Jedediah Smith’s Travels Pictures Maps
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Jedediah Smith ranks at the top of mountain man accomplishments, and yet he was basically unknown until the last half of the twentieth century. After the Arikara battle of 1823, Smith lead a party through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota to the Wyoming Bighorn and Wind River valleys. From the Wind River Valley, Smith made the first crossing of South Pass from the East into the Green River Valley of Wyoming. Smith attended the first Mountain Man Rendezvous in 1825, and become William Ashley’s partner. In 1825-26, Smith and Robert Campbell led the 1826 Rendezvous pack train from St. Louis to Cache Valley in Utah, a good share of this trail would become part of the Oregon-California trail. After the rendezvous Smith Jackson & Sublette bought William Ashley’s interest in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade.
Jedediah Smith was the first American to lead trappers over the Mohave Desert into California, across the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Great Basin back to the 1827 Rendezvous at Bear Lake, Idaho. After the 1827 Rendezvous, Jedediah Smith re-crossed the Mojave Desert into southern California and then blazed a trail up the Pacific Coast area to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. From Fort Vancouver in Washington, he went to the Flathead Post in Montana then to Pierre’s Hole in Idaho before attending the 1830 Rendezvous on the Popo Agie near Riverton, Wyoming. Jedediah Smith left the mountains after the 1830 Rendezvous. The next summer, Comanche Indians killed Jedediah Smith on the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. The maps and letters, Jedediah Smith sent to government officials in Washington over his eight years in the West provided the foundation for America’s western Expansion.
Jedediah Strong Smith was born in the Susquehanna Valley of New York in 1799. Jedediah was ten years old, when the Smith family moved westward to Erie County, Pennsylvania. The local doctor took a liking to Jedediah. Dr. Titus Simons, who become a close family friend, helped Jedediah with his education and gave him a copy of the 1814 Biddle edition of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
When Jedediah Smith’s family moved to the Western Reserve country of Ohio. Jedediah Smith struck out for the frontier. According to some, Jedediah carried two books—the Bible and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Not long after reaching St. Louis, Jedediah learned the lieutenant governor of Missouri, William H. Ashley and Andrew Henry, a veteran fur trader, had formed a partnership to trap beaver on the upper Missouri River. Ashley placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette:
Jedediah Smith quickly signed on; this was his way west. At the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri river, Major Henry built a second Fort Henry. From there, Maj. Henry sent Jedediah Smith and a small party farther upriver to winter near the mouth of the Musselshell and Missouri rivers. During the winter, both parties lost horses to the Assiniboine.
In the spring the Musselshell party returned to Fort Henry, Major Henry sent Jedediah Smith down the Missouri to find Ashley and tell him they needed more horses at Fort Henry.
Smith found Ashley with the supply boat below the three Arikara villages that were located on the Missouri River near the mouth of the Grand River. When Smith gave Ashley Henry’s message, Ashley stopped at an Arikara Village to trade for horses. The Arikara agreed to trade horses for guns and ammunition, but during the night, a young trapper sneaked into the Arikara Village. He was killed and dismembered. At daylight, Arikara warrior opened fire on the traders camped on the beach.
Jedediah Smith and several trappers were pinned down on the Missouri River sandbar. After a brief fight, the survivors dashed for the river and swam across; twelve trappers lay dead on the sandbar. A few of the men were picked up by men in one of Ashley’s boats, the others swam to the opposite shore. Eleven of the men were wounded, two of them later died.
Following the loss of his men, Ashley went back downriver to a small island near the mouth of the Cheyenne River. All of the boatmen and most of the fur trappers refused to go back upriver. William Ashley asked for a volunteer to take word to Major Henry. Volunteering, Jedediah Smith and a French-Canadian trapper hastened cross-country to Henry’s outpost with news of the disaster. The next morning after learning of the losses, Major Henry with fifty men started downriver in a keelboat to assist Ashley; they passed the Arikara villages at night.
The men refusing to go back upriver were sent back to St. Louis in one of the boats . The deserters promised to inform Colonel Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson of the Arikara fight. Fort Atkinson was located at the Lewis and Clark Council Bluff site which was several miles above present-day Council Bluffs.
A month later, Colonel Leavenworth arrived at Ashley’s camp with six companies of soldiers, Joshua Pilcher and sixty trappers from the Missouri Company, and six hundred Sioux Indians. After a couple of days of basically doing nothing, Colonel Leavenworth signed a peace treaty with the Arikara.
During the two days of army inactivity, the Sioux warriors raided the Arikara corn fields and killed several Arikara warriors. Disgusted with the white man’s army, the Sioux warriors went home.
A disgruntled, Joshua Pilcher, head of the Missouri Fur Company, wrote to the Secretary of War:
“You came to restore peace and tranquility to the country, & leave an impression which would insure its continuance, your operations have been such as to produce the contrary effect, and to impress the different Indian tribes with the greatest possible contempt for the American character. You came to use your own language to “open and make good this great road”: instead of which you have by the imbecility of your conduct and operations, created and left impassable barriers. Leavenworth’s treaty accomplished nothing except to close off the Missouri River fur trade for decades.”
Ashley and his men went downriver to a trading post called Fort Kiowa. Ashley outfitted a party of eleven men under Jedediah Smith to travel overland to the Rocky Mountains. Among the men were Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, James Clyman, Thomas Eddie, Edward Rose, Stone, and Branch. The other two men’s names have been lost to history.
Near the Black Hills, Smith was attacked by a grizzly bear. After the bear was killed, Smith gave directions as Clyman stitched up the gaping wounds. James Clyman left a vivid description of the encounter:
“Grissly did not hesitate a moment but sprang on the capt taking him by the head first pitc[h]ing sprawling on the earth…breaking several of his ribs and cutting his head badly…the bear had taken nearly all his head in his cap[a]cious mouth close to his left eye on one side and clos to his right ear on the other and laid the skull bare to near the crown of the head…one of his ears was torn from his head out to the outer rim…”
As soon as he was able to travel, Jedediah, with one ear sewed on backwards, led his party to the upper Wind River Valley.
Back at Fort Henry, Andrew Henry sent another party of trappers under John C. Weber to the Wind River and Bighorn Mountain country. The two Ashley-Henry groups wintered with different Crow villages–there is no mention of interaction between the two groups.
In February, Smith attempted to cross Union Pass from the Wind River Valley to the head of the Green River Valley, but the snow was too deep. Returning to the Crow camp, warriors told Smith about a broad open pass on the south end of the Wind River Mountains. In March of 1824, Jedediah Smith’s party followed the Sweetwater River over South Pass into the Green River Valley…Robert Stuart’s discovery of South Pass had been largely forgotten, and Jedediah Smith is credited with the effective discovery of South Pass.
Reaching the Green River Valley, Jedediah Smith split the party into two groups with a plan to rendezvous on the Sweetwater River in mid-summer.
Fitzpatrick’s men trapped in the valley of the Seed-kee-dee (Prairie Chicken River or Green River). On Horse Creek, Indians stole Fitzpatrick’s horses; this is where the name supposedly comes from.
Thomas Fitzpatrick and his men had a good hunt, and by June were on the Sweetwater River to meet the Smith Party. When Jedediah Smith arrived at the Sweetwater Rendezvous, it was decided Fitzpatrick, Stone, and Branch would take the furs to Fort Atkinson. In a bullboat, the trappers floated down the Sweetwater and North Platte rivers as far as Devils Gate where the hollowed-out boat tipped over.
The furs were recovered and dried before being cached. The three men struggled across the open Plains to Fort Atkinson. At Fort Atkinson, Fitzpatrick sent a dispatch to Ashley in St. Louis advising him of the rich beaver country west of the Wind River Mountains.
November of 1824, Ashley organized a supply train of twenty-five trappers, fifty packhorses, a wagon and team—the wagon and team were abandoned along the trail. Ashley’s use of horses and mules for transporting supplies initiated the rendezvous system of the Rocky Mountain fur trade…the North West Company had been holding an annual rendezvous at Grande Portage, then Fort William, since 1783.
When Thomas Fitzpatrick and his men left with the furs for Fort Atkinson, Jedediah Smith and his five men trapped toward the northwest. On the Blackfoot River, Smith found an Iroquois trapping party from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Iroquois trappers had been attacked by a war party of Shoshone and offered their furs to Smith if he and his men would accompany them to the Flathead Post (Saleesh House).
On the Clark Fork River, Flathead Post was eleven miles below Thompson Falls, Montana. When Smith and his party arrived at the Flathead Post, the post Factor, Alexander Ross, wrote:
“That damn’d all cursed day when his Iroquois showed up under convoy of the smug Americans.”
During the winter, Smith studied every detail of the Hudson’s Bay Company operations. When Peter Skene Ogden, who had taken over from Alexander Ross, left for the Portneuf River in Idaho, Smith and his men followed. A British diarist remarked:
In late June 1825, Smith arrived at Henry’s Fork for the first mountain man rendezvous. Andrew Henry had left the fur trade, and Ashley needed a new field partner. During the one day rendezvous, Ashley chose Jedediah Smith to be his new partner.
Ashley and Smith took one hundred packs of furs back from the first rendezvous. The furs came from Ashley’s men, deserters from Peter Skeen Ogden, and Etienne Provost’s men from Taos. The party took the furs to the Bighorn River, and then floated the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers where they met the Atkinson-O’Fallon Expedition. The furs were loaded on the steamboat and taken to St. Louis.
Less than a month after arriving in St. Louis, Jedediah Smith left for the mountains. Jedediah’s fall hunt was in the Wyoming, Utah, Idaho area. Jedediah met Ashley at the 1826 Rendezvous in Cache (Willow) Valley…the 1826 site is disputed between Cove and the mouth of Blacksmith Fork Canyon.
After the 1826 rendezvous, Jedediah Smith, William Sublette, and David E. Jackson met with Ashley on the Bear River and bought his interests in the Ashley-Smith Company. The new partnership agreed to buy the rendezvous supplies through Ashley. After four years in the mountains, Jedediah Smith was head of the dominate fur trade company in the Rocky Mountains.
1826 California Expedition:
In August, the three partners split up for the fall hunt. Smith and seventeen men pushed south to investigate the trapping potential south and west of the Great Salt Lake. Smith traveled up Spanish Fork Canyon—through Castle Valley—over the mountains to Richfield—then over the mountains to Cove Fort. Except the detour through Castle Valley, Smith followed I-15 through Utah to the Virgin River (Brooks).
Smith followed the Virgin River to its confluence with the Colorado River. The Smith party crossed the Colorado River and continued south along the Colorado to the Mojave villages near Needles, California. In his journal, Smith stated:
“…by the time they reached the Mojave Crossing he had lost so many horses that we were all on foot—my men and the remainder of my horses were worn out with fatigue and hardship & emaciated with hunger…”
After resting several days at the Mojave village, Smith and his men started the one hundred and thirty-eight mile trail across the Mojave Desert. There were usually four dependable sources of water in the barren desert: Paiute Spring, Rock Spring, Marl Spring, and Zzyzx Spring near Soda Lake the sink for the Mojave River.
It took two weeks to cross the barren, blazing desert before reaching the San Bernardino Valley. Spanish Priests welcomed them at the San Gabriel Mission-near present-day Los Angles. Smith’s clerk, Harrison Rogers, described it:
“…great feasting among the men. … I was introduced to the 2 Priests over a glass of good old whiskey—and found them to be very Joval friendly gentlemen… . Plenty of good wine during supper, before the cloth was removed sigars was introduced… . Friendship and peace prevail with us and the Spanyards….”
Smith was called to San Diego for questioning by the Mexican governor. Backed by Captain Cunningham of the schooner Courier and other Yankee sea captains in port, Smith convinced the governor he sought only beaver. The governor ordered Smith to take his men and leave the same way they had come into California.
Jedediah Smith retraced his route to the edge of the Mojave Desert then turned north into the San Joaquin Valley. Smith pushed northward three hundred and fifty miles, but the Sierra Nevada Mountains formed a high barrier to the east; it would be difficult to cross the snow-capped range with fifteen men, packs of furs, and equipment. Leaving most of his men to trap the Stanislaus River, Smith set out with two companions, Robert Evans and Silas Gobel, for the 1827 Rendezvous on Bear Lake.
The three men left on the twentieth of May, 1827, with seven horses and two mules. Smith and his two companions followed the Stanislaw River to near its source and then crossed over the Sierra Nevada range at Ebbett’s Pass.
Skirting Walker Lake, the three men headed into the Great Basin. Smith recorded:
“This plain is a waste of sand with a few detached mountains some of which are in the region of perpetual snow…a few Indians are scattered over the plain, the most miserable objects in creation.”
Smith’s journal leaves a descriptive picture of the desert journey. From a high hill, he wrote:
“I could discover nothing but sandy plains or dry Rocky hills…I durst not tell my men of the desolate prospect ahead…. With our best exertion we pushed forward, walking as we had been for a long time over the soft sand…worn down with hunger and fatigue and burning with thirst increased by the blazing sands…it then seemed possible and even probable we might perish in the desert unheard of and unpitied. My dreams were not of Gold or ambitious honors but of my distant quiet home, of murmuring brooks of Cooling Cascades.”
When Robert Evans collapsed from thirst and fatigue, Smith and Gobel dug a pit beneath a broad juniper tree and covered him with sand. A few miles further, the two men located a spring. Smith returned to Evans with a kettle of water. Putting the kettle to his mouth he did not take it away until he had drank all the water, of which there was at least 4 or 5 quarts and then asked me why I had not brought more.
Reaching Great Salt Lake, the men continued along the southern shore to the flooded Jordan River. Smith cobbled together a raft for the belongings, and with a towrope in his teeth, swam across. From there, the Smith Gibbs Map shows Smith followed his 1826 trail to Bear River and along it into Cache Valley. Smith crossed the Wasatch range to the Bear Lake valley.
Smith and his men reached the rendezvous on the southend of Sweet Lake (Bear Lake) on July 3, 1827. Smith remarked:
“my arrival caused a considerable bustle in camp, for myself and party had been given up as lost. A small Cannon brought up from St Louis was loaded and fired for a salute.”
1827 California Expedition:
After the 1827 Rendezvous, Smith eighteen men and two French-Canadian women set out for California. Based on his previous experience, Smith took seven hundred pounds of dried buffalo meat. Except a detour through the Bear River Valley and down the Weber River, Smith followed present day I-15 to southern Utah. Instead of going through the Virgin River Gorge, Smith followed an Indian trail from Santa Clara over Utah Hill to Beaver Dam Wash and then on to the Virgin River.
Crossing the Colorado River, the party continued on to the Mojave Village. After spending three days at the village, Smith and eight men swam the horses across the Colorado and then took the supplies across on rafts. With Smith and eight men on the opposite side of the river, the Mojave killed the men still in the village, including Silas Gobel and the two women. Smith learned later Taos trappers led by Ewing Young had killed several Mojave warriors the previous winter.
The survivors gathered what supplies they could before making a fort of piled dead trees and brush. Smith and eight men held off the Mojave attack. When the men opened fire Smith stated:
“…the indians ran off like frightened sheep…”
With the horses and most of the supplies gone, the party had fifteen pounds of dried meat, nine knives, and five guns. As soon as it was dark, the party started across the Mojave Desert. Reaching the San Bernardino Valley in late August, the men moved north to rejoin the trappers on the Stanislaus River.
Seeking supplies at the San Jose Mission, the mission fathers put Smith in the guardhouse until he could be taken to Monterrey. The governor planned to send Smith to Mexico for trail, but several sea captains came to Smith’s aid. The Captains convinced the governor to release Smith. After a bond was posted, the governor released Jedediah with the promise he and his men would be out of California within two months.
Smith was determined not to leave California empty-handed. The beaver pelts trapped over the winter and a few otter skins were sold to the Captain of the schooner Franklin for thirty-nine hundred and twenty dollars. Smith used the money to purchase three hundred and thirty horses and mules to sell at the next years rendezvous.
In late December, Smith and his men started up the Sacramento River. Looking for a place to cross the Sierras, the men trapped as they traveled north along the Sierras. The trappers reached present-day Red Bluff, California in April. With a wall of mountains to the east, Smith gave up leaving California by crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He decided to head for the Pacific Coast then turn north to the Columbia River and Fort Vancouver.
Swamps, thick brush, and boulder fields blocked the route to the coast. The men didn’t reach the coast until June. The Indians of the interior valleys were friendly, but the coastal mountain Indians occasionally shot arrows into camp wounding several of the horses.
As most of the trappers contract with the company had expired, Smith re-engaged the trappers at one dollar per day. Most historians claim the Ashley men were the more glamorous free trappers…but…they were hired in St. Louis and again by Smith in California.
One trapper found a young Indian boy and brought him to camp. By signs, the boy indicated he had been taken from the Willamette Valley near Fort Vancouver. Given the name Marion, the trappers took him with them to the Umpqua River where two Chinook Indians visited the camp; they told the trappers it was ten days travel to the Willamette Valley. A few days later, a hundred Indians approached with fish and mussels to trade. The Indians had knives, tomahawks, a flintlock musket, a cloak, and others had pieces of cloth from the Hudson’s Bay traders at Fort Vancouver.
The next day, the expedition moved two miles to a large Indian village. The villagers brought goods to trade including fish, shell fish, berries, and some furs. At dusk, a guard discovered three mules and one horse killed with arrows. Indian interpreters told Jedediah a Kelawatset warrior from a lower Umpqua village killed the horses because the traders cheated him….Smith was unaware the Hudson’s Bay Company policy was to send well-armed parties in and through Kelawatset country.
The trappers crossed Coos Bay in the area of Henderson Marsh with canoes the next day. Smith and five men remained behind to swim the last horses and mules across. During the day, an Indians stole and hid an axe. Trappers stood by with drawn guns while Smith tied a rope around the Indian’s neck to scare him into giving back the axe. The axe was recovered, but the Indian involved was a Kelawatset chief.
On July 13, the expedition camped on the north bank of the Smith River across from the west end of Perkins Island. Fifty to sixty Indians came to trade furs and food for the white man goods.
The morning of July 14, Jedediah Smith, John Turner, and Richard Leland left camp in a canoe to search for a route to the Willamette Valley. A Kelawatset Indian acted as the guide.
While the three men were gone, a hundred Kelawatset Indians entered the camp, and on a signal, the Indians rushed the trappers. Fifteen men were killed, including Harrison Rodgers and the Indian boy, Marion. Only one man survived the Umpqua Massacre, Arthur Black. Knowing he could find refuge at Fort Vancouver, Black head north keeping the coast line in sight. He reached Fort Vancouver on August 8, twenty-six day after the attack.
As Smith paddled downriver, an Indian on shore called to Smith’s guide. The guide grabbed Smith’s rifle and jumped into the water. Kelawatset Indians hidden on shore shot arrows at the canoe. Paddling to the opposite bank, the three men beached the canoe and climbed a hill to get a view of the camp. Dismembered bodies lay scattered about the clearing. Deciding nothing could be done for the men, Smith, Turner, and Leland headed north.
The three survivors, Smith, Turner, and Leland, reached Fort Vancouver on the tenth of August—two days after Black’s arrival.
The Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver, Dr. John McLoughlin, sent Michel Laframboise with Indian interpreters to the Umpqua River area to offer rewards for the return of any survivors. A few days later, McLoughlin sent Alexander McLeod with a party of men to recover what he could of Smith’s property. Smith and his surviving men accompanied McLeod; they arrived at the site of the Umpqua massacre on the sixth of September. Eleven bodies were found and buried. There were no signs of the other four men.
At the time of the attack, Smith had two hundred and twenty-eight horses and mules, seven hundred and eight beaver pelts, fifty to sixty otter skins, two hundred pounds of beads, one hundred pounds of other goods, and camp equipment. McLeod recovered thirty-eight horses and mules, seven hundred pelts, several rifles, cooking pots, traps, clothes, beads, and a few other items traded off by the Kelawatset Indians. Among the recovered goods were Smith and Harrison Rogers journals.
The Hudson’s Bay Governor, George Simpson, authorized payment to Smith of thirty-two hundred dollars for his horses and pelts. Simpson wrote Smith:
“whatsoever we have done for you was induced by feelings of benevolence and humanity alone … the satisfaction we derive from these good offices, will repay the Honble Hudsons Bay Compy amply for any loss or inconvenience…”
In return, Smith made a map of his travels, and possibly, made an agreement to keep his trappers east of the Continental Divide and out of the Snake River country.
Smith spent the winter of 1828-29 at Fort Vancouver. In March, he journeyed east to the Flathead Post. Smith found Thomas Fitzpatrick and David Jackson on the Clark Fork River. Fitzpatrick left Smith and Jackson to find Sublette with the supply train. The combined trapping parties reached Pierre’s Hole in August.
Not long after the Smith and Jackson parties reached Pierre’s Hole, William Sublette arrived with a pack train from the 1829 Rendezvous on the Popo Agie….this was the only year a rendezvous was held in two different locations. After the supplies were unloaded and the pelts loaded, Smith led a large force into the Piegan Indian country of Montana. William Sublette returned to St. Louis for the next years supplies.
With beaver getting harder to find and prices dropping, Smith Jackson and Sublette decided it was time to leave the mountains. At the 1830 Rendezvous near the junction of the Popo Agie and Wind River, the three partners sold out to Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb, and Jean Gervais.
Rocky Mountain Fur Company:
The new company was named the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This is the only time in the history of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade a company was actually named the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company partners stipulated Sublette would remain the rendezvous supplier.
Smith returned to St. Louis on the seventh of October, 1830. In a letter to Gen. William Clark, Smith reported his travels and his losses in men and horses between August 1827 and July 1828. Smith had twenty-five men killed and over three hundred riding and pack horses stolen.
A away from civilization for five years, Jedediah Smith settled down in St. Louis and worked on his journals and maps for publication. Perhaps from boredom, or missing his wandering days, Smith invested in a trading caravan. The wagons bound for Santa Fe left St. Louis in April, 1831. The wagon train ran out of water in Kansas on the hot, arid Cimarron cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. Jedediah Smith, as he had done many time, set out to find water. Jedediah found water, but a Comanche war party found him.
Jedediah Smith was killed on the Cimarron River in Kansas on the twenty-seventh of May, 1831. Smith’s fate was pieced together from accounts of Indian traders in Taos, New Mexico. Jedediah Smith was thirty-two years old. At the time of his death, Jedediah Smith had a broader knowledge of the American West than any other individual.
The Jedediah Smith Society is an organization dedicated to researching the history of Jedediah Smith. The Society encourage scholarly research and writing, with particular emphasis on the accomplishments of Jedediah S. Smith, by offering appropriate awards, scholarships, and grants for meritorious study and research.
The Jedediah Smith article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.
Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.
Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.
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