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Jedediah Strong Smith was born in Bainbridge, New York, on January 6, 1799. Young Jedediah moved with his family as they pressed westward in an effort to remain at the frontier. He supposedly read about the Lewis and Clark expedition as a small boy and was inspired by that great adventure.
Adventures and misadventures begin
In 1822, 23-year-old Smith responded to an advertisement in the St. Louis Gazette and Public Advertiser calling for adventurous young fellows to explore the West. He soon became a member of General William Ashley's exploration and fur-trapping team.
Early on in 1823, a grizzly ripped off Smith's scalp and one ear. Fellow trappers treated his wounds. While he was recovering, Indians suddenly killed everyone but him as he hid in bushes. With only a flint, knife, and his Bible, Smith stayed alive by eating beaver meat.
Smith later became primarily a guide and one of three partners of the new Rocky Mountain Fur Company. (By late 1826 the young businessman and two associates had bought out General Ashley.)
A meandering route into California
In 1824 at the age of 26, Smith escorted a 15-member expedition, the first American group through South Pass, explored the areas north to the Canadian border, and then headed south to the Great Salt Lake in what is now Utah. In 1825, his group moved from Salt Lake, across Ute and Paiute lands, down the Colorado River, through the Mojave Desert, over the High Sierras and on to Mission San Gabriel near Los Angeles, California.
After staying at the mission for two months, authorities took Smith to San Diego. The Mexican governor, José María Echeandía, wary of American intrusion, ordered Smith and his party to leave.
Instead of leaving, Smith's party went into the San Joaquin Valley via Tejon Pass and went north.
In May 1827 he returned to Utah to hire more trappers, but as they crossed the Colorado River, the formerly agreeable Mohave Indians assaulted and killed 10 men. When Smith and his remaining men reached Mission San José, he was arrested and sent again to Governor Echeandía.
Again banished from the province, the party went north through redwood country and reached what would be named the Smith River in June 1828. That year, Smith & Co. had become the first Americans to behold the great redwoods. He was posthumously honored when the river and a state park were named in his honor.
Two years later, Smith and his partners sold their business and returned to St. Louis. Smith adapted to a more-ordinary existence.
He had, however, promised to make one last trek to the Southwest. Smith left Missouri in 1831 and followed the Santa Fe Trail. On May 27, he was encircled and killed by Comanche warriors at a watering hole near the Cimarron River in New Mexico. His remains were never recovered.
Smith’s exploration did much to bring fur trappers into the American West. His life was short, but eventful. Classic mountain-man experiences aside, Smith was a strikingly atypical denizen of the Rockies — he consumed no liquor, no tobacco, had little sense of humor, and held a strong religious faith.
Jedediah Smith in Kansas
... in Kansas A Kansas Portrait Long a forgotten figure in western exploration, Jedediah Smith is known primarily for his path-finding explorations and fur trading expeditions, which helped so significantly in opening the AmericaJedediah Smith is known primarily for his path-finding explorations and fur trading expeditions, which helped so significantly in opening the American West. In ...
Jedediah S. Smith
In 1822 Jedediah Smith became one of the original "Ashley Men," trappers under the command of William Ashley. He ascended the Missouri River that spring under Andrew Henry's command and spent his first winter on the Musselshell RivJedediah Smith became one of the original "Ashley Men," trappers under the command of William Ashley. He ascended the Missouri River that spring under Andrew Henry's command and spent his first winter on the Musselshell River. In the ...
Jedediah and the Beaver
He was released only after promising to leave California. As Smith traveled northwestward over the Tehachapis and into the southern Central Valley, he found a trapper's paradise. There he collected a large quantity of pelts and then turned ...