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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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Chouteau, Jean Pierre (10 October 1758–10 July 1849), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Pierre Laclède and Marie Thérèse Chouteau. In accordance with French law, Jean Pierre Chouteau used his mother’s surname. Pierre, as he was most widely known, moved to St. Louis with his mother in 1764. Little is known of his education, formal or informal. Taking advantage of St. Louis’s position as the gateway to American, French, and Spanish commercial activities among the Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West, Pierre and his half brother ...

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William Clark. Reproduction of a watercolor based on a painting by Charles Willson Peale. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10609).

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Clark, William (01 August 1770–01 September 1838), explorer, Indian agent, and governor of Missouri Territory, was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of John Clark III, a planter, and Ann Rogers. Although he was informally educated, Clark acquired the refinement and intellectual development usually reserved for those who had been exposed to formal study. His family noted of him that at a young age he demonstrated leadership skills as well as an intellectual curiosity about the natural phenomena of his native Virginia....

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Cocke, William (1748–22 August 1828), legislator, soldier, and Indian agent, was born in Amelia County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Cocke, a member of the tobacco gentry. As a young man, Cocke studied law and soon became prominent in public affairs. After moving in the early 1770s with his wife, Sarah Maclin (whom he married in 1773 or earlier), and the first of their nine children to a settlement in the Holston Valley near the present Virginia-Tennessee boundary, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates and was an officer in the Virginia militia. Sometime later, he married Keziah (or Kissiah) Sims; they had no children. While in the Holston Valley, he participated in the formation of Sullivan and Washington counties and held several minor positions. In 1776 he raised a company of troops, was commissioned captain, and established “Cocke’s Fort” in the nearby wilderness. He took part in several military encounters with the British and Indians and in 1780 led his troops—along with ...

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Croghan, George (?–31 August 1782), Indian agent and land speculator, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Croghan’s early life is obscure. Scholars do not know who George Croghan’s parents were, or even the name of his European wife. We do know that he had one European daughter, Susannah, and at least one daughter from a union with a Mohawk woman. In 1741 Croghan immigrated to Pennsylvania, where he entered the fur trade. Between 1741 and 1754 Croghan became one of the most successful fur traders in Pennsylvania because he refused to wait for the Indians to bring their furs to his trading post. Instead he emulated French traders and traded with the Indians at their villages. During this time Croghan came to appreciate his Indian trading partners and their society. His letters are filled with defenses of Indian society. He learned their languages (he knew Delaware and at least one of the Six Nations’ languages, probably Mohawk) and their customs....

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Forsyth, Thomas (05 December 1771–29 October 1833), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in what is now Detroit, Michigan, the son of William Forsyth, an innkeeper, and Ann Kinzie. Forsyth received such education as was available and was literate. His experiences in the multiethnic frontier world of Detroit, which even after the Revolution was dominated by British traders, completed his schooling. After the death of his father in 1790, Forsyth entered the fur trade as a clerk for George Sharp and spent several winters trading among the Ottawa on Saginaw Bay. By 1798 he was trading near what is now Quincy, Illinois. His first trading partner was a man named Richardson, and in 1802 he and his half-brother John Kinzie started a trading post at the present location of Chicago, Illinois. About 1804 Forsyth married Keziah Malotte, a former Indian captive, near Malden, Missouri, and they settled at Peoria, where he traded until the beginning of the War of 1812, when General ...

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Gist, Christopher (1705–25 July 1759), explorer, surveyor, and Indian agent, was born in Baltimore Country, Maryland, the son of Richard Gist, a judge, and Zepporah Murray. His grandfather was Christopher Guest, but the surname was changed to Gist around 1700. Gist was highly educated for his time and place. During his youth in Maryland he acquired literacy and other skills that enabled him to develop a vocation as a cartographer and explorer in the service of the Ohio Company. In 1750, while he lived in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley (where he knew ...

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Hawkins, Benjamin (15 August 1754–06 June 1816), U.S. senator and Indian agent, was born in Bute, later Warren County, North Carolina, the son of Philomen Hawkins, a planter and land speculator, and Delia Martin. Family wealth enabled the young Hawkins to attend the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), class of 1777, but the approaching British army cut short his senior year. Fluent in French, he briefly served on General ...

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Jeffords, Thomas Jonathan (01 January 1832–19 February 1914), frontiersman and Indian agent, was born in Chautauqua County, New York, the son of Eber Jeffords and Almira Wood, occupations unknown. Although a man of some education, Jeffords was reticent about his earlier career. He served as a sailor on the Great Lakes, for which he was later called “Captain,” and went west in 1858, laying out the road from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Denver, Colorado. After prospecting in New Mexico, he carried army dispatches from Mesilla to Tucson, Arizona, in 1862 and is believed to have then accompanied James H. Carleton’s California Column from Tucson to Fort Thorn, New Mexico. Further prospecting followed, but in 1868–1869 Jeffords supervised part of the Southern Overland U.S. Mail and Express Line Company’s run between Socorro, New Mexico, and Tucson. On 20 December 1869 he was appointed a trader to the Mimbres Apaches at Cañada Alamosa (now Monticello, N.M.) but had his license revoked the following April after a disagreement with the reservation Indian agent....

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Johnson, Guy (1740–05 March 1788), agent for Indian affairs, was born in County Meath, Ireland, the son of John Johnson. Guy’s father managed the family estates in Warrenstown, County Meath, Ireland, bound to Sir Peter Warren until Sir Peter’s death. The bond was then released. Guy’s mother’s name is unknown. On 16 April 1756 he arrived in Boston, and by 10 June he had made his way to Fort Johnson, his uncle ...

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Lorimier, Louis ( March 1748–26 June 1812), trader, Indian agent, and founder of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was born probably in Lachine, Canada, the son of Claude-Nicolas de la Rivière de Lorimier, a French colonial officer and commander of La Présentation (Ogdensburg, N.Y.), and Marie-Louise Lepailleur de Laferté. Louis came west with his father in 1769 and at the outbreak of the American Revolution was trading with the Miami Indians on the Wabash. Because of his influence with and knowledge of the Indians, he was employed by the British to rally the tribes to the king’s cause and to direct them against American settlements in Kentucky and elsewhere. At Christmas 1776 he moved to the Shawnee country in present-day Ohio and soon established a trading post on Lorimier’s Creek at the headwaters of the Great Miami River. He acquired a facility with the Shawnee language and established an unusual rapport with the tribesmen. In February 1778 Lorimier was one of two Frenchmen who accompanied ...

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McCoy, Isaac (13 June 1784–21 June 1846), Baptist missionary, surveyor, and U.S. Indian agent, was born near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of William McCoy, a clergyman. His mother’s name is unknown. When he was six years old, his family moved to Kentucky, where he attended public schools. At nineteen he married Christiana Polke, who had strong religious convictions and missionary spirit and became his dedicated partner throughout his life. They had thirteen children....

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McGillycuddy, Valentine Trant O’Connell (14 February 1849–06 June 1939), physician and Indian agent, was born in Racine, Wisconsin, the son of Irish immigrants Daniel McGillycuddy and Johanna Trant, whose means of earning a living are not known. McGillycuddy attended the University of Michigan in 1866–1867 and received an M.D. in 1869 from the Detroit College of Medicine, where after graduation he served as a lecturer and assistant hospital surgeon until ill health from overwork forced his resignation in 1871. To rebuild his strength, McGillycuddy signed on as a recorder, assistant engineer, and surgeon with the U.S. Survey of the Great Lakes (1871–1874), topographer and surgeon of the British-American Boundary Line Survey (1874), and finally as physician and topographer to Columbia School of Mines Professor Walter P. Jenny’s Black Hills Scientific Expedition (1875). He was the first Caucasian to ascend Harney Peak, the highest point in the Black Hills, where now he is buried. Upon his return to Detroit, McGillycuddy married Fanny E. Hoyt, of Ionia, Michigan, in 1875; this union was childless....

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McKee, John (1767–11 August 1832), American Indian agent and congressman, was born on Buffalo Creek in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the son of John (or James) McKee and Esther “Nannie” Houston, farmers. He attended Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University). In 1792 Governor ...

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Meigs, Return Jonathan (17 December 1740–28 January 1823), revolutionary war officer and federal Indian agent, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Return Meigs, a hatter and member of the Connecticut General Assembly, and Elizabeth Hamlin. Nothing is known of his early life and education. Meigs married Joanna Winborn in 1764. They had four children, one of whom was ...

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Mitchell, David Brydie (22 October 1766–22 April 1837), governor of Georgia and U.S. Indian agent, was born near Muthill, Perthshire, Scotland, the son of John Mitchell; his mother’s name is unknown. He originally came to the United States in 1783 to claim a Georgia estate left to him under the terms of an uncle’s will. On 19 January 1792 he married Jane Mills, with whom he had four known children. Mitchell read law in the Savannah office of William Stephens, at which time he also served as a clerk for the committee to revise the state criminal code. This experience led to his election as state attorney general in 1795 as a Democratic-Republican. In 1796 Mitchell was elected to the first of two consecutive terms as a representative in the Georgia General Assembly, where he became known for his opposition to the fraudulent Yazoo land sales. From 1798 to 1801 he served as the eastern district judge in the state superior court, after which he was elected mayor of Savannah. His popularity and legal skills led to his appointment as U.S. attorney general for Georgia in the following year, a post he held until his selection as major general of the state militia in 1804....

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Mitchell, David Dawson (31 July 1806–31 May 1861), fur trader and government American Indian agent, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents. Mitchell’s youth remains wrapped in mystery. He arrived in St. Louis as a young man and quickly became involved in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Employed by the American Fur Company as early as 1828, he was assigned first to the Ioway country and then to the Upper Missouri River, where he displayed considerable skill in dealing with the Blackfoot and Assiniboine Indians. During the period between 1828 and 1838 he headed several trading outfits and built Fort McKenzie in Montana in spite of American Indian objections to the construction at the mouth of the Marias River. Noted for a cool head in stressful situations, Mitchell managed to keep tensions from reaching a boiling point, especially over the issue of which native groups might be favored in trade. ...