Jedediah Strong Smith

January 6, 1799 - May 27, 1831

Smith, Jedediah Strong, mountain man (Jan. 6, 1799-May 27, 1831). Born at Bainbridge, New York, he was raised in Erie County, Pennsylvania, and the Western Reserve of Ohio, receiving some education and strong religious (Methodist) motivation. He reached St. Louis in 1822, determined to become a trapper in the Oregon country. Joining Ashley, he went up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone, remaining under Andrew Henry and wintering on the Musselshell River. In the spring he was sent with a message to Ashley, encountering him below the Arikara villages, and distinguished himself for bravery in the fight against those Indians June 1, 1823. He then volunteered to cross the plains, contact Henry and bring back reinforcements, which he did, rejoining Ashley at the mouth of the Cheyenne River. After Leavenworth's indecisive operation against the Arikaras, Smith with a group of a dozen men, among whom were Clyman and Fitzpatrick, crossed the plains south of the Yellowstone to open up new trapping grounds. Before they reached the Powder River Smith was mauled by a grizzly, scarred for life, and wore long hair thereafter to conceal the evidence. They party wintered with the Crows, then crossed by way of South Pass to the Green River. In September 1824, Smith contacted Hudson's Bay Company trappers in Idaho. With Ashley he brought nearly 9,000 pounds of beaver to St. Louis late in 1825, returning to the mountains within a month, now a partner in the business. With Ashley he pioneered the Oregon Trail to the mountains. The next summer Smith joined David Jackson and William Sublette in a partnership succeeding the Ashley enterprise. Smith, about August 15, 1826, took a party from Cache Valley south by way of Utah Lake, the Sevier River, Virgin River and the Colorado River to the Mohave villages, thence across southern California to San Gabriel Mission. After some difficulty with Spanish authorities, Smith worked up the San Joaquin River to the American River. With three men he crossed the Sierra Nevada in May and June by way of Ebbetts pass to Walker Lake and by July 2 had regained Cache Valley and the rendezvous at Bear Lake. With 18 men on July 13, 1827, Smith left the rendezvous and headed for California again. At the Mohave villages half of his men were killed by Indians at the Colorado River crossing. Smith and the others retraced their earlier route to San Gabriel Mission, then north to the old camp on the Stanislaus River, arriving September 18. He became embroiled in difficulties with the Mexican-Spanish officials, but sold his furs to a sea captain, John Bradshaw, bought horses for later sale in the Rocky Mountains, trapped central and northern California, reached the Klamath River, Oregon, May 3, 1828, and the ocean May 19 after great difficulties. The group worked up the coast, reaching the Rogue River June 27 and the Umpqua July 12; two days later 14 of Smith's men and an Indian boy were massacred by the Kalawatset Indians; Smith and three others, being away from camp, escaped, reaching Fort Vancouver August 8 and 10. Smith with another left Vancouver March 12, 1829, and returned to the upper Rockies. He trapped the Blackfoot country with Jim Bridger. At the 1830 rendezvous at the Wind and Popo Agie rivers, Smith and his partners sold out to five famous mountain men who formed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and Smith returned to St. Louis. He bought a house but shortly organized a caravan to Santa Fe, 74 men with 22 wagons, half belonging to himself. They left St. Louis April 10, 1831. By late May they had been three days without water in the dry country between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. Smith and Fitzpatrick went ahead searching for water, separated, Smith rode on and disappeared. Indians, having reached Santa Fe with some of Smith's equipment, reported that 20 Comanches had been concealed at a water hole awaiting buffalo when Smith rode up. In a fight Smith killed the leader of the party, but was himself slain. Smith was perhaps the greatest of the mountain men, and one of the strongest characters among them. He was abstemious, did not smoke, was clean shaven, ever carried a Bible and read form it, was habituated to command and was referred to as Mister Smith or Captain Smith by others. He figures in the three most disastrous battles mountain men engaged in, although he was not to blame for any of them; his contributions to geographical knowledge of the west, and his pioneering expeditions were of great value; his journals and records suggest that he intended at some time to publish his findings, but his early and lamented death aborted that plan, if he held it. Smith was more than 6 feet tall, spare, a man of great courage, vision, dedication and persistence; so far as the records shows he was not a man of much humor, but that is guess work since there is no way for those unacquainted with him in person to judge. "Among the mountain men . . . he stands along, and it was alone that he died."


Maurice S. Sullivan, Jedediah Smith: Trader & Trailbreaker. N.Y., Press of Pioneers, 1936; Dale Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953; D.W. Garber, Jedediah Strong Smith: Fur Trader from Ohio. Stockton, Calif., Univ. of Pacific, 1973