#Lookback: The Men of the 1838 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous: Jedediah Smith

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

The second man associated with the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous in Fremont County is Jedediah Smith. Jedediah Strong Smith was born in Jericho, New York, which is now called Bainbridge, New York.He was born on January 6th, 1799, to Jedediah Smith Sr. and Sally Strong Smith. In about 1811, Smith’s family moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania. Six years later, in 1817, his family moved to the Western Reserve in Ohio. (2) The Western Reserve is a piece of land in the northeast corner of Ohio that was owned by the state of Connecticut during the American Revolution, but it was later given to the federal government to form the Northwest Territory. (4)During his childhood, Jedediah was greatly influenced by a family friend and frontier physician, Dr. Titus Gordon Vespasian Simons. Dr. Simons was probably responsible for Jedediah’s interest in exploring the Far West.

In 1822, Jedediah went to St. Louis to seek employment that would take him out to Oregon country because he dreamed of making a fortune as a trapper. His arrival in St. Louis corresponded with the release of the famous advertisement from William H. Ashley looking for men to travel west on a fur trapping expedition. Jedediah easily convinced Ashley to hire him for the first adventure to the headwaters of the Missouri River.

Smith’s first trip west started out in April of 1822 and reached the mouth of the Yellowstone River on October 1stof 1822. During that first year in the west, Jedediah explored as far west as the mouth of the Musselshell River, which is a tributary of the Missouri River in Montana. He spent the winter of 1822 at the mouth of Musselshell River.

Later, in the spring of 1823, Jedidiah was sent back east with an urgent message for William H. Ashely. He met up with Ashley before he had reached the Arikaree village with his supply keelboats and a party of ninety men. On June 1st, 1823, Jedediah and Ashley’s group were attacked by the Arikaree village. Jedidiah was recognized for his bravery during the attack that had resulted in the death of thirteen of Ashley’s men. After the attack, Jedediah volunteered to travel to the mouth of the Yellowstone River to secure help from Ashley’s business partner, Andrew Henry.Smith returned to Ashley’s party with reinforcements at the mouth of the Cheyenne River. A member of the reinforcements, Colonel Leavenworth from the U.S. Army, organized the remainder of Ashley’s men and a group of men led by Joshua Pilcher from the Missouri Fur Company. The group organized by Colonel Leavenworth was known as the Missouri Legion.Jedediah was appointed the captain of one of the two companies created by Ashley’s men. After the companies were formed by Colonel Leavenworth, the group retaliated against the Arikaree village and won.

After the campaign against the Arikaree village, Jedediah Smith was selected to head a small expedition to find a new location for trapping beaver. This small party consisted of a dozen men including William Sublette, Jim Clyman, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Thomas Eddy, and Edward Rose. The expedition left St. Louis in September of 1823. They traveled over the Black Hills to the Powder River where Jedidiah was mauled by a grizzly bear. The wounds on Smith’s head and face were treated by Jim Clyman, including the reattachment of Smith’s ear. Since the attack, Jedediah Smith began wearing his hair long to hide some of the scars on his face.

Next, the expedition party encountered a group of Crow who led them to the Wind River Valley near present-day Dubois. They wintered with the Crow in the Wind River Valley and were told by the Native Americans of a river on the other side of the Wind River Mountains that had plentiful beaver. The Crow also gave them directions on how to reach the river through South Pass.By March 19th, 1924, the group was able to reach the Green River, where Smith split his party into two groups to trap beaver. Thomas Fitzpatrick eventually made his way to Fort Atkinson to send word of the plentiful beaver in the Green River to William H. Ashley in St. Louis.

Ashley reached the Green River on April 19th, 1925, where he arranged the date and location of the first Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. The first Rendezvous took place on July 1st, 1825, near Henry’s Fork on the Green River. At the first Rendezvous, Jedediah became the business partner of William H. Ashley in his fur trading company after Andrew Henry had left the company earlier that year. At the end of the first Rendezvous, Jedediah accompanied Ashley on the journey back to St. Louis.The group arrived in St. Louis on October 4, 1825.

In less than a month, Jedediah departed from St. Louis to head back west over land that would later become the famous Oregon Trail. The second Rocky Mountain Rendezvous was held in the Cache Valley, near present-day Cove, Utah. Before William H. Ashley left to return to St. Louis, he sold his share of the fur trade business to Jedediah, David E. Jackson, and William L. Sublette. In August of 1826, Jedediah and seventeen men headed southwest of Salt Lake to hopefully discover a new source of beaver while his partners headed north of the Cache Valley for the fall hunt.

Although Smith had not intended to cross the desert to California when he left the Cache Valley, he ended up at Mission San Gabriel, where he sent a letter to the Spanish Governor Echeandia asking permission to look for beaver in California. From Mission San Gabriel, Jedidiah went to San Diego to meet with Governor Echeandia. Initially, he could not convince the governor to search for beaver, but Captain Cunningham, an American ship captain, and trader was able to convince Governor Echeandia to allow Jedediah and his men to continue their exploration. After permission was granted, Captain Cunningham sailed Jedediah to San Pedro to rejoin his men. On January 18th, 1827, the group set off on their journey. By late April, the group ended up camping at the American River near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At this point, the party wanted to leave California to meet the rest of their party for the third Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. However, the snow in Sierra Nevada forced them to turn back.

Then, rumors reached Jedediah that the Governor of California was disturbed by his activities and had sent troops to apprehend Jedediah. So, he fled with two of his men named Robert Evans and Silas Gobel leaving most of his men and the beaver pelts behind. After a treacherous journey, the group reached Cache Valley for the Rendezvous only to learn from some Native Americans that the Rendezvous was being held at Bear Lake near present-day Laketown, Utah. The group caused a ruckus when they arrived at Bear Lake because the other trappers had assumed that the group had died.

By July 13th, 1827, Jedediah and eighteen men started on the journey back to California. When they reached the Mojave villages, the party stopped to rest for three days.On about August 18th, 1827, Jedediah loaded some of his goods into boats and set about crossing the Colorado River. At this point, the Mojave attached the men still on the shore, killing them all and capturing the two women in the group. The men on the boats survived, but they were being pursued as they made their way down the river. They escaped by hiding among the trees until the Mojave moved past.

After the attack, Jedediah and the remaining men got supplies from a ranch in San Bernadino Valley before retracing their steps to the camp he abandoned on the Stanislaus River. They arrived at the camp on September 18th, 1827. Shortly after Jedediah arrived at the camp, he was charged with trying to claim for the United States the country over which he had trapped. A military escort was sent by Governor Echeandia to bring Jedediah to San Diego as a prisoner. Another shipmaster named William Hartnell came to Jedediah’s rescue. At the end of the negotiation, Smith and his men were given a passport and some pack horses. He agreed to leave California through Bodega. Once he was released, Smith sold his beaver to Captain John Bradshaw who took him on his ship to San Francisco to join his men. From San Francisco, he received permission to go to San Jose, where he stayed until he had gotten enough supplies to continue trapping. Jedediah left San Jose on December 30thand continued trapping beaver on his way to Oregon.

On July 14th, 1828, Smith and two of his men left their camp at the Willamette River in Oregon to select their next travel route. He instructed his men in the camp to not allow any Native Americans to come into the camp while he was gone. However, a group of Kelawatset, who the traders had been friendly with in the past, asked to enter. The people in the camp allowed the Kelawatset to enter, but they were there to get revenge for some recent events caused by white men that they resented. So, the Kelawatset massacred all of the men at the camp, except for one, who had escaped into the woods. When Jedediah returned, they were fired at by the Kelawatset but managed to escape. The man who had escaped into the woods, Arthur Black, reached Fort Vancouver, which is near present-day Portland, Oregon, on August 8th, 1828. He assumed he was the only survivor, but two days later, Jedediah and the other two men arrived at Fort Vancouver. After their arrival, a party was sent to recover Jedediah’s materials at the abandoned camp. Once the party returned, Jedediah decided to remain at Fort Vancouver until March 12th, 1829.

On his way back east, Jedediah met one of his business partners, David E. Jackson, near the Flathead River in Montana. He and Jackson had missed the 1829 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous near Lander on the Popo Agie. William Sublette who had been at the 1829 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous near Lander, met the pair at Pierre’s Hole in eastern Idaho where the partners made plans for the upcoming year. The next year, 1830, Jedediah attended the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous near Riverton at the junction of the Wind River and the Popo Agie. At this Rendezvous, he and his partners sold the company to Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, Henry Fraeb, and Jean Gervais. The company was at this point renamed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

Jedediah Smith then returned to St. Louis where he bought a house and began planning a caravan with his business partners to Santa Fe. The caravan left St. Louis on April 10th, 1831, along with Thomas Fitzpatrick from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.By May 27th, they had reached a section between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers where there was no water. Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jedediah rode ahead of the party looking for water, but only found a dry watering hole. Fitzpatrick stayed at the watering hole to wait for the caravan, while Smith rode on ahead. Jedediah Smith was never seen again. The caravan later encountered a group of Comanches that had some of Smith’s belongings. It is believed that Jedediah was killed by the Comanches at the young age of thirty-three. (2)

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

April 17th,2-4 pm at the Riverton Museum “Seed Starting for Children”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

April 22nd,7 pm at the Dubois Museum “Swift Fox Ecology, Distribution and Trends” by Nichole Bjornlie, WG&F

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

April 24th,1-3 pm at the Pioneer Museum “Sheep Shearing Day”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

May 5th, 6 pm at the Riverton Museum “History and Stories from the Riverton Historical Preservation Commission”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

Joe Scheuerle Art Exhibit: “Native Americans of Wind River Country”, 9-5 Monday-Saturday

Pioneer Museum Lander Handle with Care: Art Moving

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum are seeing significantly decreased visitation this summer as a result of Covid-19. As a result, the self-generated revenue we rely so heavily on to make ends meet is not keeping pace. We are counting on private donations to continue to maintain successful and engaging museums during this time. We urge you to make a tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2ndRm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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