INFILTRATION AND RE-
VOLT
CHAPTER 10

Shielded by forbidding deserts and towering mountains, California might have remained a Hispanic province if not for a hardy band of American fur trappers who entered the province long before the U.S. government sought to acquire it. These “mountain men,” from points as far east as St. Louis, Missouri, crossed deserts, faced wild animals, scaled rugged peaks, and forded swollen streams.

During Echeandía’s governorship, one of these young trappers, Jedediah Strong Smith, blazed the initial overland trail from the Rocky Mountain region into southern California. He can, indeed, be called the first overland American in California history. Smith, at the head of a small band of men, trekked westward in search of beaver and otter pelts, which fetched good prices back east. Along the way, Smith displayed great courage in withstanding Indian attacks, shortages of food and water, as well as other wilderness challenges to his own survival. On one occasion, a ferocious grizzly bear attacked Smith, taking his head between its jaws. Smith somehow managed to escape the grasp of the brute with his life, but the encounter left the trapper with an ear and part of his scalp dangling from a bleeding skull. Incredibly, after one of his men stitched up the lacerations with needle and thread, the indomitable Smith was on his way again.

Guided by two Indians who had fled from Mission San Gabriel, Smith and his party moved southwestward across the deserts in between the Colorado River and the pueblo of Los Angeles. On November 27, 1826, he and his bedraggled men reached Mission San Gabriel, which seemed a luxuriant haven to them. In exchange for food, wine, and lodging, the trappers provided the

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