Jedediah Smith

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For the United States Representative from New Hampshire, see Jedediah K. Smith.
Jedediah Strong Smith
Jedediah Smith.jpg
Jedediah Smith
Born January 6, 1799 (1799-01-06)[1]
Bainbridge, New York, U.S.
Died May 27, 1831 (1831-05-28) (aged 32)
south of Ulysses, Kansas, U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Diah
Jedidiah Strong Smith
Ethnicity English, French Basque[a]
Occupation Explorer, hunter, trapper, fur trader
Known for Exploration of Rocky Mountains, American West Coast, American Southwest, crossing of Nevada and naming of Cache Valley, Utah

Jedediah Strong Smith (January 6, 1799 – May 27, 1831), the son of a Bainbridge, New York general store owner, was a hunter, trapper, fur trader, trailblazer, author, cartographer, and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, North American West and Southwest during the early 19th century. After 75 years of obscurity following his death, Smith was rediscovered as an American whose explorations led to the use of the 20 mile wide South Pass as the dominant point of crossing the Continental Divide for pioneers on the Oregon Trail.[b]

Smith led the first documented exploration from the Salt Lake frontier to the Colorado River. From there, Smith's party became the first Americans to cross the Mojave Desert into California. On the return journey, Smith and his companions were the first United States citizens to explore and eastwardly cross the Sierra Nevada and the treacherous Great Basin Desert. Smith and his companions were also the first Americans to travel up the California coast (on land) to reach the Oregon Country. Surviving three massacres and one bear mauling, Jedediah Smith's explorations and documentation were important aids to later American westward expansion.

In 1831, while searching for water off the Santa Fe Trail in present-day southwest Kansas, Smith disappeared. It was learned some weeks later that he had been killed during an encounter with the Comanche.

Early life[edit]

Lewis and Clark

Smith was born in Jericho, now Bainbridge, New York on January 6, 1799[5][c] to Jedediah and Sally (née Strong) Smith, both of whom descended from families that came to New England during the Puritan emigration. Around 1810, Smith's father, who owned a general store, was caught up in a legal issue involving counterfeit currency after which the elder Smith moved his family West to Erie County, Pennsylvania.[6] According to Dale L. Morgan 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. Morgan speculated that Simons gave the young Smith a copy of Lewis and Clark's 1814 book of their 1804 journey to the Pacific,[d] and, according to legend, Smith carried this journal on all of his travels throughout the American West.[8] The Smith family moved westward again to Ohio and settled in Green Township, or what is now called Ashland County, in 1817.[9]

Smith joins "Ashley's Hundred"[edit]

Regions of the Missouri River Watershed
Further information: Mountain man

Coming from a family of very modest means, Smith struck out to make his own way.[9] In 1822, Jedediah traveled to St. Louis and responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette placed by Gen. William H. Ashley.[10] Gen. Ashley and Maj. Andrew Henry[e] had established a partnership to engage in the fur trade[11] and were looking for "One Hundred" "Enterprising Young Men" to explore and trap in the Rocky Mountains.[12] Jedediah, now a 6-foot-tall, blue-eyed 23-year-old with a commanding presence, impressed Gen. Ashley to hire him.[9] In late spring, Jedediah started up the Missouri River on the keelboat Enterprize, which sank three weeks into the journey. Smith and the other men waited at the site of the wreck for a replacement boat, hunting and foraging for food. Ashley brought up another boat with and additional 46 men[13] and upon proceeding upriver, Smith got his first glimpse of the western frontier, coming into contact with Sioux and Arikaras tribes.[14] On October 1, Jedediah finally reached Fort Henry at the mouth of the Yellowstone River,[15] which had just been built by Major Henry and the men that he had led up earlier.[12][f] Smith and some other men continued up the Missouri to the mouth of the Musselshell River in central Montana where they built a camp from which to trap through the winter.[18]

Arikaras massacre[edit]

Arikara warrior
Bodmer (1840–1843)

The next spring (1823), Maj. Henry ordered Smith to go back down the Missouri to Grand River to take a message to Ashley to buy horses from the Arikaras, who, due to a recent skirmish with Missouri Fur Company men, were antagonistic to the whites.[19] Ashley, who was bringing supplies as well as 70 new men up the river by boat,[20] met Jedediah at the Arikara village on May 30.[21] They negotiated a trade for several horses and 200 buffalo robes and planned to leave as soon as possible to avert trouble, but weather delayed them and before they could depart an incident provoked an Arikara attack. Forty Ashley men, including Smith, were caught in a vulnerable position, and 12 were killed in the ensuing massacre.[22][g] Smith's conduct during the defense was the foundation of his reputation: "When his party was in danger, Mr. Smith was always among the foremost to meet it, and the last to fly; those who saw him on shore, at the Riccaree fight, in 1823, can attest to the truth of this assertion."[24]

Smith and another man were selected by Ashley to return to Fort Henry on foot to inform Maj. Henry of the disaster.[23] Ashley and the rest of the surviving party rode back down the river, ultimately enlisting aid from Colonel Henry Leavenworth who was the Commander of Fort Atkinson. In August, Leavenworth sent 250 military men and along with 80 Ashley-Henry men, 60 men of the Missouri Fur Company and a number of Lakota Sioux warriors, enemies of the Arikaras, they set out to subdue the Arikaras. After a botched campaign, a peace treaty was negotiated.[25] Smith had been appointed commander of one of the two squads of the Ashley-Henry men, and was thereafter known as "Captain Smith."[26]

Bear Attack and South Pass[edit]

After the campaign, in the fall of 1823, Smith and several other of Ashley's men traveled downriver to Fort Kiowa. He and 10-16 men left from there to make their way overland to the Rocky Mountains.[27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] Jedediah and his men crossed through this pass from east to west[31] and encountered the Green River near the mouth of the Big Sandy River in what is now Wyoming.[32] The group broke into two parties; one led by Smith and the other by Thomas Fitzpatrick to trap upstream and downstream on the Green.[33] The two groups met in July on the Sweetwater River, and it was decided that Fitzpatrick and two others would take the furs and the news of the identification of a feasible highway route through the Rockies[h] to Ashley in St. Louis.[34]

After Fitzpatrick left, Jedediah and his men again passed through South Pass, but their exact travels are unknown until they arrived in November 1824 at Flathead Post in Montana.[35] Maj. Henry returned to St. Louis on August 30[36] and Ashley began making plans to lead a caravan back to the Rockies to regroup with his men.[37] Henry declined to return with Ashley, instead choosing to retire from the fur trade.[37]

Rendezvous and Smith, Jackson & Sublette[edit]

Ashley left St. Louis late in 1824[37] and after an exploring expedition in Wyoming and Utah he and Smith were reunited on July 1, 1825 at what would become the first rendezvous.[38] During the rendezvous, Ashley offered Smith a partnership to replace Henry.[39][i] Smith returned to St. Louis for a time, where he asked Robert Campbell to join the company as a clerk.[41]

After the second rendezvous in the summer of 1826, William H. Ashley decided to no longer be directly involved in the business of harvesting furs, and sold his interest in his and Smith's partnership to the newly created partnership of Smith, David E. Jackson, and William L. Sublette.[42][j] Ashley would continue to take supplies to the rendezvous.[43] and broker the sale of furs brought to him in St. Louis.

The new partners were immediately faced with the reality that beaver were rapidly disappearing from the region the two previous partnerships had traditionally trapped. But contemporaneous maps showed promise of untrapped rivers to the west,[44] most notably the legenday Buenaventura.[45] The Buenaventura was also thought to be a navigable waterway to the Pacific Ocean possibly providing an alternative to packing loads of furs back to St. Louis.[citation needed] Jedediah Smith started making plans for an exploratory expedition deep into the Mexican territory of Alta California[k]

First trip to California, 1826–1827[edit]

Jedediah Smith's party crossing the burning Mojave Desert during the 1826 trek to California by Frederic Remington

Smith's party left the Bear Lake area (on the border between present day Utah and Idaho) in August 1826, heading south through present day Utah and Nevada to the Colorado River, finding increasingly harsh conditions and difficult travel.[44] Finding shelter in a friendly Mojave village near present-day Needles, California, the men and horses recuperated and Smith hired two runaways from the Spanish missions in California to guide them west.[46] After leaving the river and heading into the Mojave Desert, the guides led them through the desert via what would become the western portion of the Old Spanish Trail.[47] Upon reaching the San Bernardino Valley of California, Smith and Abraham LaPlant, (who spoke some Spanish) borrowed horses from a rancher and rode to the San Gabriel Mission on November 27, 1826 to present themselves to its director, Father José Bernardo Sánchez, who received them warmly.[48][l]

Father Sánchez gave Jedediah and LaPlant a lavish dinner at Mission San Gabriel.

The next day, the rest of Smith's men arrived at the mission, and that night the head of the garrison at the mission confiscated all their guns[49] On December 8, Smith was summoned to San Diego for an interview with Governor José María Echeandía, about his party's status in the country.[50][m] LaPlant accompanied Smith south while the rest of the party remained at the mission. Echeandía detained Smith for about two weeks, demanding that he turn over his journal and maps. Smith asked for permission to travel north to the Columbia River, where known paths could take his party back to United States territory, but when Echeandía finally released him to reunite with his men, it was with instructions that, after purchasing supplies, his party leave California by the same route they entered.[51]

After waiting for almost another month for an exit visa, and then spending at least two more weeks breaking the horses they had purchased for the return trip, Smith's party left the mission communities of California in mid February, 1827. The party headed out the way it had came, but once outside the Mexican settlements, Smith convinced himself he had complied with Echeandía's order to leave by the same route he had entered, and the party veered north.[52] The party ultimately made its way to the Kings River on February 28, and began trapping beaver.[53] The party kept working its way north, encountering hostile Maidus.[54] He turned up the rugged canyon of the American River, but had to return because the snow was too deep.[55][n]

By early May 1827, Smith and his men had traveled 350 miles north, looking for the Buenaventura River,[o] but found no break in the wall of the Sierra Nevada range through which it could have flowed from the Rocky Mountains.[44] Unable to find a feasible path for his party to cross, and faced with hostile Natives, he was forced him into a decision: since they did not have time to travel north to the Columbia and make it in time to the 1827 rendezvous, they would backtrack to the Stanislaus River and re-establish a camp there. Jedediah would take two men and some extra horses to get to the rendezvous as quickly as he could and return to his party with more men later in the year.[57]

The exploration of the West by Jedediah Smith

After a difficult crossing of the Sierra Nevada near Ebbets Pass, Smith and his two men passed around the south end of Walker Lake.[58] After meeting with the only mounted Indians they would encounter until they reached the Salt Lake Valley[p] they continued east across central Nevada, straight across the Great Basin Desert just as the summer heat hit the region. Neither they nor their horses or mules could find adequate food, and as the horses gave out, they were butchered for whatever meat the men could salvage. After two days without water, one man, Robert Evans, collapsed near the Nevada/Utah border and could go no farther, but some Indians Smith encountered gave them some food and told him where to find water, which he took back to Evans and revived him.[59][q] As the three approached the Great Salt Lake, they again were unable to find water, and Evans collapsed again. Smith and the other man, Silas Gobel, found a spring and again took back water to Evans.[60] Finally, the men came to the top of a ridge from which they saw the Great Salt Lake to the north, a "joyful sight" to Smith.[61] By this time they only had one horse and one mule remaining. They reached and crossed the Jordan River where local Indians told him the whites were gathered farther north at "the Little Lake" (Bear Lake). Smith borrowed a fresh horse from them and rode ahead of the other two men, reaching the rendezvous on July 3. The mountain men celebrated Jed's arrival with a cannon salute[r] for they had given up him and his party for lost.[64]

1827 Rendezvous and the Second trip to California, 1827–1828[edit]

Smith's return to California threatened Mexican authority at Mission San José.

As agreed, Ashley had sent provisions for the rendezvous, and his men took back 7,400 pounds of Smith, Jackson & Sublette furs.,[65] as well as a letter Smith wrote to William Clark, then in the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the region west of the Mississippi River describing what he had observed the previous year. Smith left to rejoin the men he had left in California almost immediately after the rendezvous. He was accompanied by eighteen men and two French-Canadian women, following much of the same route as the previous year.[66] However, in the ensuing year, the Mojave along the Colorado river that had been so welcoming the previous year had clashed with trappers from Taos and were set on revenge against the whites.[67] While crossing the river, Smith's party was attacked; ten men including Silas Gobel were killed and the two women taken captive. Jedediah and the eight surviving men, one badly wounded from the fighting, prepared to make a desperate stand on the west bank of the Colorado, having made a makeshift breast work out of trees and lances by attaching butcher knives to light poles.[66] The men still had five guns amongst them and as the Mojave began to approach, Jedediah ordered his men to fire on those within range.[67] Two Mojaves were shot and killed while one was wounded, and the remaining attackers ran off.[66] Before the Mojave could regroup, Smith and his men retreated on foot across the Mojave desert to the San Bernardino Valley.[68]

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, reuniting with them on September 19, 1827. 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. Smith's party also visited the settlements at Monterey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco).

Governor Echeandía, who was at the time in Monterey (capital of Alta California), 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.[69]

Trip to the Oregon Country[edit]

Fort Vancouver, 1845

In the Oregon Country, Smith' s party came into contact with the Umpqua people. The tribes along the coast had monitored the party's progress, passing news of conflicts between the group and Natives, and the Umpqua were wary.[70] One of them stole an ax, and Smith's party treated some of the Umpqua very harshly in order to force the thief to return it. On July 14, 1828, while Smith and two other men were scouting a trail north, his group was attacked in its camp on the Umpqua River.[42] At about eight o'clock on the night of August 8, 1828, Arthur Black arrived at the gate of Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) post at Fort Vancouver, badly wounded and almost destitute of clothing. He believed himself to be the only survivor of the party,[71] but Smith and the two others, having been alerted to the attack and instead of returning to the camp climbed a hill above it and witnessed the massacre, arrived at the fort two days later.[42] John McLoughlin, Chief Factor at the fort, sent Alexander McLeod south with Smith to rescue any survivor's of Smith's party and their goods. They confirmed the remaining 15 men had died,[71] and returned to Fort Vancouver with 700 beaver skins and 39 horses, all in bad condition. Governor Simpson paid Smith $2,600 for the goods.[72] In return, Smith assured that his American fur trade company would confine its operations to the region east of the Great Divide.[citation needed] Smith remained at Fort Vancouver until the spring of 1829, when he and Authur Black traveled back east to meet up with his partners.[s][73]

Blackfeet expedition, 1829–1830[edit]

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, Smith, Jackson, and Sublette were able to make a substantial profit and at the 1830 rendezvous on the Wild River they sold their company to Tom Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb, and John Baptiste Gervais who renamed it the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.[74]

Return to St. Louis[edit]

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".[75] The letter also included a description of Fort Vancouver and described how the British were in the process of making a new fort at the time of Smith's visit in 1829. Smith believed the British were attempting to establish a permanent settlement in the Oregon Country.[71]

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),[76] 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.[77]

Smith's busy schedule in St. Louis also found him and Samuel Parkman making a map of Smith's cartographic discoveries in the West.[78] 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.[79]


Comanches as depicted in the 1830s.
Painting by Lino Sánchez y Tapia (1830s)
Map of Santa Fe Trail-NPS.jpg

In 1831, Smith became involved in the supply trade known as the "commerce of the prairies". Smith was leading supply wagons for Smith, Jackson & Sublette on the Santa Fe Trail on May 27, 1831 when he left the group to scout for water near the Lower Spring on the Cimmaron River in present-day southwest Kansas.[80] He never returned to the group. The remainder of the party proceeded on to Santa Fe hoping Smith would meet up with them, but he never did. They arrived in Santa Fe on July 4, 1832, and shortly thereafter members of the party discovered a comanchero with some of Smith's personal belongings.[81] It was relayed that Smith had encountered and communicated with a group of comancheros just prior to his approaching a group of Comanche.[82] Smith tried to negotiate with the Comanche, but they surrounded him in preparation of attacking.[81]

According to Smith's grand-nephew, Ezra Delos Smith, there were 20 Comanches in the group. Smith attempted to conciliate with them until the Comanches scared his horse and shot him in the left shoulder with an arrow. Jedediah fought back, ultimately killing 13 of the warriors.[t] The version written by Austin Smith in letter to his brother Ira four months after Smith's death says that Jedediah killed the "head Chief," but nothing about any other Comanche being wounded or killed. Josiah Gregg wrote in 1844, that Smith "struggled bravely to the last; and, as the Indians themselves have since related, killed two or three of their party before he was overpowered."[83][u] Smith stated that his Granduncle had fought so valiantly that the Comanche believed "he had been more than mortal, and that it would be better to propitiate his spirit; so they did not mutilate his body, but later gave it the same funeral rites they gave its chief"[85][v] Austin Smith, Jedediah's brother, who along with another Smith brother, Peter, was a member of the caravan, was able to retrieve Smith's rifle and pistols that the Indians had taken and traded to the comancheros.[88][w]

Personal characteristics[edit]

Illustration from The Circuit Rider: A Tale of the Heroic Age by Edward Eggleston depicting a Methodist circuit rider on horseback.

Jedediah Smith was "no ordinary mountain man." He had a dry, not racuous, sense of humor, and was not known to use the profanity common to his peers.[90] Smith's immediate family were practicing Christians; his younger brother Benjamin was named after a Methodist circuit preacher[91] and his letters indicate his own Christian beliefs. But, although after his death, the legend of him being a "Bible-toter" and a missionary was widely disseminated, assertions that he carried a Bible with him in the wilderness have no basis in any accounts by him or his companions[92] and the only documentation of any public demonstration of faith was a prayer said at the burial of one of the Arikara massacre victims.[23][x] However, neither do those accounts speak of him drinking alcohol to excess[y] or bedding Native American women, indicating he had the discipline often associated with a strict moral code.[95] It is know that he owned at least two slaves[96] which conflicted with his northern Methodist upbringing and his behavior was not always honorable when dealing with those he considered his antagonists.[97] He was known to be physically strong, cool under pressure, extremely skilled at surviving in the wild and possessed extraordinary leadership skills.[95] Smith's true character is an enigma still open to interpretation[93]

Views on American Indians[edit]

While travelling throughout the American West, Jedediah's policy with the Native Americans was to maintain friendly relations[24] with gifts and exchanges, learning from their cultures.[95] As he traveled through Northern California for the first time, he tried to maintain that policy but the situation quickly deteriorated. The Maidu were very fearful and defensive and Smith's men killed at least seven of them upon his orders when they refused peaceful advances and demonstrated aggressive behaviors.[98][99] He later wrote that they were "the lowest intermediate link between man and the Brute creation."[100] Later, during his trek across the Great Basin, he called the desert Indians he came upon "children of nature...unintelligent type of beings...They form a connecting link between the animal and intellectual creation..."[z] Upon returning to California, even after suffering the Mojave massacre, he continued to try to maintain good relations, punishing two of his men, albeit lightly, that had unnecessarily killed one Native and wounded another.[103] But as the party continued north, the Natives continued the aggressive actions, and Smith's men wounded at least two more and three were killed.[104] By the time the party reached the Umpqua, their tolerance was at an ebb, leading to the ax incident and resulting in disastrous consequences.[105]

Late in 1829, Smith Jackson and Sublette wrote another letter to William Clark. The letter described the altercations the firm had had with the various Indian tribes, and encouraged a military presence and intervention to subdue the natives.


According to Maurice S. Sullivan[aa] Smith was "the first white man to cross the future state of Nevada, the first to conquer the High Sierra of California, and the first to explore the entire Pacific Slope from Lower California to the banks of the Columbia River".[106] He was known for his many systematic recorded observations on nature and topography. His expeditions also raised doubts about the existence of the legendary Buenaventura River.[107] Jedediah Smith's explorations were the main basis for accurate Pacific-West maps. He and his partners, Jackson and Sublette, produced a map that, in a eulogy for Smith printed in the Illinois Magazine for June 1832, the unknown author[ab] 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."[24] This map has been called "a landmark in mapping of the American West".[108] 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.[109][ac]

Smith's exploration of northwestern California and southern Oregon resulted in two rivers, the Smith River (California) and Smith River (Oregon)[110] being named for him.[ad] "Smith's Fork" of the Bear River in southwest Wyoming is also named for him.[111]

Smith for the most part was forgotten by his countrymen as a historical figure for over 75 years after his death.[112] In 1853, Peter Skene Ogden[ae] had written about the Umpqua massacre in Traits of American Indian Life and Character by a Fur Trader, and Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote a version of it in 1886. There are mentions of him in memoirs by other fur trappers, and mentions by Gibbs and F. V. Hayden in their reports. Recollection of a Septuagenarian by William Waldo was published by the Missouri Historical Society in 1880 discussed Smith, focusing on hearsay evidence of his piety,[93] but the first known publication solely about Smith was in the 1896 Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California.[84] In 1902, Hiram M. Chittenden wrote of him extensively in The American Fur Trade of the West[113] The same year Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh wrote about Smith's exploits with the Mojave Indians in his book The Romance of the Colorado River: The Story of Its Discovery in 1540 with an Account of Later Explorations.[114][af] But, it wasn't until 1908, when John G. Neihardt and Doane Robinson lamented the obscurity of Smith, that more extensive efforts to publicize his accomplishments were initiated.[116]

In 1912, an article about Smith written by a grand-nephew, Ezra Delos Smith of Meade, Kansas, was published by the Kansas Historical Society. Five years later, Smith's status as a historical figure was further revived by Harrison Clifford Dale's[ag] book, The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific, 1822–1829, published in 1918. During the 1920s, Sullivan traced descendants of Smith's siblings, and found two portions of the narrative of Smith's travels, written in the hand of Samuel Parkman,[117][ah] who had been hired to assist in compiling the document[78] after Smith's return to St. Louis in 1830. The narrative's impending publication had been announced in a St. Louis newspaper as late as 1840,[ai] but never happened.[119] In 1934, Sullivan published the remnants, documenting Smith's travels in 1821 and 1822 and from June 1827 until the Umpqua massacre a year later, in The Travels of Jedediah Smith, giving a new documented perspective of Smith's explorations.[aj] Along with the narrative, Sullivan published the portion of Alexander McLeod's journal documenting the search for any surviving members of Smith's party and the recovery of his property after the Umpquah massacre. The Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, edited by Dumas Malone, published in 1935 contains an article on Smith.[citation needed] The next year, the first comprehensive biography of Smith: Jedediah Smith: Trader and Trail Breaker by Sullivan was posthumously published, but it was Dale Morgan's book, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, published in 1953, that established Smith as an authentic American hero whose explorations were overshadowed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[112]

Another important piece of the Jedediah Smith legacy was discovered in 1967, when another portion of the 1830-31 narrative (again in Parkman's hand)[117] was found amongst other historical papers in an attic in St. Louis.[120] This portion documented Smith's first California trip (1826–27), and immediately preceded the portion of the narrative found by Sullivan 35 years earlier. George R. Brooks[ak] edited and introduced the narrative portion, along with the first "journal" of Smith companion Harrison Rogers,[al] in 1977.

Later Honorariums[edit]


  1. ^ Smith's mother's family, the Strong's, were of Basque descent[2]
  2. ^ Robert Stuart of the Astorians led the first party through the pass in October, 1812.[3] However, Stuart's discovery, although documented and publicized, was forgotten, possibly suppressed by John Jacob Astor.[4]
  3. ^ According to Dale, p. 175, Smith was born on June 24, 1798. More recent sources agree on the later date.
  4. ^ Barbour later wrote that one of Smith's neighbors Patrick Gass, a member of the Corps of Discovery may have been the one who introduced young Smith to the story of Lewis and Clark, whom Smith later referenced in his memoir.[7]
  5. ^ Henry had formerly been associated with the Missouri Fur Company
  6. ^ A letter addressed to Joshua Pilcher stated that, Henry left St. Louis with "one boat and one hundred & fifty men by land and water."[16] There's no indication of how many men were with Smith on the Enterprize, but the fact that Ashley brought up an additional 46 men on the replacement boat indicates it may have been 40-50. So, although the ad placed by Ashley was asking for 100 men, around 250 were actually engaged. The "100 men" were to be trappers, and were called "Ashley's Hundred"[17]
  7. ^ Another man had died in the initial incident, and one more died later of his injuries, making 14 the total death toll of the whites.[23]
  8. ^ Whereas South Pass was originally used by emigrants on the Oregon Trail Jim Bridger later found what was to become a shorter route for the emigrants over the Rockies, just south of the Great Divide Basin. Later, the Transcontinental Railroad, and Interstate 80 were routed over the Continental Divide through the Great Divide Basin.
  9. ^ The Ashley-Smith partnership was not well publicized, documented only in a letter written by Smith a year later.[40]
  10. ^ Upon being sold again in 1830, the Company was called the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (RMFC), and many sources imply that's what Ashley and Henry originally called it. For simplicity's sake, from here on it will be referred to as the RMFC.
  11. ^ The RMFC and other American and Canadian trappers had already ventured into Mexican territory in present day southwest Wyoming, northwest Colorado and northeast Utah without permission of the Mexican government. For all practical purposes, Mexican authority did not extend much past the Pacific Coastal region.
  12. ^ Harrison Rogers remembered Sánchez fondly in his journal.[44]
  13. ^ 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 into Mexican territory was unauthorized by the United States government and without permission from the Mexican government.
  14. ^ 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. Peter Skene Ogden, a year and a half later in 1828, discovered the Humboldt River basin's natural route.[56]
  15. ^ Smith ultimately named the Sacramento River "Buenaventura"
  16. ^ Once having left the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the lack of water sources and adequate feed prevented the Natives from maintaining horses. Smith's own horses deteriorated rapidly upon the trip.
  17. ^ It is around this point that Smith's narratives of his journey was split into two parts, the first found by Sullivan around 1930, and the second by a descendant of Ashley's lawyer in 1967. The portion found by Sullivan starts at this point in the journey.
  18. ^ The cannon, a four pounder, was sent by Ashley on a carriage, the first wheeled vehicle to cross South Pass.[62][63]
  19. ^ The other two men, John Turner and Richard Leland, who were with Smith and avoided the massacre, stayed at Fort Vancouver.
  20. ^ The number of Indians killed by Smith was most certainly embellished over the years. Another account of Smith's death is that found in his obituary. "Some indians" trapped Smith in a box canyon, he was shot with a bullet, not an arrow, and upon that he shot both the chief and the man behind him with the "same ball".[24]
  21. ^ Another later version stated that three Comanche were killed.[84]
  22. ^ Ed Lewis, a descendant of an early Kansas rancher, tells a story of the skeletal remains of two men found on his grandfather's property along the Cimmaron River, which he speculated were Smith and the Comanche Chief. That, as well as the fact that, a search two days later had found no sign of Smith's body[24] give some credence to the Ezra Smith's version.[86][87]
  23. ^ At some point, Peter Smith had taken possession of one of Smith's pistols, as it was in the possession of his daughter, Jedediah's niece, in the late 1800s.[84] It was ultimately stolen in 1961. See [89]
  24. ^ There have even have been doubts raised about that episode. It was documented that "Mr. Smith" spoke the prayer, but there were three Smith's in the party.[93]
  25. ^ Part of the legend of Smith's character is that he never used tobacco, but he carried it and a pipe with him; in the narratives of his travels, he speaks of offering it to the Natives he encounters[94]
  26. ^ The Maidus and the Great Basin Indians came to be known by the somewhat derogatory term "Diggers."[101][102] Having never developed horse cultures, and living in harsh environments, they compared poorly to the Plains Indians when observed by early explorers and settlers. However, Smith's assessment of the Great Basin Indians is harsh, considering they probably saved his life more than once as he crossed the desert.
  27. ^ Sullivan, 1893–1935, was a New Jersey newspaperman who moved to California in the early 1920's and developed an interest in Smith.
  28. ^ In 2013, Joe J. Molter, editor of Castor Canadensis, the journal of the Jedediah Smith Society speculated that the author was James Hull, editor of Illinos Magazine[24]
  29. ^ The "Fremont-Gibbs-Smith" map was "found" in 1954 by Carl I Wheat at the library's former location in New York City.
  30. ^ Smith originally named what he thought to be an unnamed river after himself, but due to a mistake in geography (later corrected by George Gibbs), it turned out the river was actually the Klamath. His name was therefore attached to a smaller river to the north just south of California's border with Oregon, and also to a branch of the Umpqua River, where it was rumored to be his place of death.
  31. ^ Ogden probably got a first hand account of the massacre from Smith during his stay at Fort Vancouver
  32. ^ Dellenbaugh wrote extensively about Smith in 1905[115] and again mentioned Smith in his 1914 book Fremont and '49.
  33. ^ Dale, 1885-1969, was a professor at the University of Wyoming
  34. ^ Sullivan's notes on Smith are archived in the University of the Pacific Library[118] They apparently had been acquired by Dale Morgan, and after Morgan's death were donated to the library.
  35. ^ The announcement had stated that the "work" would "take in" nine years of Smith's travels, presumably from 1821 until his 1830 return to St. Louis.
  36. ^ The narrative was based in part on journals Smith kept, and many of the activities described have specific dates. Smith's journal from the time he left the rendezvous on July 13, 1827 until the Mohave massacre was lost during that tragedy, and that time period was reconstructed in general terms, as was the 1821 and 1822 time period. The daily entries did not recommence until November 7, 1827.
  37. ^ George Brooks, 1929-2006, St. Louis author and editor
  38. ^ Roger's first surviving journal was in two segments; an accounting ledger with a narrative that began abruptly on November 27, 1826, and ended as abruptly on December 20, 1826, and then a second segment that starts again on January 1, 1827, and ends on January 28. Brooks only published this first journal and stated that Smith likely used it as a reference in preparing the 1830-31 narrative. Some of the missing pages are probably "the journal" Smith gave to the Spanish officials to try to convince them of his party's innocent intentions, since the detail in the Parkman narrative indicates Smith and Parkman had access to Smith's notes of the group's travels from the time it left in August, 1826 until reaching California. Rogers' second journal starts on May 10, 1828, and continued documenting the excursion until he was killed in the Umpqua massacre. The lapse of entries from January 1827 until May 1828 may have been due to a lack of paper or there may have been other journals that were lost in the massacre. Harrison Dale published both recovered journals in 1918.
  39. ^ A photo of the trail marker commemorating Smith can be seen here.


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  25. ^ Barbour p.47
  26. ^ Barbour p. 48
  27. ^ Camp p.2
  28. ^ Camp, pp. 5-6
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  31. ^ Morgan, p.92
  32. ^ Morgan, p. 93
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  131. ^
  132. ^


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]