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Bent, George (07 July 1843–19 May 1918), frontiersman, soldier, and Indian interpreter, was born at Bent’s Old Fort on the Arkansas River in present-day southeastern Colorado, the son of William Bent, a pioneer merchant and Indian trader, and his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. Named after an uncle who had been killed by Comanches on the Santa Fe Trail in 1841, George was the third of four children. When he was only four, his mother died giving birth to his sister Julia, and subsequently his father married Owl Woman’s sister, Yellow Woman, who was the mother of George’s half brother, Charles. George grew up bilingual and at age ten was sent with his siblings to the farm started by William Bent and his brother ...

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Bowie, Jim (1795– March 1836), popularizer of the bowie knife, speculator, and co-commander of Texan forces at the Alamo, was the son of Rezin Bowie and Elvy Jones; his formal given name was James. Bowie’s birthday and his mother’s name are the subject of dispute. Some sources claim that he was born in 1795, while others believe the correct year was 1796; some claim that his mother’s name was Alvina, perhaps shortened to Elvy, and that the reading of her name as “Jones” from Spanish documents is an erroneous extrapolation from markings that could have been intended as “Jane.” Similarly, some sources state that Bowie was born in Burke County, Georgia, while others opt for Elliot Springs, Tennessee. ...

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Campbell, Arthur (03 November 1743–08 August 1811), frontiersman, soldier, and politician, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of David Campbell and Mary Hamilton, immigrant Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. He was not quite fifteen when, during the French and Indian War, he joined a company of Virginia rangers stationed in western Augusta County. At Fort Young on the Jackson River in September 1758, Campbell was captured by Wyandot Indians and spent two years in captivity in the vicinity of Detroit before escaping....

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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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Clark, George Rogers (19 November 1752–13 February 1818), revolutionary war general and "conqueror of the Northwest", revolutionary war general and “conqueror of the Northwest,” was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of John Clark and Ann Rogers, planters. The Clarks were descended from Scottish immigrants who came to Virginia early in the eighteenth century; George Rogers Clark’s flaming red hair was a mark of his Celtic ancestry. Four of his brothers were officers in the revolutionary army, and his youngest brother, ...

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Cleveland, Benjamin (26 May 1738– October 1806), frontiersman and militia officer in the revolutionary war, was born in Prince William County, Virginia, the son of John Cleveland, a house-joiner, and Martha Coffee. Cleveland had a limited education and hated the drudgery of farm life. He spent his early years hunting, gambling, drinking, fighting, and “frolicking.” Marriage to Mary Graves in 1761 did little to reform his ways. They had two children, but Cleveland also fathered a child by another woman in 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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Cresap, Michael (29 June 1742–18 October 1775), frontiersman and soldier, was born in Old Town, Maryland, the son of Thomas Cresap, a frontier trader and a member of the Ohio Company of Virginia, and Hannah Johnson. Michael attended school in Baltimore County, and shortly after leaving school he married Mary Whitehead, of Philadelphia, in 1764; they had five children. Cresap began his career as a merchant in Old Town. He failed in this endeavor. In an attempt to provide for his growing family Cresap decided to “improve” western lands, intent on selling them to future settlers. After hiring some men, Cresap traveled westward in the spring of 1774. The party took Nemacolin’s Path to Redstone (present-day Brownsville, Pa.), and then traveled the Mingo Path southwesterly past Wheeling (present-day Wheeling, W. Va.)....

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Harrod, James (1742– July 1793), frontiersman and soldier, was born at Big Cove (in present-day Bedford County), Pennsylvania, the son of John Harrod and Sarah Moore, pioneer farmers. Harrod’s father, an immigrant from England, was killed by Indians in 1754. Harrod himself had no schooling and was barely literate, although in his youth he learned woodcraft. In 1755 the family narrowly escaped from a Delaware Indian raid. The sixteen-year-old Harrod served as a private in the campaign of 1758 against Fort Duquesne led by General ...

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Mathews, George (30 August 1739–30 August 1812), soldier, frontiersman, and governor of Georgia, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of John Mathews, an Irish immigrant. His mother’s name is not available. Little is known of his early life, but in 1757 he commanded a company of volunteers fighting against the Indians on the Virginia frontier. In 1762 he married Anne Paul, with whom he is thought to have had eight children. That same year he established himself as a merchant in Staunton, Virginia, and during the next decade he served as a vestryman, justice of the peace, tax collector, and sheriff in Augusta County. In 1776 he was elected to the House of Burgesses. Later that year he joined the army under ...

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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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Mouet de Langlade, Charles-Michel ( May 1729–1801), trader, military officer, and Indian agent, was baptized on 9 May 1729 at Michilimackinac (now Mackinaw City, Michigan), the son of Augustin Mouet de Langlade, a French trader, and Domitilde, the sister of Nissowaquet, a prominent Ottawa chief. Though the only son of this marriage, Charles had numerous and important relations among the Ottawa by virtue of his mother’s previous marriage to a trader named Villenueve. He was educated in part by Jesuit priests at Michilimackinac. At the age of ten he accompanied his uncle Nissowaquet on a successful war party down the Mississippi against the Chickasaw. Here he gained great prestige among the Ottawa, who had been defeated twice previously by the Chickasaw. By 1750 he enrolled in the French colonial regulars as a cadet....

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Putnam, Rufus (09 April 1738–04 May 1824), soldier and pioneer, was born in Sutton, Massachusetts, the son of Elisha Putnam and Susanna Fuller, occupations unknown. Putnam’s father died when he was seven years old. When his mother remarried, he lived with a succession of relatives until he was apprenticed to a millwright in 1754....

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Robertson, James (28 June 1742–01 September 1814), soldier and pioneer, was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, the son of John Robertson, a planter and merchant, and Mary Gower. He has been variously described as the “Father of Tennessee,” the “Father of Middle Tennessee,” and the “Founder of Nashville.” He was among a group of Scotch-Irish descendants who played a prominent role in the settlement of the American frontier....

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Saint-Castin, Baron de (1652–1707), French officer and Abenaki Indian leader, was born Jean-Vincent D’abbadie at Saint-Castin in southwestern France near the Pyrenees Mountains, the son of Jean-Jacques D’abbadie de Saint-Castin and Isabeau de Béarn-Bonasse. The D’abbadies were a minor noble family that has been traced back to the early 1300s, while Jean-Vincent’s mother was a direct descendant of Louis VIII of France. Louis XIV conferred the title of baron de Saint-Castin on Jean-Jacques in 1654. Little is known about Jean-Vincent’s childhood except that his mother died of the plague in 1652, and his father died ten years later. The first record of Jean-Vincent is his enrollment at age thirteen as an ensign in the Carignan-Salières regiment being transported to Canada in 1665. This youthful endeavor was not unique for the second son of a lesser noble who probably chafed under the control of the second baron de Saint-Castin, his brother only two years older....

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Shelby, Evan ( October 1719–04 December 1794), frontiersman and soldier, was born in Tregaron, Cardiganshire, Wales, the son of Evan Shelby and Catherine (maiden name uncertain, possibly Davies). In 1735 the family immigrated to Pennsylvania, and in 1739 they moved to a 1,000-acre land grant near Hagerstown, Maryland. In 1744 Shelby married Letitia Cox; they had seven children. Letitia died in 1777, and he married Isabella Elliott in 1787; they had three children....

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Thomas, William Holland (05 February 1805–10 May 1893), the only white man to serve as chief of the North Carolina Cherokees, businessman, and soldier, was born in Haywood County, North Carolina, the son of Richard Thomas (who died before his birth) and Temperance Calvert. His father was a veteran of the American Revolution who had accepted land in western North Carolina as payment for his service during that war. Thomas grew up as a unique transcultural figure on the rugged, mountainous North Carolina frontier. From his mother he learned Christianity, impeccable manners, and the value of reading and hard work. Felix Hampton Walker, a local storekeeper, gave him a set of law books, which at the age of fifteen he read with such diligence that he was able to practice law. Thomas’s childhood friendships with Cherokee boys led to his learning their language and customs. They nicknamed him Wil-Usdi, or Little Will, because he was short. Yonaguska, the aging head man, treated the fatherless white boy as his own son. Thomas played ritualistic games with his adopted people, defended them against all intruders, and encouraged the perpetuation of their native culture and human dignity....

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Thompson, Wiley (23 September 1781–28 December 1835), congressman, military officer, and Indian agent, was born in Amelia County, Virginia, the son of Isham Thompson, a soldier in the revolutionary war, and Elizabeth Williams. As a child, Thompson moved with his family to Elberton, in Wilkes County, later Elbert County, Georgia, where he attended the county school. In 1808 Thompson was appointed by the Georgia legislature to be commissioner of the Elbert County Academy....

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Tipton, John (14 August 1786–05 April 1839), soldier, American Indian agent, and senator, was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, the son of Joshua Tipton and Janet Shields, farmers. Tipton’s father was killed by American Indians in 1793. In 1807 Tipton’s mother, with four children, migrated to Harrison County, Indiana Territory. Tipton bought land and operated a ferry at the mouth of the Salt River. Although without formal education, he became an effective writer and a forceful speaker. In 1807 he married his cousin Martha Shields. They had three children before divorcing in 1817. In 1811 Tipton joined a militia company and marched to Tippecanoe, where his battlefield heroism won him a captain’s commission. He served in the War of 1812, continuing in the Indiana militia, and his leadership abilities led to his rise to major general in 1822....