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William Lewis Sublette (born near Stamford, Lincoln County, Kentucky on September 21, 1798, died on July 23, 1845 in Pittsburg) was a fur trapper, pioneer and mountain man, who, with his brothers after 1823, became an agent of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (and later one of its owners), exploiting the riches of the Oregon Country, which helped settle the best routes later improved into the Oregon Trail.
He was one of five Sublette brothers prominent in the western fur trade: William, Milton, Andrew, Pinkney, and Solomon. Sublette was one of the leaders among the American mountain men pushing hard against the British companies active in the American fur trade in the Pacific Northwest and against the American Fur Company trappers in the high Rockies and other Incorporated territories of the United States.
He retired from high-risk trapping activities, venturing near hostile Amerindians, after being wounded at the Rendezvous of 1832 in the Battle of Pierre's Hole, which, some accounts claim, he hotheadedly triggered in his actions prior to the gun battle. After recuperating over a year back in St. Louis, he returned to the uplands and founded Fort William, later Fort Laramie, in the foothills east of the South Pass; the fort commanded the last eastern stream crossing at the foot of the last ascent to the floor of South Pass. That was the only route readily navigable by wagons over the continental divide.
In 1823, William was recruited in St. Louis by William Henry Ashley, as part of a fur trapping contingent, later referred to as Ashley's Hundred. That was the beginning of a new strategy for conducting the fur trade in response to a change in law in 1822. Liquor had been one of the principal currencies traded to Amerindians; such trafficking had been made illegal. The new scheme set up a trapper's rendezvous, a teamster-drover team operating the freight bringing in supplies and returning with furs, and a corp of trappers making their circuit to traps they themselves had set as team members.
By 1826, Sublette acquired Ashley's fur business along with Jedediah Smith and David Edward Jackson. His brother Milton, some years later, in the mid-1830s, was one of five men who bought the Rocky Mountain Fur Company from his brother William and his partners.
In 1832, Sublette was wounded in the battle of Pierre's Hole in Idaho. After some uneventful fur business ventures, he sold Fort William to the American Fur Company (it was then renamed Fort John after a partner in the Amfurco and later Fort Laramie). Sublette finally retired in St. Louis, Missouri. He died in 1845 and was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery.
- Sabin, Edwin Legrand; Howard Simon; Marc Simmons (1995). Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868. University of Nebraska Press. p. 922. ISBN 978-0-8032-9238-3.
- Carter, Harvey L. "Robert Campbell" and Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. "Milton G. Sublette", 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
- sublettewyo.com. "About Sublette County". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
- Kansas Place-Names, John Rydjord, University of Oklahoma Press, 1972, p. 121 ISBN 0-8061-0994-7
- "Southeast Idaho Ranges". Summitpost. Retrieved 2012-05-10.