JEDEDIAH SMITH: CALIFORNIA,
OREGON, AND THE CIMARRON
AT THE HENRY'S FORK RENDEZVOUS on July 1, 1825, William H. Ashley acquired a new partner. Ashley preferred the amenities of St. Louis to the outdoor life of the mountaineer. Thrice since cementing the partnership of Ashley and Henry, he had been called from his St. Louis office, and now his field captain, Andrew Henry, had withdrawn altogether. Ashley needed a master of men and mountains who could free him to deal with the business of fur in the comforts of St. Louis. The choice fell on humorless, grimly conscientious Jedediah Smith, who had conspicuously demonstrated his mastery of men and mountains.
After the rendezvous, the new partners headed for St. Louis, both to take out the furs and to equip a new caravan to provision the trappers wintering in the mountains. Shrewdly, Ashley fixed on a roundabout route. Aware that the Atkinson-O'Fallon expedition was making peace with the tribes of the upper Missouri, he aimed for the mouth of the Yellowstone. At the mouth of the Bighorn River, he packed his cargo into bullboats and floated down the Yellowstone to an almost perfectly timed union with the government expedition. Obligingly, General Atkinson loaded all the furs onto his army keelboats and provided free transportation down the Missouri as far as Council Bluffs. The new partners reached St. Louis on October4, 1825.1
Less than a month later, Smith led out a caravan of seventy men and 160 animals loaded with provisions for the men in the mountains. Winter virtually wiped out the herd and stalled the expedition on the Platte River.