Yellowstone County History

Jim Bridger Guide Information

Monday, May 28, 2012


The information presented below, through our sponsor, is used to help identify where James (Jim) Bridger was during the periods he traversed the western areas of the Indian Lands. This is developed to assist in locating the critical wagon roads in the Yellowstone Regions that he made or helped create and those that were identified at later dates. As an adventurer, Bridger moved about the countryside, cutting through a wide swath of terrain during his tenure as mountain man and guide. The information presented below is compiled mainly from original manuscripts and diaries of those who were with him at the time. Most of the extracts are presented without change, but some have been adjusted to create normal sentence structures for ease of reading and comprehension. Many of the local landmarks discovered by he or his companions are discussed in depth so as to provide as much insight into their discoveries as practical, and assign rightful ownerships when possible. As with most discoveries, there is no single sole ownership of such; but rather the claims belong to many, each with their own tale of excitement. In piecing this listing together Stanley Vestals book “Jim Bridger” was used as a timeline reference, and the source materials added to it for a more complete understanding of the events. Of special interest are the Ashley Expeditions, through which Bridger got his start as a mountain man in 1822. Virtually all source materials and historical extracts relating to these expeditions were created with the interest of the events that occurred, and not the specific relation of the events to the hiring of men for support of the trapping activities. These historical overlaps in history have been untangled and presented as separate events to present a timeline for the significant activities that Bridger undertook. The early years begin with mountain men looking to make a fortune in furs. To help understand the major companies that sought the fur trade claim in the local areas, these fur companies dominated the region:


·         In 1670 when King Charles II of England granted a group of investors a charter and a trading monopoly covering a vast region of northern North America. The territory granted to "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay" covered much of present-day Western Canada and parts of the Northern United States. Henry Kelsey, who was the first European to see herds of buffalo on the plains of Western Canada, and Company explorers such as Samuel Hearne and Anthony Henday opened large uncharted areas of the North and West to commerce, trade and subsequent settlement. Canadian cities such as Winnipeg, Edmonton and Victoria began as outposts of the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade and many small communities across the Canadian North grew up around a Company post. As settlement increased in the West, the Hudson's Bay Company became increasingly involved in the retail trade, and by the early years of the twentieth century sales shops and stores existed in major centers across Western Canada and in the North. The first Hudson's Bay Company "department store" opened in Winnipeg in 1881, and for years was a major hub of the fur trade[1]. The Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company merged in 1821 bringing an end to the fierce competition and strife that had racked the fur trade in Canada for more than two decades. The merger secured the Hudson's Bay Company monopoly from Hudson Bay to Lake Athabaska in Canada, however, the company still faced competition along the international boundary with the United States. Alexander Ross was the leader of the Hudson's Bay Company's 1824 trapping expedition into Snake Country. They traveled from Flathead House, to the mouth of Hell's Gate Canyon, thence south up the Bitter Root River to a prairie where they were snowbound for a month; now know as Ross' Hole. From there, they crossed Gibbon Pass into Big Hole, over to Lemhi valley and then spent the summer trapping streams of central Idaho[2]. In 1821 the [North] American Fur Company merged with the Hudson Bay Company. Their territory in Washington and Oregon was then established.

·         Louis XIII, in Acadia, Nova Scotia, chartered the Northwest Fur Company in 1630. The British Government under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714 recognized its existence and legality to trap for furs. In 1812 the company discovered that Americans had “encroached” on land near the British-American border in the west; with the border not yet clearly established. Under the Canadian auspices, they sent David Thompson as their agent to the Columbia River. He arrived there on 15 July 1813, and established a trading post at Astoria in an attempt to take control of the area. On 16 October 1813, the business partners of Hunt & Astor, who managed the Pacific Fur Company in Astoria, sold out to the Northwest Fur Company, with all personnel joining them. At this time the name of Astoria was changed to Fort George. This soon figured prominently in the War of 1812.

·         The American Fur Company was chartered by John Jacob Astor in 1808 to compete with the Northwest Fur Company and the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. Additionally he created other companies within this main body to specialize in certain areas. In 1823 Astor ended this new threat by summoning David Stone and Oliver Bostwick to New York and buying up their goods and contracts. Then he hired them, putting Bostwick in charge of his St. Louis operation and Stone in charge of Detroit. Astor then established the Western Department of the American Fur Company, his second American Fur Company, at St. Louis and put Ramsay Crooks in charge. Crooks was a Scot and a fur trader out of Montreal who had joined the overland Astorians and stayed on with Astor. In 1824 he established a trading post at Salt Lake. In July 1825, through Jedediah Smith, established another post near Folsom. In 1825 Crooks married Bernard Pratte's daughter, Emilie. After Astor retired from the fur trade in 1834, Crooks became president of the company on June 1st, and moved his family permanently to New York City. Eight years later the American Fur Company filed for bankruptcy in 1842, it sold its interest in the old Western Department to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company of St. Louis. Chouteau's partners were Hercules L. Dousman and Henry H. Sibley, and the new organization was called the Upper Mississippi Outfit. The line of demarcation between this outfit and the American Fur Company's Northern or Fond du Lac Department followed tribal territory; the former trading with the Sioux and Winnebago, the latter with the Ojibwe. This operation quickly broke down after the American Fur Company went bankrupt[3].

·         Articles of incorporation of the Pacific Fur Company were signed in June of 1810, and were established by John Jacob Astor & Wilson P. Hunt, of New Jersey, and others, to gain trade from the Columbia River area on the west coast[4]. He held it until 1834, at which time he sold his interests to some St. Louis partners. When Astor withdrew in 1834, the company split and the name became the property of the former northern branch under Ramsey Crooks. Stuart and Hunt, employed by him from the beginning, established trade routes in 1810-1811 throughout the region and discovered South Pass. The Columbia River location slightly ahead of their British counterparts. Under Crooks, the company immediately began to diversify its operations. He maintained two Lake Superior outfits, one at LaPoint, the other at Sault Ste. Marie under Franchere. At this time he also moved the inland headquarters of the company form Michilimackinac to LaPoint on Lake Superior.[5] The American Fur Company operated under a different system than either the Hudson's Bay Company or the North West Company. Astor acted as importing and selling agent for the American Fur Company, which in turn served as liaison to the traders in the field. Each trader was assigned a department, or "outfit." The trader normally assumed all risk of profit or loss, although sometimes the American Fur Company shared in profit or loss on a fifty-fifty basis.[6]

·         Another operation was centered on the Great Lakes, and was called the South West Company. Canadian merchants had a part. The War of 1812 destroyed the firm. In 1817 an act of Congress excluded foreign traders from U.S. territory, and the American Fur Company took over the trade in the Lakes region previously held by the South West Company.

·         Astor made an alliance in 1821 with the Chouteau interests of St. Louis Missouri Fur Company giving his company a monopoly of the trade in the Missouri River region and later in the Rocky Mountain regions.

·         Drips and Vanderburgh, operating with the American Fur Company, followed Bridger and others very closely after 1832, and attempted to capture all their trade. This severely cut into any profits the firm might make and led to the eventual dissolution of the American company.

·         “Articles of Association and Co-partnership of the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company were made on 7 March 1809, and entered into by and between Benjamin Wilkinson, Pierre Chouteau senior, Manuel Lisa, Augustin Chouteau junior, Reuben Lewis, William Clark and Sylvestre Labbadie all of the town of St. Louis and Territory of Louisiana, and Pierre Menard and William Morrison of the town of Kaskaskia in the Territory of Indiana, and also Andrew Henry of Louisiana, and also Dennis Fitzhugh of Louisville, Kentucky for the purposes of trading and hunting up the river Missouri and to the head waters thereof or at such other place or places as a majority of the subscribing co-partners may elect[7]. [In the original manuscript Andrew Henry wasn’t listed, in a revised version he was.] Jones & Immel were agents for this firm, and later massacred [near Indian Rock, in Billings.]. John Coulter & Potts were hired to befriend the Blackfoot, but failed in their endeavor. Potts was killed, Coulter barely escaped. The War of 1812 essentially stopped all interests in the fur trade, and it wasn’t until 1818 when Joshua Pilcher took over the management. By 1821 they were re-established on the Yellowstone. There in 1821 they constructed a trading post called Fort Benton downstream of where Fort Manuel Lisa was previously established, on the Big Horn River. 


·         Article 5th [Article of Association] And whereas the above named Manuel Lisa, Pierre Menard and William Morrison were lately associated in a trading expedition up the said River Missouri and have now a fort established on the waters of the Yellow Stone river, a branch of the Missouri, at which said fort they have as is alleged by them a quantity of Merchandise and also a number of horses. Fort Lisa was located at the mouth of the Big Horn River, and was in operation for only one season. A fort at Three Forks was established in 1810, but was abandoned.

·         Now therefore it is agreed that this Company is to accept from them the said Manuel Lisa, Pierre Menard & William Morrison all the merchandise they may have on hand at the time the first expedition to be sent up by this Company shall arrive at said fort. Provided however that the same is not then damaged, and if the same or any part thereof should be damaged then the company shall only be bound to receive such parts and parcels thereof as may be fit for trading or such parts as may not be damaged, and for the whole or such parts thereof as may be received by a majority of the other members of this company then present this company is to allow and pay them the said Manuel Lisa, Pierre Menard & William Morrison one hundred per centum of the first cost. “


·       William Henry Ashley started the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1822, and initiated a series of advertisements for trappers. This is the firm where most of the mountain men were employed under contracts ranging from one to three years duration.



o       Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth was interested in the fur-trade possibilities of the Pacific Northwest and in 1832 he attended the annual get-together of trappers, traders, and Indians known as the Rendezvous, established earlier in 1826 by Andrew Henry. While attending he made an agreement with representatives of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to bring $3,000 worth of trade goods for them at the 1834 Rendezvous. This he did, but the company, being in financial difficulties, refused to accept the goods. Wyeth, not seeing any other way open to him, moved on westward with the men and the goods until he reached "The Bottoms" of the Snake River on July 15, 1834. There on the 18th of July he started the construction of a trading post, which he named Fort Hall in honor of the oldest member of the New England Company financing his enterprise. On August 4th he finished the log structure. The next morning, August 5, he raised a homemade United States flag, saluted it with a salvo of guns, and thus, as the result of a broken agreement, Fort Hall came into existence, an event whose historical significance can not be overrated.

·         In an effort to undermine the new competition, the Hudson Bay Company built Fort Boise near the junction of Boise River and the Snake. The effort succeeded and Hudson Bay bought out Wyeth in 1837. The HBC remained in control of the post until it was abandoned in 1855 because of declining profits and increased Indian hostility.


o       On 18 July 1826 William H. Ashley decided to separate himself from the fur business, and accordingly agreed to set this transaction up as a separate operation for three of his former employees commanded by Jedediah S. Smith, David E. Jackson and Wm. L. Sublette. The partnership was called “Smith Jackson & Sublett.” The firm was initially chartered for one year, with options [this charter was obviously extended, but no written record has yet been located.] All supplies had to be purchased from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company at pre-agreed upon prices. All furs obtained were to be sold back to the Ashley’s fur company in St. Louis.

o       After the Rocky Mountain Fur Company had extended its business by the purchase of Mr. Ashley's interest, the partners determined to push their enterprise to the Pacific coast, regardless of the opposition they were likely to encounter from the Hudson's Bay traders.  Accordingly, in the spring of 1827, the Company was divided up into three parts, to be led separately, by different routes, into the Indian Territory, nearer the ocean.

§         One of the routes, commanded by Smith was from the Platte River, southwards to Santa Fe, then to the bay of San Francisco, and then north and along the Columbia River.  His party was successful, and had arrived in the autumn of the following year [1828] at the Umpqua River, about two hundred miles South of the Columbia, in safety.  His party at this time consisted of thirteen men, with their horses, and a collection of furs valued at twenty thousand dollars.  Here they were attacked.

§         In August 1830, while at their annual rendezvous, Bridger, Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, Freaeb and Gervais bought out Smith’s interests in his partnership, and then they purchased the full company from Ashley and Henry, retaining the name.

§         A Comanche killed Smith in 1831; the Rocky Mountain Fur Company continued its operations under the command of Bridger, Fitzpatrick, and Milton Sublette, brother of William Sublette.  In the spring of 1830, before Smith sold his interests in the company, they received about two hundred recruits from the St. Louis area, and with little variation kept up their number of three or four hundred men for a period of eight or ten years longer, or until the beaver were hunted out of every nook and corner of the Rocky Mountains[8].

o       Ashley initiated a series of Rendezvous, where the furs were collected and then transported to St. Louis[9]. This saved both time and money. The sites were located at:

§         1825 - Confluence of Burnt Fork, Henry's Fork, and Birch Creek, near present-day Burnt Fork, WY.

§         1826 – Mouth of Blacksmith's Fork Canyon, near present-day Hyrum, Utah

§         1827 – South end of Bear Lake, Utah.

§         1828 – South end of Bear Lake, Utah - Same location as 1827.

§         1829 – Popo Agie, near Lander, WY

§         1830 – Confluence of Popo-Agie River and Wind River, near present-day Riverton, Wyoming.

§         1831 – Cache Valley, Utah.

§         1832 – Pierre’s Hole, near Driggs, Idaho.

§         1833 – Green River, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.

§         1834 – Ham's Fork, SE of present day Kemmerer, WY; Actually was held at four different sites within ten miles of each other

§         1835 – Green River, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.

§         1836 – Green River, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.

§         1837 – Green river, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.

§         1838 – Confluence of Popo-Agie River and Wind River, near present-day Riverton, Wyoming.

§         1839 – Green River, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.

§         1840 – Green River, confluence of Horse Creek near Pinedale, Wyoming.




Major Henry’s Expedition – 1823 to 1824 (Yellowstone & Continental Divide)

This was Jim Bridger’s initiation into the wilderness areas. On August 20th, near the Grand River north and south fork junctions, the Rees Indians attacked, killing two members of the train, Anderson and Neil. This was Jim’s first fight. After the fight the group headed quickly for the Yellowstone River. A large bear attacked and severely wounded their guide, Hugh Glass, and it certainly appeared that he would soon die. Jim volunteered to stay with the wounded man; no one else would do so, but later Thomas Fitzpatrick, a trapper, agreed to stay with him. After three days, Hugh appeared to be on the verge of death. Fitzgerald saw Indian signs, became frightened, and convinced Bridger to leave Hugh and escape. They took Hugh’s personal belongings, leaving the unconscious man without any protection. The two rushed towards the Yellowstone and met up with the Henry Train. There they were under almost constant attack from the Assiniboine, Blackfoot and Gros Ventres. Henry’s train made a dash for the mouth of the Big Horn River. On the way, they met some friendly Crow Indians, and traded them out of 47 horses. At the Big Horn the group split, with Bridger and Etienne Provost heading up to the Powder River, and then to the Sweetwater and finally across the Continental Divide to trap beaver. When winter arrived they traveled back to the Big Horn, in January 1824. While at this trapper camp, Hugh Glass appeared, grabbed Bridger and said, “Speak up, young-un, quick – afore I kill you.” Fortunately for Jim, at that very moment other trappers appeared and took Hugh’s mind off of Jim. Major Henry appeared, demanding to know what the fuss was about, and learning of the shame had Glass and Bridger brought into his cabin. Fitzgerald had departed some time earlier. Hugh blamed Fitzgerald, and not Jim; but Jim would always carry his shame. After this encounter, Jim always looked out for his fellow men, so much so that he was given the name “Old Gabe.” [10] “For more than two years Bridger had been a freeman working for Sublette’s firm with increasing leadership responsibilities, in effect acting as a lieutenant for the Captain, and participating in the planning, recommending places to hunt and trap and relaying orders to the men. Apparently Jedediah Smith's familiarity with the Bible and its references to the Angel Gabriel's duty to reveal Jehovah's caused him to see in Bridger some similarity to "Old Gabriel". He began referring to Bridger in this manner and soon he became "Old Gabe" to most of those in camp and to many others as time went on although only twenty-six years old. The Flatheads and Crows also knew him as “Blanket Chief” after his Flathead wife made a beautiful and unusual multicolored blanket that he wore and had for special occasions. The name meant little at first but as he became known for the qualities the Indians admired, the name became greatly respected and honored.”[11]

Details of the expeditions and when each event occurred are explained in the Discovery of South Pass, below and in Part 2 of this glossary.

Discovery of South Pass – Trail to Continental Divide 1824 - 1825

"Most emigrants have a very erroneous idea of South Pass, and their inquiries about it are amusing enough. They suppose it to be a narrow defile in the Rocky Mountains walled by perpendicular rocks hundreds of feet high. The fact is the pass is a valley some 20 miles wide."[12]


In 1812 Robert Stuart and six companions correctly located the mountain pass when they returned east to solicit help from their sponsor, Jacob Astor.[13] Stuart wasn't sure where he had been and ten more years would pass before another party of explorers would re-discover the pass he had found. This pass would be critical to emigrants who went to the Oregon Territory.

The South Pass is located at the south end of the Wind River Mountain range and river, at the junction of Wyoming and Oregon. In 1848 the southwestern portion of the U. S. [Utah, California, Nevada, and portions of Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, which belonged to Mexico], were ceded to the United Sates. Various persons have been given credit for discovery of the pass. Oregon belonged to the British until 1846.


“Mr. David Stuart sailed from this port on September 10, 1810[14] for the Columbia River on board the ship 'Tonquin' with a number of Mr. Astor's associates in the 'Pacific Fur Company,' arriving on the Columbia River 24 March, 1811[15]. After the breaking up of the company in 1814, he returned through the Northwest Company's territories to Montreal, far to the north of the 'South Pass,' which he never saw.

In 1811, the overland party of Mr. Astor's expedition, under the command of Mr. Wilson P. Hunt, of Trenton, New Jersey, although numbering sixty well armed men, found the Indians so very troublesome in the country of the Yellowstone River, that the party of seven persons who left Astoria toward the end of June, 1812, considering it dangerous to pass again by the route of 1811, turned toward the southeast as soon as they had crossed the main chain of the Rocky Mountains, and, after several days' journey, came through the celebrated 'South Pass' in the month of November, 1812.


·         Pursuing from thence an easterly course, they fell upon the River Platte of the Missouri, where they passed the winter and reached St. Louis in April 1813.

·         The seven persons forming the party were Robert McClelland of Hagerstown, who, with the celebrated Captain Wells, was captain of spies under General Wayne in his famous Indian campaign, Joseph Miller of Baltimore, for several years an officer of the U. S. army, Robert Stuart, a citizen of Detroit, Benjamin Jones, of Missouri, who acted as huntsman of the party, Francois LeClaire, a half-breed, and Adré Valée, a Canadian voyageur, and Ramsay Crooks, who is the only survivor of this small band of adventurers.”


·         ON the eighth of September 1810, the Tonquin put to sea, where the frigate Constitution soon joined her. The wind was fresh and fair from the southwest, and the ship was soon out of sight of land and free from the apprehended danger of interruption. The frigate, therefore, gave her "God speed," and left her to her course.


·         William Price Hunt used the information supplied by the Lewis and Clark expedition to lead the overland trappers to Fort Astoria. They reached the mouth of the Columbia River in February of 1812 where the seafaring group that had arrived months earlier, in 1811 had already erected the fort “Astoria”. After the fort was lost in 1812, an overland expedition headed by Robert Stuart was established. This group established the major portions of the Oregon Trail by finding the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains, a route that had earlier eluded both the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Hunt exploration.[16]


·         In 1812 a secret agent at the fort treacherously sold it to the North West Company, and shortly after, the English, then at war with the United States, took military possession. In 1818 the fort was formally surrendered to the United States, but the North West Company remained in the actual occupation of the country. Its only rival now was the Hudson's Bay Company. For a time these two companies maintained a bloody feud, till finally, in 1821, they amalgamated into one trading company under the valuable franchises of the Hudson's Bay Company. The new company has now drawn to itself all the trade on the Columbia and has actually expelled the United States from this part of its territory[17].


Ashley’s 1st Expedition

This advertisement appeared in the Missouri Republican starting on 20 March 1822, “The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men to ascend the Missouri River to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years. For particulars inquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the lead mines of Washington, who will ascend with, and command of, the party; or of the subscriber near St. Louis. William H. Ashley.” In February of 1822, Ashley placed a similar advertisement in the St Louis Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser which stated: “TO Enterprising Young Men
The subscriber wishes to engage ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two or three years. — For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the Lead Mines, in the County of Washington, (who will ascend with, and command the party) or to the subscriber at St. Louis. Wm. H. Ashley”



Other ads appeared in various papers, but the wording was about the same.


Ashley sent fur-trading expeditions up the Missouri River to the Yellowstone in 1822(1st) and 1823(2nd). A detachment of the 2nd commanded by Thomas Fitzpatrick went through South Pass to the Green River valley. In 1824(3rd) Ashley accompanied another expedition that crossed from the upper Platte to Green River and began its exploration. Another followed this in 1824 and again in 1825. In the Green River valley he held the first rendezvous of the mountain fur traders and trappers. In 1826 he led his final expedition that reached the vicinity of Great Salt Lake. Having acquired an ample fortune, he retired from the fur trade[18].


Ashley loaded $20,000 worth of supplies into two keelboats belonging to the American Fur Company, and a small detachment of men would man these. A few others were assigned to ride horses and guide 60 packhorses that would be needed later. They were to accompany the river travelers on the journey as near to the riverbanks as practical. There were 150 men to start with. Jim Bridger was in the lead boat with Major Henry and Mike Fink. Fink was considered to be “King of the Keelboat Men.” Col Ashley commanded the second boat. The boats were manned by six-oarsmen, and twenty pole-men. They departed St. Louis in April 1822. After reaching a point on the Missouri River near Fort Osage, the 2nd boat capsized, it and the cargo was lost[19]; but his men were rescued. Ashley immediately returned to St. Louis and started building a supply expedition for the men now stationed on the Yellowstone at Fort Henry. For this action Jedediah Smith and a few others accompanied Ashley downriver to St. Louis. A third boat carrying supplies, and commanded by Col. Ashley, made it to the stranded men on the Yellowstone where Fort Henry was founded. Ashley and Smith returned to St. Louis by the same boat before winter set in. John Weber[20], age 43, soon after arriving at the Yellowstone in 1822, was placed in charge of a party to explore and trap the Yellowstone and the Powder Rivers. In this his first journey up river, Weber had to learn to deal carefully with the Sioux, the Arikara, the Blackfeet, and the Mandans, and would soon encounter the Crows, the Snakes, and the Gros Ventres. Weber then spent much of 1823 with his party on the Yellowstone, and by that fall, Ashley had outfitted Weber’s party with horses for a winter of trapping and trading. They trapped the Big Horn Basin and probably spent the winter of 1823-24 in the Wind River Valley (near present-day Dubois) with Jedediah Smith’s party and Crow Indians.


NOTE: Refer to “Atkinson-O-Fallon Expedition of 1825” for another view about the Arikara Indians and their

 Activities, trading & battles with the Missouri Fur Company.


Daniel Potts Letter[21]: “I took my departure [from Illinois] for Missouri, from thence immediately entered on an expedition of Henry and Ashly, bound for the Rocky Mountain and Columbia River. In this enterprize I consider it unnecessary to give you all the particulars appertaining to my travell I left St. Louis on April 3d, 1822, under command of Andrew Henry with a boat and one hundred men and arrived at Council Bluffs on May 1st; from thence we ascended the river to Cedar Fort, about five hundred miles. Here our provisions being exhausted, and no prospect of game near at hand, I concluded to make the best of my way back in company with eight others, and unfortunately was separated from them. By being too accessary in this misfortune, I was left in the Prarie without arms or any means of making fire, and half starved to death. Now taking into consideration my situation, about three hundred and fifty miles from my frontier Post, this would make the most cruel heart sympathise for me. The same day I met with three Indians, whom I hailed, and on my advancing they prepared for action by presenting their arms, though I approached them without hesitation, and gave them my hand. They conducted me to their village, where I was treated with the greatest humanity imaginable. There I remained four days, during which time they had many religious ceremonies too tedious to insert, after which I met with some traders who conducted me as far down as the ? Village - this being two hundred miles from the Post. I departed alone as before, with only about 1/4 lb. suet, and in six days reached the Post where I met with Gen. Ashley, on a second expedition, with whom I entered for the second time, and arrived at the mouth of Yellow Stone about the middle of October. This is one of the most beautiful situations I ever saw; from this I immediately embarked for the mouth of Muscle Shell, in company with twenty one others and shortly after our arrival, eight men returned to the former place. Here the game being very scarce, the prospect was very discouraging, though after a short time the Buffaloes flocked in in great abundance; likewise the Mountain Goats; the like I have never seen since.”


The Arikara Indians took the cargo from Ashley’s fourth boat, initiating an immediate dislike between the two groups. This meant that half of the team would be marching overland to the Great Falls of the Missouri [headwaters.] Col Ashley now took command of the horses and ground party. Assiniboines attacked the ground party after reaching the Grand River [above the Cheyenne] and the Indians stole all of the loose horses, which were to carry their packs to the headwaters. The group continued on to the junction with the Yellowstone River, and then made a change in plans. Here they would spend the winter, then start out west for the Three-Forks area near the Great Falls. [At this river junction these is no evidence of any mountains, and the new-young trappers felt cheated.] In the spring of 1823, the group split up and headed for the headwaters, some by boat, others afoot. After the Henry group reached Great Falls they were attacked by Blackfeet and had to retreat. At this same time, reports of the Blackfeet massacre of Jones and Immel, on the Yellowstone reached them by messenger. Immediately afterward two men arrived from Col Ashley’s command of his 2nd Expedition, located some 200 miles south at the Arikara village. One was a French-Canadian the other Jedediah Smith. They reported that 800 Indians near the Ree villages attacked them, thirteen were killed, and a dozen more wounded, and all stock was stolen[22]. Henry’s men were asked to get downriver to them as quickly as possible. Major Henry split up his command, leaving only a few to look after their supplies. Jim Bridger was among the eighty selected to go. They met up with Col Ashley’s men the following month in the first week of July.



Various listings of personnel who started out on the 1st Expedition have been developed over the years, and none of them seem to agree on the participants; due in part to the mixing-up of the members who traveled on the 2nd and 3rd Expeditions, and the confusion with the travel dates and apparent errors on when the 1st Expedition started. Mainly the various diary extracts and the significant events have been inter-mixed without regard to the specific expedition journey. Most all of these persons remained with Ashley & Henry during the first three Expeditions. In the listing for the 1st Expedition were:


Col. Ashley, Major Henry, Sublette, Tom Fitzpatrick, Hugh Glass, Edward Rose, Jim Beckwourth, Talbot, Carpenter, David Jackson, Robert Campbell, Etienne Provost, James Bridger[23], John H. Weber[24], Jedediah Smith, David E. Jackson and Mike Fink[25].


Note: James P.  Beckwourth was born a slave on a Virginia plantation, and rose in fame to become one of the most successful man in the history of the west, as well as one of the most successful trader for the Rocky mountain Fur Company. He established a Trading Post in Colorado, which later became Pueblo. He had a large ranch, and married more women than most any other man, many at the same time. He led many military expeditions and rose to become “Black Chief” of the Crow Tribe. He was employed as a slave to the McGinn Blacksmith shop in St. Joseph, Missouri when Ashley recruited men for his first trip. McGinn lent him $300 to buy his freedom, so that he might join the group. Soon as he could the money was repaid, and he went on to become a man of great fame.[26]


Ashley’s plan for his 2nd Expedition was to reach the beaver-rich land west of the Rockies in the valley of the Spanish River, or Rio Colorado [Green River in the southwestern part of Wyoming.] Problems with Indian tribes forced Ashley to change his 1st Expedition plan of reaching this area via the Missouri, Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers. He elected instead to send a party of men overland, directly west to Crow Country, across the continental divide and on to Spanish River. [Edward Rose was previously employed by Manuel Lisa, and had lived with the Crow Indians, had knowledge of the region and had previously made this same trip.]

Ashley for his 3rd Expedition wanted his men to locate an easy pass to the hunting grounds over the Continental Divide. Ashley chose from eleven to sixteen or seventeen men. Jedediah Smith captained this group, and among the followers were Thomas Fitzpatrick [second in command], William Sublette, James Clyman, Thomas Eddie, Edward Rose, Stone and Branch.  Names of the others weren’t recorded.  In the fall of 1823, Smith led his small company of men in search of new beaver territory. In September 1823, they left the Missouri River at Fort Kiowa and pushed west across South Dakota heading for the Yellowstone River.

Ashley’s 2nd Expedition – 1823

William Ashley ran a repeat advertisement in the St. Louis Gazette and Public Advertiser in the winter of 1822: "Enterprising Young ascend the Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years."[27] This trip was to continue with his plan to reach the headwaters of the Missouri, and join up with his partner. Joining him at this time was Henry Clyman.


When winter was over and the river cleared, Ashley left in April 1823. After almost two months journey they arrived at an Arikara Indian village, located on the Missouri about 200 miles south of where Henry’s group of trappers were located, he stopped and met with the chiefs and traded goods, including guns and whiskey. Things were fine until one of his men decided to visit the village in the middle of the night and was killed. On June 2, after that episode, the group was attacked by Arikara Indians, their supplies stolen, and they were forced to retreat[28]. Ashley lost fifteen men before withdrawing back down the river. He sent Jedediah Smith and a guide upriver to Henry’s location with a request for help and another group of men downstream to Fort Atkinson for military help.

Comment: According to the Diary of Clyman, that the event took place in 1824, and that more than one member of the Ashley Expedition snuck into the village. “In the night of the third day Several of our men without permition went and remained in the village amongst them our Interpreter Mr. Rose about midnight he came running into camp & informed us that one of our men was killed in the village and war was declared in earnest  We had no Military organization diciplin or Subordination  Several advised to cross over the river at once but thought best to wait untill day light But Gnl. Ashley our imployer Thought best to wait till morning and go into the village and demand the body of our comrade and his Murderer     Ashley being the most interested his advice prevailed    We laid on our arms epecting an attact as their was a continual Hubbub in the village“[29]


“The military responded as well as fifty[30] men in canoes from Fort Henry; plus a large group of Sioux Indians, enemies of the Arikaras came along. Gen. Leavenworth was in charge of the forces and the Indian Agent, Pilcher, accompanied him. This incident suddenly had the attention of the whole eastern U.S., as this was the first military action taken against the Indians of west of the Mississippi. Ashley only wanted the merchandise that had been stolen from his party and a promise that the Arikaras would not attack again. After an initial attack by the Sioux, the Arikaras were willing to talk about peace. Leavenworth and Ashley met with the Indian chiefs, made peace, gained the return of Ashley's goods and horses and a promise by the Arikaras not to attack again. Pilcher refused to smoke the peace pipe and did not want to be part of the deal. Later, as the agreement was being effected, Pilcher and his men burned the villages. Pilcher and his men were given dishonorable discharges from the group while Ashley and his men received honorable discharges.[31]


“After Major Henry joined them and the troops from Council Bluffs, under command of Col Levengworth, they gave them battle; the loss of our enemy was from sixty to seventy. The number of the wounded not known, as they evacuated their village in the night. On our part there was only two wounded, but on his return he was fired upon by night by a party of Mannans wherein two was killed and as many wounded. Only two of our guns were fired which dispatched an Indian and they retreated. Shortly after his arrival we embarked for the big Horn on the Yellow Stone in the Crow Indian country, here I made a small hunt for Beaver. From this place we crossed the first range of Rocky Mountain into a large and beautiful valley adorned with many flowers and interspersed with many useful herbs. At the upper end of this valley on the Horn is the most beautiful scene of nature I have ever seen. It is a large boiling spring at the foot of a small burnt mountain about two rods in diameter and depth not ascertained, discharging sufficient water for an overshot mill, and spreading itself to a considerable width forming a great number of basons of various shapes and sizes, of incrustation of sediment, running in this, manner for the space of 200 feet, there falling over a precipice of about 30 feet perpendicular into the head of the horn or confluence of Wind River. From thence across the 2d range of mountains to Wind River Valley. In crossing this mountain I unfortunately froze my feet and was unable to travel from the loss of two toes. Here I am obliged to remark the humanity of the natives (the Indians) towards me, who conducted me to their village, into the lodge of their Chief, who regularly twice a day divested himself of all his clothing except his breech clout, and dressed my wounds, until I left them. Wind River is a beautiful transparent stream, with hard gravel bottom about 70 or 80 yards wide, rising in the main range of Rocky Mountains, running E.N.E, finally north through a picteresque small mountain bearing the name of the stream: after it discharges through this mountain it loses its name. The valleys near the head of this river and its tributary streams are tolerably timbered with cotton wood, willow, &c. The grass and herbage are good and plenty, of all the varieties common to this country. In this valley the snow rarely falls more than three to four inches deep and never remains more than three or four days, although it is surrounded by stupendous mountains. Those on S. W. and N. are covered with eternal snow. The mildness of the winter in this valley may readily be imputed to the immense number of Hot Springs which rise near the head of the river. I visited but one of those which rise to the south of the river in a level plain of prairie, and occupies about two acres; this is not so hot as many others but I suppose to be boiling as the outer verge was nearly scalding hot. There is also an Oil Spring in this valley, which discharges 60 or 70 gallons of pure oil per day. The oil has very much the appearance, taste and smell of British Oil. From this valley we proceeded by S. W. direction over a tolerable route to the heads of Sweet Water, a small stream which takes an eastern course and falls into the north fork of the Great Platt, 70 or 80 miles below. This stream rises and runs on the highest ground in all this country. The winters are extremely, and even the summers are disagreeably cold” [32]

In addition, after joining up at the battle site, the two partners, Ashley and Henry, went to the Teton River where they purchased Indian ponies from the Sioux. They now had means of transportation that wasn’t limited to a fixed location and abandoned the use of rivers as their main method of travel. After arriving at the battle site, Henry’s group learned that the military under the command of Colonel Henry Leavenworth sent three keelboats of supplies, artillery, and six companies of soldiers from the Sixth Infantry, accounting for about 800 men. Joining this force were all available resources of the Missouri Fur Company, commanded by Joshua Pilcher plus about 500 Sioux warriors under Chief Fireheart. Along the way one boat was sunk with its supplies and 70 muskets. The fur company replaced their muskets with their rifles. This action prompted Leavenworth to organize the fur company’s forces as the “Missouri Legion.” He then commissioned several of the mountain men as members of this command:


·         Jed Smith – Captain                         Edward Rose – Ensign                     Thomas Fitzpatrick – Quartermaster

·         William Sublette – Sergeant Major Henry Vanderburgh – Captain       Angus McDonald – Captain

·         Moss B. Carson – 1st Lt                    William Gordon – 2nd Lt                  Jim Bridger – Buck Private

·         Unknown – Buck Private



Major Henry conceived an idea the following year of having their trappers get pelts and meet at some selected rendezvous once each year, much like Manuel Lisa had, to collect their bounties, and then return the furs to St. Louis. The group led by Col Ashley followed the Platte as far as the Green River. Here they established[33] a trading post [Fort Henry] in Wyoming near to its mouth on the Missouri. Trappers made trips through the country on this side of the Rocky Mountains to the Green River. Beaver trapping promised most profit. From this post arose leaders for subsequent enterprises, such as Smith, Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Robert Campbell, and William Sublette, names well known to every mountaineer[34]. Jim Bridger remained with the firm, learning all he could about trapping and the land, until spring of 1825 [probably about April, 1825.]



Area map from Stanley Vestal I

Ashley’s 3rd Expedition - 1824

In 1824, Mr. Ashley repeated his earlier expedition, extending it this time beyond Green River as far as Great Salt Lake. South of there he discovered a smaller lake, which he named Lake Ashley, after himself. On the shores of this lake he built a fort for trading with the Indians, and leaving in it about one hundred men, returned to St. Louis the second time with a large amount of furs. During the time the fort was occupied by Mr. Ashley's men, a period of three years, more than one hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of furs were collected and sent to St. Louis.  In 1827, the fort, and all Mr. Ashley's interest in the business, was sold to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, owned by Jedediah Smith, William Sublette, and David Jackson; Sublette being the leader of the Company. .  Following up the Platte River, Mr. Ashley proceeded at the head of a large party with horses and merchandise, as far as the northern branch of the Platte, called the Sweetwater.  This he explored to its source, situated in that remarkable depression in the Rocky Mountains, known as the South Pass [35].”


According to the original diary of James Clyman he states that the Ashley Expedition left in March 1824.[36] His remarks are somewhat rambling, but the following excerpts identify where the Ashley Expedition traveled. After the 15th of June 1824 portions of the expedition got separated, and carrying their beaver pelts, the separated groups, including Fitzpatrick, made their way to Fort Leavenworth. 

Born in Virginia, Clyman stated in his published book that he, along with many others had first joined William H. Ashley’s 2nd Expedition to the West in 1823, and was reported to be one of the first to cross over South Pass. He explored the region around the Great Salt Lake (Lake Bonneville) with William Sublette. In 1844 he went to Oregon, then down into California the following year, returned east with Caleb Greenwood via the Hastings Cutoff (warning westbound travelers, including the Donner Party, not to take that trail.) Catching gold fever he returned again to California in 1848[37].


"On the 8th of March 1824 all things ready we shoved off from the shore [St. Louis] fired a swivel which was answered by a Shout from the shore which we returned with a will and porceed up stream under sail

"A discription of our crew I cannt give but Fallstafs Battallion was genteel in comparison    I think we had about (70) seventy all told    Two Keel Boats with crews of French some St Louis gumboes as they were called

"We proceeded slowly up the Misouri River under sail wen winds ware favourable and towline when not    Towing or what was then calld cordell is a slow and tedious method of assending swift waters  It is done by the men walking on the shore and hawling the Boat by a long cord  Nothing of importance came under view for some months except loosing men who left us from time to time & engaging a few new men of a much better appearance than those we lost  The Missourie is a monotinous crooked stream with large cottonwood forest trees on one side and small young groth on the other with a bare Sand Barr intervening  I will state one circumstance only which will show something of the character of Missourie Boats men


"We having to hunt for our living we soon fell behind the Col. and his corps droping down to a place called fort Keawa a trading establishment blonging to Missourie furr Company

"Here a small company of I think (13) men ware furnished a few horses onley enough to pack their baggage they going back to the mouth of the yellow Stone on their way up they ware actacted in the night by a small party of Rees killing two of thier men and they killing one Ree     amongst this party was a Mr Hugh Glass who could not be rstrand and kept under Subordination     he went off of the line of march one afternoon and met with a large grissly Bear which he shot at and wounded     the bear as is usual attacted Glass     he attemptd to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in feareful rate     by this time several men ware in close gun shot but could not shoot for fear of hitting Glass     at length the beare appeaed to be satisfied and turned to leave when 2 or 3 men fired     the bear turned immediately on glass and give him a second mutilation     on turning again several more men shot him when for the third time he pouncd on Glass and fell dead over his body     this I have from information not being present     here I leave Glass for the presen     we having bought a few horses and borrowed a few more left about the last of September and proceded westward over a dry roling highland a Elleven in number     I must now mention honorable exceptions to the character of the men engaged at St Louis being now thined down to onley nine of those who left in March and first Jededdiah Smith who was our Captain Thomas Fitzpatrick William L. Sublett and Thomas Eddie all of which will figure more or less in the future   


Comment: The bear attack upon Hugh Glass is reported to have taken place at Shadehill, South Dakota in 1823, not 1824. All reports, other than Clyman’s diary provide this 1823 date. In Clyman’s Autobiography he states the date was 1823. The difference hasn’t been explained. His legendary 200-mile trip to Fort Kiowa, near present-day Chamberlain, is related on a historic marker near the site of his attack[38] Jim Bridger and Thomas Fitzpatrick agreed to stay behind and watch Hugh until he died. “Several days passed, and with Hugh stll clinging to life, Fitzgerald and Bridger, no doubt in fear of being found by roving bands of hostile Indians who had battled the trappers all season, packed up Hugh’s rifle, knife, and other equipment and hurried on after Henry’s men. They reported that Glass was dead and buried, showing his possessions as proof. Hugh didn’t die but crawled to safety. Weeks later he found Jim Bridger at Andrew Henry’s recently established fur trading post on the Yellowstone River near the mouth of the Big Horn. He did not kill Bridger, as he must have sworn to do during his long crawl, but instead reportedly excused Bridger because of his youth, and left him to answer to his own conscience and to his own God. Hugh did not find Fitzgerald until some time later, discovering that he had enlisted in the army at Fort Atkinson, near present Omaha, Nebraska. Hugh likewise did not kill Fitzgerald, perhaps mainly because the killing of a U.S. soldier carried severe consequences. At any rate, he also left Fitzgerald to answer to a higher authority, at last recovered his stolen weapons, and resumed his career as a free trapper and hunter.”[39] This means that Bridger stayed with the 1st Ashley Expedition on the Yellowstone through the following year before heading south and joining up with the 2nd Expedition that went to Green River.


According to Hiram Chittenden in the ‘American Fur Trade of the Far West’ (pg 953) he states that Fort Kiowa is on the right bank of the Missouri, about ten miles from where Chamberlain, SD is now located. Earlier, on page 701 he states that Glass was abandoned about 100 miles from Fort Kiowa. However, the mouth of the Grand River is 200 miles from the fort, and it is reported that Glass was wounded near the forks of the Grand River, five day’s march above the mouth. If Glass crawled in a straight line he would meet the Missouri River at the mouth of the Cheyenne River.


"Country nearly the same short grass and plenty of cactus untill we crossed the Chienne River a few miles below whare it leaves the Black Hill range of Mountains     here some aluvial lands look like they might bear cultivation     we did not keep near enough to the hills for a rout to travel on and again fell into a tract of county whare no vegetation of any kind existed beeing worn into knobs and gullies and extremely uneven      a loose grayish coloured soil verry soluble in water running thick as it could move of a pale whitish coular and remarkably adhesive     there on a misty rain while we were in this pile of ashes and it loded down our horses feet (feet) in great lumps     it looked a little remarkable that not a foot of level land could be found the narrow revines going in all manner of directions and the cobble mound of a regular taper from top to bottom     all of them of the percise same angle and the tops share     the whole of this region is moveing to the Misourie River as fast as rain and thawing of Snow can carry it     by enclining a little to the west in a few hours we got on to smoothe ground and soon cleared ourselves of mud     at length we arived at the foot of the black Hills which rises in verry slight elevation about the common plain     we entered a pleasant undulating pine Region cool and refreshing so different from the hot dusty planes we have been so long passing over and here we found hazlenuts and ripe plumbs a luxury not expected   


“The Crow Indians being our place of destination a half Breed by the name of Rose who spoke the crow tongue was dispached ahead to find the Crows and try to induce some of them to come to our assistance we to travel directly west as near as circumstances would permit     supposing we ware on the waters of Powder River we ought to be within the bounds of the Crow country     continueing five days travel since leaveing our given out horses and likewise Since Rose left us late in the afternoon while passing through a Brushy bottom a large Grssely came down the vally we being in single file men on foot leding pack horses     he struck us about the center then turning ran paralel to our line     Capt. Smith being in the advanc he ran to the open ground and as he immerged from the thicket he and the bear met face to face     Grissly did not hesitate a moment but sprung on the capt taking him by the head first     pitcing sprawling on the earth he gave him a grab by the middle fortunately cathing by the ball pouch and Butcher Kife which he broke but breaking several of his ribs and cutting his head badly     none of us having any sugical Knowledge what was to be done one Said come take hold and he wuld say why not you so it went around     I asked Capt what was best     he said one or 2 for water and if you have a needle and thread git it out and sew up my wounds around my head which was bleeding freely     I got a pair of scissors and cut off his hair and then began my first Job of dessing wounds     upon examination I the bear had taken nearly all his head in his capcious 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 leaving a white streak whare his teeth passed     one of his ears was torn from his head out to the outer rim     after stitching all the other wounds in the best way I was capabl and according to the captains directions the ear being the last I told him I could do nothing for his Eare     0 you must try to stich up some way or other said he     then I put in my needle stiching it through and through and over and over laying the lacerated parts togather as nice as I could with my hands     water was found in about ame mille when we all moved down and encamped the captain being able to mount his horse and ride to camp whare we pitched a tent the onley one we had and made him as comfortable as circumtances would permit     this gave us a lisson on the charcter of the grissly Baare which we did not forget   




  I now a found time to ride around and explore the immediate surroundings of our camp and assertained that we ware still on the waters of shiann river which heads almost in the eastern part of the Black hill range taking a western course for a long distance into an uneven vally whare a large portion of (of) the waters are sunk or absorbd then turning short to the east it enters the Black hill rang though a narrow Kenyon in appeareantly the highest and most abrupt part of the mountain enclosed in immence cliffs of the most pure and Beautifull black smooth and shining and perhaps five hunded to one thousand feet high 


“A mountaneer named Harris being St Louis some yers after undertook to describe some of the strange things seen in the mountains     saying a petrified forest was lately dicovered whare the trees branches leaves and all were perfect and the small birds sitting on them with their mouths open singing at the time of their transformation to stone 


"And landed under the side of an Isle and two men ware sent up to the mouth of the yellowstone and one boat containing the wounded and discouraged was sent down to Council bluffs with orders to continue to St Louis    This being the fore part of June    here we lay for Six weeks or two months living on scant and frquentle no rations allthough game was plenty on the main Shore    perhaps it was my fault in greate measure for several of us being allowed to go on Shore    we ware luckey enough to get Several Elk each one packing meat to his utmost capacity    there came on a brisk shower of rain Just before we reached the main shore and a brisk wind arising the men on the (men on the) boat would not bring the skiff and take us on board    the bank being bear and no timber neare we ware suffering with wet and cold    I went off to the nearest timber made a fire dried and warmed myself laid down and went to sleep    in the morning looking around I saw a fine Buck in easy gun shot and I suceeded in Killing him    then I was in town    plenty of wood plenty of water and plenty of nice fat venison    nothing to do but cook and eat     here I remained untill next morning then taking a good back load to the landing whare I met several men who had Just landed for the purpose of hunting for me     after this I was scarcely ever allowed to go ashore for I might never return

"In proceess of time news came that Col. Livenworth with Seven or eight hundred Sioux Indians ware on the rout to Punnish the Arrickarees and (18) or (20) men came down from the Yellow Stone who had gone up the year prevous     these men came in Canoes (came in canoes) and passed the Arrickarees in the night     we ware now landed on the main Shore and allowed more liberty than hertofore (at)     Col. Levenworth about (150) men the remnant of the (6) Regiment came and Shortly after Major Pilcher with the Sioux Indians (Indians) amounting to 5 or 600 warriers and (18) or 20 engagies of the Missourie furr Company and a grand feast was held and speeches made by whites and Indians

"After 2 days talk a feast and an Indian dance we proceded up stream     Some time toward the last of August we came near the arrickaree villages     again a halt was made arms examined amunition distributed and badges given to our friends the Sioux which consisted of a strip of white muslin bound around the head to distinguish friends from foes


”as winter was rapidly approaching we began to make easy travel west ward and Struck the trail of Shian Indians   the next day we came to their village traded and swaped a few horses with them and continued our march across a Ridge mountains not steep & rocky (in general) but smooth and grassy in general with numerous springs and brook of pure water and well stocked with game     dsending this ridge we came to the waters of Powder River Running West and north     country mountainous and some what rockey


“we ware there through the month of November [1824]    the nights war frosty but the days ware generally warm and pleasant     on Tongue river we struck the trail of the (of the) Crow Indians     Passed over another ridge of mountains     we came on to Wind River which is merely another name for the Big horn above the Big horn Mountain     the most of this Region is barren and worthless if my recollection is right     from the heads of the Shian untill we came on to Wind river we ware Bountifully supplied with game but here we found none at all 


“in February we made an effort to cross the mountains north of the wind River nge but found the snow too deep and had to return and take a Southern course east of the wind river range which is here the main Rockey mountans and the main dividing ridge betwen the Atlantic and Pacific


“in February [1825] we made an effort to cross the mountains north of the wind River nge but found the snow too deep and had to return and take a Southern course east of the wind river range which is here the main Rockey mountans and the main dividing ridge betwen the Atlantic and Pacific

"In traveling up the Popo Azia a tributary of Wind River we came to an oil springe neare the main Stream whose surface was completely covered over with oil resembling Brittish oil and not far from the same place ware stacks Petrolium of considerable bulk     Buffaloe being scarce our supply of food was Quite scanty   Mr Sublett and my self mounted our horses one morning and put in quest of game we rode on utill near sundown when we came in sight of three male bufalo in a verry open and exposed place 


“15th of June no sight of Smith or his party     remaining here a few days Fitzpatrick & myself mounted & fowling down stream some 15 miles we concluded the stream was unnagable it beeing generally broad & Shallow and all our baggae would have to be packed to some navigable point below where I would be found waiting my comrades who would not be more than three or four days in the rear     I moved slowly down stream three days to the mouth where it enters the North Platt     Sweetwater is generafly bare of all kind of timber but here near the mouth grew a small thick clump of willoes 



In the spring of 1824, some Crow Indians met with Fitzpatrick[40] and stated “if the white men wanted beaver, they only had to follow a plain Indian trail to South Pass. Beyond that pass you can throw your traps away and kill all the beaver you want with clubs.”  According to the Sweetwater County Joint Travel & Tourism Board, it was actually Captain Smith, who was commanding the fur trappers who were camped at that time (1824), near the present town of Dubois, Wyoming, who received this information. Fitzpatrick was a member of the group. The fur party wintered in 1823 with Crow Indians, then crossed over the pass the Indians had suggested in the spring. At the winter camp, a Crow Indian chief told them of the pass through the Wind River Mountains. Charles Keemle[41], a member of Smith’s party, later described what they had been told, "that a pass existed in the Wind River Mountains, through which he could easily take his whole band upon streams on the other side. He [the Chief] also represented beaver so abundant upon these rivers that traps were unnecessary to catch them-they could club as many as they desired." 


“After two costly failures to gain an foothold on the upper Missouri, Ashley [in 1823] sent Jedediah Smith and a party of trappers to explore the Crow country and the region along the Continental Divide. Almost a year passed before several of Smith's party, led by Thomas Fitzpatrick, stumbled into Ft. Atkinson after an exhausting journey through South Pass and down the Platte. They brought word that the mountains were rich with beaver. Responding quickly, Ashley outfitted a company of trappers and, in November 1824, struck out from Ft. Atkinson via the Platte Valley for the Rocky Mountains.[42]

     That route, Union Pass, had too much snow to permit travel across the range. Later, according to Clyman, in another attempt to communicate with the Crows, sand was strewn on a buffalo robe and a map was drawn in the sand showing the Wind River Mountains and the location of another route around them. This was the way to the rich beaver country Smith was searching for... the Green River and its tributaries.

     In late March 1824, with winter's snow still deep on the ground, Smith's band of men made their way across the windswept desolation of South Pass and camped in the sage-brush, dining on a freshly killed buffalo. The next night they camped on the Big Sandy - cold, tired, and hungry. Trying to chop a hole in the ice so that the men and horses could get a drink was taking too long, so Clyman took his gun and blasted a hole through with a bullet. They had successfully crossed the Continental Divide where thousands of wagons would follow in succeeding decades. A few days later, the party reached the banks of the Green River[43]


Bridger left his employment from the Henry Train after three years service (April 1822 – April 1825) and started out on his own in the spring of 1825. Fitzpatrick, his companion, had been with Smith and others when they had earlier met with some Crow Indians, who said they should follow the Plain Indian trail to South Pass, and there they would find many buffalo.


The date of departure disagrees with other diary statements indicating that Bridger was still with the Ashley group at that time. See below.


Discovery of the Great Salt Lake [44] - 1824


·         In the winter of 1824-1825, a group of American Fur trappers, including Jim Bridger, met up with members of the Missouri Fur Company comprised of Ashley, Henry & Others. Jim was their guide, and he followed the course of the Bear River that eventually led to the lake. After tasting the water Jim thought it might an inland arm of the Pacific Ocean. Others in 1826[45], using skin boats, explored the inland sea in pursuit of Beaver. None were found. Jim has been given credit for the discovery.


·         Baron Horton [French Governor of Newfoundland], in 1690 navigated the Mississippi and recorded the apparent first record of the Great Salt Lake. There he met native tribes from the Mozeemlek Nation, who told him of a great inland salt sea. “The sea measured 300 leagues in circumference, and its mouth is two leagues wide.” The Spaniards made the next record in 1872, in a document called “A Description of the Province of Carolana.” Jim Bridger’s discovery was actually the third recorded sighting.


·         “The discovery of the Great Salt Lake has generally been attributed to Jim Bridger, but his partner Louis Vasquez stated in an October 1858 interview presented in The New York Times and the San Francisco Bulletin, that he and several other trappers had first seen the lake in 1822. However, Vasquez confused his dates and could not have been in the region until years later in the winter of 1825-26. He was known to have been in St. Louis the previous season when Ashley's party first reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, thus couldn’t possibly have been there when he claimed.


·         In the fall of 1824, Jim Bridger was reported to be at Cache Valley, Franklin (Idaho) where the Bear River starts. He made a Bullboat and floated downstream to the lake. The following year, on May 2nd, John Weber’s group of Rocky Mountain Fur Company trappers were located at Franklin, and reported that this was where Bridger camped the previous winter[46]. The voyage apparently started as a bet as to where the Bear River actually went. This event took place apparently just before Etienne Provost made his sighting, and was independent from the Ashley Expeditions that took place later. This is probably why Bridger was given the recent credit for the discovery.


o       Ashley left Fort Atkinson on the 3rd November 1824[47]. “On the afternoon of the fifth, I overtook my party of mountaineers (twenty-five in number), who had in charge fifty pack horses, a wagon and teams, etc. On the 6th we had advanced within miles of the villages of the Grand Pawney's, when it commenced snowing, and continued with but little intermission until the morning of the 8th. During this time my men and horses were suffering for the want of food, which, combined with the severity of the weather, presented rather a gloomy prospect. I had left Fort Atkinson under a belief that I could procure a sufficient supply of provisions at the Pawney villages to subsist my men until we could reach a point affording a sufficiency of game; but in this I was disappointed, as I learned by sending to the villages, that they were entirely deserted, the Indians having, according to their annual custom, departed some two or three weeks previous for their wintering ground. As the vicinity of those villages afforded little or no game, my only alternative was to subsist my men on horse meat, and my horses on cottonwood bark, the ground being at this time covered with snow about two feet deep.”


·         Etienne Provost, however, was trapping the Utah Lake outlet (Jordan River) area in October 1824 when a Shoshoni war party attacked and killed eight in his company of ten men. Provost's camp placed him in sight of the Great Salt Lake several months before Bridger reached the valley with Ashley's outfit. (Years later, mountain man William Marshall Anderson added his voice when he wrote the National Intelligencer insisting that to Provost belonged the credit for having first seen and made known the existence and whereabouts of the inland sea. (And in July 1897, J.C. Hughey of Bellevue, Iowa, wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune claiming that John H. Weber, a onetime Danish sea captain, had been in the mountains in 1822 as a fur trapper and had in later years often told Hughey he had discovered the lake in 1823. In addition, Hughey wrote, the captain also discovered Weber Canyon and Weber River, both of which bear his name. (Weber described the lake as "a great boon to them, as salt was plentiful around the border of the lake, and for some time before they had used gunpowder on their meat, which was principally buffalo…")[48]


·         In 1824, Mr. Ashley repeated the 1823 expedition, extending it this time beyond Green River as far as Great Salt Lake, near which to the South he discovered another smaller lake, which he named Lake Ashley, after himself. On the shores of this lake he built a fort for trading with the Indians, and leaving in it about one hundred men, returned to St. Louis the second time with a large amount of furs. During the time the fort was occupied by Mr. Ashley's men, a period of three years, more than one hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of furs were collected and sent to St. Louis.[49]




From Col Ashley’s Letter to General Atkinson, December 1, 1825[50]


·         “On the 1st day of july, all the men in my employ or with whom I had any concern in the country, together with twenty-nine, who had recently withdrawn from the Hudson Bay company, making in all 120 men, were assembled in two camps near each other about 20 miles distant from the place appointed by me as a general rendezvous, when it appeared that we had been scattered over the territory west of the mountains in small detachments from the 38th to the 44th degree of latitude, and the only injury we had sustained by Indian depredations was the stealing of 17 horses by the Crows on the night of the 2nd april, as before mentioned, and the loss of one man killed on the headwaters of the Rio Colorado, by a party of Indians unknown.


·         Mr. Jedediah Smith, a very intelligent and confidential young man, who had charge of a small detachment, stated that he had, in the fall of 1824, crossed from the headwaters of the Rio Colorado to Lewis fork of the Columbia and down the same about one hundred miles, thence northwardly to Clark's fork of the Columbia, where he found a trading establishment of the Hudson Bay company, where he remained for some weeks. Mr. Smith ascertained from the gentleman who had charge of that establishment, that the Hudson Bay company had then in their employment, trading with the Indians and trapping beaver on both sides of the Rocky mountains, about 80 men, 60 of whom were generally employed as trappers and confined their operations to that district called the Snake country, which Mr. Smith understood as being confined to the district claimed by the Shoshone Indians. It appeared from the account that they had taken in the last four years within that district eighty thousand beaver, equal to one hundred and sixty thousand pounds of furs.


Comment:Jedediah S. Smith and six companions had shadowed the Ogden camp much of the time since December 29, 1824. The fact that the Americans headed upstream [during this season] while Ogden and his party turned downstream is of significance in view of the fact that it virtually excludes Smith from any claim he may have (or numerous writers have claimed for him) to the honor of having discovered Great Salt Lake. Several men saw it before he could have arrived at its shores. Kittson's accurate description of the geographical features [in his journals] helps materially in locating the actual campsites. This crossing is just about two miles south of Alexander, Idaho. It is the only place immediately below the great bend of Bear River where the stream could be reached and forded because of the high precipitous banks of lava rock.[51]



‘You can form some idea of the quantity of beaver that country once possessed, when I tell you that some of our hunters had taken upwards of one hundred in the last spring hunt out of streams which had been trapped, as I am informed, every season for the last four years.


“It appears from Mr. Smith's account that there is no scarcity of buffalo as he penetrated the country. As Mr. Smith returned, he inclined’ west and fell on the waters of the Grand lake or Beaunaventura. He describes the country in that direction as admitting a free and easy passage and abounding in salt. At one place particularly hundreds of bushels might have been collected from the surface of the earth within a small space. He gave me some specimens, which equal in appearance and quality the best Liverpool salt. Mr. S. also says the buffaloe are very plenty as far as he penetrated the country over it in almost any direction”


“On the 2nd day of july, I set out on my way homewards with 50 men, 25 of whom were to accompany me to a navigable point of the Big Horn river, thence to return with the horses employed in the transportation of the furs. I had forty-five packs of beaver cached a few miles east of our direct route. I took with me 20 men, passed by the place, raised the cache, and proceeded in a direction to join the other party, but, previous to joining them, I was twice attacked by Indians first by a party of Blackfeet about 60 in number. They made their appearance at the break of day, yelling in the most hideous manner and using every means in their power to alarm our horses, which they so effectually did that the horses, although closely hobbled, broke by the guard and ran off. A part of the Indians being mounted, they succeeded in getting all the horses except two, and wounded one man. An attempt was also made to take our camp, but in that they failed. The following night, I sent an express to secure horses from the party of our men who had taken a direct route. In two days thereafter, I received the desired aid and again proceeded on my way, made about ten miles, and encamped upon an eligible situation. That night, about 12 o'clock, we were again attacked by a war party of Crow Indians, which resulted in the loss of one of the Indians killed and another shot through the body, without any injury to us. The next day I joined my other party and proceeded direct to my place of embarkation just below the Big Horn Mountain, where I arrived on the 7th day of august.”


From the Weber County History Files[52]:


“By the autumn of 1824, Weber and his men (from 25 to 50 in his party) were trapping the Bear River and Bear Lake area. For the Americans, Weber and his men discovered Bear Lake in the fall of 1824. Bear Lake was called “Weaver’s Lake” by Jim Beckwourth suggesting Weber’s discovery of the lake, even though others called it Bear Lake, Sweet Water Lake, Little Snake Lake, and Trout Lake. As the winter of 1824-25 approached Weber and his men wintered in Cache Valley (so named in 1826) or as it was initially named Willow Valley. Daniel Potts and Jim Bridger were among the Weber party, and it was during this winter, either late in 1824 or early in 1825, that Bridger made his famous bullboat journey down the Bear River from Cache Valley to discover, at least for him and his party, the Great Salt Lake. As the spring of 1825 approached, Weber and his men moved nearer to the Great Salt Lake, probably following Bridger’s route down the Bear River. They trapped the Wasatch front area including the lower Ogden and Weber Rivers and by early May of 1825 had moved up the Weber River and camped near present Mountain Green. From this time onward, the Weber River was named after its explorer even though in writing it was sometimes spelled “Weaver’s River.”


From the Journals of William Kittson – Hudson Bay Company (1825)[53]


His journal identifies the Great Salt Lake and reports the sighting of it from a mountain peak by Charles McKay on May 12. On May 17, Kittson recorded that New River (called Ogden now) flowed out of Ogden Valley into the lake. Five days later he reported that Weber River also discharged its waters into the same lake. On May 22 Peter Skene Ogden, leader of the expedition, recorded in his diary that two of his men reported having seen a large lake the size of Lake Winnipeg into which Bear and Weber Rivers flowed. The Ogden expedition had left Flathead Post December 20, 1824, had trapped the upper waters of some of the tributaries of the Missouri River, some tributaries of Salmon River and eventually on April 6, reached Snake River in the vicinity of Blackfoot, Idaho. After trapping up Blackfoot River some distance, the brigade turned south to the upper waters of Portneuf River in the northwest corner of Caribou County; thence in a southeasterly direction toward the big bend of Bear River where they arrived in the vicinity of Alexander, Idaho, April 21, 1825.


Kittson prepared the first map to show Bear, Ogden, and Weber Rivers (with major tributaries of the Bear and Ogden Rivers), and Cache and Ogden valleys with surrounding mountains. It shows both the Bear River and Weber River (after their junction with Ogden River) flowing into Great Salt Lake (the lake is labeled "Large Bear Lake.")


Kittson's journal also contained information concerning the activities of Jedediah S. Smith and his six American companions known to have been with the Ogden party when the British company reached Bear River. This is discussed in the Ashley Expeditions.


From the Daniel Potts Letters written in 1824 to his brother, Robert Montgomery Potts (Trapping with the Rocky Mountain Fur Co.)


“The river passes through a small range of mountains, and enters the valley that borders on the Great Salt Lake. The G. S. Lake lies in a circular form from N. E. to N. W. the larger circle being to S. it is about 400 miles in circumference, and has no discharge or outlet, it is generally shallow near the beach, and has several islands, which rise like pyramyds from its surface. The western part of the lake is so saturated with salt, as not to dissolve any more when thrown into it. The country on S. W. and N. W. is very barren, bearing but little more than wild sage, and short grass. The S. E. and E are fertile, especially near the outlet of the Utaw Lake and Weber's river. The former is about 30 yards wide at its mouth, the later from 50 to 60, and very deep. This river rises to the E. in the Utaw Mountains, and in its course passes through three mountains, to where it enters the lake. We expect to start in a short time to explore the country lying S. W. of the Great Lake, where we shall probably winter. This country has never yet been visited by any white person - from thence to what place I cannot say, but expect the next letter will be dated at the mouth of Columbia.”


Fitzpatrick worked for the Ashley interests until Ashley withdrew (1826) from the trade; then he was a trader for Smith, Jackson, and Sublette until 1830, when the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was reorganized with Fitzpatrick as senior partner. After that the company was dissolved (1834), and Fitzpatrick became a guide.[54]


In 1826 Smith quit working for Ashley and formed his own fur company. Articles of agreement were made on 18 July 1826 between William H. Ashley and Jedediah S. Smith, David E. Jackson, and William L. Sublette, who were to be trading under the firm name ‘Smith Jackson & Sublette.’ This agreement was initially for one year. During their first trip:


The half-breed Rose was with the Hunt Party in 1811, and from his diary: “We stopped on the 20th beside a branch of the Little Missouri, thought to be the largest tributary.  The weather was cold and disagreeable.  It froze during the night and the ice was as thick as a dollar.  The countryside was high and irregular.  This is the spot that separates the waters that flow east into the Missouri and west into the Yellowstone. (34 miles west)


On the 22nd we ran into what we thought to be the usual route of the Absaroka [usually called the Crow] Indians coming from the Mandan villages.  The little river beside which we camped and which flowed north was doubtless a tributary of the Powder River.  On the 23rd we found another branch; but before we got there we passed through some mountains and some dry gullies.  The great heat, the treacherous trail, and the lack of water caused much suffering.  Several people were at the point of losing their courage.  Mr. McKenzie's dog died from exhaustion.  While trudging through these barren, arid mountains we could no longer kill buffalo, for they usually keep near water.  However, on the 25th we found a few in this area.  The hunters stalked them and killed five.  The day before, some of the company had eaten a wolf, which they found quite good.  We made camp near a third tributary of the Powder River. (58 miles southwest)


We left the river on the 30th, and camped near Mt. Big Horn [probably Cloud Peak] that had been ahead of us for so long.  The day before, our hunters had seen signs of Indians.  For several days we had been on the lookout for them, but they discovered us first.  On the evening of the 30th, two Crow Indians came to our camp and the next morning many more appeared.  They were all on horseback.  Not even the children were on foot.  These Indians are such excellent horsemen that they ride up and down the mountains and craggy heights as if they were galloping in a riding school.  We followed them to their settlement that was beside a clear brook on the slope of a mountain.


The chief came to meet us.  He received us amicably, led us to his tent, and pointed to a spot convenient for our camp.  I gave him presents of tobacco, knives, and some trifles to distribute among his people. To him personally I gave a piece of scarlet cloth, some powder, bullets, and other items.


We spent the first day of September buying some robes and pelts and trading our tired, maimed horses for fresh ones.  A few of our company bought some, thereby augmenting the number of our horses to about 121, most of which were well-trained and able to cross the mountains.


On the 2nd we resumed our journey along the foot of the mountains and stopped near a small river that is said to be a tributary of the Powder River.  We tried for half a day on the 3rd to get away from the precipices and the bare mountain heights; but we were forced to retrace our steps and return to the banks of a small stream.  We killed several very large elk. (21 miles)


Rose, was a very unpleasant, insolent man.  We had been warned that he planned to desert us when we came across the Crow Indians, to persuade as many of our men as he could to abandon us, and to steal our horses.  For that reason we kept close watch at night.  Moreover, we were afraid that if, despite our vigilance, he succeeded in carrying out his traitorous design, he would greatly damage our expedition.  Thus, with the thought in mind that his plan might be more extensive than we suspected, we resolved to frustrate it.  On September 2 we had received a visit from some Crow Indians of a tribe different from the one which we had just left and which was camped on the mountainside.  At that point I suggested to Rose that he remain with [the] Crow Indians; and I offered him half a year's wages, a horse, three beaver traps, and some other commodities.  He accepted my conditions; and he immediately abandoned his fellow conspirators who, without a leader, remained with our expedition.


So Rose joined the first Crow Indians whom we encountered.  Their chief realized that we had followed a wrong course and on the 4th sent Rose to tell us and to put us on the right trail that crossed the mountains and that was both shorter and better.  We soon met Crows who were taking the same route as we, a meeting that gave me an opportunity to admire the horsemanship of these Indians.  It was truly unbelievable.  There, among others, was a child tied to a two-year-old colt.  He held the reins in one hand and frequently used his whip. I asked about his age and was told that he had seen two winters.  He did not yet talk!”[55]


General William H. Ashley, a Virginian by birth, was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri in 1820, but for a time fortune seemed to forsake him. He was the elected head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, but in his first expedition he lost a keel boat and cargo of furs valued at ten thousand dollars. He planned and led expeditions into the interior.[56]

·         1828
 Kenneth Mackenzie builds an American Fur Company trading post, Fort Floyd, at the mouth of the Yellowstone near the site of Fort Henry. Fort Floyd later became known as Fort Union.


“Jedediah Smith returned to California in 1828 with a company of 18 men by the same southern route he crossed in 1826. This time Mojave Indians attacked him. They had been friendly two years earlier, but in the meantime outrages by white men traveling through the desert put them on the warpath. Smith lost 10 men in the assault, which represented more than half of his company of men. He also lost most of his supplies and equipment; but he and the other survivors continued on, and once again Smith and a group of trappers arrived at Mission San Gabriel in a ragged and half-starved condition. This time the good fathers of the mission clapped Smith and his men in the calabozo and then sent them in chains to Echeandia in San Diego.
Echeandia was, needless to say, unhappy to receive Smith and his men again; and to show his displeasure he incarcerated them in appalling conditions. Finally, cajoling by Don Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper, a former English sea captain who owned a huge Big Sur rancho, and threats by the American consul induced Echeandia to free the men and give them another exit visa from the province. Smith and his men returned to the Sacramento Valley to rendezvous with his hunters and trappers left there the year before.
Smith was not disrespectful of Echeandia's orders; he merely interpreted them in his own way. After rejoining his original party, Smith moved the company north and again camped along the American River, where the men spent 10 days trapping and hunting. Smith's expedition then headed north for the Oregon Territory. They followed the Sacramento River to about where Red Bluff is located; then they passed through a gap in the hills to the northwest, soon striking the South Fork of the Trinity River. Passing through Humboldt and Del Norte counties, they entered Oregon and struck the Umpqua River, where they were set upon by hostile Indians.
All but Smith and three of his men perished in the fighting, and the survivors made their way arduously to the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. The men arrived at Fort Vancouver on Aug. 10, 1828. A 40-man punitive expedition was immediately launched against the Indians, and by December Smith had recovered much of his lost supplies and equipment, including his journal and the diary of the dead Harrison Rogers. Smith left Fort Vancouver on March 10, 1829 to rendezvous with his partner David Jackson and a brigade of beaver hunters in the Rocky Mountains.”[57]



Bridger returned to Bear Lake for the annual Rocky Mountain fur trade rende­zvous in the summer of 1827, but otherwise his trapping expeditions kept him away from Idaho until he turned up in Pierre's Hole, August 20, 1829.  Following a late rendezvous there, he went up Henry's Fork and Fall River to upper Snake River in Wyoming.  [58]


The following years describing trapping adventures are based on direct excerpts from “The River of the West”, by Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor, published 1870.

·         1830

In an agreement made earlier with the American Fur Company by Smith, representing the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Smith’s camp [comprised of both William Sublette’s and Jedediah Smith’s groups] commenced moving away from the Columbia Basin area, to the east side of the Rocky Mountains in October. [This left the Columbia Basin area free for the American Fur Company to trap. Their course was up Henry's fork of the Snake River, through the North Pass to Missouri Lake, in which rises the Madison fork of the Missouri River. Before the camp moved from the forks of the Snake River, the Blackfeet made their appearance openly. As the camp moved eastward, or rather in a northeasterly direction, through the pine forests between Pierre's Hole and the headwaters of the Missouri, BlackFeet continually harassed them. It was here that Meek had his first battle with the Blackfeet. They attacked the camp early in the morning. Fitzpatrick was mounted, and commanding the men to follow, he galloped at headlong speed round and round the camp, to drive back the horses that were straying or had been frightened from their pickets. In this gallop, two horses were shot from under him; but he escaped and the camp-horses were saved. The country they were in was traversed by William Sublette in the fall of 1829, and was unknown to the other trappers in 1830. The fur companies normally kept either farther to the south or to the north. Few, if any, white men had passed through the area since Lewis and Clarke discovered the headwaters of the Missouri and the Snake Rivers, which flow from the opposite sides of the same mountain peaks. In November the camp left Missouri Lake on the east side of the mountains, and crossed over, in a northeasterly direction, to the Gallatin fork of the Missouri River, passing over a very rough and broken country. [They were, in fact, still in the midst of the great Rocky range, and equally high and rugged. A particularly high mountain lay between them and the Yellowstone River that were trying to reach before winter. The camp finally crossed the mountains without loss of life, except to the animals, onto the plains of the Bighorn River, and arrived at the waters of the Stinking Fork. This branch of the Big Horn River derives its name from the fact that the water flows through a volcanic tract similar to the one discovered by Meek on a separate trip on the Yellowstone plains.] As this volcanic district had previously been seen by one of Lewis and Clarke's men, John Colter, while on a solitary hunt, and described by him as "hell." This hot and sulphurous country offered no hospitality. The fumes, which pervaded the air, rendered it exceedingly noxious to every living thing, and the camp wanted to push on to the main stream of the Bighorn River. Here signs of other trappers became apparent, and they sent out and soon spies discovered another camp of about forty men, commanded by Captain William Sublette’s brother, the same that had been detached the previous summer to hunt in that country. Smith and William Sublette cached their furs, and moved up the river joined the camp of Milton Sublette.  As soon as the camp was sufficiently rested for traveling, the united companies set out, moving toward the south, and crossed the [Big] Horn Mountains, then once more into the Wind River Valley. It was about Christmas when they arrived on the Wind River. William Sublette left the camp and traveled to St. Louis with one man, Harris, [called among mountain-men Black Harris] in attendance.


o       Smith learned that his mother had died, and decided he had had enough of mountain life. He purchased a farm and townhouse, complete with servants, in St. Louis. Accordingly he sold his interests in the fur company.  However, he agreed as part of sale, to make one more trip the following year to deliver supplies to the camp[59].


·        1831 - Smith and Jackson, left the Wind River Basin on the first of January with the whole camp, and headed for the buffalo country, on the Powder River, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles. The whole company was allowed to remain camped in the [Powder River] area without interruption, until the first of April, when the camp was divided, and once more started on the march. Jackson, or " Davey," as the men called him, taking about half the company, left for the Snake country. The remainder, including Meek, started north, with Smith as commander, and James Bridger as pilot. Crossing the mountains ranges that divide the tributary streams of the Yellowstone from each other, the first halt was made on Tongue River. From there the camp proceeded west to the Bighorn River. It was Smith’s plan to take his command into the Blackfoot country. He had proceeded in a westerly direction as far the Bighorn, when the camp was overtaken by a heavy snowfall, which made traveling extremely difficult, and when melted, caused a sudden great rise in the mountain streams. In attempting to cross Bovey's Fork [Beauvais Creek[60]] during the high water, he had thirty horses swept away, along with three hundred traps: a serious loss in the business of hunting beaver. Pushing west through an unknown country, hunting and trapping as they moved, the company proceeded, passing another low chain of mountains, through a pass called Pryor's Gap, to Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone, then to Rosebud Creek, and finally to the main Yellowstone River, where it makes a great bend to the east, enclosing a large plain covered with grass, and having also extensive cotton-wood bottoms, which subsequently became a favorite wintering ground of the fur companies[61]. The camp was now in the excellent but inhospitable country of the Blackfeet, and the commander [Smith] redoubled his precautions, moving on all the while to the Mussel Shell, and then to the Judith River. Beaver were plenty and game abundant; but the vicinity of the large village of the Blackfeet made trapping impracticable. Their war upon the trappers was ceaseless; their thefts of traps and horses ever recurring: and Smith, finding that to remain was to be involved in incessant warfare, without hope of victory or gain, at length gave the command to turn back, which was cheerfully obeyed: for the trappers had been very successful on the spring hunt, and thinking discretion some part at least of valor, were glad to get safe out of the Blackfoot country with their rich harvest of beaver skins.


The return march was by the way of Pryor's Gap, and up the Bighorn, to Wind River, where the cache was made in the previous December. The furs were now taken out and pressed, ready for transportation across the plains. A party was also dispatched, under Mr. Tullock, to raise the cache on the Bighorn River. Among this party was Meek, and a Frenchman named Ponto. While digging to come at the fur, the bank above caved in, falling upon Meek and Ponto, killing the latter almost instantly. Meek, though severely hurt, was taken out alive: while poor Ponto was "ret, and pitched into the river." So rude were the burial services of the trapper of the Rocky Mountains. Meek was packed back to camp, along with the furs, where he soon recovered. [William] Sublette[62] arrived from St. Louis with fourteen wagons loaded with merchandise, and two hundred additional men for the service. An important change took place in the affairs of the Rocky Mountain Company at this rendezvous. The three partners, Smith, Sublette, and Jackson, sold out to a new firm, consisting of Milton Sublette, James Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Frapp, and Jervais; the new company retaining the same name and style as the old.


Note: This trek was repeated in the late summer of 1837.

o       The old partners left for St. Louis, with a company of seventy men, to convoy the furs. Two of them never returned to the Rocky Mountains; one of them, Smith, being killed the following year; with Jackson remaining in St. Louis, where, like a true mountain-man, he dissipated his large and hard-earned fortune in a few years. Captain William Sublette, however, continued to make annual trips to and from the mountains for a number of years; until the consolidation with another company was made with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. 

o       A Blackfeet, who shot at him, hitting his horse in several places, waylaid Bridger. The wounds caused the animal to rear and pitch, by reason of which violent movements Bridger dropped his gun, and the Indians snatched it up; after which there was nothing to do except to run, which Bridger did. Not long after this, as was customary, the leader [Bridger] was making a circuit of the camp examining the camp-keeper's guns, to see if they were in order, and found that of one Maloney, an Irishman, to be in a very dirty condition.

§         " What would you do," asked Bridger, "with a gun like that, if the Indians were to charge on the camp? "

§         " Be Jasus, I would throw it to them, and run the way ye did," answered Maloney, quickly. It was sometime after this incident before Bridger again examined Maloney's gun.

o       The change in management which occurred at the rendezvous this year, three of the new partners, Fitzpatrick, Sublette, and Bridger, conducted a large party, numbering over two hundred, from the Wind River to the Yellowstone; crossing to Smith's River, at the Falls of the Missouri, three forks of the Missouri, and to the Big Blackfoot River. From the Blackfoot River the company proceeded down the west side of the mountains to the forks of the Snake River, and after trapping for a short time in this locality, continued their march southward as far as Ogden's Hole, a small valley in the Bear River Mountains.

o       At this place they met a trading and trapping party, commanded by Peter Skeen Ogden, of the Hudson's Bay Company. As the season advanced, Fitzpatrick, with his other partners, returned to the east side of the mountains, and went into winter quarters on Powder River. In this trapper's "land of Canaan" they remained between two and three months. The other two partners, Frapp and Jervais, who were trapping far to the south, did not return until the following year. While wintering it became necessary to send a dispatch to St. Louis on the company's business. Meek and a Frenchman named Legarde, were chosen for this service which was one of trust and peril also. They proceeded without accident, however, until the Pawnee villages were reached, when Legarde was taken prisoner. Meek, more cautious, escaped, and proceeded alone a few days' travel beyond, when he fell in with an express on its way to St. Louis, to whom he delivered his dispatches, and returned later to his camp, accompanied only by a Frenchman named Cabeneau.

o       Sometime in March, the whole company started north for the Blackfoot country. On the night of the third day out, they fell unawares into the neighborhood of a party of Crow Indians, who succeeded in driving off about three hundred head. One hundred trappers were ordered to track them down, among who were Meek, Newell, and Antoine Godin, a half-breed, who lead the party. Following their trail for two hundred miles, traveling day and night, on the third day they came up on the Crows camped on a branch of the Bighorn River. Robert Newell, and Antoine Godin, stole the horses back, and returned to camp.

§         The Indians were awakened by the noise of the trampling horses, and sprang to arms. But Meek and his fellow trappers on the bluff fired into the fort with such effect that the Crows were appalled. The trappers found the return journey more toilsome than the outward; for what with sleeplessness and fatigue, and bad traveling in melted snow, they were pretty well exhausted when they reached camp. Fearing, however, another raid from the thieving Crows, the camp got in motion again with as little delay as possible. They had not traveled far, when Fitzpatrick turned back, with only one man, to go to St. Louis for supplies.


§         After the departure of Fitzpatrick, Bridger and Sublette completed their spring and summer campaign without any material loss in men or animals, and with considerable gain in beaver skins. Having once more visited the Yellowstone, they turned to the south again, crossing the mountains into Pierre's Hole, on to Snake river; thence to Salt river; thence to Bear river; and thence to Green River to rendezvous.


§         It was expected that Fitzpatrick would have arrived from St. Louis with the usual annual recruits and supplies of merchandise, in time for the summer rendezvous; but after waiting for some time in vain, Bridger and Sublette determined to send out a small party to look for him. The large number of men now employed, had exhausted the stock of goods on hand. Thus encouraged, Frapp determined to take a party, and go in search of him. Accordingly Meek, Reese, Ebarts, and Nelson, volunteered to accompany him. This party set out, first in the direction of Wind River; but not discovering any signs of the lost Booshway in that quarter, crossed over to the Sweetwater, and kept along down to the North Fork of the Platte, and thence to the Black Hills, where they found a beautiful country full of game; but not the hoped-for train, with supplies. After waiting for a short time at the Black Hills, Frapp's party returned to the North Fork of the Platte, and were rejoiced to meet at last, the long absent partner, with his pack train. Urged by Frapp, Fitzpatrick hastened forward, and came into camp on Powder River after winter had set in.


§          Fitzpatrick had a tale to tell the other partners, in explanation of his unexpected delay. When he had started for St. Louis in the month of March previous, he had hoped to meet the old partners, Capt. Sublette and Jedediah Smith, and to obtain the necessary supplies from them, to furnish the summer rendezvous with plenty. However, these gentlemen, when he fell in with them, used certain arguments, which induced him to turn back, and accompany them to Santa Fe, where they promised to furnish him goods, as he desired, and to procure for him an escort at that place. The journey had proven tedious, and unfortunate. Indians had several times attacked them, and Smith had been killed[63]. While they were camped on a small tributary of the Simmaron River, Smith had gone a short distance from camp to procure water, and while at the stream was surprised by an ambush, and murdered on the spot, his murderers escaping unpunished. Sublette, now left alone in the business, finally furnished him; and he had at last made his way back to his Rocky Mountain camp.


§          But Fitzpatrick's content at being once more with his company was poisoned by the disagreeable proximity of a rival company. If he had annoyed Mr. Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company, in the previous autumn, Major Vanderburg and Mr. Dripps, of the American Company, in their turn annoyed him. This company had been on their heels, from the Platte River, and now was camped in the same neighborhood, using the Rocky Mountain Company as pilots to show them the country. As this was just what it was not for their interest to do, the Rocky Mountain Company raised camp, and fairly ran away from them; crossing the mountains to the Forks of the Snake River, where they wintered among the Nez Perce’s and Flathead Indians.




In the following spring, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company resumed its march, first up Lewis' Fork, then on to Salt River, then to Gray's River, and on to Bear River. Here they joined with the North American Fur Company on the latter river, who carrying a large lot of goods, but no beaver. The American Company's resident partners were ignorant of the country, and were greatly at a loss where to look for good trapping grounds. Vanderburg and Dripps, were assigned to keep an eye on the movements of the Rocky Mountain Company, whose leaders were acquainted with the whole region lying along the mountains, from the head-waters of the Colorado to the northern branches of the Missouri. Finding their rivals in possession of the ground, Bridger and Milton Sublette resolved to spend but a few days in that country. However, so far as Sublette was concerned, circumstances ordered differently. A Rockway Chief, named Gray, and seven of his people, had accompanied the camp from Ogden's Hole, with the trappers. During the sojourn on Bear River, there was a quarrel in camp over some indignity, real or fancied, which had been said to the chief's daughter, and in the fray Chief Gray stabbed Sublette so severely that it was thought he must die.


“Sublette had to be left behind; and Meek who was his favorite, was left to take care of him while he lived, and bury him if he died. However, Sublette saved him. The two had forty lonesome days to themselves after the camps had moved off, one on the heels of the other, to the great vexation of Bridger. On the 23d of July, Milton Sublette's brigade and the company of Mr. Wyeth again set out for the southwest, and met no more serious interruptions while they traveled in company. On the headwaters of the Humboldt River they separated, Wyeth proceeding north to the Columbia, and Sublette continuing on into a country previously unknown by the American trappers. But Vanderburg, with the fool-hardiness of one not "up to Blackfeet," determined to ascertain for himself what there was to fear; and taking with him half a score of his followers, put himself upon their trail, galloping hard after them, until, in his rashness, he found himself being led through a dark and deep defile, rendered darker and gloomier by overhanging trees. In the midst of this dismal place, just where an ambush might have been expected, he was attacked by a horde of savages, who rushed upon his little party with whoops and frantic gestures, intended not only to appal the riders, but to frighten their horses, and thus make surer their bloody butchery. It was but the work of a few minutes to consummate their demoniac purpose. Vanderburg's horse was shot down at once, falling on his rider, whom the Indians quickly dispatched. One or two of the men were instantly tomahawked, and the others wounded while making their escape to camp. The remainder of Vanderburg's company, on learning the fate of their leader, whose place there was no one to fill, immediately raised camp and fled with all haste to the encampment of the Pends Oreille Indians for assistance. Here they waited, while those Indians, a friendly tribe, made an effort to recover the body of their unfortunate leader; but the remains were never recovered probably having first been fiendishly mutilated, and then left to the wolves.


Fitzpatrick and Bridger, finding they were no longer pursued by their rivals, as the season advanced began to retrace their steps toward the good trapping grounds. The lateness of the season compelled a return to winter-quarters, and by Christmas all the wanderers were gathered into camp at the forks of the Snake River.


“When all had arrived at Lexington, we {John Ball and company] went on to Independence, near which Mr. Sublette and his party were in camp. And on meeting him he readily consented that we might join them on this condition: that we should travel fully under his command and directions, and under the most strict military discipline; take our due part with his people in guarding camp and defense in case of attack by the Indians, which he rather expected, from a personal dislike they had to him. They charged him with leaving the year before a horse in the country packed with infected clothing, to give them the smallpox. I hardly think he could have been guilty of it. We then traversed the country and purchased horses and mules for our journey over the plains and mountains. Rigged them with saddles for riding and packing, made up those packs by sorting out the goods, for Wyeth's party had brought on much more than they could pack. But for myself I had brought but little so had nothing to throw away. But Wyeth would start with so much, that he had to drop some things by the way. Among them a small anvil and blacksmith's tools. A Mr. Campbell of St. Louis also with some men joined Mr. Sublette's party, making in all some eighty men and three hundred horses. For with the traders, each man had the care in camp and charge in marching of three horses, one to ride and two with packs. And besides they took an extra number to supply the place of any that might fail in strength or be stolen. And thus rigged and ready we started on our march from Independence, on what was then in much use, the Santa Fe road or trail, leading off in a southwest direction, crossing the west line of the state some twelve miles south of the Missouri. Our order of march was always double file, the horses led, the first attached to the rider's and the third to him. So when under way our band was more than a hundred horses long--Mr. Sublette always giving all orders and leading the band, and Mr. Campbell as lieutenant bringing up the rear and seeing that all kept their places and the loose animals did not stray away. Our last encampment, before crossing the west line of the state, was at a Morman settlement. They had come and settled here the previous fall, on this extreme border of the settled world. We procured from them some milk and they otherwise treated us very kindly. They thought then that they had found a permanent home. But no, like all new religionists, they were doomed to much persecution. I remember when the Methodists were slighted. It was the 12th of May that we left this last settlement and continued our march on said Santa Fe road over a beautiful prairie country, some two or three days, then left it and turned to the northwest and in a few days more came to the Kansas river, at a point I think near where is now Topeka. Here we found means to cross the river and swam our horses. For here was one white man, acting I think as a gunsmith for the Indians. He was the last white man we saw except of our own party.”[64]






In the latter part of January it became necessary to move [from the Snake] to the junction of the Portneuf to subsist the animals. The main body of the camp had gone on in advance, while some few, with packhorses, or women with children, were scattered along the trail. Meek, with five others had been left behind to gather up some horses that had strayed. When about a half-day's journey from camp, he overtook Umentucken, the Mountain Lamb, now the wife of Milton Sublette, with her child, on horseback. In the spring the camp was visited by a party of twenty Blackfeet, who drove off most of the horses; and among the stolen ones, Bridger's favorite race-horse, Grohean, a Camanche steed of great speed and endurance. To retake the horses, and if possible punish the thieves, a company of trappers, thirty in number, including Meek, and Kit Carson, who not long before had joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was dispatched on their trail. Kit Carson was severely wounded. The firing ceased with nightfall; and when morning came the Blackfeet were gone. The trappers returned to camp without their horses. The annual rendezvous was appointed this summer to meet on Green River. Here were the Rocky Mountain and American Companies; the St. Louis Company, under Capt. William Sublette and his friend Campbell; the usual camp of Indian allies; and, a few miles distant, that of Captain Bonneville.


In addition to all these, was a small company belonging to Capt. Stuart, an Englishman of noble family, who was traveling in the far west only to gratify his own love of wild adventure, and admiration of all that is grand and magnificent in nature. With him was an artist named Miller. Walker's company continued on down to the main or Humboldt River, trapping as they went, both for the furs, and for something to eat; and expecting to find that the river whose course they were following through these barren plains, would lead them to some more important river, or to some large lake or inland sea. This was a country entirely unknown, even to the adventurous traders and trappers of the fur companies, who avoided it because it was out of the buffalo range; and because the borders of it, along which they sometimes skirted, were found to be wanting in water-courses in which beaver might be looked for. Walker's company therefore, now determined to prosecute their explorations until they came to some new and profitable beaver grounds. But after a long march through an inhospitable country they came at last to where the Humboldt sinks itself in a great swampy lake, in the midst of deserts of sage-brush. Here was the end of their great expectations. To the west of them, however, and not far off, rose the lofty summits of the Sierra Nevada range, some of whose peaks were covered with eternal snows. Since they had already made an unprofitable business of their expedition, and failed in its principal aim, that of exploring Salt Lake, they resolved upon crossing the mountains into California, and seeking new fields of adventure on the western side of the Nevada Mountains. [In 1826 Jedediah Smith was the first white man to enter into California.]


Accordingly, although it was already late in the autumn, the party pushed on toward the west, until they came to Pyramid Lake, another of those swampy lakes, which are frequently met with near the eastern base of these Sierras. Into this flowed a stream similar to the Humboldt, which came from the south, and, they believed, had its rise in the mountains. As it was important to find a good pass, they took their course along this stream, which they named Trucker's River, and continued along it to its headwaters in the Sierras. Now began the arduous labor of crossing an unknown range of lofty mountains. They found it a difficult undertaking, and one attended with considerable peril. For a period of more than three weeks they were struggling with these dangers; hunting paths for their mules and horses, traveling around canyons thousands of feet deep; sometimes sinking in new fallen snow; always hungry, and often in peril from starvation. Sometimes they scrambled up almost smooth declivities of granite, that offered no foothold save the occasional seams in the rock; at others they traveled through pine forests made nearly impassable by snow; and at other times on a ridge which wind and sun made bare for them. All around rose rocky peaks and pinnacles fretted by ages of denudation to very spears and needles of a burnt looking, red colored rock. Below, were spread out immense fields, or rather oceans, of granite that seemed once to have been a molten sea, whose waves were suddenly congealed. From the fissures between these billows grew stunted pines, which had found a scanty soil far down in the crevices of the rock for their hardy roots. Following the course of any stream flowing in the right direction for their purpose, they came not infrequently to some small fertile valley, set in amidst the rocks like a cup, and often containing in its depth a bright little lake. These are the oases in the mountain deserts. The lateness of the season made it necessary to avoid the high valleys on account of the snow, which in winter accumulates to a depth of twenty feet. They emerged from their journey, safe into the bright and sunny plains of California. [They having explored almost the identical route established for the Union Pacific Railroad.]


They proceeded down the Sacramento valley, toward the coast, after recruiting their horses on the ripe wild oats, and the freshly springing grass. In the San Jose valley they encountered a party of one hundred soldiers, which the Spanish government at Monterey had sent out to take a party of Indians accused of stealing cattle. The soldiers were native Californians, descendants of the mixed blood of Spain and Mexico, a wild, jaunty looking set of fellows, who at first were inclined to take Walker's party for a band of cattle thieves, and to march them off to Monterey. After astonishing them with a series of whoops and yells, and trying to astonish them with feats of horsemanship, they began to discover that when it came to the latter accomplishment, even mountain-men could learn something from a native Californian. In this latter frame of mind they consented to be conducted to Monterey as prisoners or not, just as the Spanish government should hereafter be pleased to decree. Their fearless, free and easy style, united to their complete furnishing of arms, their numbers, and their superior ability to stand up under the demoralizing effect of the favorite aguadiente, soon so far influenced the soldiery at least, that the trappers were allowed perfect freedom under the very eyes of the jealous Spanish government, and were treated with all hospitality for a month while they rested.


The month that the trappers spent at Monterey was their "red letter day " for a long time after. Horses were their necessity in California, and to their delight; the plains swarmed with them, as also with wild cattle descendants of those imported by the Jesuit Fathers in the early days of the Missions. The horses and cattle were placed at the will and pleasure of the trappers. They feasted on one, and bestrode the other as it suited them. They attended bullfights, ran races, threw the lasso, and played Monte, with a relish that delighted the inhabitants of Monterey. Captain Benjamin Bonneville ordered Joseph Reddeford Walker (a mountain man) to travel west from Great Salt Lake to the Humboldt River, and then to pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. This took them through the Yosemite National Park area. They located several passes through the mountains that could be used by future emigrants.[65] Walker's detachment consisted of 70 men, including Zenas Leonard, his second-in-command, clerk, and journal keeper. Walker's orders were to find a way to the Pacific through the "unknown country to the west." Walker did not follow Jedediah Smith's route to California, however. Instead of striking south from the Wasatch Mountains, Walker led his men on a westward arc around the north shores of the Great Salt Lake to the headwaters of the Humboldt River, then known as "Mary's River." Walker followed the Humboldt River to its sink, where he was confronted by 800-900 Paiute Indians. When warning shots failed to disperse the braves, Walker's men fired into them, killing 39. The following year, having made a southerly exit from the Sierra Nevada, Walker's group was again confronted by hostile Paiutes, and 14 more braves were slain by Walker's muskets.[66]


Note: At various times Walker rode with Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and Sam Houston. He also warned the Donner Party NOT to try and cross into California so late in the season, but he was dismissed as being a bumpkin.


“William Stewart had come into camp with Fitzpatrick. The evidence shows that he and Bridger went together to the Spanish southwest for the winter of 1833-1834. They traveled along the Rio Grande and the Gila to the Gulf and Bridger also visited other areas in what would become Arizona and New Mexico.

When Bridger returned for the rendezvous of 1834 he probably had already planned to marry the daughter of Insala, Chief of the Flathead Nation and usually referred to as the Little Chief. Mountaineers had begun arriving in early June but the Little Chief was even earlier and had preempted the valley of Ham's Fork for the Bridger's company. It was another lean year for beaver fur and the number of trappers seemed to exceed that of beaver. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was dissolved and reconstituted with Bridger, Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette as the partners. Although Capt. Sublette left with about 60 packs of beaver from the rendezvous, he was no longer to have the supply business from either the new constituted firm nor the American Fur Company in the future.[67]


John Braseau, clerk of the American Fur Company, established a trapper’s fort on the Yellowstone River called “Braseau’s Houses.”  It was located about 50 miles upstream of the confluence with the Missouri River. These houses lasted until about 1838. (Note: Some researchers state that they were founded about 1835.)[68]




The Rocky Mountain Company now confined themselves to the country lying east of the {Rocky}mountains, and upon the head-waters and tributaries of the Missouri, a country very productive in furs, and furnishing abundance of game. However, it was also the most dangerous of all the northern fur-hunting territory, as it was the home of those two dangerous Indian Nations; the Crows and Blackfeet. The Blackfeet attacked the Gales camp, a small group of the main Bridger camp, and both sides fought with desperation. The few whose guns were available, showed the game spirit, and the fight became interesting as an exhibition of what mountain white men could do in a contest of one to ten. It was, at any time, a game party, consisting of Meek, Carson, Hawkins, Gale, Liggit, Rider, Robinson, Anderson, Russel, Larison, Ward, Parmaley, Wade, Michael Head, and a few others whose names have been forgotten. The trappers were driven out of a grove they were concealed in, by a fire started by the Indians, were forced to take to the open ground. The trappers used their horses as shields survived though several men were wounded.


At three in the afternoon, the Blackfoot chief ordered a retreat, calling out to the trappers that they would fight no more. Though their loss had been heavy, they still greatly out-numbered the whites; nor would the condition of the arms and the small amount of ammunition left permit the trappers to pursue them. The Indians were severely beaten, and no longer in a condition to fight, all of which was highly satisfactory to the victors. The only regret was, that Bridger's camp, which had become aware during the day that a battle was going on in the neighborhood, did not arrive early enough to exterminate the whole band. As it was, the big camp only came up in time to assist in taking care of the wounded. The destruction of their horses put an end to the independent existence of Gale's brigade, which joined itself and its fortunes to Bridger's command for the remainder of the year.


“Not long after this battle with the Blackfeet, Meek and a trapper named Crow, with two Shawnees, went over into the Crow Country to trap on Pryor's River, a branch of the Yellowstone. On coming to the pass in the mountains between the Gallatin Fork of the Missouri and the great bend in the Yellowstone, called Pryor's Gap, Meek rode forward, with the mad-cap spirit strong in him, to "have a little fun with the boys”, and advancing a short distance into the pass, wheeled suddenly, and came racing back, whooping and yelling, to make his comrades think he had discovered Indians. And lo! as if his yells had invoked them from the rocks and trees, a war party suddenly emerged from the pass, on the heels of the jester, and what had been sport speedily became earnest, as the trappers turned their horses' heads and made off in the direction of camp. They had a fine race of it, and heard other yells and war-whoops besides their own; but they contrived to elude their pursuers, returning safe to camp. This prank of Meeks was, after all, a fortunate inspiration, for had the four trappers entered the pass and come upon the war party of Crows, they would never have escaped alive.


A few days after, the same party set out again, and succeeded in reaching Pryor's River unmolested, and setting their traps. They remained some time in this neighborhood trapping, but the season had become pretty well advanced, and they were thinking of returning to camp for the winter. The Shawnees set out in one direction to take up their traps, Meek and Crow in another. Thickets of willow, wild cherry, bordered the stream where their traps were set and plum trees, and the bank was about ten feet above the water at this season of the year. Meek had his traps set in the stream about midway between two thickets. As he approached the river he observed with the quick eye of an experienced mountain-man, certain signs which gave him little satisfaction. The buffalo were moving off as if disturbed; a bear ran suddenly out of its covert among the willows. "I told Crow," said Meek, " that I didn't like to go in there. He laughed at me, and called me a coward. 'All the same,' I said; I had no fancy for the place just then —I didn’t like the indications. But he kept jeering me, and at last I got mad and started in. Just as I got to my traps, I discovered that two red devils war a watching me from the shelter of the thicket to my left, about two rods off. When they saw that they war discovered they raised their guns and fired. I turned my horse's head at the same instant, and one ball passed through his neck, under the neck bone, and the other through his withers, just forward of my saddle.


"Seeing that they had not hit me, one of them ran up with a spear to spear me. My horse war rearing and pitching from the pain of his wounds, so that I could with difficulty govern him; but I had my gun laid across my arm, and when I fired I killed the rascal with the spear. Up to that moment I had supposed that them two war all I had to deal with. But as I got my horse turned round, with my arm raised to fire at the other red devil, I encountered the main party, forty-nine of them, who war in the bed of the stream, and had been covered by the bank. They fired a volley at me. Eleven balls passed through my blanket, under my arm, which war raised. I thought it time to run, and run I did. Crow war about two hundred yards off. So quick had all this happened, that he had not stirred from the spot whar I left him. When I came up to him I called out that I must get on behind him, for my horse war sick and staggering. It is only necessary to add that Meek and Crow arrived safely at camp; and that the Shawnees came in after a day or two all right. Soon after the whole command under Bridger moved on to the Yellowstone, and went into winter camp in the great bend of that river, where buffalo were plenty, and cottonwood was in abundance.


John Astor, having been accused of selling whiskey[69] to the Indians through his agent, Kenneth McKenzie, promptly abandoned the furn business to avoid further public scandal. On June 1st he sold the American Fur Company.


At the Ham’s Fork Rendezvous on June 20th, William Sublette dissolved the Rocky Mountain Fur Company partnership and Fitzpatrick established a new firm of owners; Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, and Bridger. The new firm carried the name “Fitzpatrick, Sublette and Bridger.”  At the time this occurred, both Bridger and Sublette were absent. Bridger arrived on the 25th, and Milton was in St. Louis.[70] Bridger returned to Idaho in the fall of 1834 as a member of the new fur trade firm of Fitzpatrick, Sublette, and Bridger, formed at rendezvous, June 10, 1834, to succeed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  While spending the winter in Idaho on or near Henry's Fork with some Nez Perce and Flathead Indians, he and his trappers (including Joe Meek, Kit Carson, and Robert Newell) had another misadven­ture with some Blackfeet horse thieves who crossed the continental divide to raid their camp.  After a reasonably successful Idaho hunt, he left the next spring going up Snake River, crossing into Wyoming toward Star Valley on his way to the 1835 rendezvous.[71]




Towards spring, however, the game had nearly all disappeared from the neighborhood of the camp; and the hunters were forced to follow the buffalo in their migration eastward. On one of these expeditions a party of six trappers, including Meek, and a man named Rose, made their camp on Clarke's fork of the Yellowstone. The first night in camp Rose had a dream with which he was very much impressed. He dreamed of shaking hands with a large white bear, which insisted on taking his right hand for that friendly ceremony. He had not given it very willingly, for he knew too much about bears in general to desire to be on very intimate terms with them. Seeing that the dream troubled Rose, who was superstitiously inclined, Meek resorted to that "certain medicine for minds diseased" which was in use in the mountains, and added to the distress of Rose his interpretation, in the spirit of ridicule, telling him that he was an adept in the matter of dreams, and that unless he, Rose, was very mindful of himself that day, he would shake hands with Beelzebub before he slept again.


With this comforting assurance, Rose set out with the remainder of the party to hunt buffalo. They had proceeded about three miles from camp, Rose riding in advance, when they suddenly encountered a company of Blackfeet, nine in number, spies from a war party of one hundred and fifty, that was prowling and marauding through the country on the lookout for small parties from the camp of Bridger. The Blackfeet fired on the party as it came up, from their place of concealment, a ball striking Rose's right arm, and breaking it at the elbow. This caused his gun to fall, and an Indian sprang forward and raised it up quickly, aiming it at Meek. The ball passed through his cap without doing any other harm. By this time the trappers were made aware of the ambush; but how numerous the enemy was they could not determine. However, as the rest, who were well mounted, turned to flee, Meek, who was riding an old mule that hover the head to make it go, seeing that he was going to be left behind, called out lustily, " hold on, boys! There's not many of them. Let's stop and fight 'em;" at the same time pounding the mule over the head, but without effect.


The Indians saw the predicament, and ran up to seize the mule by the bridle, but the moment the mule got wind of the savages, away he went, racing like a thoroughbred, jumping impediments, and running right over a ravine, which was fortunately filled with snow. This movement brought Meek out ahead. The other men then began to call out to Meek to stop and fight. " Run for your lives, boys," roared Meek back at them, " there's ten thousand of them; they'll kill every one of you! " The mule had got his head, and there was no more stopping him than there had been starting him. On he went in the direction of the Yellowstone, while the others made for Clarke's Fork. On arriving at the former river, Meek found that some of the pack horses had followed him, and others the rest of the party. This had divided the Indians, three or four of whom were on his trail. Springing off his mule, he threw his blankets down on the ice, and by moving them alternately soon crossed the mule over to the opposite side, just in time to avoid a bullet that came whistling after him. As the Indians could not follow, he pursued his way to camp in safety, arriving late that evening. The main party were already in and expecting him. Soon after, the buffalo hunters returned to the big camp, minus some pack horses, but with a good story to tell, at the expense of Meek, and which he enjoys telling of himself to this day. In December, Bridger's command went into winter quarters in the bend of the Yellowstone[72]. Buffalo, elk and bear were in great abundance, all that fall and winter Before they went to camp, Meek, Kit Carson, Hawkins; and Doughty were trapping together on the Yellowstone, about sixty miles below. They had made their temporary camp in the ruins of an old fort, the walls of which were about six feet high. The Rocky Mountain Company passed the first part of the winter in peace and plenty in the Yellowstone camp, unannoyed either by enemies or rivals. Hunting buffalo, feeding their horses, playing games, and telling stories, occupied the entire leisure of these months of repose.



In January, however, this repose was broken in upon by a visit from the Blackfeet. As their visitations were never of a friendly character, so then they were not bent upon pacific rites and ceremonies, such as all the rest of the world find pleasure in, but came in full battle array to try their fortunes in war against the big camp of the whites. They had evidently made great preparation. Their warriors numbered eleven hundred, got up in the top of the Blackfoot fashions, and armed with all manner of savage and some civilized weapons. But Bridger was prepared for them, although their numbers were so overwhelming. He built a fort, had the animals corraled, and put himself on the defensive in a prompt and thorough manner. This made the Blackfeet cautious; they too built forts of cotton-wood in the shape of lodges, ten men to each fort, and carried on a skirmishing fight for two days, when finding there was nothing to be gained, they departed, neither side having sustained much loss; the whites losing only two men by this grand Blackfoot army.


Soon after this attack Bridger broke camp, and traveled up the Yellowstone, through the Crow country. It was while on this march that Umentucken was struck by a Crow, and Meek put the whole camp in peril, by shooting him. They passed on to the Big Horn and Little Horn rivers, down through the Wind River valley and through the South Pass to Green River.


While in that country, there occurred the fight with the Bannacks in which Umentucken was killed. A small party of Nez Perces had lost their horses by the thieving of the Bannacks. They came into camp and complained to the whites, who promised them their protection, should they be able to recover their horses. Accordingly the Nez Perces started after the thieves, and by dogging their camp, succeeded in re-capturing their horses and getting back to Bridger's camp with them. In order to divert the vengeance of the Bannacks from themselves, they presented their horses to the whites, and a very fine one to Bridger.


All went well for a time. The Bannacks went on their way to hunt buffalo; but they treasured up their wrath against the supposed white thieves who had stolen the horses which they had come by so honestly. On their return from the hunt, having learned by spies that the horses were in the camp of the whites, they prepared for war. Early one morning they made their appearance mounted and armed, and making a dash at the camp, rode through it with the usual yells and frantic gestures. The attack was entirely unexpected. Bridger stood in front of his lodge, holding his horse by a lasso, and the head chief rode over it, jerking it out of his hand. At this unprecedented insult to his master, a negro named Jim, cook to the Booshways, seized a rifle and shot the chief dead. At the same time, an arrow shot at random struck Umentucken in the breast, and the joys and sorrows of the Mountain Lamb were over forevermore.


The killing of a head chief always throws an Indian war party into confusion, and negro Jim was greatly elated at this signal feat of his. The trappers, who were as much surprised at the suddenness of the assault as it is in the mountain-man's nature to be, quickly recovered themselves. In a few moments the men were mounted and in motion, and the disordered Bannacks were obliged to fly towards their village, Bridger's company pursuing them.


All the rest of that day the trappers fought the Bannacks, driving them out of their village and plundering it, and forcing them to take refuge on an island in the river. Even there they were not safe, the guns of the mountain-men picking them off, from their stations on the river banks. Umentucken was well avenged that day.


The Indians are lordly and tyrannical in their treatment of women, thinking it no shame to beat them cruelly; even taking the liberty of striking other women than those belonging to their own families. While the camp was traveling through the Crow country in the spring, a party of them paid a visit to Bridger, bringing skins to trade for blankets and ammunition. The bargaining went on quite pleasantly for some time; but one of the braves who was promenading about camp inspecting whatever came in his way, chanced to strike Umentucken [Meeks wife] with a whip he carried in his hand, by way of displaying his superiority to squaws in general, and trappers' wives in particular. It was an unlucky blow for the brave, for in another instant he rolled on the ground, shot dead by a bullet from Meeks gun. At this rash act the camp was in confusion. Yells from the Crows, who took the act as a signal for war; hasty questions, and cries of command; arming and shooting. It was some time before the case could be explained or understood. The Crows had two or three of their party shot; the whites also lost a man. After the unpremeditated fight was over, and the Crows departed not thoroughly satisfied with the explanation, Bridger went round to Meek's lodge.


"Well, you raised a hell of a row in camp; " said the commander, rolling out his deep bass voice in the slow monotonous tones which mountain men very quickly acquire from the Indians. “Very sorry, Bridger; but couldn't help it. No devil of an Indian shall strike Meek's wife." "But you got a man killed." "Sorry for the man; couldn't help it, though, Bridger."


Fearing, however, that the Crows would attempt to avenge themselves for the losses they had sustained, Bridger hurried his camp forward, and got out of their neighborhood as quickly as possible. In the following summer Meek’s wife met her death by a Bannack arrow; dying like a warrior, although living she was only a woman.


While awaiting, in the Green River valley, the arrival of the St. Louis Company, the Rocky Mountain and North American companies united; after which Captain Sublette and his brother returned no more to the mountains. The new firm was known only as the American Fur Company, the other having dropped its title altogether. The object of their consolidation was by combining their capital and experience to strengthen their hands against the Hudson's Bay Company, which now had an establishment at Fort Hall, on the Snake River. By this new arrangement, Bridger and Fontenelle commanded; and Dripps was to be the traveling partner who was to go to St. Louis for goods.


After the conclusion of this agreement, Dripps, with the restlessness of the true mountain-man, decided to set out, with a small party of equally restless trappers, always eager to volunteer for any undertaking promising either danger or diversion, to look for the St. Louis Company which was presumed to be somewhere between the Black Hills and Green River. According to this determination Dripps, Meek, Carson, Newell, a Flathead chief named Victor, and one or two others, set out on the search for the expected company.


It happened, however, that a war party of a hundred Crows were out on the trail before them, looking perhaps for the same party, and the trappers had not made more than one or two camps before they discovered signs which satisfied them of the neighborhood of an enemy. At their next camp on the Sandy, Meek and Carson, with the caution and vigilance peculiar to them, kept their saddles on their horses, and the horses tied to themselves by a long rope, so that on the least unusual motion of the animals they should be readily informed of the disturbance. Their precaution was not lost. Just after midnight had given place to the first faint kindling of dawn, their ears were stunned by the simultaneous discharge of a hundred guns, and the usual furious din of the war-whoop and yell. A stampede immediately took place of all the horses excepting those of Meek and Carson. " Every man for himself and God for us all," is the motto of the mountain-man in case of an Indian attack; nor did our trappers forget it on this occasion. Quickly mounting, they put their horses to their speed, which was not checked until they had left the Sandy far behind them. Continuing on in the direction of the proposed meeting with the St. Louis Company, they made their first camp on the Sweetwater, where they fell in with Victor, the Flathead chief, who had made his way on foot to this place. One or two others came into camp that night, and the following day this portion of the party traveled on in company until within about five miles of Independence Rock, when they were once more charged on by the Indians, who surrounded them in such a manner that they were obliged to turn back to escape.


The company of men who went north this year under Bridger and Fontenelle, numbered nearly three hundred. Rendezvous with all its varied excitements being over, this important brigade commenced its march. According to custom, the trappers commenced business on the head-waters of various rivers, following them down as the early frosts of the mountains forced them to do until finally they wintered in the plains, at the most favored spots they could find in which to subsist themselves and animals. From Green River, Meek proceeded with Bridger's command to Lewis River, Salt River, and other tributaries of the Snake, and camped with them in Pierre's Hole, that favorite mountain valley which every year was visited by the different fur companies. About the last of October Bridger's company moved down on to the Yellowstone by a circuitous route through the North Pass, now known as Hell Gate Pass, to Judith River, Mussel Shell River, Cross Creeks of the Yellowstone, Three Forks of Missouri, Missouri Lake, Beaver Head country, Big Horn River, and thence east again, and north again to the wintering ground in the great bend of the Yellowstone. The company had not proceeded far in the Blackfeet country, between Hell Gate Pass and the Yellowstone, before they were attacked by the Blackfeet. On arriving at the Yellowstone they discovered a considerable encampment of the enemy on an island or bar in the river, and proceeded to open hostilities before the Indians should have discovered them. Making little forts of sticks or bushes, each man advanced cautiously to the bank overlooking the island, pushing his leafy fort before him as he crept silently nearer, until a position was reached whence firing could commence with effect. The first intimation the luckless savages had of the neighborhood of the whites was a volley of shots discharged into their camp, killing several of their number. But as this was their own mode of attack, no reflections were likely to be wasted upon the unfairness of the assault; quickly springing to their arms the firing was returned, and for several hours was kept up on both sides. At night the having lost nearly thirty killed; nor did the trappers escape quite unhurt, three being killed and a few others wounded. In November Bridger's camp arrived at the Bighorn River, expecting to winter; but finding the buffalo all gone, were obliged to cross the mountains lying between the Bighorn and Powder rivers to reach the buffalo country on the latter stream. The snow having already fallen quite deep on these mountains the crossing was attended with great difficulty; and many horses and mules were lost by sinking in the snow, or falling down precipices made slippery by the melting. and freezing of the snow on the narrow ridges and rocky benches along which they were forced to travel. About Christmas all the company went into winter-quarters on Powder River, in the neighborhood of a company of Bonneville's men, left under the command of Antoine Montero, who had established a trading-post and fort at this place, hoping, no doubt, that here they should be comparatively safe from the injurious competition of the older companies. The appearance of three hundred men, who had the winter before them in which to do mischief, was therefore as unpleasant as it was unexpected; and the result proved that even Montero, who was Bonneville's experienced trader, could not hold his own against so numerous and expert a band of marauders as Bridger's men, assisted by the Crows, proved themselves to be; for by the return of spring Montero had very little remaining of the property belonging to the fort, nor anything to show for it. This mischievous war upon Bonneville was prompted partly by the usual desire to cripple a rival trader, which the leaders encouraged in their men; but in some individual instances far more by the desire for revenge upon Bonneville personally, on account of his censures passed upon the members of the Monterey expedition, and on the ways of mountain-men generally.


 About the first of January, Fontenelle, with four men, and Captain Stuart's party, left camp to go to St. Louis for supplies. At Fort Laramie Fontenelle committed suicide, in a fit of mania a potu, and his men returned to camp with the news. In the fall and winter with about 240 men under his leadership Bridger covered a large area from Yellowstone Lake, Gardner, north to the Musselshell, Yellowstone River, south to Clark's Fork, Stinking Water, and the Big Horn, trapping and trading with friendly Indians when they could find them. One notable encounter was with a large band of Blackfeet in late evening that planned to attack the next day. That night there was an unusually brilliant display of northern lights. The Indians were so frightened that the next morning they signaled to Bridger that they were resuming to Three Forks as fast as possible. However, the trappers were harassed and lost horses and a few men on several occasions. [Even at the 1837 rendezvous the Chief of the Bannocks claimed a horse belonging to Little Chief of the Flatheads, Bridger's father-in-law. This was quickly settled by a volley of shots killing more than a dozen Bannocks before they could raise a weapon] However a stray arrow struck the Indian wife of Joseph Meek, a close advisor of Bridger, in the breast coincidental with the announcement in the St. Louis paper of the death of her first husband Milton Sublette.[73]



1837 The Crows, who had for two years been on terms of a sort of semi-amity with the whites, found it to their interest to conciliate so powerful an enemy as the American Fur Company was now become, and made frequent visits to the camp, on which occasion they usually succeeded in obtaining a taste of the fire-water of which they were inordinately fond. Occasionally a trader was permitted to sell liquor to the whole village, when a scene took place whose peculiar horrors were wholly indescribable, from the inability of language to convey an adequate idea of its hellish degradation. After re-crossing the mountains, passing the Bighorn, Clarke's, and Rosebud rivers, they came upon a Blackfoot village on the Yellowstone, which as usual they attacked, and a battle ensued, in which Manhead, captain of the Delawares was killed, another Delaware named Tom Hill succeeding him in command. The fight did not result in any great loss or gain to either party. The camp of Bridger fought its way past the village, which was what they must do, in order to proceed on their course.


“Meek, however, was not quite satisfied with the punishment the Blackfeet had received for the killing of Manhead, who had been in the fight with him when the Camanches attacked them on the plains”[74]. Desirous of doing something on his own account, he induced a comrade named LeBlas, to accompany him to the village, after night had closed over the scene of the late contest. Stealing into the village with a noiselessness equal to that of one of Fennimore Cooper's Indian scouts, these two daring trappers crept so near that they could look into the lodges, and see the Indians at their favorite game of Hand. Inferring from this that the savages did not feel their losses very severely, they determined to leave some sign of their visit, and wound their enemy in his most sensitive part, the horse. Accordingly they cut the halters of a number of the animals, fastened in the customary manner to a stake, and succeeded in getting off with nine of them, which property they proceeded to appropriate to their own use.


As the spring and summer advanced, Bridger's brigade advanced into the mountains, passing the Cross Creek of the Yellowstone, Twenty-five-Yard River, Cherry River, and coming on to the head-waters of the Missouri spent the early part of the summer in that locality. Between Gallatin and Madison forks the camp struck the great trail of the Blackfeet. Meek and Mark Head had fallen four or five days behind camp, and being on this trail felt a good deal of uneasiness. This feeling was not lessened by seeing, on coming to Madison Fork, the skeletons of two men tied to or suspended from trees, the flesh eaten off their bones. Concluding discretion to be the safest part of valor in this country, they concealed themselves by day and traveled by night, until camp was finally reached near Henry's Lake. On this march they forded a flooded river, on the back of the same mule, their traps placed on the other, and escaped from pursuit of a dozen yelling savages, who gazed after them in astonishment; "taking their mule," said Mark Head," to be a beaver, and themselves great medicine men. " That," said Meek, "is what I call 'cooning' a river."

The Blackfeet found the camp of Bridger too strong for them. They were severely beaten and compelled to retire to their village, leaving Bridger free to move on. The following day the camp reached the village of Little Robe, a chief of the Peagans, who held a talk with Bridger, complaining that his nation were all perishing from the small-pox which had been given to them by the whites. Bridger was able to explain to Little-Robe his error; inasmuch as although the disease might have originated among the whites, it was communicated to the Blackfeet by Jim Beckwith, a negro, and principal chief of their enemies the Crows. Bridger's brigade of trappers met with no other serious interruptions on their summer's march. They proceeded to Henry's Lake, and crossing the Rocky Mountains, traveled through the Pine Woods, always a favorite region, to Lewis' Lake on Lewis' Fork of the Snake River; and finally up the Grovant Fork, re-crossing the mountains to Wind River, where the rendezvous for this year was appointed. At the rendezvous some Crows successfully stole horses, and Newell, who had long been a sub-trader and was wise in Indian arts and wiles, was sent to hold a talk with the thieves. The talk was held, according to custom, in the Medicine lodge, and the usual amount of smoking, of long silences, and grave looks, had to be participated in, before the subject on hand could be considered. Then the chiefs complained as usual of wrongs at the hands of the white men; of their fear of small-pox, from which some of their tribe had suffered; of friends killed in battle with the whites, and all the list of ills that Crow flesh is heir to at the will of their white enemies. The women too had their complaints to proffer, and the number of widows and orphans in the tribe was pathetically set forth. The chiefs also made a strong point of this latter complaint; and on it the wily Newell hung his hopes of recovering the stolen property.

"It is true," said he to the chiefs, " that you have sustained heavy losses. But that is not the fault of the Blanket Chief (Bridger.) If your young men have been killed, they were killed when attempting to rob or kill our Captain's men. If you have lost horses, your young men have stolen five to our one. If you are poor in skins and other property, it is because you sold it all for drink which did you no good. Neither is Bridger to blame that you have had the smallpox. Your own chief, in trying to kill your enemies the Blackfeet, brought that disease into the country”.


At the 1837 Rendezvous, Capt. Sir William Drummond Stewart presented Bridger with a replica suit of armor brought from Britain. Bridger, drunk, proceeded on horseback to clank around the rendezvous grounds in the armor.[75]


The decline of the business of hunting furs began to be quite obvious about this time. Besides the American and St. Louis Companies, and the Hudson's Bay Company, there were numerous lone traders with whom the ground was divided. The American Company spent the autumn of this year as formerly, in trapping beaver on the streams issuing from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. When the cold weather finally drove the Fur Company to the plains, they went into winter quarters once more in the neighborhood of the Crows on Powder River. Here were re-enacted the wild scenes of the previous winter, both trappers and Indians being given up to excesses.


[76]The winter of 1837-38, one of the coldest experienced, also was remembered for an outbreak of smallpox that moved upriver on the Missouri with settlers and was then transmitted to some Blackfeet and other Indians when they crowded around a boat at the Mandan's village. News of the disease caused panic among all the tribes who then scattered to isolated areas to avoid contamination. The severe weather was a great hardship to the buffalo herds. They sought the trapper's camps and then competed with the horses for the cottonwood bark and branches the trappers fed to their animals. Camps were moved frequently south and west to their planned rendezvous location of the Wind River - Big Horn junction. When the rendezvous of '38 ended, in addition to the packs of furs carried by the caravan, there were several letters from Bridger providing information on his earnings and possible future plans. These read in part: To Wm.

Sublette, " herewith you will find a power of attorney giving authority to collect from Pratte Chouteau & Co., the full amount due for services rendered use every to obtain it for me, and deposit it in some safe keeping, subject to my future disposal, in the meantime using it for your benefit if you think proper. Accompanying this power is an acknowledgment from Mr. Drips of the amt. due me by the Company hope you may be able to collect the money.

Again to Wm. Sublette: "I, James Bridger, .now in the Rocky Mountains, .do hereby constitute and appoint William L. Sublette .my true and lawful attorney to do and perform all my business transactions to receive all monies due me and in my name to give receipts for the securing and paying of all debts due me. "And, especially, whereas Pratte Chouteau & Co. of St. Louis, Missouri, are due me a sum of money of which the accompanying instrument of writing is their acknowledgement and which reads as follows viz: Chouteau & Co There will be due James Bridger on his arrival in St. Louis three thousand and thirteen dollars and thirteen cents for services rendered the R. M Outfit for the two last years services, Andrew Drips, agent. For Prate, Chouteau & Co., Rocky Mountains." Rumors were spreading at the end of the rendezvous that all was not well with the Company.”



On the return of spring, Bridger again led his brigade all through the Yellowstone country, to the streams on the north side of the Missouri, to the head-waters of that river; and finally rendezvoused on the north fork of the Yellowstone, near Yellowstone Lake. Though the amount of furs taken on the spring hunt was considerable, it was by no means equal to former years. The fact was becoming apparent that the beaver was being rapidly exterminated.


1838. From Missouri Lake, Meek started alone for the Gallatin Fork of the Missouri, trapping in a mountain basin called Gardiner's Hole. Beaver were plenty here, but it was getting late in the season, and the weather was cold in the mountains. On his return, in another basin called the Burnt Hole, he found a buffalo skull; and knowing that Bridger's camp would soon pass that way, wrote on it the number of beaver he had taken, and also his intention to go to Fort Hall to sell them.


In a few days the camp passing found the skull, which grinned its threat at the angry Booshways, as the chuckling trapper had calculated that it would. To prevent its execution runners were sent after him, who, however, failed to find him, and nothing was known of the supposed renegade for some time. But as Bridger passed through Pierre's Hole, on his way to Green River to winter, he was surprised at Meek's appearance in camp. He was soon invited to the lodge of the Booshways, and called to account for his supposed apostacy. Meek, for a time confesses, but put on his free trapper airs, and laughed in the face of the Booshways. Bridger, who half suspected some trick, took the matter lightly, but Dripps was very much annoyed, and made some threats, at which Meek only laughed the more. Finally the certificate from their own trader, Jo Walker, was produced, the new pack of furs surrendered, and Dripps' wrath turned into smiles of approval.


Here again Meek parted company with the main camp, and went on an expedition with seven other trappers, under John Larison, to the Salmon River: but found the cold very severe on this journey, and the grass scarce and poor, so that the company lost most of their horses. The rendezvous of this year was at Bonneville's old fort on Green River, and was the last one held in the mountains by the American Fur Company. Beaver was growing scarce, and competition was strong. Bridger was the lead trapper in the field for both companies and neither could now be considered as flourishing. Bridger and Drips did take 80 or 90 trappers and a following of Indians north to fall trapping on the Gallatin and Madison then to Missouri Lake (Hebgen now) for a buffalo hunt while Bridger's family went with her people to winter at the Flathead village on the Salmon River. The record is not clear on Bridger's whereabouts for the next few months but he may have had contact with Louis Vasquez and spoken with other traders about trading posts. Also at the same time he wanted to go home to check on his finances and to see the City of St. Louis for as he expressed it to a friend sometime later, "he hadn't tasted bread for seventeen years." On the trip to St. Louis Bridger met the Catholic priest Father De Smet who was returning from a three months trip to Fort Union to determine the feasibility of establishing a mission among the Indians. Bridger's adopted tribe by marriage, the Flatheads, had been the first to visit Captain Clark many years before to inquire about the white man's "Book of Heaven".




 On the disbanding of the company, some went to Santa Fe, some to California, others to the Lower Columbia, and a few remained in the mountains trapping, and selling their furs to the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Hall. As to the leaders, some of them continued for a few years longer to trade with the Indians, and others returned to the States, to lose their fortunes more easily far than they made them. Of the men who remained in the mountains trapping, that year, Meek was one. Leaving his wife at Fort Hall, he set out in company with a Shawnee, named Big Jim, to take beaver on Salt River, a tributary of the Snake. Later in 1840 he immigrated to Oregon.



Continued in Part II – Jim Bridger’s Trails

[1] Canadian Heritage Gallery, 1999

[2] Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 14, p. 366 (Dec. 1913), T. C. Elliott, ed. Based on a partial transcription of the original made in 1905 by Miss Agnes C. Laut.

[3] Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade, Part 1: The Couteau Collection, 1752-1925; Part 2: Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books, 1802-1871

[4] The Golden State, by McClellan, 1872, pg 71.

[5] American Fur Company records retained in the Joseph H. Steere Special Collections Room reflect the commercial activity of this company's trading post at Sault Ste. Marie between the years 1832 to 1851

[6] Historical Overview of the fur trade in the Rainy Lake Region; The Hudson's Bay Company and the American Fur Company, 1821-1842

[7] Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade Part 2 Reel 17 Volume 1 "St. Louis Missouri Fur Co. St. Louis Record Book 1809-1812" 150pp. Chouteau Family Collection, Missouri Historical Society, St Louis, MO

[8] River of the West, by Mrs. Victor, 1870

[9] Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, by Fred Gowens, 1936 [Exceptional details are included in this book]

[10] Jim Bridger, Vestal, 1946. Chapter V

[11] Tales of an Explorer & Guide: Jim Bridger's Later Years, by Robert Covington, 1999

[12] From a quote by Emigrant Lorenzo Sawyer, reflecting on the passage.

[13] South Pass City, WY visitor site. Refer to:, for pictures and other details presented by early travelers. adds additional details about travel to Oregon Territory.

[14] Published In The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XVII, No. 1, March 1916, Pages 50-51. Letter written "New York, June 28, 1856, by Ramsey Crooks” in response to incorrect information published by the Detroit Press, stating that Col Fremont was the discoverer.

[15] T he settlement Astor & Hunt admitted into the fur company McDougal, McKay, Robert & David Stewart (Stuart) who headed 11 clerks, 13 Canadian voyagers and 5 mechanics. They planted a garden, starting with 12 potatoes. (See
The Golden State”, pgs 71-72.

[16] Henry Nash Smith's, Virgin Land, extract

[17] A JOURNEY TO THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS IN 1839,By F. A. Wislizenus, M.D. (in German)

[18] Columbia Encyclopedia, with comments.

[19] Some reports state that the cargo wasn’t lost at this time, but stolen later. See Ashley Forest history record for current belief that it was lost at this time.

[20] Weber County’s History by Richard W. Sadler and Richard C. Roberts identified him as joining up in 1822.

[21] Daniel Potts Letter to his brother, posted in Rocky Mountains, July 16, 1826

[22] Numbers killed, wounded, and sent to aid the Col vary.

[23] Jim Bridger, Stanley Vestal, 1946

[24] Weber County’s History by Richard W. Sadler and Richard C. Roberts Identify Weber as a member of the 1st Expedition. He stayed on for at least three years, and trapped in the Big Horn area.

[25] Fort Atkinson: John Slader, Superintendant, Fort Atkinson SHP

[26] Russell Garret, “The Slave Who Became an Indian Chief”. December 1971, Frontier West Publication.


[28] James Potter, Nebraska State Historical Society Identified the two Ashley Expeditions.

[29] Henry Clyman’s Narrative: “According to promis I will now attempt to give you a short detail of life and incidents of my trip in & through the Rockey Mountains in the years 1824-25, 26, 27, 28 and a portion of 1829”, Retained by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

[30] General William Ashley, by William Earl Cook; July 30, 2000 states 50 men, Stanley Vestal states 80 men.

[31] General William Ashley, by William Earl Cook; July 30, 2000

[32] Daniel Potts Letter to his brother, posted in Rocky Mountains, July 16, 1826; discusses the second time he signed on with Ashley.

[33] The formation of the fort was stated to be 1822, by some researchers, but this cannot be. It had to be in 1823.

[34] Ibid, xroads

[35] River of the West, by Error! Main Document Only.Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor, 1870.

[36] Published in Nappa April 17, 1871, Narrative by James Clyman "Haveing been imployed in Public Surveys in the state of Illinois through the winter of 1823 and the early part of 24 I came to St Louis about the first of February to ricieve pay for past services and rimaining there Some days I heard a report that general William H Ashly was engageing men for a Trip to the mouth of the Yellow Stone river “

[37] James Clyman, American Frontiersman, 1792-1881: The Adventures of a Trapper and Covered Wagon Emigrant As Told in His Own Reminiscences and Diaries. Edited by Charles L. Camp. San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1928.

[38] Shadehill Recreation Area Box 63 Shadehill, SD Has posted visitor signs about Hugh Glass.

[39] Slowed to a Crawl, by Peter Kohlsaat, undated (Story about Hugh Glass’s life.)

[40] Mentioned in Vestals “Jim Bridger” book; and in the St Louis Reveille, March 1, 1847 “Fitzpatrick, the Discoverer of the South Pass.” See also the Missouri Historical Society.

[41] Information can be located in Charles E. Hanson, Jr’s  biography, VIII, 203-209

[42] Fort Atkinson and the Fur Trade, NEBRASKA land Magazine, 1987

20 The Golden State, by Rolander Guy McClellan, 1872

[45] Report of Explorations across the Great Basin in the Territory of Utah...., in 1859, Capt. JH Simpson. In this pg 16, he quotes a letter by Campbell stating “In the spring of 1826 four men went in skin boats around it [Great Salt Lake] to discover if any streams containing beaver were to be found.”

[46] E. E. Rich, ed., Peter Skene Ogden's Snake Country Journals, 1824-25 (May-1824 entries)

[47] The Ashley-Smith explorations and the discovery of a central route to the Pacific, 1822-1829, with the original journals, by Harrison Clifford Dale, Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1918.

[48] Mountain Men Opened The Gate, Harold Schindler, Published: 02/19/1995 

[49] River of the West, Victor 1870

[50] The Ashley-Smith explorations and the discovery of a central route to the Pacific, 1822-1829, with the original journals, by Harrison Clifford Dale, Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark company, 1918. See for complete details

[51] Reported by David E. Miller, after his personal examination of the Hudson Bay Company files. (see EE Rich Journal Extractions)

[52] Weber County’s History by Richard W. Sadler and Richard C. Roberts

[53] E. E. Rich, ed., Peter Skene Ogden's Snake Country Journals, 1824-25 and 1825-26 (The Publications of the Hudson's Bay Record Society, XIII London, 1950). Edited By David E. Miller along with reconstruction of Kittson’s Map

[54] The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition

[55]Error! Main Document Only.Mr. Hunt's Account (From the Lost Diary) of the Journey, of the Overland Party From St. Louis Through the, Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River Mouth See: Overland diary of Wilson Price Hunt. Translated from the French and edited by Hoyt C. Franchere. Published:     Ashland   Oregon Book Society, 1973.

[56] Trade of the Northwest, Lynn Waterman, 2001 Article

[57] The Legacy of Jedediah Smith, by Richard Hughey, 1999



[59] Mountain Man Jedediah Smith, undated article (Summary of his life)

[60] This is the first report of white men crossing the valley area between the Pryor Mountains and the South Hills in Yellowstone County. It is also the first use of the Pryor Gap phrase being used. The route took them south on Pryor Creek and into the pass that separates the Pryor Mountain range from the East Pryor Mountain.

[61] This is probably located at Big Timber.

[62] Evidently William had departed earlier to get the new recruits and supplies. This event wasn’t recorded, but had to have taken place.

[63] Smith was killed by a Comanche

[64] Across the Plains to Oregon and the Return Home by Cape Horn, 1832-1835 by John Ball

[65] According to the Royce Collections for US Survey Maps, 1830.

[67] Tales of an Explorer & Guide: Jim Bridger's Later Years, by Robert Covington, 1999

[68] Details from the Harney Expedition of 1856. (See Congressional reports)

[69] Congressional Act of July 9, 1832 prohibited importation of liquor into Indian country.

[70] Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, by Fred Gowens, 1936; pgs 136-139



[72] This is probably “Big Timber”

[73] Tales of an Explorer & Guide: Jim Bridger's Later Years, by Robert Covington, 1999

[74] This is the time in 1831 when Jedediah Smith was killed.

[75] From Wyoming Tales and Trails

[76] Tales of an Explorer & Guide: Jim Bridger's Later Years, by Robert Covington, 1999

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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