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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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Chouteau, René Auguste (07 September 1749–24 February 1829), pioneer in the western fur trade and explorer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was baptized on 9 September, 1749, the son of René Auguste Chouteau and Marie Thérèse Bourgeois. His father was a French immigrant who operated a tavern in New Orleans. The marriage of his parents broke up shortly after his birth, and his father returned to France. His teenage mother proved herself resourceful and eventually went to live with a prominent fur trader, ...

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Henry, Andrew (1775–10 June 1833), miner, fur trader, and explorer, was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the son of George Henry and Margaret Young, farmers. Before 1800 Henry left Pennsylvania for Nashville, Tennessee. He moved in 1800 to the Upper Louisiana village of Ste. Genevieve, a Mississippi river town in present-day Missouri. Henry returned to Nashville in 1802 or 1803 before resettling in Ste. Genevieve, where he formed Andrew Henry & Co. in 1804....

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Ogden, Peter Skene (12 February 1790–27 September 1854), fur trader and explorer, was born in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, the son of Isaac Ogden, a jurist, and Sarah Hanson. The Ogden family had been prominent in the political affairs of colonial New Jersey since the 1660s. During the American Revolution, Isaac Ogden was a Loyalist; as a result, his properties were confiscated and he joined the Tory exodus to England in 1783....

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Ross, Alexander (02 November 1782–23 October 1856), fur trader, explorer, and historian, was born in the Highlands parish of Dyke, county of Nairnshire, Scotland. Neither Ross’s own writings nor those of his biographers relate any details about his parents other than the fact they were farmers; even their names are unmentioned. Little is known about Ross’s early years. He grew up in the Presbyterian faith and had acquired sufficient education to become a rural schoolteacher by the time he was twenty. In 1804 a family quarrel caused Ross to leave his parents’ home; he emigrated to North America later that year....

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Smith, Jedediah Strong (6 Jan. 1799?–27 May 1831), fur trader and explorer, was born (some say on 24 June 1798) in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, the son of Jedediah Smith, probably a farmer and possibly a part-time tailor. His mother’s name is unrecorded. Raised and educated in elementary schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio, young Smith became a clerk on a Lake Erie trading vessel. In 1822 he joined the fur-trading venture of General ...

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Thompson, David (30 April 1770–10 February 1857), explorer, cartographer, and fur trader, was born in London, England, the son of David Thompson and Ann (maiden name unknown). His father died when David was three, leaving the family destitute. At the age of seven he was admitted to Grey Coat charity school for boys. In 1784 he came to the New World to serve as an apprentice to the Hudson’s Bay Company. For the next five years he learned to use the sextant, compass, and various astronomical instruments from Hudson’s Bay officials in the Churchill and York Factory region on the west bank of Hudson Bay. Thompson’s initial explorations as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company were in the northern regions of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where he discovered a new and more efficient route from Hudson Bay to Lake Atabasca....

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Tonty, Henri de (1649 or 1650– September 1704), fur trader and explorer, was born in France, the son of Lorenzo de Tonti, a banker, and Isabelle di Lietto, Italian refugees living in France. He entered Louis XIV’s service as a cadet in 1668, serving in several Mediterranean campaigns and losing his right hand in battle. To mitigate the difficulties caused by the loss of his hand, Tonty (also spelled Tonti) fitted himself with an artificial hand made either of iron, copper, or silver, which may have been articulated. ...

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Walker, Joseph Rutherford (13 December 1798–27 October 1876), fur trader and explorer, was born in Roane County, Tennessee, the son of Joseph Walker and Susan Willis, farmers. Walker grew up to be a strapping 6′ 4″ young man, strongly built at 200 pounds. Nothing is known of his education. A faulty obituary has led to constant error in his middle name, “Reddeford” being substituted for the proper Rutherford. Walker probably served with his brother Joel in the Creek War campaign of ...