Jedediah Smith - Mountain Man

Jedediah Smith 1799-1831

Jedediah Strong Smith was born in Bainbridge, New York, on January 6, 1799. He tutored under a medical doctor so got above average education. He clerked on a fur trading ship, while in his teens, and grew enamored of the tales of the Rockies. He hooked up with his first expedition with William H. Ashley in 1822. He soon was a leader himself with a good reputation because he was literate, sober, and reliable.
In 1826, he founded his own fur trading company with partners David S. Jackson and William Sublette. Smith really wanted to open up the untrapped areas of the Southwest. In 1826, he led 18 men on an expedition through the Great Salt Lake Valley and through southwest Utah, southeast Nevada, to Needles, California area, and west across California. For awhile he was under arrest by Mexican authorities, who were mistrustful of his fur trading deals. Once released, he explored the San Joaquin Valley of California, crossed the Sierra Nevada in winter, crossed through north central Nevada, and met up with his partners in the Salt Lake area at the agreed rendezvous spot in 1827.
After resting ten days, he took out another party of 18 along substantially the same route. This time, though, he encountered trouble at Needles. A party of Majove Indians, angry with an earlier trapping party, killed ten of Smith's men and scattered his furs and supplies. After recovering from that episode the remaining men proceeded across California, where Smith was again arrested and released. His party met up with the men he'd left behind at the San Joaquin Valley and they all headed north up the Sacramento Valley. While exploring in Oregon along the Umpqua River, his party was attacked by Indians. Smith, two scouts, and one other survivor managed to reach the Hudson's Bay Company post at Ft. Vancouver, where they rested. Dr. John McLoughlin, the chief factor there, managed to recover the furs from the Indians.
After that, Smith gave up his plans to exploit the Southwest. In 1830, he retired from the fur business and became a merchant. But his wanderlust got the better of him. In 1831, while on the Santa Fe trail from Missouri, he was killed by Comanches while crossing the Cimarron River. He left behind many writings about the Rocky Mountains and Southwest geography that later explorers found invaluable.

-copyright 2005 by Beth Gibson