family lived in Missouri when James was born. After his mother died of
consumption, his father was despondent. About that time, fur trapping
expeditions were heading west. It was an attractive idea to Sylvester
so he could get away from reminders of his wife. James talked him into
letting him go too. They left in June 1824 with a few companions. By the
time they left Pilcher's Fort with supplies, there were only two others.
They first headed to a traiding post on the Missouri run by Prattle, Choteau,
When they arrived at Council Bluffs, they were told they couldn't trade
with the Indians without a license. So they changed their plans to head
toward New Mexico. Another outfit was heading that way too. James remarked
on the almost total lack of trees in the area. They met up with a band
of Pawnee right away who treated them kindly. One of them guided the group
to the Pratte party, which was also going to New Mexico. There were 116
men, 300 mules, and some horses. They followed the Platte to the next
Pawnee village. Here they stocked up with trade goods. They left on August
The biggest problem over the next several days was the horses feet getting
chipped up by the rocky terrain. When they next killed some buffalo for
food, they made some booties for the horses' feet from the skin. They
also used buffalo chips for fire since there were no trees. One night
they were attacked by Arikaras, who killed two horses and wounded one
man. Five Indians were killed.
On August 26, they camped on the Platte River. Here they trapped for beaver
for the first time. They got four. On the 31st, they found two dead white
men shot full of arrows and scalped. They buried the two men. The party
was still nearby and the whites surrounded them. A fight ensued. Thirty
Indians were killed and ten were taken captive. They were the Crow, let
go to spread the word to leave the white men alone.
On November 23, they arrived at Taos, New Mexico. They arrived via the
Cimarron cutoff of the Santa Fe trail. They arrived at San Ferdinando
on November 26 at the base of the mountains. It was their first encounter
with spanish people, and they were suprised how different they were in
dress. From there, they headed to Santa Fe. At that time it was a town
of four or five thousand, huge for the plains. While there, they were
involved in a revenge raid against the Comanche who had supposedly attacked
some whites and kidnapped some woman. The traders were successful in returning
the two women. After that the local officials granted them their licenses
They followed the del Norte for awhile past Socorro. From there they left
the river and passed through some copper mines and arrived at the Gila.
On the first day they caught 30 beaver. But after traveling a ways upstream,
they caught fewer and fewer. And by then they hadn't eaten for four days.
They killed one of their horses to survive. Finally they shot a couple
of turkeys and then caught 37 beavers. Eventually they caught 250 over
the next couple of weeks of January, 1825 on a river they called St. Francisco.
On the 20th, they reached the Gila. They didn't encounter any Indians
during this time. They continued to follow the Gila but now they were
high in the mountains. The weather was turning nasty. Provisions were
running low. The horses and mules refused to budge. On the 28th they met
some Indians, but they no one was killed. They followed a Gila tributary
and finally got 200 skins. They next headed for the San Pedro, where they
retrieved their cached furs. While camped by a small lake, some Indians
stole all their horses so they had no way to carry their furs. They got
four of the Indian horses though. So they cached the furs again and took
only two traps and provisions on horse back.
The next several days travel were hard since they had very little to no
food or water. They killed one of the dogs to sustain themselves. On April
5, they finally made it back to the San Francisco where all their furs
were safely stashed. They reached the copper mines on April 29. After
a rest and resupply they left on May 2. Pattie traveled to Santa Fe to
retrieve some goods and furs and to buy new horses. He arrived back at
the mines on June 1. When they returned to the San Pedro to retrieve their
cached furs, they discovered they'd all been stolen. They returned to
Santa Fe where the party agreed to guard the settlement for two or three
months from Indian attacks. They were able to reach an agreement with
nearby hostile Indians not to attack the miners. The local governor wanted
them to stay forever, feeling that the Indians would become a problem
again as soon as the trappers left. They agreed to stay until December
when they would go on another trapping expedition on the Gila. Pattie's
father and two others stayed behind to work the mines after a generous
offer by the governor. Pattie left January 2, 1826 with some French men
to resume trapping.
Right away, Pattie had a falling out with the captain. Pattie thought
he was being foolish in his treatment of a particular Indian encampment.
Sure enough, the Indians attacked them at night. Pattie and another man
who agreed with him escaped unharmed. They thought the rest were killed,
though the captain managed to escape. They ran into a party of Americans,
led by Ewing Young, who helped them take revenge on the Indian village.
They killed 110 Indians. The trappers also buried the remains of the French
men. They had several other small skirmishes with Indians in this area.
They continued to trap in Arizona and New Mexico and had several encounters
with the Navajos. They returned to Santa Fe, where the governor confiscated
all their furs claiming they had been trapping without a license. Pattie
stayed three days visting his father. Next he visited several small Spanish
towns and marveled at the sights. He thought the people were very lazy
except in lassoing and horsemanship. He returned to Santa Fe and stayed
a few months, occasionally working in the gold mine. While there, he killed
a grizzly bear that had been harassing the people.
But Pattie got restless and headed out to trap on the Pecos. He noticed
many Spanish buildings abandoned due to Indian troubles. They had troubles
of their own w hen a band surprised them. Pattie was shot twice with arrows
but survived. They were Mescallero Apache Indians. Eventually they took
in their furs to a small village and traded them. Pattie then returned
to visit his father. While he worked there awhile, his father's clerk
was sent to Santa Fe with $30,000 to buy supplies and goods to pay the
miners since they preferred goods to cash. Unfortunately the clerk took
off with the money, leaving the mines near insolvency. So a trapping expedition
was organized to starting earning money back for it.
Pattie put together a party of 30 men and went to the Red River. They
got the requisite license from the governor on September 22, 1827. Soon
after, the majority of the party decided to strike off in another direction.
Six men remained with the Patties. Some Indians made off with the rest
of their horses. So they built some canoes and proceeded to float down
the river to the nearest settlement to trade for horses. They trapped
many more beaver and soon had to build another canoe to carry them all.
At one point they decided to bury the furs and to back since the river
became treacherous and there were Indians all around.
They were back on foot and soon needed water. They found a small lake
near an Indian village where they refreshed themselves. After making a
deal, two Indians agreed to guide them to the nearest Spanish town. They
almost died for lack of water until they finally reached a mountain stream.
When three miles from the Mission of Santa Catalina on the Baja Peninsula,
James had to stop because his foot was injured. The rest went on and by
nightfall had reached the mission. They sent some Indians back to carry
Pattie to the mission.
They stayed there a week before soldiers took them to another mission
at San Vicente on the Baja coast. They stayed there several weeks waiting
for approval from the Mexican commander to buy horses. They hunted freely
and saw many strange new ocean creatures that they had never seen before.
Finally the soldiers were ordered to take the trappers to San Diego. They
stopped at several missions on the way. They were treated as spies by
the San Diego officers. They felt the Santa Fe pass was a forgery and
that they were really spies for the Spanish government.
Their arms were taken away and they were locked up in separate jail cells.
A kindly sargeant made sure they got decent food. Pattie's father died
while they were detained, without James ever seeing him again. He was
allowed to attend his father's funeral. He was used as a translator several
times by the commander, and James hoped his services might gain freedom
for himself and his friends. He also interpreted for the trial of Captain
Bradshaw who had been charged with smuggling. The general finally agreed
to let them go back for their furs under armed guard. At the last minute
he changed his mind and decided James would remain as a hostage so the
others would return, since he suddenly couldn't spare any soldiers. As
they would be going through hostile Indian territory, James doubted their
return. All but two of them did return, without the furs because they
were ruined. They did retrieve the traps. The general threw them all back
They were jailed for months with only the minimal amount of sustenance.
During that time, a small pox epidemic broke out and the general wanted
to save his own hide. Pattie knew how to administer the vaccine, but he
refused to give it to the general unless he was freed. Finally he and
his friends were given a year parole with the general's option to remand
them to prison if he chose. They went up the coast first to San Luis Mission
at Oceanside, San Juan Capistrano, Los Angeles, and several other missions.
At Monterey he participated in the force fighting against the revolt led
by General Joachim Solis. They eventually overpowered him after several
battles. As a reward for their efforts the local general awarded them
Finally, the general pardoned Pattie, letting him return to America via
Mexico City. There he would see the American consulate, where he would
make a case for compensation for the loss of his furs due to being unlawfully
detained. They sailed to the Mexican coast. Then they headed overland
via horseback and reached Tepic on May 25, 1830. They reached Mexico City
on June 9. He saw Anthony Butler, the consulate, and the Mexican president
to plead his case. He was given a passport to Vera Cruz from which he
would return to the U.S. by boat. Enroute by wagon to Vera Cruz, soldiers
robbed them of their arms and hung a Mexican officer o on a nearby tree,
in front of his wife. On July 18, he set sail for New Orleans. From there
he took a steamboat up the Mississippi to Louisville, Kentucky. His story
was published in 1831. It is not known what happened to him once he returned
home but he is presumed to have died in the huge cholera epidemic that
began near Augusta, Kentucky, in June 1833.
-Copyright 2000 by Beth