Jim Baker (frontiersman)

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Jim Baker
Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois
Died1898 (aged 80)
Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming
Resting placeBaker Cemetery, Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming
Other namesHonest Jim Baker
Occupationfrontiersman, trapper, hunter, fur trader, explorer, army scout, interpreter, soldier, territorial militia officer, rancher, mine owner, toll keeper
EmployerRocky Mountain Fur Company
Known forBeing a fur trapper, with Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and a highly regarded, U.S. Army scout and Indian interpreter, for Generals John C. Fremont, William S. Harney, Albert Sydney Johnston, and George Armstrong Custer
Spouse(s)married several times, to Native American women

Jim Baker (1818–1898) was a frontiersman, trapper, hunter, fur trader, explorer, army scout, interpreter, soldier, territorial militia officer, rancher, mine owner, toll keeper and mountain man and a friend of Jim Bridger and Kit Carson and one of General John C. Fremont's favorite scouts. He was one of the most colorful figures of the old frontier West.

The decline of the fur trade, in the early 1840s, drove many the trappers to quit, but Jim Baker stayed on. Little is known of his movements after 1844 but in 1855, he was hired as chief scout for General William S. Harney, of Fort Laramie, and was with the U.S. Army sent to pacify the Mormons in Utah. In 1873 Baker built a cabin with a guard tower near the Colorado Placers of the Little Snake River in Wyoming, where he raised livestock until his death in 1898. His cabin is currently, on display at the Little Snake River Museum in Savery, Wyoming. The grave of Jim Baker is marked with a stone at Baker Cemetery near Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming.

Baker was married several times, each time to a Native American woman, one of whom was the daughter of a Cherokee chief and another was a daughter of the Shoshone chief Washakie; he had a number of children.

Early life[edit]

Jim Baker was born in 1818 in Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois, of Scotch-Irish descent. There were contemporary sources, however, that stated how Baker himself was not quite sure of his exact birth date or whether it was the year 1818 or 1819.[1] His childhood was, however, documented, with his parents described as poor. Baker was also one of the numerous children in the family. At an early age, he already excelled in fishing and he also hunted squirrels, muskrats, and other small game using a gun.

When he was seventeen, his father sent him to his grandfather at St. Louis for his education.[2] He was, however, sent home after showing little interest in the instruction. It was during this journey when he met a "capper" who told him tales and adventures at the frontier. The young Baker needed no further urging, he went to the office of the American Fur Company and promptly joined his first trapping expedition.

Exploits in the fur trade[edit]

At 21, Jim Baker was recruited by Jim Bridger, as a trapper for the American Fur Company. By May 22, 1839, he left St. Louis with a large party, heading for the annual trapper rendezvous in the Wyoming mountains.

May 25, 1839, on the old steamer, St. Peter, traveling up the Missouri to Kansas City, the Bridger party was transported on keel boats, traveling to Grand Island on the Platte River, reaching the Laramie Plains. They continued down the Medicine Bow and Laramie Rivers to the Sweetwater River, crossing South Pass to arrive at Fort Bonneville.

1838 to 1839, Baker hunted and trapped the Wind River Mountains. When spring broke in 1840, he returned home to Illinois.

In the spring of 1841, Baker set out for his second journey to the Rocky Mountains, traveling back across the Laramie Plains, over South Pass, down the Green River, to Bridger's camp at the Henry's Fork. Bridger, who was worried about his associate Henry Fraeb (sometimes misspelled as Frapp), sent Baker, along with others, to search for the lost party, who had been trapping at the base of Squaw Mountain, on the banks of the Little Snake River.

In August 1841, he was involved in a desperate fight at the junction of Battle Creek and the Snake River, when 35 trappers beat off a large band of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

August 21, 1841, Jim Baker noticed a cloud of dust arising on the southwest side of Bastion Mountain. A shower of arrows came from a cliff overhead, as they had encountered hostile group of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. Captain Fraeb died early in this fight, leaving Jim Baker at the age of 21 to take charge. This battle gave a new name to Bastion Mountain, now known as Battle Mountain.

After the warriors retreated on August 27th, the trappers departed from Battle Mountain and returned to Bridger's camp.

U.S. Government scout and Indian interpreter[edit]

In 1847, Baker settled for a short time in Salt Lake City, Utah region, where he became a government scout and guide. His fluency in the Shoshone language and use of Arapahoe sign language, as well as his knowledge of the rivers, trails, and mountains, led him to Mexico, where he returned with a regiment of soldiers to Fort Bridger. General Albert Sydney Johnston, who was in command of the U.S. Army, sent to install a new governor in Utah, because President James Buchanan believed that the Mormons would forcibly resist the replacement of Brigham Young, as Utah Territorial governor during the Mormon War, from 1857-1859.

Jim Baker, sculpture by Steve Boyce

Businessman, Colorado Militia officer, rancher, scout, and death[edit]

In 1859, Jim Baker took up a homestead, near Denver, three miles north on Clear Creek. In 1864, he built an adobe brick building at what is now 53rd and Tennyson Streets, just west of the campus of Regis University. Baker built a toll bridge and owned the first coal mine in Colorado, where Ris is now, 18 miles west of Denver. This same year, Baker was appointed a captain in the Colorado Militia along with John Chivington who later lead the Colorado Territorial forces, in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1873, Baker left Colorado and bought a ranch near Savery, Wyoming. He built a cabin from cotton wood trees that he chopped, along with his three daughters, Isabel, Madeline, and Jennie. The cabin had three stories. The upper was used as a watch tower, but as the threat of Indian hostility gave way the third story was removed.

1875, Jim Baker served under General George Armstrong Custer as a scout during the Battle of the Rosebud, in the Black Hills.

1881, Jim Baker, once again, was asked to scout in yet another battle, the Meeker Massacre, led by General Thornburg.

In May 15, 1898, Jim Baker died in his cabin near Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming. Loved and respected by many, he was known as "Honest Jim Baker". His body was laid to rest, in a small cemetery, overlooking the Little Snake River Valley.

In 1917, the Baker Cabin was removed from Savery and taken to Frontier Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In July 1976, the home of Jim Baker was returned to Savery, Wyoming and is now located at the Little Snake River Museum. The cabin was reconstructed under the direction of Jim Baker's great-grandson, Paul McAllister, who still lives in Dixon, Wyoming.[3]

Personal Life[edit]

Baker was married to Eliza Yanetse, who bore him a twin in 1856. Only one of the two survived and the couple named him James C. Baker.[4] When his son turned 17, he married Lucinda Upchurch.


  1. ^ Humfreville, James Lee (1897). Twenty Years Among Our Savage Indians: A Record of Personal Experiences, Observations, and Adventures Among the Indians of the Wild West. Hartford: Hartford Publishing Company. p. 580.
  2. ^ Humfreville, p. 580.
  3. ^ Junge, Mark (May 26, 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: Jim Baker Cabin". National Park Service.
  4. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2015). Settlers of the American West: The Lives of 231 Notable Pioneers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 11. ISBN 9780786497355.

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