Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mountain Men: America's Early Explorer

In the annals of American frontier history Jedediah Smith was, along with Lewis and Clark, arguably one of the main individuals who opened the trail for America's westward expansion. Like fellow long-distance traveler, Jim Beckwourth, the subject of an earlier post, Smith was one of the most widely traveled of the mountain men.

Early Days

Smith began his wanderings as a 23 year old volunteer with the American Fur Company in 1822. It was companies like this that gave many mountain men of the 1800's their start.

In 1822 Jedediah found himself along with his fellow trappers fighting for their lives in what was to become known as the Arikaras massacre. The Arikaras, (aka: Arikarees), were a western plains Indian tribe that claimed 13 of the trappers lives during this fight. Smith and expedition leader, General Ashley, were among the survivors.

Later Exploits

This experience, however, did not deter Smith from pushing deeper into the newly acquired region known as the Louisiana Purchase territory. He would travel this land extensively and ultimately venture in British (Oregon) and Mexican (California) lands. (See map for details.)

Smith's Legacy

It is believed that Jedediah Smith met his end at the hands of a Comanche hunting party who saw any intrusion into their lands as grounds for death. While the details are still sketchy, Smith's adventuring spirit clearly opened new overland routes for Americans from the east to travel to the far western reaches of the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase lands.

In fact, one route well known to southern Californians today is Interstate Highway 15. This is the highway used today by travelers from Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego to reach Las Vegas in southern Nevada. Smith's route from Utah to the Mission San Gabriel (the mission exists to this day) is closely followed by the current interstate route through the Mojave desert northeast of the L.A. Basin.

More on Jedediah Smith in future posts.