California’s Mountain Man: Jedediah Smith
June 30, 2013
Jedediah Strong Smith was born in New York in 1799. His New England ancestors came to America in 1634. Growing up Smith’s close family friend, a pioneer physician, mentored his love of nature and adventure. Smith was raised hunting and trapping in the forests of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He had also learned to read and write, skills that not many had learned on the American frontier. Aside from his Bible, which he usually carried wherever he went, Smith had also read and got inspiration from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. By age 22 Smith was an accomplished, ambitious outdoorsman, hunter and trapper. Smith desired to be the first to view a country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that ran through a new land. According to Morgan (1964) Smith’s deep wandering and adventurous spirit would lead in him in his lifetime to travel more extensively in unknown territory than any other mountain man. He was the first American to travel overland to California through the southwest in the Central Rockies, then down Arizona and across the Mojave Desert into California from the American Frontier. He was the first to reach Oregon by journey up the California coast. His most amazing journeys started at age 22 when Smith signed on with General William Ashley's expedition to travel to the Upper Missouri and trap beaver. In 1822 General Ashley's men were attacked by the Arikaras Natives. Ashley lost 13 men. Jedediah fought bravely and his conduct was noted by General Ashley who then appointed Jedediah as Captain of his men. It was a year later when Jedediah would lead Ashley's men on a beaver trapping party discovering the South Pass to California. In the 1826 California Expedition Smith and 17 men pushed south and west of the Great Salt Lake to investigate trapping potential. They followed the Virgin River to its merging with the Colorado River continuing south along the Colorado to the Mojave [pic]
villages. In Smith's Journal he described the conditions as deigning as by the time they reached the Mojave crossing they had lost many horses. His men and the remainder of his horses were worn out with fatigue and hardship and emaciated with hunger. After several days of rest Smith and his men started a 138 mile journey across the Mojave Desert. After two weeks of crossing the desert they reached San Bernardino Valley. Spanish Priests awaited them and there was great feasting among men. The Mexican Government perceived Smith and his men to be spies and ordered them to leave California the way they came rather than north. It was another tumultuous journey back and Smith recorded himself the possibility of perish through the Sierra Nevada’s unheard and unpitied. He and his comrades almost died of thirst. At one point they buried their comrade in the sand to protect him because he was so weak. Smith hiked two more miles to retrieve water to revive his comrade. For 600 miles they struggled through the desert wasteland but they did survive and later reached a pre-arranged rendezvous at the Sweet Lake (Bear Lake) on July 3, 1827. Shortly after returning in 1827 Smith and a new group of trappers were off again to trace the route back to California and the men left waiting there. At the Colorado River, the Mojave Indians (who had befriended him a year earlier) attacked and killed most of Smith's party. According to author Harold Reed (2008) the attack was provoked by the Ohio trapping party approximately a month beforehand that shot and killed the Mojave Chief and 16 other Indians who wanted horses in exchange for allowing them to trap on their lands. It is recorded that hundreds of Indians attacked on Smith’s party killing and taking prisoner half his men including two women. Smith and a few others barely escaped causing the...
Bibliography: Dale, Harrison Clifford (2013). The Expeditions of Jedidiah Strong Smith. Retrieved from http://www.americanjourneys.org/aj-112/summary/
Rawls, J., Bean, W. (2012). California: An Interpretive History. New York, NY: The McGraw- Hill Companies, Inc.
Reed, Harold (2008). Northwest Arizona Coast. Retrieved from
Morgan L. Dale (1964). Jedidiah Smith and the Opening of the West. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln/London.
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