Jim Bridger

Written by on February 16, 2014 in Southwest Characters - Comments Off on Jim Bridger

James Bridger was one of the greatest frontiersmen in American history. He was a trapper, hunter, trader, Indian Fighter and guide and his name is synonymous with the tough mountain men of the day.

His journey began in 1822 when he volunteered to join William Ashley and Major Andrew Henry’s exploration up the Missouri River. He was hired to trap beaver along the route. Bridger was in good company on that trip and met Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Hugh Glass (all three also became future giants of the frontier). It was Jedediah Smith, known for his pious ways, who gifted Bridger with a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Smith called him “Old Gabe: because Bridger, with his self-assurance and calm demeanor reminded him of the Angel Gabriel.

The trek took Bridger and 100 other young men 1,800 miles into the West and deep into Blackfoot Indian territory. The Blackfoot became so hostile that the expedition was forced to retreat the following spring. The men returned later that year to the same area and Bridger spent the fall, winter and spring trapping in the Bighorn’s of Wyoming.

It was in the Bighorn’s that Bridger found his niche in life. He spent much of the next 60 years of his life at the head of groups of trappers and fur hunters. As founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, he built a settlement (Fort Bridger) on Black’s Fork of the Green River along the Utah/Wyoming border. The settlement was known for its hospitality and became a vital way point for travelers on the Overland Trail.

Bridger was famous for his maps and his vast knowledge of the West. He was often seen drawing maps on a buffalo skin or even a door to aid other travelers. In fact, the U.S. government noted his skills and asked him to draw the official maps that established the tribal boundaries as set by the Fort Laramie Peace Treaty.

Bridger spent plenty of time trapping in the Wasatch Range in Utah, and wintering in the Salt Lake Valley. Apparently, Bridger has several meetings with Brigham Young and discussed the merits of the Mormons settling in the Salt Lake Valley. Bridger passed on his misgivings with regard to the agricultural productivity of the Salt Lake area. The good relations were not to last. A few years later, the Mormon leaders decided the Bridger was engaged in trade with the Native Americans, providing them with weapons to be used against the settlers. The leader’s revoked Bridger’s license to trade, issued a warrant for his arrest and set a posse on his trail. Bridger caught word of this and fled before being arrested.

In 1850, Bridger guided the Stansbury expedition that established the road that became the Overland Stage Route and eventually the route for the Union Pacific Railroad. In his later years, he spent time guiding miners to the gold fields of Montana, acting as guide for the U.S. Army and laying out the stage route west from Denver for the Central Overland and Pike’s Peak Express Company.

In the late 1870s, Bridger’s eyesight began to fail. He retired from his position as an army scout, purchased a farm in Kansas City, Mo., and settled into the life of a farmer. He dies at the age of 77 in 1881.

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