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

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

18

JIM BRIDGER:
FILLING IN THE MAP

JIM BRIDGER EXCHANGED the role of trapper for trader only gradually and reluctantly. In the winter of 1844–45 he led a party of thirty men in a sweep through California, returning in the spring of 1845 by way of the Old Spanish Trail as far as Great Salt Lake. He found plenty of beaver in California but discovered that no sooner had he set traps than Indians stole them. He gave up on trapping and turned trader. At Fort Laramie in September 1845 he sold the fruits of the expedition: beaver and deerskins, mules and horses, and fourteen hundred California seashells. The factor allowed five thousand dollars for all but the seashells, which he did not know how to value.1

Even as traders, neither Bridger nor his partner, Louis Vasquez, overcame their wanderlust. In the summers of 1845 and 1846, emigrants paused to trade and make repairs at Bridger's Fort on Black's Fork of the Green River, usually to find the proprietors absent. When there, they charmed their customers; when not, overlanders recorded dismal impressions of the way station on the trail to Oregon and California.

On June 28, 1847, Bridger and two companions, en route to Fort Laramie, ascended the Big Sandy toward South Pass. Early in the afternoon, they met advance elements of the year's most distinctive emigrant train—seventy-two wagons constituting the "Pioneer Party" of the migrating Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Hounded out of Missouri and Illinois, their leader slain, the Mormons had turned to a president of powerful frame and personality, Brigham Young. That day at the mouth of

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