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

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

10

BILL SUBLETTE: STRUGGLE
OF THE FUR GIANTS

WILLIAM L. SUBLETTE dominated the partnership of Smith, Jackson & Sublette, organized at the rendezvous of 1826 when William H. Ashley resolved to leave the mountains for good. Roaming to California and Oregon, Jedediah Smith was absent most of the time. David Jackson, for all his maturity and business experience, played out his role in the shadow of Sublette.

"Billy," Sublette's men called him after he had become a field captain, a "booshway," in tribute to his "energy, courage and kindness." More than six feet tall, with a lean face and Roman nose, sandy hair, and light complexion, he was twenty-three when he signed on with Ashley for the upper Missouri in 1823. Fighting the Arikaras on the sand beach, freezing in the snows of South Pass, trapping the Green and the Bear with Jedediah Smith, discomfiting the Hudson's Bay Company at Flathead Post, Sublette had developed into a first-rate mountain man, trapper, and leader. As one of the partners who bought out Ashley, Sublette rose to a position of power in the fur trade, becoming an able field captain and astute businessman.1

Without relinquishing trapping altogether, Sublette increasingly handled the business affairs of the partnership, taking on the responsibility for organizing and conducting the annual supply caravan. He came to understand the St. Louis business world as well as the Rocky Mountain trapping system. This background made him a key player in the bitter competition that began to assail the fur trade even as Ashley withdrew. Without ever

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