James (Jim) Bridger

March 17, 1804 - July 17, 1881

Bridger, James, mountain man (Mar. 17, 1804-July 17, 1881). One of the three or four most able, influential and best known mountain men, Bridger was born at Richmond, Virginia, and at 14 was apprenticed to a St. Louis blacksmith. In 1822 he responded to Ashley's advertisement for fur-gathering personnel, left April 3 up the Missouri and wintered near Milk River, The next spring with Henry's party he reached the vicinity of Great Falls where Blackfeet defeated them. Ashley in turn had been defeated by the Arickaras and Henry brought his party back to the Yellowstone, Bridger enroute becoming involved in the aftermath of Hugh Glass's nearly-disastrous experience with a grizzly bear. In 1824 Bridger discovered Great Salt Lake, according to one report, believing it an arm of the Pacific. He attended the 1825 rendezvous, then accompanied Ashley to the lower Big Horn River and trapped for him until the 1836 rendezvous when he joined Smith, Jackson and Sublette, trapping in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. He remained in the mountains and in 1830 became one of the organizers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He and a large brigade trapped dangerous Blackfoot country in the winter of 1831-1832. Bridger took part in the celebrated battle of Pierre's Hole, July 18, 1832, with the Blackfeet, then with Thomas Fitzpatrick trapped the headwaters of the Missouri, in one skirmish receiving an arrowhead in his back which plagued him for several years. In the winter of 1834 he trapped in the southwest, extending his remarkable and minute knowledge of the Rocky Mountain domain, although he always was illiterate. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was dissolved in the summer of 1834, Bridger joining Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette in a new partnership. The following winter he again trapped the Blackfoot country, with Kit Carson, Joe Meek and others. At the 1835 rendezvous, Dr. Marcus Whitman, a medical missionary, cut the arrowhead from his back. Bridger married a Flathead woman, fathering three children. As one of the most famous mountain men, he was presented in 1837 with a suit of armor by William Drummond Steward of Scotland, probably as a joke; his picture was painted by Alfred Jacob Miller at this time. In the winter of 1838 Bridger became affiliated with the American Fur Company, began his friendship with Pierre Jean De Smet, and with Louis Vasquez shortly began construction of Fort Bridger on Black's Fork of the Green River, in present Wyoming. It became a principal trading post for emigrants, a military center, and a pony express station. He guided an expedition to California in 1844, returning next year. His wife having died, Bridger in 1848 married a Ute woman, who died in childbirth, and in 1850 wed a Shoshone, his final marriage, fathering two more children. In addition to his exact and invaluable knowledge of western geography, Bridger was an expert in Indian sign language. Mormons ousted him from Fort Bridger in 1853, he withdrawing to Fort Laramie. He served as guide and in other frontier capacities thereafter, being a principal guide to Albert Sidney Johnston during the Mormon War of 1857-1858, leading the army to Salt Lake and the site of Camp Floyd. Although an often sought and much respected guide for military and other expeditions, Bridger had acquired a farm south of Westport, Missouri, and sometimes wintered there; in 1866 he bought a two-story building at Westport itself. By 1868 he settled there, his health began to fail in 1873 and blindness came upon him. He died on his farm near little Santa Fe, Missouri, was buried next to his two sons in present Kansas City, Missouri, and in 1904 his remains were removed to the present Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence. His name is borne by many places throughout the west. This is proper tribute to one of the very greatest frontiersmen of the American saga, a man of outstanding character and worth.