Jim Baker (frontiersman)

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Jim Baker
Born1818
Died1898 (aged 80)
Resting placeBaker Cemetery, Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming
NationalityAmerican
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 U.S. Army scout and Indian interpreter, for Generals John C. Fremont, William S. Harney, Albert S. Johnston, and George Custer
Spouse(s)married several times, to Native American women
Childrennumerous

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. He was a friend of Jim Bridger and Kit Carson and one of General John C. Fremont's favorite scouts.

The decline of the fur trade in the early 1840s drove many the trappers to quit, but Baker remained in the business. 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 sent with the U.S. Army 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. Baker's grave 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 several children.

Early life[edit]

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] However, his childhood was documented, with his parents described as poor. Baker was one of many children in the family. From an early age he 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] but he was sent home after showing little interest in the instruction. During this journey he met a "capper" who told him tales and adventures at the frontier. Baker then went to the office of the American Fur Company and joined his first trapping expedition.

Exploits in the fur trade[edit]

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

On May 25, 1839, traveling up the Missouri to Kansas City on a steamer, St. Peter, 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.

From 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 and 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, Baker was involved in a violent clash at the junction of Battle Creek and the Snake River, when 35 trappers beat off a large band of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

On August 21, 1841, Baker's group encountered a group of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. Fraeb died early in the fight, leaving Baker, aged 21, to take charge. This battle led to Bastion Mountain being renamed Battle Mountain.

After the warriors retreated on August 27, 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 the region of Salt Lake City, Utah, 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 S. Johnston, who was in command of the U.S. Army, was 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, 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. In the 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, with his three daughters, Isabel, Madeline, and Jennie. The cabin had three stories. The upper was used as a watch tower, but as the likelihood of conflict with Native Americans reduced the third story was removed.

1875, Baker served under General George Custer as a scout during the Battle of the Rosebud, in the Black Hills. In 1881 he was asked to scout in another battle, the Meeker Massacre, led by General Thornburg.

In May 15, 1898, Baker died in his cabin near Savery, Carbon County, Wyoming. He was known as "Honest Jim Baker". His body was buried 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. Eliza had twins in 1856, but only one of them survived, and was named James C. Baker.[4]

References[edit]

  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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