James Felix Bridger
March 17, 1804
|Died||July 17, 1881 (aged 77)|
|Occupation||Frontiersman, explorer, hunter, trapper, scout, guide|
|Employer||Rocky Mountain Fur Company, U.S. Government|
|Known for||Famous mountain man of the American fur trade era|
|Spouse(s)||Three Native American wives: one Flathead and two Shoshone|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1859–1860|
James Felix Bridger (March 17, 1804 – July 17, 1881) was an American mountain man, trapper, Army scout, and wilderness guide who explored and trapped in the Western United States in the first half of the 19th century. He was known as Old Gabe in his later years. He was from the Bridger family of Virginia, English immigrants that had been in North America since the early colonial period.
Bridger was part of the second generation of American mountain men and pathfinders that followed the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 and became well known for participating in numerous early expeditions into the western interior as well as mediating between Native American tribes and westward-migrating European-American settlers. By the end of his life, he had earned a reputation as one of the foremost frontiersmen in the American Old West. He was described as having a strong constitution that allowed him to survive the extreme conditions he encountered while exploring the Rocky Mountains from what would become southern Colorado to the Canadian border. He had conversational knowledge of French, Spanish, and several indigenous languages.
Early life and career
James Felix Bridger was born on March 17, 1804, in Richmond, Virginia. His parents were James Bridger, an innkeeper in Richmond, and his wife Chloe. About 1812, the family moved near St. Louis at the eastern edge of America's vast new western frontier. At age 13, Bridger was orphaned; he had no formal education, was unable to read or write, and was apprenticed to a blacksmith. He was illiterate the whole of his life. On March 20, 1822, at age 18, he left his apprenticeship after responding to an advertisement in a St. Louis newspaper, the Missouri Republican, and joined General William Henry Ashley's fur trapping expedition to the upper Missouri River. The party included Jedediah Smith and many others who would later become famous mountain men. For the next 20 years, he repeatedly traversed the continental interior between the Canada–U.S. border and the southern boundary of present-day Colorado, and from the Missouri River westward to Idaho and Utah, either as an employee of or a partner in the fur trade.
Hugh Glass ordeal
The account of the bear attack and subsequent desertion of Hugh Glass has been repeated by many, but it is of dubious origin that Jim Bridger was involved at all. Bridger was employed by Ashley's at the time of the attack near the forks of the Grand River in present-day Perkins County, South Dakota. John Fitzgerald and a man known as 'Bridges' stayed, waiting for him to die, as the rest of the party moved on. They began digging Glass's grave. Claiming they were interrupted by an Arikara attack, the pair grabbed Glass's rifle, knife, and other equipment and took flight. Bridges and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died. It is plausible but unlikely that 'Bridges' was in fact Jim Bridger.
Yellowstone and the Great Salt Lake
Bridger was among the first mountain men to explore the natural wonders of the Yellowstone region. In the fall of 1824, Bridger explored the Great Salt Lake region, reaching it by bull boat.: 64, 95, 108, 132  He was one of the first people to explore Yellowstone’s springs and geysers. Jim also shared that the creek split into two, one side went to the Pacific Ocean and the other side the Atlantic Ocean. Jim Bridger took a raft on the rapids at Big Horn River, he was the only man to do this.
Guide and adviser
Bridger had explored, trapped, hunted and blazed new trails in the West since 1822 and later worked as a wilderness guide in these areas. He could reportedly assess any wagon train or group, their interests in travel, and give them expert advice on any and all aspects of heading West, over any and all trails, and to any destination the party had in mind, if the leaders sought his advice. In 1846, the Donner Party came to Fort Bridger and were assured by Bridger and Vasquez that Lansford Hastings' proposed shortcut ahead was "a fine, level road, with plenty of water and grass, with the exception before stated (a forty-mile waterless stretch)." The 40-mile stretch was in fact 80 miles, and the "fine level road" was difficult enough to slow the Donner Party, who become trapped in the Sierra Nevada in the winter.
From 16 July 1857 until July 1858, Bridger was employed as a guide during the Utah War. In 1859, Bridger was paid to be the chief guide on the Yellowstone-bound Raynolds Expedition, led by Captain William F. Raynolds. Though unsuccessful in reaching Yellowstone, because of deep snow, the expedition explored Jackson Hole and Pierre's Hole. In 1861, Bridger served as a guide for Edward L. Berthoud. From October 1863 until April 1864, Bridger was employed as a guide at Fort Laramie.: 199–206, 208, 215
Bridger then served as a scout under Colonel Henry B. Carrington during Red Cloud's War. Bridger was stationed at Fort Phil Kearny during the Fetterman Massacre, and the Wagon Box Fight. Bridger was discharged on 21 July 1868.: 246–295
Suffering from goiter and rheumatism, Bridger returned to Missouri in 1868. He was unsuccessful in collecting back rent from the government for lease on Fort Bridger. By 1875, he was blind.: 297–300
Bridger Pass and the Bridger Trail
In 1850, while guiding the Stansbury Expedition on its return from Utah, Bridger discovered what would eventually become known as Bridger Pass, an alternate overland route which bypassed South Pass and shortened the Oregon Trail by 61 miles. Bridger Pass, in what is now south-central Wyoming, would later become the chosen route across the Continental Divide, for the Overland Stage, Pony Express, the Union Pacific Railroad Overland Route, and Interstate 80.: 167 
In 1864, Bridger blazed the Bridger Trail, an alternative route from Wyoming to the gold fields of Montana that avoided the dangerous Bozeman Trail. In 1865, he served as Chief of Scouts during the Powder River Expedition.: 218–220
Family and death
In 1835, Bridger married a woman from the Flathead tribe that he named "Emma", with whom he had three children. After her death in 1846 from fever, he married the daughter of a Shoshone chief, who died in childbirth three years later. In 1850, he married Shoshone Chief Washakie's daughter Mary Washakie Bridger and they raised two children. Some of his children were sent back east to be educated. His firstborn Mary Ann was killed by a band of aborigines while being tutored. His son Felix, who fought with the Missouri Artillery, died of sickness on Bridger's farm. His daughter Josephine, who married Jim Baker, also died, leaving his daughter Virginia as his only living child.
Bridger is remembered as one of the most colorful and widely traveled mountain men of the era. In addition to his explorations and his service as a guide and adviser, he was known for his storytelling. His stories about the geysers at Yellowstone, for example, proved to be true. Others were grossly exaggerated or clearly intended to amuse: one of Bridger's stories involved a petrified forest in which there were "petrified birds" singing "petrified songs" (though he may have seen the petrified trees in the Tower Junction area of what is now Yellowstone National Park). Over the years, Bridger became so associated with telling tall tales that many stories invented by others were attributed to him.
Supposedly one of Bridger's favorite yarns to weave to greenhorns told of his pursuit by one hundred Cheyenne warriors. After being chased for several miles, Bridger found himself at the end of a box canyon, with the Indians bearing down on him. At this point, Bridger would go silent, prompting his listener to ask, "What happened then, Mr. Bridger?" Bridger would then reply, "They killed me."
Places and things named for Jim Bridger
- Fort Bridger
- Fort Bridger, Wyoming
- Bridger, Montana
- Bridger, South Dakota
- Bridger Bay, Utah, a bay in the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island
- Bridger Bay Beach, Utah, a beach on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake
- Bridger Mountains (Wyoming)
- Bridger Mountains (Montana)
- Bridger Peak in Utah
- Bridger Pointe, a neighborhood complex in Logan, Utah
- Bridger Wilderness
- Bridger Bowl Ski Area
- Bridger-Teton National Forest
- Bridger Pass
- Bridger Center and Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Teton Village, WY.
- Jim Bridger Power Station
- Bridger Lake, a lake and campground near Mountain View, Wyoming
- Bridgerland in Cache Valley in Utah and Idaho is a name that is used in many Logan, Utah-based businesses and institutions, such as Bridgerland Television and the Bridgerland Technical College.
- Bridgerland Park, a city park in Logan, Utah
- James Bridger Middle School in Independence, Missouri
- Jim Bridger Drive, Centerville, Utah
- Jim Bridger Drive, Eagle Mountain, Utah
- Jim Bridger Drive, Huntsville, Utah
- Jim Bridger Elementary School in Portland, Oregon
- Jim Bridger Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah
- Jim Bridger Trail Run outside Bozeman, Montana
- Bridger Avenue in Las Vegas, Nevada
- Bridger Drive in Logan, Utah
- Bridger Drive in Springville, Utah
- Bridger Road in Salt Lake City, Utah
- Bridger Street in Pocatello, Idaho
- The Jim Bridger cabins, a motel in Gardiner, Montana, outside the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
- In 2013, Bridger's Battle was announced as the new name for an old college football rivalry between Utah State and Wyoming. The winner receives a .50-caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle, the "Bridger rifle", as a traveling trophy.
- The Weber mandolin company of Montana had a mandolin model named the Bridger.
- Brad Pitt portrays Lt. Aldo Raine, "a direct-descendent of the mountain man Jim Bridger" in the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds
- Raymond Hatton portrays Bridger in the 1940 film Kit Carson.
- Van Heflin plays Bridger in the 1951 film Tomahawk.
- Dennis Morgan portrays Bridger in the 1955 film The Gun That Won the West.
- Karl Swenson plays Bridger in the episode "The Jim Bridger Story" of NBC's Wagon Train, broadcast on May 10, 1961.
- James Wainwright plays Bridger in the 1976 TV movie Bridger, opposite Ben Murphy as Kit Carson.
- Gregg Palmer portrays Bridger in the 1977 episode "Kit Carson and the Mountain Man" of NBC's Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.
- Reb Brown portrays Bridger in the 1978 TV miniseries Centennial.
- Will Poulter portrays a fictionalized version of Bridger in the 2015 film The Revenant.
- Mentioned in the 1984 movie Red Dawn
- Gard, Wayne. “RUGGED MOUNTAIN MAN.” Southwest Review, vol. 48, no. 3, 1963, pp. 305–305. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43471161. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.
- Fischer, David Hackett (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 633–639. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1.
- Caesar, Gene (1961). "King of the Mountain Men". pp. 22, 81–82, 103. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
- Vestal, Stanley (1970). Jim Bridger; Mountain Man. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 8, 13, 40, 68, 86, 103. ISBN 9780803257207.
- Dale 1929, p. 33.
- Dale 1929, pp. 33–34.
- "Jim Bridger". The Real Story of Hugh Glass.
- "Did Jim Bridger Abandon Hugh Glass". HughGlass.org/. Museum of the Mountain Man. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
- Russell, Osborne (2001). Haines, Aubrey (ed.). Journal of a Trapper; In the Rocky Mountains between 1834 and 1843. Santa Barbara: The Narrative Press. pp. 82–86. ISBN 9781589760523.
- Wallis, Michael (2017). The Best Land under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny. Liveright. ISBN 978-0871407696.
- Baldwin, Kenneth H. (2005). "II— TERRA INCOGNITA: The Raynolds Expedition of 1860". Enchanted Enclosure:The Army Engineers and Yellowstone National Park. University Press of the Pacific. ISBN 978-1-4102-2180-3. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
- Stansbury, Howard (1852). "Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah, including a Reconnoissance of a New Route Through the Rocky Mountains". Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co. p. 261. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
- Jim Bridger Greatest Of The Mountain Men Shannon Garst 1952
- Jim Bridger's Wives. Interpretive sign in the Fort Bridger Historic Site Museum. Viewed and photographed on June 16, 2020. Fort Bridger, Wyoming.
- "Bridger Bay Beach + Day Use Area". Outdoor Project.
- "Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest - Bridger Lake Campground".
- Dale, Harrison Clifford (1929). Allen Johnson (ed.). Dictionary of American Biography Bridger, James. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Alter, J. Cecil (1951), James Bridger Trapper, Frontiersman, Scout And Guide A Historical Narrative, College Book Co.
- Caesar, Gene (1961), King Of The Mountain Men, E.P. Dutton Co
- Vestal, Stanley (1946), Jim Bridger Mountain Man, William Morrow & Company
- "Affidavit discussing Jim Bridger's property and Fort Bridger"
- Jim Bridger in Idaho[permanent dead link]