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

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

8

EWING YOUNG:
GILA TRAILS TO CALIFORNIA

As ÉTIENNE PROVOST WITHDREW from Taos to cast his fortunes on the upper Missouri and in the Rocky Mountains, Ewing Young inherited his mantle as premier trapper of the Mexican republic's northern provinces. He had come to New Mexico in 1822 with William Becknell's pioneering second expedition, the first to draw wagons over the embryonic Santa Fe Trail. A Tennessean, twenty-eight in 1822, Young was a strapping six feet two, a man of rudimentary learning, ordinarily quiet but harboring a hot temper, a scrappy and fearless antagonist with Mexican officialdom and bothersome Indians, shrewd and sometimes devious, ambitious to prosper whether from trapping, trading, farming, milling, or droving, and endowed with a capacity to lead other men in any of these pursuits.1

Adobe Indian pueblo and Mexican frontier outpost, Taos dotted a broad plain bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east and the Rio Grande Canyon on the west. Even though the Uinta Basin lost its appeal as Ashley men and their successful rendezvous system came to dominate the northern Rockies, Taos continued to draw men like Ewing Young. The southern Rockies, with forested peaks emptying beaver-rich streams into North Park and South Park, could easily be reached from Taos, which in effect constituted a year-round rendezvous for the exchange of fur for supplies—and the liquid stimulant judged essential to the process. Supplying the trappers and hauling their catch back to Missouri accounted for a large share of the "commerce of the prairies" over the Santa Fe Trail.

-103-

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