Explorers, Pioneers, and Frontiersmen
The Lewis and Clark Expedition was responsible for popularizing information about the American West, particularly the sightings of vast numbers of fur-bearing animals. John Jacob Astor, founder of the American Fur Company and the Pacific Fur Company, established a presence in Oregon in 1811 at Astoria. The fur trading companies relied upon the activities of the “mountain men,” individuals who spent long months in the rugged Rocky Mountains in pursuit of beaver and other prized animals.
Some of the more well-known mountain men include Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger.
Jedediah Strong Smith was Born in Bainbridge, New York. Smith supposedly read about the Lewis and Clark expedition as a small boy and was inspired by their great adventure. As a young man, he became a fur trapper and later worked primarily as a guide and explorer. In 1824, he escorted the first group of white settlers through South Pass and into the Oregon Territory. South Pass is located in present-day Wyoming. Being one of the most accessible passages through the Rocky Mountains, it later became one of the most important points along the Oregon Trail. At a relatively low elevation of 7,550-feet and broad valley almost 20 miles wide, settlers could maneuver their large covered wagons through this corridor in the Rockies. Smith’s explorations did much to bring fur trappers into the American West and to help settlers start the Oregon Trail. His life was short, but eventful; on one occasion he survived a grizzly bear attack from which his scalp was left dangling off the side of his head.
Jim Bridger was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of an innkeeper. In 1822, he headed west and quickly became an accomplished fur trapper. He would later become a partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. During the 1820s and 1830s, he explored the West numerous times; during one venture, he became the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake. In 1843, as the fur trade declined, Bridger became a partner in the establishment of Fort Bridger, a prominent route station for travelers on the Oregon Trail. In 1859-60, Bridger visited an area known as Colter’s Hell and later described its geysers and other natural features to unbelieving listeners. This region would later become Yellowstone Park.
The mountain men impacted the American scene in a variety of ways. Their adventures promoted the development of a prosperous fur trade, but at the same time the activities of the mountain men led to devastation of animal populations. Perhaps the most significant contribution made by these trappers and hunters was the geographical information they accumulated about the mountain regions of the west.
Circle one True or False – Mountain men were tough, rugged individuals who spent months wandering the Rocky Mountains in search of furs? Explain your answer.
What was the major role Jedediah Smith played in westward expansion?
Identify why the discovery of South Pass important to settlers moving west on the Oregon Trail.
What was the most important contribution mountain men made in the settlement of America?