For this blog, I’m continuing with the theme of historical figures and the significance of their contributions. Today, I will be focusing on Jedediah Smith, a mountain man/explorer who was one of the first Americans to cross Utah, Nevada, and California and create maps of the area.
Jedediah Smith was not your typical mountain man. He was known for being deeply religious, refrained from drinking alcohol, and did not use profanity. He possessed many of the necessary qualities to survive in the wilderness, such as great leadership skills and remaining calm in tense situations. Smith was one of the members of General William Ashley’s Hundred, a group of men that would trap and explore the Rocky Mountains, as well as trade with local Native American tribes. He survived being mauled by a grizzly bear, suffering broken ribs and a torn scalp, after which he grew his hair long to cover his scars.
His first significant discovery occurred in 1824, when he sent an expedition to find a quick route through the Rocky Mountains. Thanks to members of the Crow Tribe, his men found the South Pass and crossed into what is now Wyoming, near the Green River. This provided an easy route through the rugged Rocky Mountains. Smith would attend several mountain man rendezvous’, which were large gatherings of trappers and Native Americans, where mountain men sold their furs and restocked on supplies.
In the late 1820’s, Smith explored much of what is now Utah, Nevada, and California. His goal was to find new areas to trap, as well as water routes to the Pacific Ocean. He traveled through California, into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and around the area of Walker Lake. His party moved across the Great Basin Desert, nearly succumbing to the heat and lack of water. Eventually, they reached the Great Salt Lake and ventured into Idaho. Smith would return to California a second time, exploring much of the coastal areas and becoming the first American to enter Oregon by an overland route.
Eventually, Smith would return to St. Louis in the early 1830’s. He began contributing his findings in order to map much of the area he had explored. He would sell his furs, making sure his family was financially stable. However, Smith still wanted to explore much of the southwest and tried to appeal to the government to fund an expedition. While traveling to Santa Fe, Smith was killed by Comanche Indians while looking for water.
Smith’s contributions wouldn’t be widely recognized until the early 1900’s, when historians began researching his life, maps, and journals, and published books/biographies. Smith was the first American to cross Nevada, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and explore much of California. His contributions helped map much of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific-West, expanding knowledge and understanding of the nature and topography of the area.
1. Morgan, Dale L. (1964) . Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the American West. Bison Book. Lincoln, London: University of Nebraska Books
2. Bagley, Will (2014). South Pass: Gateway to a Continent. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 57
3. Sears, Stephen W. (1963). "Trail Blazer Of The Far West". American Heritage Publishing Company.
4. Sullivan, Maurice S. (1936). Jedediah Smith, Trader and Trail Breaker. New York Press of the Pioneers
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