Robert Campbell (frontiersman)
Photograph of Robert Campbell circa 1860
|Born||February 12, 1804
County Tyrone, Ireland
|Died||October 10, 1879 (aged 75)
St. Louis, Missouri, US
|Ethnicity||Irish/ Ulster Scots|
|Known for||Exploration of Rocky Mountains, Head of two Missouri Banks, Owner of Steamboats, Real Estate Mogul in St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri|
|Campbell House Museum Website|
For a list of other individuals by the same name, see Robert Campbell.
Robert Campbell (February 12, 1804 – October 10, 1879) was an Irish immigrant who became an American frontiersman, fur trader and businessman. His St. Louis home is now preserved as a museum; the Campbell House Museum.
Campbell was born at Aughalane House, his family's home, near Plumbridge, County Tyrone, Ireland, now preserved as part of the Ulster American Folk Park. However his family was of Scottish descent. Although Campbell came from a family of reasonable means, he was the youngest child of his father's second wife, and therefore was due to inherit next to nothing. This prompted him to follow his older brother Hugh to America, North Carolina specifically, at the age of only eighteen. Robert Campbell moved further west, arriving in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1824. Later that year, he was diagnosed with consumption, and was advised by his physician to travel further west.
Initial Western Expedition (1825 - 1829)
Campbell joined fur trader Jedediah S. Smith in an expedition leaving St. Louis for the Rocky Mountains on November 1, 1825. With the financial backing of William H. Ashley and his Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Smith assembled a group of sixty men, including experienced explorers and traders Hiram Scott, Jim Beckwourth, Moses Harris, and Louis Vasquez. After becoming aware of Campbell's skills and education, Smith asked him to act as clerk for the expedition.
Campbell's initial journey into the American west included a harsh winter spent with Pawnee tribesmen south of the Platte River. After the spring thaw, the group traveled north of the Platte River to the traders' Rendezvous in Cache Valley, in modern Utah and southern Idaho. There Ashley sold his percentage of the expedition to Smith, David Edward Jackson, and William Sublette. The expedition then split into two branches. Smith struck off to the southwest while Jackson and Sublette moved northwest to the Teton range and the Snake river. Campbell traveled with the Jackson/Sublette party, and later wrote that the group ...hunted along the forks of the Missouri, following the Gallatin, and trapped along across the headwaters of the Columbia. (Carter, p. 298) The group wintered, once again together, in Cache Valley during the winter of 1826-27.
In late 1827, Campbell led a party into Flathead territory and suffered losses to Indian attack. Many survivors of his small group decided to winter in Flathead territory, but Campbell and two other left to contact the larger party wintering in Cache Valley. Traveling slowly due to harsh weather, they arrived at the Hudson's Bay Company camp of Peter Skene Ogden on the Snake River in February 1828. After leaving word of their whereabouts, Campbell returned and finished the winter with his men in Flathead territory.
In the spring of 1828 the group trapped along Clark's Fork and Bear Lake. They were attacked by Blackfeet on their way to the summer rendezvous, but suffered light losses and brought in their beaver pelts. After the summer trading, Campbell joined Jim Bridger in a trapping expedition to Crow country in northeastern Wyoming, wintering in the Wind River area. In the spring of 1829, Campbell decided to return to St. Louis. Entrusted with forty-five packs of beaver skins by the larger group, he arrived in the city in late August. He sold the furs for ...$22,476 dollars and received payment for his services amounting to $3,016. (Carter, p. 300)
Campbell was unique in that he had a successful career in the American west. His participation with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, in competition with Hudson's Bay and the American Fur Company was profitable, as was his long formal partnership with trapper William Sublette.
He returned to St. Louis in 1835 ending his frontiersman days. Campbell established himself as a businessman, real estate mogul and banker, and there married and raised a family.
Robert Campbell went into business with his longtime partner William Sublette. Their business was a dry goods store called Sublette&Campbell, the same name as their fur trading business. This store provided goods for travelers to the West and also provided Indian goods to the East of the United States.
Real estate in St. Louis and Kansas City Missouri increased Robert Campbell's riches. The Southern Hotel in St. Louis was also owned by Campbell until it burned down in 1877. In the 1840s Robert began to buy steamboats operating on the Mississippi River such as the boats the A.B. Chambers and the Robert Campbell Jr. It was aboard the A.B. Chambers that Mark Twain had his first job as a river pilot.
Campbell met his future wife Virginia Campbell in 1835. Virginia Kyle's cousin, Mary Kyle was married to Hugh Campbell, Robert's older brother. At the time they met, Virginia was 13 and Robert 31. The two were engaged when Virginia reached the age of 16 and married when Virginia was 19 on February 25, 1841, at Virginia's mother's home in Raleigh, North Carolina. Robert and Virginia were to have 13 children together. Only two of these were girls. Sadly the Campbells were to mourn the deaths of 10 of their children, having only three sons grow into adulthood. These sons were: Hugh Campbell (1847–1931); Hazlett Campbell (1858–1938); and James Campbell (1860–1890).
Robert Campbell died on October 10, 1879. Robert, his wife Virginia, and their children are buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Campbell family home has been preserved as a museum called the Campbell House Museum which has been open to the public since 1943.
- Carter, Harvey L. "Robert Campbell", featured in "Trappers of the Far West", Leroy R. Hafen, editor. 1972, Arthur H. Clark Company, reprint University of Nebraska Press, October 1983. ISBN 0-8032-7218-9
- The Campbell House Museum Website