|Born||January 6, 1799
Bainbridge, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 27, 1831 (aged 32)
south of Ulysses, Kansas, U.S.
|Other names||Jedidiah Smith
Jedidiah Strong Smith
|Occupation||Explorer, Hunter, Trapper, Fur trader|
|Known for||Exploration of Rocky Mountains, American West Coast, American Southwest and crossing of Nevada|
Jedediah Strong Smith (January 6, 1799 – May 27, 1831) was the son of a general store owner. He was a hunter, trapper, fur trader, trailblazer, author, cartographer and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, the American West Coast and the Southwest during the 19th century. Nearly forgotten by historians almost a century after his death, Smith has been rediscovered as an American hero who was the first white man to travel overland from the Salt Lake frontier, the Colorado River, the Mojave Desert, and finally into California. Smith was the first United States citizen to explore and eastwardly cross the Sierra Nevada and the treacherous Great Basin. Smith also was the first American to travel up the California coast to reach the Oregon Country. Not only was he the first to do this, but he and Robert Stuart discovered the South Pass. This path became the main route used by pioneers to travel to the Oregon Country. Surviving three massacres and one bear mauling, Jedediah Smith's explorations and documented discoveries were highly significant in opening the American West to expansion by white settlers and cattlemen.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Joins Ashley's company
- 3 Arikaras massacre
- 4 South Pass
- 5 The First trip to California, 1826–1827
- 6 Second trip to California, 1827–1828
- 7 Trip to the Oregon Country
- 8 1829–1830 Blackfeet expedition
- 9 St. Louis return
- 10 Death
- 11 Personal characteristics
- 12 Views on American Indians
- 13 Legacy
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Smith was born in Jericho, now Bainbridge, New York on January 6, 1799. His early New England ancestors included Thomas Bascom, constable of Northampton, Massachusetts, who came to America in 1634. Thomas Bascom was of Huguenot and French Basque ancestry. Smith came from two God-fearing New England families and was personally taught by Methodist circuit preachers. Around 1810, Smith's father, who owned a general store, allegedly was caught using counterfeit currency. To protect his family's reputation, the elder Smith moved his family West to Erie County, Pennsylvania. While growing up, Smith's love of nature and adventure came from his mentor, Dr. Titus G. V. Simons, a pioneer physician who was on close terms with the Smith family. Simons gave the young Smith a copy of Lewis and Clarks 1814 journal to the Pacific. By legend, Smith is claimed to have carried this journal on all of his travels throughout the American West. His family's nickname for him while growing up was "Diah". The Smith family moved westward again to Ohio and settled in Green Township or what is now called Ashland County in 1817.
Joins Ashley's company
While in the Green Township the Smith family was running low on income. In 1821, Jedediah began writing his journal and traveled to Illinois in an effort to find employment. By 1822 Jedediah traveled to St. Louis and responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette placed by Gen. William H. Ashley. Gen. Ashley and Maj. Andrew Henry were partner owners of the American Fur Company. According to the ad, Gen. Ashley was looking for "Enterprising Young Men" to explore the Missouri River and engage in the fur trade business in the Rocky Mountains. Jedediah, now a 6 foot tall, blue eyed 23 year old with a commanding presence, impressed Gen. Ashley to hire him. Ashley initially led the expedition and Jedediah got his first glimpse of the western frontier coming in contact with Sioux and Arikaras tribes. Jedediah finally reached Fort Arikaras, under the control of Major Andrew Henry at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the Yellowstone River. On his first expedition up the Missouri Jedediah learned to trap beaver and hunt buffalo.
In 1822, Gen. Ashley ordered Smith to come back down the Missouri to Grand River. When Jedediah returned, the Arikaras natives, who were becoming increasingly hostile, attacked and massacred 13 of Ashley's men. Jedediah fought bravely, and the surviving men, including Gen. Ashley, took note of Jedediah's conduct during the battle. Ashley appointed Smith as Captain of his men.
In 1823, as a leader of Ashley's men, Jedediah took a beaver trapping party and explored the Rocky Mountains south of the Yellowstone River. The party spent the rest of 1823 Wintering in the Wind River Valley. In 1824 Smith launched an exploratory expedition to find an expedient route through the Rocky Mountains. Smith was able to retrieve information from Crow natives. When communicating with the Crows, one of Smith's men made a unique map (buffalo hide and sand), and the Crows were able to show Jedediah and his men the direction to the South Pass. Jedediah and his men crossed through this pass in the Rocky Mountains and were able to reach the Green River in what is now Utah. From 1824 to 1825 Jedediah and his men explored the Rocky Mountains and trapped the Green, Bear, Snake, and Clark's Fork Rivers. On July 1, 1825 Smith became partners with William H. Ashley. Ashley's other partner Andrew Henry had retired from the fur trade. The rediscovery of the South Pass from the Crow Indians was very important since this was the fastest and most direct route to get to the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains and into California.
Smith was often recognized by significant facial scarring due to a grizzly bear attack along the Cheyenne River. In 1824, while looking for the Crow tribe to obtain fresh horses and get westward directions, Jedediah was stalked and attacked by a large grizzly bear. The huge bear tackled Jedediah to the ground. Jedediah's ribs were broken and members of his party witnessed Smith fighting the bear, which ripped open his side with its claws and took his head in its mouth. The bear suddenly retreated and the men ran to help Smith. They found his scalp and ear nearly ripped off, but he convinced a friend, Jim Clyman, to sew it loosely back on, giving him directions. The trappers fetched water, bound up his broken ribs, and cleaned his wounds. After recuperating from his bloody wounds and broken ribs, Jedediah wore his hair long to cover the large scar from his eyebrow to his ear.
The First trip to California, 1826–1827
In 1826, William H. Ashley retired from the fur trade, and in a complicated business arrangement sold his share to the newly created firm of Jedediah Smith, David E. Jackson, and William L. Sublette. Smith and company proceeded to make two expeditions to California in 1826 and 1827, which landed him in trouble with the Mexican authorities. As with the Zebulon Pike expedition two decades earlier, the authorities saw Smith's party as a harbinger of future trouble with the United States. Unlike Pike's expedition, which was commissioned by the United States Army, the Smith party was a private commercial venture. Although five members of the 1826 party carried United States passports, the excursion deep into Mexican territory was unauthorized by the United States government and without permission from the Mexican government.
In its first trip, the Smith party followed the Colorado River deep into the west in search of new beaver hunting grounds, and ended up in harsh territory. To gather supplies for the return trip, the group chose to travel to California. After an arduous pass through the mountains into the Mojave Desert, the party was attacked by a group of Mohaves, and lost several men. Finding shelter with a friendly Mojave village, the men recuperated and met two Tongva men, who offered to guide them to San Gabriel Mission. The guides led them through the desert via a path that avoided Death Valley and which more or less follows the route of today's Interstate 15. From Soda Lake they followed the intermittent Mojave River into the San Bernardino Mountains, which they crossed, emerging at the point where today the Community of Etiwanda is, and into a vastly different environment, the paradisal California that sailors and newspapers talked about on the East Coast. Rather than head to the nearby mission ranch, they quickly made their way west (following the path of the future Route 66), arriving at the Mission on November 27, 1826.
They were received warmly by the President of the mission, José Bernardo Sánchez, who managed to hide any misgivings he might have had. (Several of the Smith party remembered Sánchez fondly in their journals.) Sánchez advised Smith to communicate with Jefe Político (governor) José María Echeandía, who was at San Diego, about his party's status in the country. On December 8, Echeandía ordered Smith to San Diego, apparently under arrest (there was one symbolic soldier accompanying the party of mission priests and a British sea merchant escorting Smith). The rest of the party remained at the mission. Badly needing supplies, they quickly found work to do around the mission under the supervision of Joseph "José" Chapman, a former impressed sailor in crew of Hippolyte de Bouchard, who had become a naturalized citizen of Mexico. In San Diego, Smith was interviewed several times by Echeandía, who never became convinced that Smith was only looking for food and shelter. Smith asked for permission to travel north to the Columbia River, where known paths could quickly take his party back to United States territory. Smith even handed over his journals in an attempt to prove his intentions. However Echeandía delayed a quick resolution, forwarding the issue for the authorities in Sonora to review, much to Smith's displeasure. After being hounded by Smith for a month, Echeandía released Smith and his men on the promise that they leave California by the path they entered and never return. Nevertheless, once released, the party made their way to the San Joaquín Valley, which they explored.
By early May 1827 Smith and his party had accumulated over 1500 pounds of beaver; getting these furs to the mountain man rendezvous near Great Salt Lake was clearly a problem. He had traveled 350 miles north but had seen no break in the wall of the Sierra. He turned up the rugged canyon of what would later be called the American River (named after his party). The snow was too deep. Had he completed his crossing this far north, it is possible he could have found Lake Tahoe and the Humboldt River in Nevada, the vital route across the Great Basin later used by California immigrants. But the heavy snow forced him into a decision: he would save his horses, and his men, by heading back west to the central valley and the Stanislaus River and re-establish camp there. Peter Skene Ogden, a year and a half later in 1828, discovered the Humbolt River basin's natural route. Jedediah, having taken only two men and some extra horses, began what would become his epic crossing of the Sierra Nevada somewhat farther south, crossing in the vicinity of Ebbets Pass. His plan was to get to rendezvous as quickly as he could and return to his California trapping party with more men later in the year.
After crossing the Sierra Nevada, Smith likely saw Walker Lake and continued east across central Nevada. His route was straight through some of the most difficult desert in North America, known as the Great Basin. One man, Robert Evans, collapsed and could go no farther. Jed and Silas Gobel briefly left Evans and pressed on to the foot of a mountain. Finding some water, Jed went back and rescued Evans. The three eventually reached Great Salt Lake, a beautiful sight to Smith as he called it “my home of the wilderness”. Local Indians told him the whites were gathered farther north at “the Little Lake” (Bear Lake). The three de facto explorers reached the rendezvous on July 3. The mountain men celebrated Jed's arrival with a cannon salute (the first wheeled vehicle ever brought this far west) for they had given up Jed and his party for lost.
Second trip to California, 1827–1828
Despite Echeandía's warning, Smith returned to California the next year with eighteen men and two women following the Colorado River and Mojave Desert route he now knew well. At the Colorado River, the party was attacked by the Mojave, killing ten men and taking the two women. Jedediah and the eight surviving men, one badly wounded from the fighting, made a desperate stand on the banks of the Colorado, having made a make shift breast work out of trees. Surrounded by hundreds of hostile Mojave Indians, Jedediah and his men made lances by attaching butcher knives to light poles. As the Indians began to approach, Jedediah ordered his men to fire on the Indians within range. Two Mohaves were shot and killed while one Mojave was wounded. The remaining Mojaves ran off and Jedediah and his men were saved from being massacred. Jedediah and his men continued on into California arriving at the San Bernardino Valley.
Smith and the other survivors were again well received in San Gabriel. The party moved north to meet with the group that had been left in the San Joaquin Valley. Unlike in San Gabriel, they were coolly received by the priests at Mission San José, who had already received warning of Smith's renewed presence in the area. Echeandía, who was at the time in Monterey attending business, once again arrested Smith, this time along with his men. Yet despite the breach of trust, the governor once again released Smith on the same promise to leave the province immediately and not to return, and as before, Smith and his party remained in California hunting in Sacramento Valley for several months, before heading north along the Pacific Coast to use the Columbia River to return to their headquarters. Jedediah became the first explorer to reach the Oregon Country overland by traveling up the California coast. However, his second run-in with the authorities, in addition to the extreme hardships his parties experienced in both trips, convinced him never to return to California, and he devoted his next years to building up his fur company.
Trip to the Oregon Country
In the Oregon Country, Smith' s party fell into conflict over a stolen ax with the Umpqua people near the Umpqua River. Smith's party had threatened to execute the man they accused of stealing the ax. Later, Smith's group was attacked and fifteen of Smith's nineteen men were killed. Smith managed to reach the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) post at Fort Vancouver, where he received aid. HBC governor George Simpson happened to be at Fort Vancouver at the time, and he both sympathized with Smith and chastised him for treating the Indians harshly. Simpson sent Alexander McLeod south to rescue the remnants of Smith's party and their goods. McLeod returned to Fort Vancouver with 700 beaver skins and 39 horses, all in bad condition. John McLoughlin, in charge of Fort Vancouver, paid Smith $2,600 for the goods. In return, Smith assured that his American fur trade company would confine its operations to the region east of the Great Divide.
1829–1830 Blackfeet expedition
In 1829, Captain Smith personally organized a fur trade expedition into the Blackfeet territory. Smith was able to capture a good cache of beaver before being repulsed by hostile Blackfeet Native Americans. Jim Bridger served as a riverboat pilot on the Powder River during the profitable mountain man expedition. In the four years of western fur trapping the firm of Smith, Jackson, and Sublette was able to make a substantial profit. At an 1830 rendezvous on the Wild River Smith, Jackson, and Sublette sold their fur trading company to Tom Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb, and John Baptiste Gervais. These five men formed what would become known as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. In 1830, Smith retired from the fur trading business and on October 11, returned to St. Louis with a profitable bounty.
St. Louis return
After Smith's return to St. Louis in 1830, he and his partners wrote a letter on October 29 to Sec. of War John H. Eaton and informed Eaton of the "military implications" in terms of the British allegedly alienating the Native population towards any American trappers in the Pacific Northwest. According to biographer, Dale L. Morgan, Smith's letter was "a clear sighted statement of the national interest". 
Smith had not forgotten the financial struggles of his family in Ohio. After making a sizable profit from the sale of furs, over $17,000 (approx. $4 million in 2011), Jedediah sent $1,500 to his family in Green Township; whereupon his brother Ralph bought a farm. Smith also bought a house on First Avenue in St. Louis to be shared with his brothers. Smith bought two African slaves to take care of the property in St. Louis.
Smith's busy schedule in St. Louis also found him and Samuel Parkman making a map of Smith's cartographic discoveries in the West. Jedediah, in order to make his map complete, needed first hand information on the Southwest, an area he had not extensively explored. In 1831, Smith and his partners formed a supply company of 74 men, twenty-two wagons, and a "six-pounder" artillery cannon for protection. At the request of William H. Ashley, Smith received a passport from Senator Thomas Hart Benton on March 3, 1831. Smith and company left St. Louis to trade in Santa Fe on April 10, 1831.
In 1831, Smith became involved in the supply trade known as the "commerce of the prairies". Smith was leading supply wagons for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company on the Santa Fe Trail in May, 1831 when he left the group to scout for water near the Lower Spring on the Cimmaron River in present day southwest Kansas. He never returned to the group. The remainder of the party proceeded on to Santa Fe hoping Smith would meet them there, but he never arrived. A short time later, members of the trading party discovered a Mexican merchant at the Santa Fe market offering several of Smith's personal belongings for sale. When questioned about the items, the merchant indicated that he had acquired them from a band of Comanche hunters.
A further account in Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men by Winifred Blevins, cites details of Smith's encounter with the Comanches in a box canyon. By their account, four braves trapped Smith in the canyon.
According to biographer Dale L. Morgan, Smith was looking for water for the 1831 expedition when he came upon an estimated 15–20 Comanches. There was a brief face-to-face stand off until the Comanches scared his horse and shot him in the left shoulder. After gasping from the injury, Smith wheeled his horse around and with one rifle shot was able to kill their chief. The Comanches then rushed Smith, who did not have time to use his pistols, and stabbed him to death with lances. Austin Smith, Jedediah's brother, was able to retrieve Smith's rifle and pistols that the Indians had taken and traded to the Mexicans.
Jedediah Smith was an atypical mountain man. Following Methodist practices, Smith was known to be a reserved pious man who often read the Bible, meditated, and prayed. Smith never boasted and having a stern personality only rarely was known to have any sense of humor. Smith did not practice sexual relations with Native American women. Unlike contemporary mountain men, Smith never smoked, got drunk, or used profanity. Smith was known for his many systematic recorded observations on nature and topography.
Views on American Indians
While travelling overland throughout the American West, Jedediah's policy with the Native Americans was to maintain friendly relations with gifts and exchanges. However, if Jedediah felt Indians were being hostile to his party, he would make a demonstration by having one or two Natives killed with a rifle. This was done to discourage any further tribal aggression against him and his party. Smith punished his men for indiscriminately shooting Indians without any perceived threat to his party. Smith's reluctance to kill American Indians was due to his Methodist faith and training. Smith held contemporary beliefs that Native Americans were for the most part intellectually inferior to whites and considered untrustworthy. Smith stated that Indians were "children of nature"; a link between animals and humans.
Jedediah Smith's explorations were the main basis for accurate Pacific-West maps; all the travels and discoveries of the trappers and fur traders since Ashley went into the map of the western United States he prepared in the winter of 1830–31. This map has been called “a landmark in mapping of the American West”. In a eulogy for Smith printed in the Illinois Magazine for June 1832 the unknown author claimed “This map is now probably the best extant, of the Rocky Mountains, and the country on both sides, from the States to the Pacific.” The original map is lost, its content was superimposed by George Gibbs on a base map by John C. Frémont, which is on file at the American Geographical Society Library, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His expeditions also raised doubts about the legendary Buenaventura River from maps.
Smith's exploration of northwestern California is commemorated in the names of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the Smith River. Most of the western slope of Wyoming's famous Teton Range is named the Jedediah Smith Wilderness after him.
- American National Biography (1999) ;Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, p. 7 ;Dale (1941, 1991), The explorations of William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith – 1822–1829, p. 175 – Note: Dale claims Smith was born on June 24, 1798.
- Robert Stuart crossed from the west through the South Pass in October, 1812. This was done in order to escape hostile Crow Indians. However, no significant mention or report was made of this discovery to the public in St. Louis. Effective knowledge of the South Pass was not gained by Stuart's discovery. The pass itself was 20 miles in width; Morgan (1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pp. 388-389.
- American National Biography (1999);American National Biography (1999) ;Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, p. 7; Dale (1941, 1991), The explorations of William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith – 1822–1829, p. 175; According to Maurice S. Sullivan: "Smith was the first white man to cross the future state of Nevada, the first to traverse Utah from north to south and from west to east; the first American to enter California by the overland route, and so herald its change of masters; the first white man to scale the High Sierra, and the first to explore the Pacific hinterland from San Diego to the banks of the Columbia River".
- Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pp. 25, 39.
- Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pp. 27–46; Bassett, Renner, and White (1998), Jedediah Smith Route 1828.
- Bassett, Renner, and White (1998), Jedediah Smith Route 1828
- Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, p. 90; Ultley and Dana (2004), After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, p. 83.
- Utley and Dana (2004), After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, p.85.
- This account of his California trips is based on Beth Gibson, "Jedediah Smith", accessed on 2008-08-02; Bil Gilbert, The Trailblazers (Time-Life Books, 1973), 96–100, 107; and Alson J. Smith, Men Against the Mountains: Jedediah Smith and the South West Expedition of 1826–1829 (New York: John Day Co., 1965).
- Morgan (1964), Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, p. 211
- Morgan, p. 240
- Morgan, pp. 240, 241
- Morgan, p. 241
- Morgan, p. 243
- "Map of an Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44". World Digital Library. 1844. Retrieved 2013-06-21.
- "Jedediah Smith Route 1828". Historic Oregon City. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793–1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3. online at Google Books
- Ultley and Dana (2004), After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, pp. 98, 99
- Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, p.323
- "Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount - 1774 to Present". Retrieved 2011-02-24. Consumer Price Index
- Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pp. 323-324
- Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pp. 325-327
- Utley and Dana (2004), "After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, p. 99
- Dale L. Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, pg 330, Appendix pgs 362–366, Bison Book, 1953|Letter from Austin Smith to Jedediah Smith, Senior, September 24, 1831|Letter from Austin Smith to Ira G. Smith, September 24, 1831|Austin Smith got the information from Spanish traders in the nearby area.
- His pistol was stolen in 1961. See
- Utley and Dana (2004), After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, p. 42
- Smith (1826, 1827) The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith, pp. 64, 185.
- Morgan (1953, 1964), Jedediah and the Opening of the West, p. 261
- Carl Hays: David E. Jackson, in: LeRoy R. Hafen (Ed.), The Mountain men and the fur trade of the Far West, Clark Co., Glendale, California, 1956–72, Vol. 9, p. 224
- Captain Jedediah Strong Smith, A Eulogy, in Illinois Magazine, June 1832, as reprinted in Edwin L. Sabin: Kit Carson Days, New York, 1935 edition, p. 823 (cited after Carl Hays: David E. Jackson, in: LeRoy R. Hafen (Ed.), The Mountain men and the fur trade of the Far West, Clark Co., Glendale, California, 1956–72, Vol. 9, p. 225)
- C. Gregory Crampton: The San Buenaventura – Mythical River of the West. In: Pacific Historical Review. Berkeley Cal 25.1956,2 (May), p.163–171
- American National Biography, Vol. 20, 1999, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, ISBN 0-19-520635-5;
- Dale, Harrison Clifford, The explorations of William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith – 1822–1829.
- Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale 1941, reprinted by University of Nebraska Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8032-6591-3
- Blevins, Winfred. Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men. New York, Forge,  2005. ISBN 978-0-7653-1435-2
- Time-Life Books and Bil Gilbert. The Trailblazers. Time-Life Books, 1973, 96–100, 107
- Morgan, Dale L. (1953, 1964). Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the American West. Lincoln, London: Bison Book University of Nebraska Books. ISBN 0-8032-5138-6.
- Maurice S. Sullivan, The Travels of Jedediah Smith. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1992, 13.
- Maurice S. Sullivan, "Jedediah Smith, Trader and Trail Breaker", in New York Press of the Pioneers, 1936.
- Smith, Alson J. Men Against the Mountains: Jedediah Smith and the South West Expedition of 1826–1829. New York, John Day Co., 1965.
- Smith, Jedediah S., [Harrison G. Rogers], and George R. Brooks (ed.). The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal Account of the Journey to California, 1826–1827. Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press,  1989. ISBN 978-0-8032-9197-3
- Jedediah Smith Society
- Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
- Jedediah Smith Wilderness
- American River Bike Trail (Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail)
- Photo of Jedediah Smith Marker on American River Bike Trail (Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail)