After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview
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5

JEDEDIAH SMITH: SOUTH PASS
AND THE SISKADEE

JEDEDIAH SMITH STRUCK WEST from Fort Kiowa late in September 1823. His little company numbered sixteen, most with bonds forged on the sand beach.1 Among them were Bill Sublette, Tom Fitzpatrick, Jim Clyman, and Thomas Eddie. With their objective the heart of Crow country, Smith also included Edward Rose. Even though "a designing vagabond" (in Washington Irving's words), Rose enjoyed high stature among the Crows, with whom he had lived off and on since 1807.2

Since Ashley had failed to buy enough horses from the Sioux, the French Fur Company lent some, together with a guide to get the expedition started. The horses served as pack animals. The men walked.3

The first days were hard—the land dry and dusty and carpeted with prickly pear, the White River a source of chalky water drinkable only with severe next-day consequences. Nearing the eastern foot of the Black Hills, however, the men found good water and, better yet, a band of Sioux that provided a few horses to replace those borrowed from the French Fur Company. With the borrowed horses, the guide turned back to Fort Kiowa.

Buffalo Gap opened the way to the Black Hills, and Smith and his men were the first known whites to penetrate these dark highlands. After threading the ridges and canyons along the southern edge of the hills, the trappers descended to the furrowed grasslands of the Powder River basin. Approaching the Crow homeland, horses giving out, Smith sent Rose ahead to bargain for fresh horses.

Five days later the expedition nearly lost its captain. Leading the

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