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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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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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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 ...