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Anza, Juan Bautista de (07 July 1736–19 December 1788), military commander, explorer, and governor, was born in the presidio of Fronteras, Sonora, Mexico, the son of Juan Bautista de Anza, commandant of the post since 1719, and María Rafaela Becerra Nieto; his grandfather was commandant of Janos presidio, Chihuahua. Anza’s father was killed in combat in 1739, but Anza continued in the family tradition, and on 1 December 1752 entered the militia at Fronteras. On 1 July 1755 he was promoted to lieutenant at Fronteras, and, after participating in Indian campaigns in Sonora, he rose in 1760 to the rank of captain and commander of the presidio at Tubac (in present-day Arizona). On 24 June 1761 he married Ana María Pérez Serrano of Arizpe, Sonora, but no children were born of the union....

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Baker, James (19 December 1818–15 May 1898), trapper, army scout, and early settler of Colorado and Wyoming, was born in Belleville, Illinois, and grew up near Springfield. His parents were of Scots-Irish ancestry from South Carolina. With little formal schooling but adept with a rifle, Jim Baker left home for St. Louis in 1838 and signed an eighteen-month contract with the American Fur Company. On 25 May 1838 the Rocky Mountain–bound party, led by ...

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Barnwell, John (1671– June 1724), frontier settler and Indian fighter, was the son of Alderman Matthew Barnwell of Dublin, Ireland, and Margaret Carberry. The elder Barnwell was killed in the siege of Derry in 1690 as a captain in James II’s Irish army, which attempted to restore the last Stuart king after the revolution of 1688. The family seat, Archerstown in County Meath, was forfeited as a result of this support of James II against William and Mary....

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Bent, George (07 July 1843–19 May 1918), frontiersman, soldier, and Indian interpreter, was born at Bent’s Old Fort on the Arkansas River in present-day southeastern Colorado, the son of William Bent, a pioneer merchant and Indian trader, and his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. Named after an uncle who had been killed by Comanches on the Santa Fe Trail in 1841, George was the third of four children. When he was only four, his mother died giving birth to his sister Julia, and subsequently his father married Owl Woman’s sister, Yellow Woman, who was the mother of George’s half brother, Charles. George grew up bilingual and at age ten was sent with his siblings to the farm started by William Bent and his brother ...

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Bonneville, Benjamin Louis Eulalie de (14 April 1796–12 June 1878), explorer and army officer, was born in or near Paris, France, the son of Nicolas de Bonneville, a writer-editor, and Margaret Brazier. During the French Revolution Bonneville’s father was prominent in the Cercle Social...

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Bowie, Jim (1795– March 1836), popularizer of the bowie knife, speculator, and co-commander of Texan forces at the Alamo, was the son of Rezin Bowie and Elvy Jones; his formal given name was James. Bowie’s birthday and his mother’s name are the subject of dispute. Some sources claim that he was born in 1795, while others believe the correct year was 1796; some claim that his mother’s name was Alvina, perhaps shortened to Elvy, and that the reading of her name as “Jones” from Spanish documents is an erroneous extrapolation from markings that could have been intended as “Jane.” Similarly, some sources state that Bowie was born in Burke County, Georgia, while others opt for Elliot Springs, Tennessee. ...

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Boyd, John Parker (21 December 1764–04 October 1830), army officer and soldier of fortune, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of James Boyd and Susanna (maiden name unknown). He developed military interests as a boy, and in 1786 he was appointed ensign in a Massachusetts infantry regiment suppressing Shays’s Rebellion (see ...

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Brainard, David Legg (21 December 1856–22 March 1946), soldier and Arctic explorer, was born in Norway, New York, the son of Alanson Brainard and Maria Legg, farmers. He attended public school in Norway until age ten, when the family moved to the John Corp farm at Freetown, New York, where his father also operated a dairy. Brainard attended the state normal school in Cortland....

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Bridger, James (17 March 1804–17 July 1881), fur trapper and trader, explorer, and scout, was born in a tavern near Richmond, Virginia, the son of James Bridger, a surveyor and innkeeper, and Chloe Tyler, a barmaid. Bridger and his family moved in about 1812 to a farm near St. Louis, where, on being orphaned five years later, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice. In 1822 he responded to an advertisement calling for a hundred able-bodied young men to join a fur-trapping expedition, lasting from one to three years, up to the headwaters of the Missouri River. The organizers of the expedition were ...

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Burnham, Frederick Russell (11 May 1861–01 September 1947), explorer, scout, and miner, was born in Tivoli, Minnesota, the son of Reverend Otway Burnham, a Congregational minister and missionary, and Rebecca Russell. One family story has it that his mother left him among corn stalks for an entire day while their settlement was under an Indian attack during the 1862 war with the Sioux. Certainly not proven, this story has an interesting ring to it, since Burnham was to spend much of his life hiding or escaping from American Indians or South African peoples during his career as a scout....

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Richard E. Byrd Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1928. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-BN-5390-001-B-x).

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Byrd, Richard Evelyn (25 October 1888–11 March 1957), naval aviator and explorer, was born in Winchester, Virginia, the son of Richard Evelyn Byrd, an attorney, and Eleanor Bolling Flood. The family had long been prominent in Virginia; Byrd’s brother Harry Flood Byrd served as governor and several terms as a U.S. senator. After traveling alone around the world at the age of twelve, Byrd attended the Shenandoah Valley Military Academy, Virginia Military Institute (1904–1907), the University of Virginia (1907–1908), and the U.S. Naval Academy, receiving his ensign’s commission in 1912....

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California Joe (08 May 1829–29 October 1876), plainsman and army scout, was born Moses Embree Milner in Standford, Kentucky, the son of Sarah Ann and Embree Armstead Milner, planters. Plantation life in the Kentucky wilderness was hardly genteel; the Milner home was a log cabin, as was the schoolhouse where the young Milner was an able student. Along with “book learning,” Milner excelled in tracking and hunting, which meant his family always had fresh meat to eat. Even as a boy he was known for his skill in shooting his father’s long-barreled rifle, a talent his family regarded as wholly in keeping with his father’s past military experiences in ...

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Campbell, Arthur (03 November 1743–08 August 1811), frontiersman, soldier, and politician, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of David Campbell and Mary Hamilton, immigrant Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. He was not quite fifteen when, during the French and Indian War, he joined a company of Virginia rangers stationed in western Augusta County. At Fort Young on the Jackson River in September 1758, Campbell was captured by Wyandot Indians and spent two years in captivity in the vicinity of Detroit before escaping....

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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Clark, George Rogers (19 November 1752–13 February 1818), revolutionary war general and "conqueror of the Northwest", revolutionary war general and “conqueror of the Northwest,” was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of John Clark and Ann Rogers, planters. The Clarks were descended from Scottish immigrants who came to Virginia early in the eighteenth century; George Rogers Clark’s flaming red hair was a mark of his Celtic ancestry. Four of his brothers were officers in the revolutionary army, and his youngest brother, ...

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Clay, Green (14 August 1757–31 October 1828), pioneer and soldier, was born in Powhatan County, Virginia, the son of Charles Clay and Martha Green, farmers. Green Clay had little formal education but at an early age mastered the techniques of surveying. Born poor, he realized that a fortune could be made by acquiring land and accompanied a surveying party to Kentucky in 1777. He was with ...

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Cleveland, Benjamin (26 May 1738– October 1806), frontiersman and militia officer in the revolutionary war, was born in Prince William County, Virginia, the son of John Cleveland, a house-joiner, and Martha Coffee. Cleveland had a limited education and hated the drudgery of farm life. He spent his early years hunting, gambling, drinking, fighting, and “frolicking.” Marriage to Mary Graves in 1761 did little to reform his ways. They had two children, but Cleveland also fathered a child by another woman in Virginia....