Smith, Jedediah Strong

Smith, Jedediah Strong,

1799–1831, American explorer, one of the greatest of the mountain menmountain men,
fur trappers and traders in the Rocky Mts. during the 1820s and 30s. Their activities opened that region of the United States to general knowledge. Since the days of French domination there had been expeditions to the upper Missouri River, and in the early 19th
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, b. near Binghamton, N.Y. Early in 1824, Smith took a party through South PassSouth Pass,
broad, level valley (alt. c.7,550 ft/2,301 m), SW Wyo., cutting across the Rocky Mts. It was used by trappers and explorers before Jedediah Smith inaugurated its use as a route for settlers.
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, beginning the regular use of that route. He and a few men headed north and into present-day Montana and as far north as the Canadian boundary before going back to Great Salt Lake. In 1825 he set out from Great Salt Lake on his most famous journey. Traveling southwest with a small band of men, he crossed the Colorado River and the Mojave Desert, arriving in San Diego, Calif., then part of Mexico. In 1831, Smith set out from St. Louis with a company on the Santa Fe TrailSanta Fe Trail,
important caravan route of the W United States, extending c.780 mi (1,260 km) from Independence, Mo., SW to Santa Fe, N.Mex. Independence and Westport, Mo., were the chief points where wagons, teams, and supplies were obtained.
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 and was killed along the Cimarron River by Comanches. His wide travels opened not only the rich fur-trapping and trading country but also trails and territory that were soon frequented by westward-bound American pioneers. His journal was edited by Maurice Sullivan (1934).


See biography by M. Sullivan (1936, repr. 1972); study by J. G. Neihardt (1920, repr. 1970).

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Smith, Jedediah Strong

(1798–1831) explorer, fur trader; born in Bainbridge, N.Y. Starting in the fur trade with Gen. William Ashley in St. Louis in 1822, he took over Ashley's Rocky Mountain trade in 1826 with two others. From 1826–30, he led exploratory expeditions from Great Salt Lake, Utah, across the Mohave desert into California, where he was nearly imprisoned by the Mexican governor. He then went north through the Sierras and along the Willamette River to Ft. Vancouver, Oregon, surviving an attack by the Umpqua Indians en route. In 1831 he was killed by Comanches after entering the Santa Fe trade. Because he did not write of his trips, he did not get credit for his achievements for many years; but he was, among other firsts, the first American to enter and exit California by the eastern route.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.