Zenas Leonard

March 19, 1809 - July 14, 1857

Leonard, Zenas, mountain man (Mar. 19, 1809-July 14, 1857). Born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, he was raised as a farm boy, received some education, and at 21 hiked to Pittsburgh where he worked some months for a merchant uncle before going on to St. Louis to enter the western fur trade. Hired as a clerk by the trapping firm of Gantt and Blackwell, he left St. Louis April 24, 1831, reached the Laramie River after some hardships, and when the partnership was dissolved, became a Rocky Mountain free trapper. Zenas took part in the famous Battle of Pierre's Hole in July, 1832, his narrative being one of the standard primary accounts of the affair. He trapped the upper Rockies and Big Horn Basin the following season, and at the 1833 rendezvous met Bonneville and was hired as clerk for Joe Walker's expedition westward. With this party Leonard crossed the present states of Utah and Nevada, surmounted the Sierra Nevada and, according to belief, was among the first Anglos to see the Yosemite Valley and the giant Sequoia trees, reaching the coast in November. The expedition returned by way of Walker's Pass, south of the earlier crossing, and regained the Bonneville Bear River camp in 1834. Still working for Bonneville, Leonard trapped the Crow country in the Yellowstone and Wind River valleys the ensuing winter and returned to Independence, Missouri, with Bonneville August 29, 1835. He went on to his Pennsylvania home. After a few months he established a store and trading operation at the site of Fort Osage (the present Sibley), Missouri, and also operated a boat on the Missouri River as far as St. Louis. He must have completed his manuscript by about 1838, basing it upon diaries and recollections. Leonard's Narrative "appears to be the revelation of an honest, average man who resisted any temptation to portray himself as the hero of every exciting adventure." He was a good observer and his work is "of permanent value." His record of the Walker expedition is "the most complete and accurate account" of that important endeavor and for that reason alone the Narrative would have unique value. Leonard married and fathered three children, two girls and a son named for him. He was buried in the old Sibley Cemetery.


Zenas Leonard, Adventures of Zenas Leonard Fur Trader, ed. by John C. Ewers. Norman, Univ. of Okla. Press, 1959.