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Ashley, William Henry (1778–26 March 1838), fur trader and politician, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His parents are unknown, and there is no definitive record of his early years. In 1798 Ashley moved west to Kentucky. Four years later he crossed the Mississippi and took up residence in the lead-mining community of St. Genevieve (now in Missouri). From that time until his death, Ashley energetically and successfully pursued profits and power in the fluid frontier society....

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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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Bent, Charles (11 November 1799–19 January 1847), frontiersman, fur trapper, and Santa Fe trader, was born in Charleston, Virginia (now W.V.), the son of Silas Bent, Jr., a surveyor and jurist, and Martha Kerr. The family moved first to Ohio, then in 1806 to St. Louis, Missouri. Charles attended Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, although for how long is unknown. In 1822 he joined the Missouri Fur Company of Joshua Pilcher as a clerk, and in 1825 he became a partner. The American Fur Company of ...

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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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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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Colter, John (1775– November 1813), fur trapper and explorer, was born probably in the vicinity of Staunton, Virginia, the son of John Colter and Ellen Shields, farmers. The Colter family (also spelled Coalter and Coulter) that farmed near the Shenandoah Valley community of Staunton traced its lineage back to Micajah Coalter, a Scots-Irish settler who arrived in Virginia about 1700. Virtually nothing is known about John Colter’s youth or early adult years. The earliest record of him dates to 15 October 1803, when ...

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Fink, Mike (1770–1823), scout, keelboatman, and trapper, was born at Fort Pitt, part of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His ancestry was probably Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German. It is hard to separate fact from fiction concerning Mike Fink. Early in his life he was an expert marksman with his Kentucky rifle. While still a teenager, he was probably a hunter who sold meat to Pittsburgh butchers and was surely a scout who gathered information for the settlements about Indian activities beyond the western frontier. The battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, followed by the Treaty of Greenville a year later, guaranteed the security of the Northwest frontier and established a boundary in the Northwest Territory between Indian lands and areas open to further white settlement. So Fink moved into his second career, that of a keelboatman....

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Glass, Hugh (?–1833), fur trapper., was a Few facts are known for certain about his early life. His place of birth is unknown. According to the historian and novelist James Hall, who published an account of Glass in Port Folio (Mar. 1825), Glass was of Irish ancestry. The fine literary quality of the only known communication from his pen, written in 1823, permits the conclusion that he was reasonably well educated. His early years have become the stuff of legend. According to reminiscences of a fellow fur trapper named ...

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Godey, Alexis (1818–19 January 1889), trapper and scout, was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. Nothing is known about his early years, including the names and occupations of his parents, who were probably French immigrants from Canada. In 1833 Alexis joined a fur trapping expedition into the Rocky Mountains led by Captain ...

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LaRamee, Jacques (?–1821?), trapper, was probably born somewhere in Canada, the son of unknown parents. Remarkably, next to nothing is known with certainty about his life, leaving biographers to grasp at legends and mere suppositions. Little of LaRamee appears in the documentary record. He seems to have been the descendant of a Frenchman, Jacques Fissiau, dit LaRamee, who migrated to Canada in 1708. Only the trapper’s death was recorded in a more or less authoritative contemporary document: Ten years after the fact, John Daughtery, a U.S. Indian agent gathering data on the fur trade for the government, enumerated on his casualty list “J. Loremy … a free man … killed in 1821 … on the Platte by Arapahoes.”...

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Leonard, Zenas (19 March 1809–14 July 1857), trapper, was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, the son of Abraham Leonard and Elizabeth Armstrong, farmers. Leonard’s formal education was limited to grade school, and by the time he was twenty-one, he had rejected life as a farmer and set out for Pittsburgh to work in his uncle’s store. Eager for adventure, Leonard quickly moved on to St. Louis, then the center of the western fur trade, and eventually signed on as clerk for the trading company of Gantt and Blackwell....

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Pattie, James Ohio (1803–1833?), fur trapper, was born in Augusta, Bracken County, Kentucky, the son of Sylvester Pattie and Polly Hubbard. He grew up in Bracken County, where his grandfather was a judge, and then moved with his family to Missouri, where his father established a frontier mill and became one of the wealthiest citizens of Gasconade County. In the early 1820s Pattie returned to Kentucky to attend school, probably at Bracken Academy in Augusta....

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Williams, William Sherley (03 January 1787– March 1849), fur trapper, trader, and guide, known as “Old Bill,” was born on Horse Creek in Rutherford County, North Carolina, the son of Joseph Williams and Sarah Musick, farmers. In 1794 Joseph Williams took his family west through Cumberland Gap, down the Ohio, to Whiteside Station, fifteen miles south of St. Louis. The following summer (1795), the family crossed the Mississippi into Spanish Louisiana and settled a Spanish land grant near Owen’s Station (sixteen miles to the north of St. Louis). There, Williams acquired a frontier education augmented by his mother’s tutoring and some formal learning. During his teenage years, Williams gained acceptance with the Big Hill band of the Osage. He learned their language, gained influence, married into the tribe (wife’s name unknown), and lived among them for nearly a quarter of a century....

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Wolfskill, William (20 March 1798–03 October 1866), frontiersman, trader, and rancher, was born in Boonesborough, Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Joseph Wolfskill, Jr., and Sarah Reid, farmers. In late 1809 the family moved to Boone’s Lick, Howard County, Missouri. William was sent back to Kentucky in 1815 to attend school for two years and then returned to Missouri, where he remained. In May 1822 he joined William Becknell’s second Santa Fe trade expedition. In New Mexico, Wolfskill and fellow Kentuckian ...

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Young, Ewing (1792?– February 1841), fur trapper and trader, was born near Jonesboro, Tennessee, the son of Charles Young and Mary Rebecca Wilkins, farmers. Ewing received only primary education and apprenticed as a carpenter. He left Tennessee for the West where in January 1822 near Charitan, Missouri, he and a partner purchased farmland along the Missouri River. Four months later Young sold his stake in the farm to invest in and accompany William Becknell’s second caravan to Santa Fe (the first to use wagons on the Santa Fe Trail). In Santa Fe, Young became involved in the fur trade when he formed a partnership with ...

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Yount, George Concepción (04 May 1794–05 October 1865), fur trapper and farmer, was born in Dowden Creek, North Carolina, the son of Jacob Yount and Amarilla (maiden name unknown), farmers. George’s grandfather changed the family name from Jundt, its original German spelling, when he immigrated from Alsace in 1731. The Yount family moved often during George’s early years and left North Carolina to settle eventually in the White River region of southwestern Missouri. Young George received no formal education but became well versed in frontier living. He fought in the War of 1812, after which he started his own farm. In 1818 he married Eliza Wilds from Kentucky. Ill feelings developed between Yount and his father-in-law after a neighbor took Yount’s savings—his father-in-law believed him less than competent as a husband. In an effort to recoup his fortune and reputation, Yount joined a Santa Fe caravan as a teamster (the same caravan with which young runaway ...