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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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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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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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Greely, Adolphus Washington (27 March 1844–20 October 1935), soldier and arctic explorer, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of John Balch Greely, a shoemaker, and Frances D. Cobb, a cotton mill weaver. Greely graduated from Brown High School, Newburyport, in 1860, and in the following year, at the age of seventeen, he joined the Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He served as a private, corporal, and first sergeant and was hospitalized for wounds sustained at Antietam, including a facial injury, which he covered with a beard for the remainder of his life. On furlough in 1863 he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Fourth U.S. Volunteers (later Eighty-first U.S. Colored Infantry), stationed in Louisiana....

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Le Moyne, Jean-Baptiste (baptized 23 Feb. 1680–07 March 1767), French soldier, explorer, and governor of colonial Louisiana, was born in Montréal, New France, the son of Charles Le Moyne, sieur de Longueuil et de Châteauguay, a provincial nobleman, and Catherine Thierry Primot. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne inherited the title ...

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Lewis, Meriwether (18 August 1774–11 October 1809), explorer and soldier, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of William Lewis, a planter, and Lucy Meriwether. The family was prominent in the area, and moved in circles that included Thomas Jefferson. William Lewis died when his son was five. His mother remarried, and Lewis spent part of his childhood in Georgia. He returned to Virginia in his early teens and attended a number of local schools. His formal education ended at the age of eighteen. From that time on, he was in charge of “Locust Hill,” the family plantation in Albemarle County....

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Page, Thomas Jefferson (04 January 1808–26 October 1899), naval officer and explorer, was born in Shelly, Gloucester County, Virginia, the son of Mann Page, a plantation owner, and Elizabeth Nelson. Page’s varied and interesting career began in 1827 when he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy (aboard a ship in New York) by President ...

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Pike, Zebulon Montgomery (05 January 1779–27 April 1813), soldier and explorer, was born in Lamberton (now Trenton), New Jersey, the son of Major Zebulon Pike, a soldier, and Isabella Brown. After attending school in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Pike enlisted as a cadet in his father’s company at the age of fifteen. Five years later he was promoted to first lieutenant. During his first decade as a soldier, he was stationed at a number of frontier posts, among them Fort Allegheny, Fort Washington, Fort Knox, and Kaskaskia. Although he did not particularly distinguish himself during this time, he proved himself a diligent, courageous, and alert soldier and a good leader of men. He also manifested a determination to make something of himself, for he employed his leisure time in studying military history and tactics, mathematics, French, and Spanish. In 1801 he married Clarissa Brown, daughter of Senator ...

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Wilkes, Charles (03 April 1798–08 February 1877), naval officer and explorer, was born in New York City, the son of John de Ponthieu Wilkes, a banker, and Mary Seton. He was educated in private schools and with tutors, concentrating on mathematics, scientific subjects, surveying, and navigation, though he studied languages and drawing as well. Determined to go to sea but at first denied a naval commission, Wilkes made three voyages as a merchant seaman between 1815 and 1818. He received his appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy on 1 January 1818. Promotion to lieutenant came two days after his marriage to Jane Jeffrey Renwick on 26 April 1826. The couple had four children. On 12 March 1833 he reported for duty as head of the navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments. In August 1836 Wilkes traveled to England and France to obtain equipment, books, and maps for the recently authorized exploring expedition to the Pacific Ocean. He hoped to play a significant role in the expedition as he had “studied with this view ever since the first Expedition was talked of” ( ...