James P. Beckwourth

April 26, 1798 - 1866

Beckwourth, James P., mountain man (Apr. 26, 1798-1886). Born a mulatto at Fredericksburg, Virginia, as James Beckwith, the family moved to St. Charles, Missouri, in 1810. Jim was apprenticed to a blacksmith, but in 1824 joined Ashley for a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The small group left Fort Atkinson in November, reached the vicinity of Greeley, Colorado, in January, and the Green River by April. Beckwourth became a seasoned trapper, attended the 1825 rendezvous on Henry's Fork, and returned to St. Louis with an Ashley fur party in the summer. He left St. Louis as a free trapper with Jedediah Smith October 30, wintered at a Chouteau post on the Kansas River, then joined an Ashley spring party for the mountains again. After his second rendezvous, Beckwourth trapped the upper Missouri and Columbia region, and visited the Yellowstone Park area. During his times in the mountains he participated in skirmishes with Blackfeet and other Indians and by 1828 had decided to join the Crows, where he was welcomed. He entered his new life early in 1829, marrying several women, joining war parties (by his own not particularly trustworthy account), became a trader among them for the American Fur Company. In the summer of 1835 he joined Thomas (Pegleg) Smith and the Ute, Walkara, in an expedition to California, obtaining horses which they brought via the Salt Lake valley to Bent's Fort, and going on to St. Louis in 1836. He Spent the winter in Florida taking part in the Seminole War and was in the battle of Lake Okeechobee under Zachary Taylor in December 1837. Returning to St. Louis he joined Louis Vasquez in a trading venture at Fort Vasquez. Beckwourth joined Smith and Walkara for their great 1840 horse raid on California, driving of 5,000 head, half of which reached Bridger's and Bent's forts. Beckwourth operated out of Taos for a time, then Pueblo, Colorado, was in California for the 1845 insurrectionist fighting, stole horses and disposed of them at the Plains posts, settled at Santa Fe briefly, assisted in putting down the 1847 Taos insurrection, returned to California with the Gold Rush and in 1852 began dictating his memoirs to Thomas Daniel Bonner, a onetime newspaperman. They were first published in 1856. Beckwourth went back to St. Louis but returned to Denver where he settled for a time, guided military parties, including Chivington to Sand Creek, trapped again on the Green River in 1866 and then settled near Fort Laramie. Jim returned to the Crows, among whom he died; he was buried as a Crow Indian on a tree platform. Beckwourth was a man of great courage, activity and some principle; he had faults, but his good qualities in general outweighed them and his influence upon the west, though fleeting as a cloud shadow, was positive.


James P. Beckwourth, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, ed. by T.D. Bonner. N.Y., Harper and Bros., 1856 and subsequent editions.