James Beckwourth: Difference between revisions

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In 1851, Beckwourth, following an Indian trail, discovered a low elevation pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. He improved what became known as the Beckwourth Trail through Plumas, Butte and Yuba counties. In August, 1851, he led the first intact wagon train into the burgeoning Gold Rush city of [[Marysville, California]], named after [[Mary Murphy]], a survivor of the [[Donner Party]] in the winter of 1846-47. Beckwourth demanded payment for improving the trail, claiming he had an agreement with the city and its merchants. The city failed to pay him, and he could not sue for damages as he, a non-white, had no standing in the California courts. An estimated 10,000 people used the trail to enter Marysville in the following decade. In 1996, at the urging of promoters of Beckwourth Frontier Days, a living history festival, the city of Marysville's largest park was renamed ''Beckwourth Riverfront Park'' in recognition of the debt owed by the city and Beckwourth's significance to the growth of the city.
 
In 1851, Beckwourth, following an Indian trail, discovered a low elevation pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. He improved what became known as the Beckwourth Trail through Plumas, Butte and Yuba counties. In August, 1851, he led the first intact wagon train into the burgeoning Gold Rush city of [[Marysville, California]], named after [[Mary Murphy]], a survivor of the [[Donner Party]] in the winter of 1846-47. Beckwourth demanded payment for improving the trail, claiming he had an agreement with the city and its merchants. The city failed to pay him, and he could not sue for damages as he, a non-white, had no standing in the California courts. An estimated 10,000 people used the trail to enter Marysville in the following decade. In 1996, at the urging of promoters of Beckwourth Frontier Days, a living history festival, the city of Marysville's largest park was renamed ''Beckwourth Riverfront Park'' in recognition of the debt owed by the city and Beckwourth's significance to the growth of the city.
   
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Revision as of 00:27, 11 October 2008

James P. Beckwourth, around 1860 in Denver, Colorado

James Pierson Beckwourth (April 6, 1798 or 1800, Frederick County, Virginia - October 29, 1866, Denver) (a.k.a. Jim Beckworth, James P. Beckwith) was born in Virginia in 1798 to Sir Jennings Beckwith, a descendant of Irish and English nobility, and an African-American mulatto woman about whom little is known.

His life is best known from the book The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth from 1856. The book was originally rejected by early historians of the Old West as no more than ridiculous campfire lore, but has since been accepted as a valuable source of social history, although the details are not reliable or accurate. The civil rights movement discovered Beckwourth as an early afro-american pioneer and he is subsequently named a role model in children's literature and textbooks.

In the American west

Beckwourth spent his life in fur trapping and Western exploration. His family moved to Missouri around 1809. He attended school in St. Louis for four years and learned at a blacksmith's in the city until age 19. In 1824, while living in Missouri, he joined Gen. William Ashley's fur trapping company as a wrangler on Ashley's expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains. In the following years, Beckwourth became known as a prominent trapper and Indian fighter. He was well known for telling lore about his adventures about fighting Indians and hunting. On the 1826 rendezvous trapper colleague Caleb Greenwood told the campfire story of Beckwourth being the child of a Crow chief, who has been stolen as a baby by raiding Cheyennes and sold to the whites. This lore was widely believed, as Beckwourth looked and acted native for years.

Beckwourth as Indian warrior, illustration of the first edition

Later that year he got caught by Crow Indians while trapping in the dangerous border county between the areas of Crow, Cheyennes and Blackfoots. They recognized him and as they had heard the story of his Crow ancestry he was admitted to the nation and married to the daughter of a chief. For the next eight to nine years he lived with the Crows, rising in their hierarchy from warrior to chief and leader of the Dog clan and finally, according to his own record, the highest ranking war chief of the Crow Nation. He still went trapping, but did not sell his furs and that of his nation to his former partners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company but instead with the competing American Fur Company. He also participated in raids by the Crow on neighboring nations and the occasional white party. Sometimes these raids escalated to warfare, most often with the Blackfoots.

In 1837, when the American Fur Company did not want to renew his contract, he returned to St. Louis and volunteered for the Second Seminole War in Florida. In his own book he claims to have been a soldier and courier, but according to preserved records he was a civilian wagon master in the baggage. He was an Indian trader on the Arkansas River from 1838 to 1840, working out of Fort Vasquez, Colorado, near Platteville, Colorado with the Cheyennes. In 1840, he moved to the Bent & St. Vrain Company and later the same year he established himself as an independent trader, building the trading post Pueblo with others in Colorado. From it the city Pueblo, Colorado developed.

From 1844 he traded on the Old Spanish Trail between the Arkansas River and Mexican California. When the Mexican-American war began in 1846, he returned to the United States, bringing nearly 1800 stolen Mexican horses as spoils of war. In the war, he was a courier with the US Army and participated in suppressing the Taos Revolt, where his former employer Charles Bent, the interim governor of New Mexico, was slain.

1848 and the Gold Rush saw him back in California; Beckwourth opened a store at Sonoma, but he sold quickly, going to Sacramento to live as a professional card player. In 1850 he discovered Beckwourth Pass, the lowest mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada and in the following year he established Beckwourth Trail, a road through the mountains. It began near Pyramid Lake and the Truckee Meadows east of the mountains, climbed to his pass and on a ridge between two forks of Feather River down to the gold fields of northern California at Marysville. The road would spare the settlers and gold seekers about 150 miles and several steep grades and dangerous passes, such as Donner Pass. The business communities of the gold towns in California were supposed to fund this, but when Beckwourth tried to collect his payment in 1851, Marysville suffered from two huge fires and was unable to pay.

Beckwourth eventually began ranching in the Sierra. His ranch, trading post and hotel in today's Sierra Valley later became Beckwourth, California. In the winter of 54/55 Thomas D. Bonner stayed in the hotel, where Beckwourth told him the story of his life. Bonner took it down, edited it the following year and offered the book to Harper & Brothers in New York. The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth came out in 1856. According to the contract, Beckwourth was entitled to one half of the proceeds, but never got anything from Bonner. His stay in California can be traced until 1858, when he returned to Missouri in 1859 and settled later that year in Denver, Colorado, where he was a store keeper and local agent for Indian affairs. In 1864 Beckwourth was forced by John M. Chivington of the Third Colorado Volunteers to act as a scout for a campaign against the Cheyenne and Arapaho, that led to the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Cheyennes interdicted him from further business with them as a result of the massacre, and he returned to trapping, now well in his 60s. The army employed him as a scout in Fort Laramie and Fort Phil Kearny in 1866. While guiding a military column to a Crow Tribe in Montana, he complained of severe headaches and suffering nosebleeds (most probably a severe case of hypertension). Beckwourth returned to the Crow village where he died on October 29, 1866. The founder of the "Rocky Mountain News", William Byers, used Beckwourth's death to publish a circulation-boosting, baseless yarn stating that the Crow had poisoned Beckwourth. The falsehood is repeated to this day.


Beckwourth and his book

Later in his life, Beckwourth recounted an astonishing life history to Thomas D. Bonner, who produced the book The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout, Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation. Beckwourth's language and style were as notable as the reported adventures. The book provides historical information on the role of alcohol in the US Government, how occupations affect those who work in the field, our historical relationship to diseases, wildlife, and the environment, as well as reports dealing with massacres and war.

Beckwourth Pass, California

Beckwourth Pass, named in honor of James Beckwourth, is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Plumas County, California. State Route 70 crosses the Sierras at an elevation of 1,591 m (5,221 ft), making it one of the lowest crossings of the Sierra Nevadas in California. It is also the route that the Western Pacific Railroad (track now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad) used to cross the Sierra's along their Feather River route. The pass is located east of Portola, California.

In 1851, Beckwourth, following an Indian trail, discovered a low elevation pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. He improved what became known as the Beckwourth Trail through Plumas, Butte and Yuba counties. In August, 1851, he led the first intact wagon train into the burgeoning Gold Rush city of Marysville, California, named after Mary Murphy, a survivor of the Donner Party in the winter of 1846-47. Beckwourth demanded payment for improving the trail, claiming he had an agreement with the city and its merchants. The city failed to pay him, and he could not sue for damages as he, a non-white, had no standing in the California courts. An estimated 10,000 people used the trail to enter Marysville in the following decade. In 1996, at the urging of promoters of Beckwourth Frontier Days, a living history festival, the city of Marysville's largest park was renamed Beckwourth Riverfront Park in recognition of the debt owed by the city and Beckwourth's significance to the growth of the city.

hi lozers

References

See also

Further reading

  • Thomas D. Bonner (Hrsg.), The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1856, (online: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth)
  • Elinor Wilson, Jim Beckwourth – Black Mountain Man, War Chief of the Crows, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1972, ISBN 0-8061-1555-6 (most extensive biography of Beckwourth)
  • Oswald, Delmot R. "James P. Bechwourth", 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
  • Sifakis, Carl, The Encyclopedia of American Crime, Facts of File Inc., 1982
  • Bill Hotchkiss, The Medicine Calf, New York, Norton, 1981, ISBN 0393013898 (novel: based on Beckwourths life)

External links