansas River southwest for over a hundred miles to come to the place where the route forked. The round-about way was easier and safer—along the river to the mountains and then due south, through Raton Pass, to Santa Fe. The short way was quick but treacherous. It was a straight line across the Cimarron Desert. It was a scorched country without water, without any landmark, crisscrossed by buffalo trails that disguised the wagon road and could lead a party the wrong way and into a torturous death by thirst. They took the Cimarron Cutoff. If anybody knew how to cross a desert and find water when he had to, it was Jed Smith.

In the confusing maze of buffalo trails, even these old hands lost their way. Soon they had spent three days without water. The animals were about to die. The men were delirious with thirst. Discipline was breaking down and small groups were wandering through the desert in a desperate search for water.

So Jed did what needed doing. Taking Fitzpatrick with him, he pushed ahead of the wagon train to try to find a water hole or a spring. He knew that the Cimarron meandered out there somewhere. Even if it was as sporadically wet as the Inconstant River, he would find a hole and dig for water.

Jim “Old Gabe” Bridger was a peer and well-respected friend of Jedediah Smith. They both went west with William Ashley and Andrew Henry’s Ashley-Henry Company in 1822 and spent many seasons together trapping beaver across the West. Both were masters of survival, trailblazing, mapmaking and trading. Bridger, Smith’s junior by six years, would out-live Smith by 50 years, dying at 77 years old in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 17, 1881.
— True West Archives —

The two men came to a hollow that should have had water. It was dry. Jed told Fitzpatrick to stay there, dig for water, and tell the main party in which direction he had gone. He was going to look further ahead. It was a dangerous choice in Indian country, because a lone man was an irresistible temptation. But Jed had to take the chance. He found the dry bed of the Cimarron 15 miles further on. It was dried to sand in most places, but here and there were holes filled with liquid. Jed’s mind said caution: Buffalo holes would make good hunting spots for Indians and were likely to be watched. But his body cried out for wet. He rode down, let his horse walk in, and waded in himself.

After his pain eased, he got back on his horse. He would be able to save the wagon train now. But when he turned, Jed saw a band of 15 or 20 Comanches blocking his way. He realized they had crept up while he was splashing in the water. He knew his chances were slim: The Comanches had a reputation for savagery.

His one hope was to make a strong front of it. He rode straight up to them and made signs of peace. They paid no attention. Since he had his gun cocked, the Indians fanned out to either side, away from the line of his rifle. Jed watched to make sure they didn’t get behind him, and again tried to talk to their leader.

His horse was fidgeting back-ward. Suddenly the Indians began shouting at the horse and waving their blankets to frighten it. The horse wheeled and turned so that Jed’s back was to the flank of braves. Instantly, one of them fired and hit him in the shoulder. Jed gasped, his breath knocked away. He turned the horse around to front, leveled his Hawken, and killed the chief.

He grabbed for his pistols. A lance knocked his arm away from a handle. Two more blows, like sledgehammers, crushed his chest. He felt a falling, back and sideways, like falling in a dream, falling without stopping. He forced his eyes to register: Blue, a vivid blue. He couldn’t think what the blue might be. It darkened. And the sense of falling slipped away.

Between 1822, when the Ashley men first went West (including Jedediah Smith), and 1843, when the first hordes of emigrants came, the trappers in a way became Indians themselves. They dressed like Indians, adopted some of the values of Indians, learned Indian languages, married (sometimes permanently) into Indian tribes, and came to believe in Indian religion.
— “Scene of Trappers and Indians” by Alfred Jacob Miller, True West Archives —

Jed Smith’s brothers and friends waited and waited for him. Finally, for the safety of the caravan, they moved on. They hoped that he would miraculously survive whatever had happened, as he had always survived, and catch up with them on the trail. When they got to Santa Fe on July 4, they heard the story of his death. Mexican traders had gotten it from the Comanches. Peter and Austin bought Jed’s rifle and pistols from the traders. Jed’s body was never found.

Jed Smith had made his traditional Christianity a deep principle within himself. But the love of wild places had rooted into him and become a deeper religion. His place of meditation was not the oak pew but the lone wilderness, as his eulogist said. His altar was the mountaintop, in a sense truer than his eulogist me ant. His sacraments were mountain skills. At the age of 32, he had lost his life in the service of his true church.

He had made a great pilgrimage to discover and know intimately the West he loved. For that mission he had risked, in his own eyes, even his salvation.

Though he died young, his quest had been successful. He had found the way across the Rocky Mountains at South Pass. He had led his men the length and width of the Great Basin. He had pioneered the overland route to California. He had become the first man to cross the Sierra Nevada. And he had been first to travel by land from California to Oregon. If the trappers were light years ahead of the American government and American people in their knowledge of the West, it was because Jed Smith had shown them the way. As an explorer of the West, he had come to rank with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Such were the accomplishments of the public man.

In late May 1831, Jedediah Smith and his wagon party got lost among the waterless buffalo trails of the Cimarron Cutoff in southwestern Kansas. Desperate to save his wagon train, Smith went off alone in search of water along the Cimarron River and Sand Creek. He never returned. Today, a bronze marker on Kansas Highway 25 between Ulysses and Hugoton, Kansas, commemorates the approximate location of his fatal fight with Comanches.
— John Charles Fremont’s 1846 map of his expedition to New Mexico and the southern Rocky Mountains Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections —

The private man had met his own standards in enterprise, courage, integrity and fairness. He had challenged the dangerous and the unknown with a fierce energy, and had thrived in them. He had spent his days living and feeling in the particulars—the creeks and meadows, the ridges and peaks—of the country he loved most, the Rocky Mountains.

A decade or two later, newspapers publicized the trapper garishly. Dime novelists idealized mountain men into heroes for wide-eyed boys and dreaming fathers. Kit Carson and Jim Bridger became epic figures, American versions of Odysseus. But then, when he should most have been remembered, Jedediah Strong Smith was forgotten.

“Death of a Mountain Man: Jedediah Smith’s Last Trail” is excerpted from Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men (TorForge) by Western Writers of America Hall of Fame member Win Blevins. Originally published in 1973, Blevins’ masterpiece has been in print for nearly 50 years, a remarkable accomplishment for any work of history. As Blevins notes in the 40th anniversary introduction, “The men in these stories lived vigorously, daringly, adventurously. I hope readers will ride along with them for decades to come. It is good for the soul.” Amen.

In addition to Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Win Blevins is the author of over 35 books, including the Spur Award-winning Stone Song, a novel about Crazy Horse. He is proud to call himself a member of the world’s oldest profession—storyteller.

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Jedediah Strong Smith: A Classic American Mountain Man

1827 – Jedediah Strong Smith starts the flow of trappers, traders and explorers into the Tehachapi Mountain area.

Jedediah Smith, born in New York State, took to the western wilderness as a young man. He made his mark as one of the most respected American pathfinders.

Among the American “mountain men”—frontiersmen, explorers and pathfinders of the early 19th Century—Jedediah Strong Smith was one of the most remarkable. By some accounts, his travels into unmapped western realms were unmatched by his peers.

Smith went west at a young age and died not much later. His short life was filled with more adventures and achievements, however, than most people experience.

Smith the Young Trapper

Jedediah Strong Smith (6 January 1799-circa Spring 1831) was born in New York State. The published journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from their historic overland expedition to the Pacific Northwest coast (1804-06) are said to have inspired him as a teenager to become a wilderness explorer.

By 1822 he was in St. Louis, Missouri, where he answered an advertisement to join a fur trapping “brigade” into the little known West, led by Gen. William Ashley. Ashley recognized Smith’s zeal in roughing the elements and finding furry prizes, and his courage in staving off an Arikara Indian attack. He made Smith, barely 23 years old, a squad leader.

Smith trapped the Rockies for Ashley’s company for four seasons. In 1824-25, he brought down to the trappers’ rendezvous 668 pelts—believed to be a record.

In 1826, Smith and two other rugged entrepreneurs bought out Ashley’s trading operation. For his share of territory, Smith took to the southwestern mountains.

Jedediah Smith’s Achievements

Besides trapping for profit, Smith had a lifelong hankering to explore new country. He is credited as the first European American to cross what is now the State of Utah, north-to-south. He and his men later stumbled into the Mojave Desert and, after 15 torturous days in the sun, entered the region of what is today southern California.

Legally, Smith and his party were foreign invaders of Mexican territory. At Los Angeles, they were not imprisoned but were placed under house arrest. After several months, they were given fresh horses and allowed to leave the territory—on condition they not return.

Smith sought a different route back east, across the Sierra Nevada range. His first attempt was blocked by heavy snow. He and two of his men, leaving 11 others encamped on the Sierra’s western face, then succeeded in crossing the mountains and the broad desert east of it. Assembling another small expedition when they reached the annual rendezvous, he returned to California and rescued the frontiersmen he’d left behind.

Jedediah Smith and the Bear

Smith knew many hardships and life-threatening experiences. Among them were near starvation and thirst. In one of his journals, he recorded: “I have at different times suffered all the extremes of heat and thirst. Hard as it is to bear for successive days the knawings of hunger yet it is light in comparison to the agony of burning thirst. . . .” While crossing a bleak, treeless desert, he and his men on one journey resorted to covering themselves with sand to block the killing sun.

His most dramatic episode, however, occurred during the seasons he trapped for William Ashley in the Rockies. Smith was attacked and mangled by a grizzly bear. Claws ripped off much of his scalp. Surviving the ordeal, Smith stoically ordered one of his men to sew his pate back together, using such crude needle and string as could be found among the party’s supplies.

He afterward wore his hair long to overflow his mutilated left ear.

Smith’s Reserved Personality

Smith carried a well-thumbed Bible on his wilderness epics. He was known to pray and meditate regularly. He refused to drink alcohol or smoke. He was straightforward in speech, never boastful and rarely indulging in humorous banter.

Jedediah Smith was killed by Comanche Indians in 1831. After selling his interest in the fur company and retiring from the mountains, he bought a farm in St. Louis. However, he made one last trip into the southwestern wilderness that spring. Setting out alone from his small party to look for water, he was set upon by hostiles.


Hiker With a Cause Retraces Steps of Trapper Jedediah Smith

Stopping along the trail up Humbug Mountain, Al Le Page looked through a break in the trees at the rugged coastline stretching north and tried to envision mountain man Jedediah Smith scouting his route through the Oregon coast.

Dressed in homemade faux buckskins and modern hiking shoes, and munching on high-carbohydrate energy bars, Le Page is walking the newly designated Jedediah Smith Trail on the southern Oregon coast to connect the legendary fur trapper to the 21st century. It is one of the nation’s Community Millennium Trails.

As executive director of the National Coast Trails Assn., Le Page hopes to inspire people to follow in his footsteps as well as Smith’s to get closer to the land and the history and cultures that have shaped it since an entrepreneurial venture made Smith and his band the first white men to travel here 182 years ago.

“It’s a personal journey for myself, touching that history,” Le Page said as he paused in his 200-mile trek at Humbug Mountain State Park near one of Smith’s campsites. “It’s also an exploration of what exists today and an invitation to people to explore their own minds. What do they want to see on their coasts in the future?”

The motels, condominiums and pavement along U.S. 101 are a far cry from what Smith saw in the summer of 1828, when he and his band of 18 men passed though southwestern Oregon while driving 315 horses and mules from Mission San Jose in California to sell at the annual fur trading rendezvous outside Salt Lake City, Utah.

Born in Jericho, N.Y., in 1799, Smith got his start as a mountain man after floating a flatboat loaded with whiskey pickles down the Mississippi to New Orleans. On his way back north in 1822, he answered a newspaper ad in St. Louis for “enterprising young men” and joined a fur brigade heading up the Missouri just 18 years after Lewis and Clark.

Over the next eight years, looking for new beaver to trap, Smith became the leading expert of his day on the American West, said James C. Auld, who is writing the first biography of Smith since 1953.

Before he was killed by Comanche Indians in 1831 on a trading caravan to Santa Fe, Smith had become the first American to cross the Sierra Nevada and the Mojave Desert, travel overland to Los Angeles and explore California’s Central Valley. In the Dakotas, a grizzly tore off his left ear, which Smith ordered one of his men to sew back on.

“He was a gritty explorer who had an enormous ability to persevere and keep moving,” Auld said. “He was described by a Hudson’s Bay Company person as a sly and cunning Yankee.”

Based on entries in Smith’s journal, the trail starts at Wilson Creek near Requa, Calif., where Smith’s band reached the Pacific after crossing the mountains from the Sacramento Valley.

It ends outside Reedsport, Ore., where the Smith River empties into the Umpqua. Near this site some 200 local Indians, angry that two of their number had been humiliated during earlier trading sessions, nearly wiped out Smith’s party. Smith--who had been up the Umpqua in a canoe when the attack struck--and three of his men escaped to Ft. Vancouver, where the Hudson’s Bay Company helped them get their goods back, as well as Smith’s journal.

To get closer to Smith and his journey, Le Page is hiking the sections of the trail on the same dates that Smith did, starting June 23 at the mouth of the Smith River in California and planning to finish July 14, the date of the massacre.

On June 30, Smith wrote in his journal: “From a high hill I had an opportunity to view the country which Eastward was high rough hills and mountains generally timbered and north along the coast apparently Low with some prairae. In climing a precipice on leaving the shore one of my pack Mules fell off and was killed.”

At 1,700 feet, Humbug Mountain offers the best view for miles and may be the promontory Smith climbed. Pausing during his own hike up Humbug Mountain, Le Page gazed through a gap in the trees at the rugged coastline and pointed out the route he would take along the beach the next day to avoid the highway and rugged bluffs.

But Le Page’s desire to get close to Smith has its limits. As a strict vegetarian, Le Page did not want to wear actual buckskins. His fringed jacket, pants and shoulder bags are made of synthetic fabrics that look and feel like suede.

Other parts of his kit are more authentic. The black powder pistol he carries, for example, looks remarkably like a photograph of Smith’s. Le Page also carries a powder horn, a handmade skinning knife and the sort of trade goods Smith would have carried: a small mirror, a string of blue beads, brass thimbles.

As talismans, Le Page carries three copper pennies, two dated 1828 and the other 1826. He also has a bag of new golden Sacagawea dollars, which he hands out as gifts. At night he stays with supporters along the way. During the day he munches on energy bars.

That hasn’t kept him from connecting with the past. He gave a dentalia shell necklace to an elder of the Tolowah tribe in Northern California, rode horseback along the beach with descendants of pioneers and gave $10 and some energy bars to a guy calling himself Yukon Jack, who was walking up U.S. Highway 101, pulling a handcart loaded with suitcases, to pan for gold in the Rogue River.

Le Page and the National Coastal Trail Assn. hope someday to see the Jedediah Smith Trail as part of a 10,000-mile network of coastal trails encircling the nation.

“When you see the world at 3 mph versus 60 mph, it looks a lot different,” Le Page said. “With this trail, people can literally walk in the footsteps of history.”


The Splendid Wayfaring : The Story of the Exploits and Adventures of Jedediah Smith and His Comrades, the Ashley-Henry Men, Discoverers and Explorers of the Great Central Route from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, 1822-1831

With the publication of The Splendid Wayfaring in 1920, John G. Neihardt sought to restore the reputation of a mountain man who went far in opening up the American West. The exciting narrative begins in 1822, when Smith ascended the Missouri River in the first fur-trading expedition of William H. Ashley and Andrew Henry, and ends in 1831, when he was killed by Comanche Indians on the Cimarron River. In the intervening years Smith became the first explorer to recognize South Pass as the gateway to the Far West, the first overlander to reach California and travel up the coast to the Columbia River, and the first white man to cross the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin from west to east. The Splendid Wayfaring follows in novelistic detail the history-making adventures of Smith and his companions.


Contents

Smith was born in Jericho, now Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, on January 6, 1799, [3] [a] [5] to Jedediah Smith I, a general store owner from New Hampshire, and Sally Strong, both of whom were descended entirely from families that came to New England from England during the Puritan emigration between 1620 and 1640. Smith received an adequate English instruction, learned some Latin, and was taught how to write decently. [4] Around 1810, Smith's father was caught up in a legal issue involving counterfeit currency after which the elder Smith moved his family west to Erie County, Pennsylvania. [6]

At age 13, Smith worked as a clerk on a Lake Erie freighter, where he learned business practices and probably met traders returning from the far west to Montreal. [4] This work gave Smith an ambition for adventurous wilderness trade. [4] According to Dale L. Morgan, Smith's love of nature and adventure came from his mentor, Dr. Titus G. V. Simons, a pioneer medical doctor who was on close terms with the Smith family. Morgan speculated that Simons gave the young Smith a copy of Meriwether Lewis' and William Clark's 1814 book of their 1804–1806 expedition to the Pacific, [b] and according to legend Smith carried this journal on all of his travels throughout the American West. [8] Smith would provide Clark, who had become superintendent of Indian affairs, much information from his own expeditions into the West. [9] In 1817, the Smith family moved westward again to Ohio and settled in Green Township in what is present-day Ashland County. [10]

Coming from a family of very modest means, Smith struck out to make his own way. [5] [10] He may have left his family in search of a trade or employment a year prior to their settlement in Green Township. In 1822, Smith was living in St. Louis. [c] The same year Smith responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette placed by General William H. Ashley. [12] General Ashley and Major Andrew Henry, [d] veterans of the War of 1812, had established a partnership to engage in the fur trade [13] and were looking for "One Hundred" "Enterprising Young Men" to explore and trap in the Rocky Mountains. [14] Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Clark had granted Ashley and Henry license to trade with Native Americans in the upper Missouri River, and he actively encouraged them to compete with the powerful British fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. [9] Smith, a 6-foot-tall, 23-year-old with a commanding presence, impressed General Ashley to hire him. [10] In late spring, Smith started up the Missouri on the keelboat Enterprize, which sank three weeks into the journey. Smith and the other men waited at the site of the wreck for a replacement boat, hunting and foraging for food. Ashley brought up another boat with an additional 46 men [15] and upon proceeding upriver, Smith got his first glimpse of the western frontier, coming into contact with the Sioux and Arikara. [16] On October 1, Smith reached Fort Henry at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, [17] which had just been built by Major Henry and the men that he had led up earlier. [14] [e] Smith and some other men continued up the Missouri to the mouth of the Musselshell River, where they built a camp from which to trap through the winter. [20]

In the spring of 1823, Major Henry ordered Smith back down the Missouri to the Grand River with a message for Ashley to buy horses from the Arikaras, who because of a recent skirmish with Missouri Fur Company men were antagonistic to the white traders. [21] Ashley, who was bringing supplies as well as 70 new men upriver by boat, [22] met Smith at the Arikara village on May 30. [23] They negotiated a trade for several horses and 200 buffalo robes and planned to leave as soon as possible to avert trouble, but weather delayed them, and before they could depart, an incident provoked an Arikara attack. Forty Ashley men, including Smith, were caught in a vulnerable position, and 12 were killed in the ensuing battle. [24] [f] Smith's conduct during the defense was the foundation of his reputation: "When his party was in danger, Mr. Smith was always among the foremost to meet it, and the last to fly those who saw him on shore, at the Riccaree fight, in 1823, can attest to the truth of this assertion." [26]

Smith and another man were selected by Ashley to return to Fort Henry on foot to inform Henry of the defeat. [25] Ashley and the rest of the surviving party rode back down the river, ultimately enlisting aid from Colonel Henry Leavenworth who was the commander of Fort Atkinson. In August, Leavenworth sent 250 military men along with 80 Ashley-Henry men, 60 men of the Missouri Fur Company and a number of Lakota Sioux warriors to subdue the Arikaras. After a botched campaign, a peace treaty was negotiated. [27] Smith had been appointed commander of one of the two squads of the Ashley-Henry men and was thereafter known as "Captain Smith." [28]

After the campaign, in the fall of 1823, Smith and several other of Ashley's men traveled downriver to Fort Kiowa. Leaving Fort Kiowa in September, Smith and 10 to 16 men headed west, beginning his first far-western expedition, to make their way overland to the Rocky Mountains. [29] Smith and his party were the first Euro-Americans to explore the southern Black Hills, in present-day South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. [30] While looking for the Crow tribe to obtain fresh horses and get westward directions, Smith was attacked by a large grizzly bear. Smith was tackled to the ground by the grizzly, breaking his ribs. Members of his party witnessed him fight the bear, which ripped open his side with its claws and took his head in its mouth. When the bear retreated, Smith's men ran to help him. They found his scalp and ear ripped off, but he convinced a friend, Jim Clyman, to sew it loosely back on, giving him directions. The trappers fetched water, bound up his broken ribs, and cleaned his wounds. [31] After recuperating from his bloody wounds and broken ribs, Smith wore his hair long to cover the large scar from his eyebrow to his ear. [32] The only known portrait of Jedediah Smith, painted after his death in 1831, showed the long hair he wore over the side of his head, to hide his scars.

The party spent the rest of 1823 wintering in the Wind River Valley. In 1824, Smith sent an expedition to find an expedient route through the Rocky Mountains. Smith was able to retrieve information from Crow natives. When communicating with the Crows, one of Smith's men made a unique map (consisting of buffalo hide and sand), and the Crows were able to show Smith and his men the direction to the South Pass. [33] Smith and his men crossed through this pass from east to west [34] and encountered the Green River near the mouth of the Big Sandy River in what is now Wyoming. [35] The group broke into two parties—one led by Smith and the other by Thomas Fitzpatrick—to trap upstream and downstream on the Green. [36] The two groups met in July on the Sweetwater River, and it was decided that Fitzpatrick and two others would take the furs and the news of the identification of a feasible highway route through the Rockies [g] to Ashley in St. Louis. [37] Scottish-Canadian trapper Robert Stuart, employed by John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company, had previously discovered the South Pass, in mid-October 1812, while traveling overland to St. Louis from Fort Astoria, but this information was kept secret. [38] [39] Smith later wrote a letter to Secretary of War John Eaton in 1830 making the location of the South Pass public information. [39] Major Henry returned to St. Louis on August 30, [40] and Ashley began making plans to lead a caravan back to the Rockies to regroup with his men. [41] Henry declined to return with Ashley, instead choosing to retire from the fur trade. [42]

After Fitzpatrick left, Smith and six others, including William Sublette, again went over South Pass, and in September 1824 encountered a group of Iroquois freemen trappers who had split off from the Hudson's Bay Company Snake Country brigade led by Alexander Ross. Smith told the Iroquois they could get better prices for their furs by selling to American traders and accompanied the brigade back to its base at Flathead Post in Montana. Smith then accompanied the brigade led by Peter Skene Ogden back southeast, leaving Flathead Post in December 1824. In April 1825, on the Bear River in what is now Utah, Smith and his companions split from the brigade and joined a group of Americans that had wintered in the area. In late May 1825, on the Weber River near present Mountain Green, Utah, 23 freemen trappers deserted from Ogden's brigade, backed up by a group of American trappers led by Johnson Gardner. Several of the deserters were among the Iroquois trappers Smith had assisted in September 1824. Smith may have been present at the confrontation, but the extent of his involvement in the desertion of the freemen, if any, is unclear. [43]

Ashley left St. Louis late in 1824 [42] and after an exploring expedition in Wyoming and Utah, he and Smith were reunited on July 1, 1825, at what would become the first rendezvous. [44] During the rendezvous, Ashley offered Smith a partnership to replace Henry. [45] [h] Smith returned to St. Louis for a time, where he asked Robert Campbell to join the company as a clerk. [47]

During the second rendezvous in the summer of 1826, Ashley decided no longer to be directly involved in the business of harvesting furs. Smith left a cache near the rendezvous site at what would become known as Cache Valley in northern Utah, and he and Ashley traveled north to meet David E. Jackson and Sublette at Bear River area near present-day Soda Springs, Idaho. Ashley sold his interest in his and Smith's partnership to the newly created partnership of Smith, Jackson & Sublette [48] [i] but agreed to continue to send supplies to the rendezvous [49] and broker the sale of furs brought to him in St. Louis.

The new partners were immediately faced with the reality that beaver were rapidly disappearing from the region where the two previous partnerships had traditionally trapped. But contemporaneous maps showed promise of untrapped rivers to the west, [50] most notably the legendary Buenaventura. [51] The Buenaventura was also thought to be a navigable waterway to the Pacific Ocean possibly providing an alternative to packing loads of furs back to St. Louis. [52] The previous spring, Smith had searched for rivers flowing to the Pacific west and northwest of the Great Salt Lake. [53] Although he pushed into eastern Nevada, he failed to find the Humboldt River, the probable source of the legend of the Buenaventura. [54] Having determined the Buenaventura must lie further south, Smith made plans for an exploratory expedition deep into the Mexican territory of Alta California. [j]

First trip to California, 1826–27 Edit

Smith and his party of 15 left the Bear River on August 7, 1826, and after retrieving the cache he had left earlier, they headed south through present-day Utah and Nevada to the Colorado River, finding increasingly harsh conditions and difficult travel. [55] Finding shelter in a friendly Mojave village near present-day Needles, California, the men and horses recuperated Smith hired two runaways from the Spanish missions in California to guide them west. [56] After leaving the river and heading into the Mojave Desert, the guides led them through the desert via the Mohave Trail that would become the western portion of the Old Spanish Trail. [57] Upon reaching the San Bernardino Valley of California, Smith and Abraham LaPlant borrowed horses from a rancher and rode to the San Gabriel Mission on November 27, 1826, to present themselves to its director, Father José Bernardo Sánchez, who received them warmly. [58] [k]

The next day, the rest of Smith's men arrived at the mission, and that night the head of the garrison at the mission confiscated all their guns. [59] On December 8, Smith was summoned to San Diego for an interview with Governor José María Echeandía about his party's status in the country. [60] [l] Echeandía, surprised and suspicious of the Americans unauthorized entrance into California, had Smith arrested, believing him to be a spy. [61] Accompanied by LaPlant, Smith's Spanish interpreter, Smith was taken to San Diego while the rest of the party remained at the mission. Echeandía detained Smith for about two weeks, demanding that he turn over his journal and maps. Smith asked for permission to travel north to the Columbia River on a coastal route, where known paths could take his party back to United States territory. Upon intercession of American sea Captain W.H. Cunningham of Boston on the ship Courier, Smith was finally released by Echeandía to reunite with his men. [4] Echeandía ordered Smith and his party to leave California by the same route they entered, forbidding him to travel up the coast to Bodega Bay but giving Smith permission to purchase needed supplies for an eastern overland return journey. [62] [4] [63] Smith boarded the Courier sailing from San Diego to San Pedro, to meet his men. [64]

After waiting for almost another month for an exit visa and then spending at least two more weeks breaking the horses they had purchased for the return trip, Smith's party left the mission communities of California in mid-February 1827. The party headed out the way it had come, but once outside the Mexican settlements, Smith convinced himself he had complied with Echeandía's order to leave by the same route he had entered, and the party veered north crossing over into the Central Valley. [65] The party ultimately made its way to the Kings River on February 28 and began trapping beaver. [66] The party kept working its way north, encountering hostile Maidus. [67] By early May 1827, Smith and his men had traveled 350 miles (560 km) north looking for the Buenaventura River, but they found no break in the wall of the Sierra Nevada range through which it could have flowed from the Rocky Mountains. [55] On December 16, 1826, Smith had written in a letter to the United States ambassador plenipotentiary to Mexico his plans to "follow up on of the largest Riv(ers) that emptied into the (San Francisco) Bay cross the mon (mountains) at its head and from thence to our deposit on the Great Salt Lake" [53] and appeared to be following that plan. They followed the Cosumnes River (the northernmost tributary of the San Joaquin River) upstream, but veered off it to the north and crossed over to the American River, a tributary of the Sacramento that flowed into San Francisco Bay. They tried traveling up the canyon of the South Fork of the American to cross the Sierra Nevada but had to return because the snow was too deep. [68] [m] Unable to find a feasible path for the well-laden party to cross and faced with hostile indigenes, he was forced into a decision: since they did not have time to travel north to the Columbia and make it in time to the 1827 rendezvous, they would backtrack to the Stanislaus River and re-establish a camp there. Smith would take two men and some extra horses to get to the rendezvous as quickly as he could and return to his party with more men later in the year, and the group would continue on to the Columbia. [70]

After a difficult crossing of the Sierra Nevada near Ebbetts Pass, Smith and his two men passed around the south end of Walker Lake. [71] After meeting with the only mounted natives that they would encounter until they reached the Salt Lake Valley, [n] they continued east across central Nevada, straight across the Great Basin Desert just as the summer heat hit the region. Neither they nor their horses or mules could find adequate food, and as the horses gave out, they were butchered for whatever meat the men could salvage. After two days without water, Robert Evans collapsed near the Nevada–Utah border and could go no further, but some natives Smith encountered gave them some food and told him where to find water, which he took back to Evans and revived him. [72] [o] As the three approached the Great Salt Lake, they again were unable to find water, and Evans collapsed again. Smith and Silas Gobel found a spring and again took back water to Evans. [73] Finally, the men came to the top of a ridge from which they saw the Great Salt Lake to the north, a "joyful sight" to Smith. [74] By this time they only had one horse and one mule remaining. They reached and crossed the Jordan River where local natives told him the whites were gathered farther north at "the Little Lake" (Bear Lake on the border between present-day Utah and Idaho). Smith borrowed a fresh horse from them and rode ahead of the other two men, reaching the rendezvous on July 3. The mountain men celebrated Smith's arrival with a cannon salute, [p] for they had given up him and his party for lost. [77]

As agreed, Ashley had sent provisions for the rendezvous, and his men took back 7,400 pounds (3,400 kg) of Smith, Jackson & Sublette furs [78] and a letter from Smith to William Clark, then in the office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the region west of the Mississippi River, describing what he had observed the previous year. Smith left to rejoin the men he had left in California almost immediately after the rendezvous. He was accompanied by 18 men and two French-Canadian women, following much of the same route as the previous year. [79] However, in the ensuing year, the Mojave along the Colorado River who had been so welcoming the previous year had clashed with trappers from Taos and were set on revenge against the whites. [80] While crossing the river, Smith's party was attacked 10 men, including Silas Gobel, were killed, and the two women were taken captive. Smith and the eight surviving men, one badly wounded from the fighting, prepared to make a desperate stand on the west bank of the Colorado, having made a makeshift breast work out of trees and fashioned lances by attaching butcher knives to light poles. [81] The men still had five guns among them, and as the Mojave began to approach, Smith ordered his men to fire on those within range. [80] Two Mojaves were shot and killed, one was wounded, and the remaining attackers ran off. [81] Before the Mojave could regroup, Smith and eight other surviving men retreated on foot across the Mojave Desert on the Mohave Trail to the San Bernardino Valley. [82]

Smith and the other survivors were again well received in San Gabriel. The party moved north to meet with the group that had been left in the San Joaquin Valley, reuniting with them on September 19, 1827. Unlike in San Gabriel, they were coolly received by the priests at Mission San José, who had already received warning of Smith's renewed presence in the area. Smith's party also visited the settlements at Monterey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco).

Governor Echeandía, who was at the time in Monterey (capital of Alta California), once again arrested Smith, this time along with his men. Yet despite the breach of trust, the governor once again released Smith after several English-speaking residents vouched for him, including John B. R. Cooper and William Edward Petty Hartnell in Monterey. After posting a $30,000 bond, Smith received a passport, on the same promise – to leave the province immediately and not to return. [83] Also as before, Smith and his party remained in California hunting in the Sacramento Valley for several months. [q] Upon reaching the northern edge of the valley, the party scouted the route to the northeast afforded by the Pit River but determined it to be impassable, [85] [r] so veered northwest toward the Pacific coast to find the Columbia River and return to the Rocky Mountain region. Jedediah became the first explorer to reach the Oregon Country over land by traveling up the California coast. [87]

Trip to the Oregon Country Edit

When Smith's party left Mexican Alta California and entered the Oregon Country, the Treaty of 1818 allowed joint occupation between Britain and the United States. In the Oregon Country, Smith's party, then numbering 19 and over 250 horses, [s] came into contact with the Umpqua people. The tribes along the coast had monitored the party's progress, passing news of conflicts between the group and indigenes, and the Umpqua were wary. [88] One of them stole an ax, and Smith's party treated some of the Umpqua very harshly in order to force the thief to return it. On July 14, 1828, while Smith, John Turner and Richard Leland were scouting a trail north, his group was attacked in its camp on the Umpqua River. [48]

On the night of August 8, 1828, Arthur Black arrived at the gate of Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) post at Fort Vancouver, badly wounded and almost destitute of clothing. He believed himself to be the only survivor of the men at camp but did not know of the fate of Smith and the two others. Chief Factor John McLoughlin, superintendent at the fort, sent out word to the local tribes that they would be rewarded if they brought Smith and his men to the fort unharmed, and began organizing a search party for them. [89] Smith and the two others, having been alerted to the attack, had climbed a hill above the camp and witnessed the massacre they arrived at the fort two days after Black. [48] [t] In 1824, Governor-in-Chief of the HBC, George Simpson, had put McLoughlin in charge of building and operating Fort Vancouver. [98] Smith and his party represented American interests in the fur trade. [99]

McLoughlin sent Alexander McLeod south with Smith, Black, Turner and Leland and several HBC men to rescue any other men that had been in camp that had possibly survived, [u] and their goods. After recovering several horses in bad condition, Black and Leland remained with some HBC men to care for them and the HBC horses, and Smith, Turner, and 18 HBC men proceeded to the massacre site. On October 28, they reached it and found 11 decomposed bodies, which they buried. [101] [v] They ultimately confirmed that all 15 of the unaccounted-for men had died [103] and recovered 700 beaver skins and 39 horses, as well as Harrison Rogers' journals. [w]

When Smith returned to Fort Vancouver ten days later, he met with Governor Simpson to discuss the possibility of the HBC buying Smith’s recovered property. [104] Governor Simpson paid Smith $2,600 for the horses and furs, [105] and in return Smith assured that his American fur trade company would confine its operations to the region east of the Great Divide. [106] Smith remained at Fort Vancouver until March 12, 1829, when he and Arthur Black traveled back east to meet up with his partners. [107] [x]

Blackfeet expedition, 1829–30 Edit

In 1829, Captain Smith personally organized a fur trade expedition into the Blackfeet territory. Smith was able to capture a good cache of beaver before being repulsed by hostile Blackfeet. Jim Bridger served as a riverboat pilot on the Powder River during the profitable expedition. In the four years of western fur trapping, Smith, Jackson, and Sublette were able to make a substantial profit and, at the 1830 rendezvous on the Wind River, they sold their company to Tom Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb, and John Baptiste Gervais who renamed it the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. [108]

Return to St. Louis Edit

After Smith's return to St. Louis in 1830, he and his partners wrote a letter on October 29 to Secretary of War Eaton, who at the time was involved in a notorious Washington cabinet scandal known as the Petticoat Affair [109] and informed Eaton of the "military implications" in terms of the British allegedly alienating the indigene population towards any American trappers in the Pacific Northwest. According to biographer Dale L. Morgan, Smith's letter was "a clear sighted statement of the national interest". [110] The letter also included a description of Fort Vancouver and described how the British were in the process of making a new fort at the time of Smith's visit in 1829. Smith believed the British were attempting to establish a permanent settlement in the Oregon Country. [103]

Smith had not forgotten the financial struggles of his family in Ohio. After making a sizable profit from the sale of furs, over $17,000 ($500,000 in 2021), [111] Smith sent $1,500 to his family in Green Township, whereupon his brother Ralph bought a farm. Smith also bought a house on First Avenue in St. Louis to be shared with his brothers. Smith bought two African slaves to take care of the property in St. Louis. [110]

The partners' busy schedules in St. Louis also found them and Samuel Parkman making a map of their discoveries in the West, [112] to which Smith was the major contributor. On March 2, 1831, Smith wrote another letter to Eaton, now a few months away from resigning because of the Petticoat Affair, [109] referencing the map [113] and requesting to launch a federally funded exploration expedition similar to the Lewis & Clark expedition. [110] [y] Smith requested that Reuben Holmes, a West Point graduate and military officer, and he lead the expedition. [113]

Smith and his partners were also preparing to join into the supply trade known as the "commerce of the prairies". At the request of William H. Ashley, Smith Jackson and Sublette received a passport from Senator Thomas Hart Benton on March 3, 1831, the day after Smith wrote his letter to Eaton, and they began forming a company of 74 men, twenty-two wagons, and a "six-pounder" artillery cannon for protection. [ citation needed ]

Having no response from Eaton, [110] Smith joined his partners and left St. Louis to trade in Santa Fe on April 10, 1831. [114] Smith was leading the caravan on the Santa Fe Trail on May 27, 1831, when he left the group to scout for water near the Lower Spring on the Cimarron River in present-day southwest Kansas. [115] He never returned to the group. The remainder of the party proceeded on to Santa Fe hoping Smith would meet up with them, but he never did. They arrived in Santa Fe on July 4, 1831, and shortly thereafter members of the party discovered a comanchero with some of Smith's personal belongings. [116] It was relayed that Smith had encountered and communicated with a group of comancheros just prior to his approaching a group of Comanche. [117] Smith tried to negotiate with the Comanche, but they surrounded him in preparation for attack. [116]

Most likely, the death of Jedediah Smith occurred in Northern Mexico Territory, south of present-day Ulysses, Grant County, Kansas. According to Smith's grand-nephew, Ezra Delos Smith, there were 20 Comanches in the group. Smith attempted to conciliate with them, until the Comanches scared his horse and shot him in the left shoulder with an arrow. Smith fought back, ultimately killing the chief of the warriors. [z] The version written by Austin Smith in letter to his brother, Ira, four months after Smith's death says that Smith had killed the "head Chief," but nothing about any other Comanche being wounded or killed. Josiah Gregg wrote in 1844, that Smith "struggled bravely to the last and, as the Indians themselves have since related, killed two or three of their party before he was overpowered." [118] [aa] Smith stated that his grand-uncle had fought so valiantly that the Comanche believed "he had been more than mortal, and that he could be immortal it would be better to propitiate his spirit so they did not mutilate his body, but later gave it the same funeral rites they gave its chief" [120] [ab] Austin Smith, Jedediah's brother, who along with another Smith brother, Peter, was a member of the caravan, was able to retrieve Smith's rifle and pistols that the Indians had taken and traded to the comancheros. [123] [ac]

In the aftermath of Smith's death, President Andrew Jackson, during his second term in 1836, launched the federally funded oceanic United States Exploring Expedition, led by Charles Wilkes, from 1838 to 1842. One of the expedition's accomplishments was the exploration of the Pacific Northwest and to lay claim on the Oregon Country, that Smith had previously explored, dominated by the British Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. [125] The federally funded overland exploration of the West that Smith had requested in 1831 finally took place starting in 1842 commanded by Lieutenant John C. Frémont. It was Frémont's documented and published exploration of the West during the 1840s that opened the West to American expansion. Frémont was popularly known as the Pathfinder up until the late 19th century, while Smith's life and reputation were nearly forgotten by his countrymen. The disputed joint occupancy of Britain and the United States of the Oregon Country where Smith stayed at Fort Vancouver was ended by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. In 1848, Mexico ceded California, where Smith had twice been arrested by Governor Echeandía, to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican–American War.

Jedediah Smith was no ordinary mountain man. He had a dry, not raucous, sense of humor and was not known to use the profanity common to his peers. [126] Smith's immediate family was practicing Christians his younger brother Benjamin was named after a Methodist circuit preacher, [127] and his letters indicate his own Christian beliefs. Although after his death the legend of Smith as a "Bible-toter" and a missionary grew, assertions that he carried a Bible with him in the wilderness have no basis in any accounts by him or his companions, [128] and the only documentation of any public demonstration of faith was a prayer said at the burial of one of the Arikara massacre victims. [25] [ad] However, neither do those accounts speak of him drinking alcohol to excess [ae] or bedding Native American women, indicating he had the discipline often associated with a strict moral code. [131] He owned at least two slaves, [132] which conflicted with his northern Methodist upbringing, and his behavior was not always honorable when dealing with those he considered his antagonists. [133] He was known to be physically strong, cool under pressure, extremely skilled at surviving in the wild and possessed of extraordinary leadership skills. [131] Smith's true character is an enigma open to interpretation. [129]

Views of Native Americans Edit

While traveling throughout the American West, Smith's policy with the Native Americans was to maintain friendly relations [26] with gifts and exchanges, learning from their cultures. [131] As he traveled through northern California for the first time, then part of Mexican territory Alta California, he tried to maintain that policy, but the situation quickly deteriorated. The Maidu were very fearful and defensive, and Smith's men killed at least seven of them upon his orders when they refused peaceful advances and demonstrated aggressive behaviors. [134] He later wrote that they were "the lowest intermediate link between man and the Brute creation." [135] Later, during his trek across the Great Basin, he said of the desert indigenes he came upon "children of nature. unintelligent type of beings. They form a connecting link between the animal and intellectual creation. " [af] Upon returning to Mexican California, even after suffering the Mojave massacre, he continued to try to maintain good relations, punishing two of his men, albeit lightly, who had unnecessarily killed one native and wounded another. [138] But as the party continued north, the natives continued the aggressive actions, and Smith's men wounded at least two more and three were killed. [139] By the time the party reached the Umpqua River in the British-American shared Oregon Country, their tolerance was at an ebb, leading to the ax incident and resulting in disastrous consequences. [140]

Smith for the most part was forgotten by his countrymen as a historical figure for over 75 years after his death. [141] In 1853, Peter Skene Ogden [ag] had written about the Umpqua massacre in Traits of American Indian Life and Character by a Fur Trader, and the Oregon Pioneers Association and Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote versions of it in 1876 and 1886, respectively. There are mentions of him in memoirs by other fur trappers, and mentions by George Gibbs and F. V. Hayden in their reports. Recollection of a Septuagenarian by William Waldo, published by the Missouri Historical Society in 1880, discussed Smith, focusing on hearsay evidence of his piety. [129] There was no mention of Smith in the 1891 volume 5 publication of Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. [142] The first known publication solely about Smith was in the 1896 Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California. [119] In 1902, Hiram M. Chittenden wrote of him extensively in The American Fur Trade of the West [143] The same year Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh wrote about Smith's exploits with the Mojave Indians in his book The Romance of the Colorado River: The Story of Its Discovery in 1540 with an Account of Later Explorations. [144] [ah] Smith, however, again was not listed in the 1906 volume 9 publication of American Biographical Society's Biographical Dictionary of America, edited by Rossiter Johnson. [146] In 1908, John G. Neihardt and Doane Robinson lamented the obscurity of Smith afterward, more extensive efforts were initiated to publicize his accomplishments. [147]

In 1912, an article about Smith written by a grand-nephew, Ezra Delos Smith of Meade, Kansas, was published by the Kansas Historical Society. Five years later, Smith's status as a historical figure was further revived by Harrison Clifford Dale's [ai] book, [148] The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific, 1822–1829: With the Original Journals, published in 1918. [149] During the 1920s, Maurice S. Sullivan traced descendants of Smith's siblings and found two portions of the narrative of Smith's travels, written in the hand of Samuel Parkman [150] [aj] who had been hired to assist in compiling the document [112] after Smith's return to St. Louis in 1830. The narrative's impending publication had been announced in a St. Louis newspaper as late as 1840, [ak] but never happened. [152] In 1934, Sullivan published the remnants, documenting Smith's travels in 1821 and 1822 and from June 1827 until the Umpqua massacre a year later, in The Travels of Jedediah Smith, giving a new documented perspective of Smith's explorations. [al] Along with the narrative, Sullivan published the portion of Alexander McLeod's journal documenting the search for any surviving members of Smith's party and the recovery of his property after the Umpquah massacre. The Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 17, edited by Dumas Malone, published in 1935, contains an article on Smith authored by Joseph Schafer. [153] The next year, the first comprehensive biography of Smith: Jedediah Smith: Trader and Trail Breaker by Sullivan was posthumously published, but it was Dale Morgan's book, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, published in 1953, that established Smith as an authentic American hero whose explorations were overshadowed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. [141]

According to Maurice S. Sullivan, [am] Smith was "the first white man to cross the future state of Nevada, the first to conquer the High Sierra of California, and the first to explore the entire Pacific Slope from Lower California to the banks of the Columbia River". [154] He was known for his many systematic recorded observations on nature and topography. His expeditions also raised doubts about the existence of the legendary Buenaventura River. [155] Jedediah Smith's explorations were the main basis for accurate Pacific West maps. He and his partners, Jackson and Sublette, produced a map that, in a eulogy for Smith printed in the Illinois Magazine for June 1832, the unknown author [an] claimed "This map is now probably the best extant, of the Rocky Mountains, and the country on both sides, from the States to the Pacific." [26] This map has been called "a landmark in mapping of the American West" [156] The original map is lost, its content was overlaid and annotated by George Gibbs on an 1845 base map by John C. Frémont, which is on file at the American Geographical Society Library, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. [157] [ao]

Another important piece of the Jedediah Smith story was discovered in 1967, when another portion of the 1830–31 narrative (again in Parkman's hand) was found amongst other historical papers in an attic in St. Louis. [158] This portion documented Smith's first California trip (1826–27), and immediately preceded the portion of the narrative found by Sullivan 35 years earlier. George R. Brooks [ap] edited and introduced the narrative portion, along with the first "journal" of Smith companion Harrison Rogers, [aq] in 1977. [159]

Geographic namesakes Edit

Smith's exploration of northwestern California and southern Oregon resulted in two rivers, the Smith River (California) and Smith River (Oregon) [160] being named for him. [ar] Smith's Fork of the Bear River, in southwest Wyoming, is named for him. [161] [162] and Smith's fork of Blacks Fork of the Green River may also be named for him. [163] The Jedediah Smith Wilderness in Wyoming bears his name.


Watch the video: The Mountain Men Documentary 1999 (December 2021).