Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Jed Smith Goes to California

Jed's Shopping List

Jed Smith was the first American to travel across the American Continent by land to California. He crossed with a brigade of mountain men in 1825. Lewis and Clark had shown the feasibility of travel to Oregan Territory twenty-five years earlier. American seamen had visited for years. Now Americans on their own had crossed two formidable ranges of mountains. The way was open for Americans to

Jed was exploring new regions for trapping beaver after years in the Rockie Mountains. He was one of the toughest of the Mountain Men. Once he was attacked by a bear who was able to chew his head badly (ouch!) He directed the men how to sew him up and he sat there, uncomplaining while they did it. Jed found the easy way over the Continental Divide when he discovered South Pass 5 years before. In 10 years the Oregan Trail would follow his route. Later so would the Pony Express, the Telegraph, then the Railroad and today the Interstate.

This time his route started in the west, followed the Green and then the Colorado Near the California border they found an Indian Village. While crossing the river Jed split his forces and the Indians attacked the group waiting to cross. The men on the other side could not get back in time to stop the massacre or recovery many of the stolen supplies so they entered the California desert with little to eat or drink.

They reached San Bernardino before they encountered a cow, which they slaughtered, feasted on the meat and left the hide on a stake for the rancher. This was the tradition everywhere. At the time in California the only valuable parts of cattle were the hide and the tallow, rendered fat, of the cow. Tallow was used to make candles. American Ships came to California to trade for these things. Meat was not sold because the methods to preserve the meat were not fully developed.

Jed and his men obeyed the law of the land and went to find government representatives to notify of their arrival. Jed had authorization from the beaver trapping company he worked for in St Louis. General Ashley, a former Governor of Missouri, was in charge of the brigade and his notice directed Captain Smith to explore the southwest for beaver.

Neither Ashley nor Smith were in the military despite their titles. Ashley got his title from an old commission during the indian wars. Smith, like any leader of men at the time, was called "Captain" as a title of respect. Smith explained that he had come into California of necessity after the indian attack. All he wanted was to pass north to hunt and prepare to return to America.

The local authorities saw it differently. They took the titles literally and saw the clear threat of overland travel by Americans. They wanted Jed to go by ship to Acapulco to report to the authorities of Mexico. Jed did not want to go. Like any American, he did not want to go to a Mexican jail.

Smith and his men were armed, were crack shots and experienced indian fighters. The local Mexican military did not want to take on this unknown force. They compromised and sent Smith and his men north.

Smith was looking for the Bouonventura River which reportedly flowed from the Great Salt Lake to the Pacific. Smith saw that no such river could flow over the sierras. He tried to cross up the American River but it was too late and the snow stopped them. They moved south to what is now the Stanislas River but was then named the Smith River. Here he left most of his men with a promise to return for them and crossed the mountains with a small force.

This trip turned out to be one of the worst possible but showed the best possible of the men involved. After the difficulties of crossing the mountains they found themselves in a desert without food or water for hundreds of miles. Horses died and the men began to lose hope. Without any idea of when they would come upon water one of the men became to week to continue. Jed and the others left what they could for him and promised to return. But it was over a days journey before they found water. None-the-less, Jed left his men at the oasis and returned to the man with water. He had no idea the man was still alive and exposed himself to several days of provation and exertion. Jed did find the man alive, gave him water and helped him back to the others. This was one of the great selfless acts of exploration. I wish more men had been like Jed.

Jed and his men wintered in the Rockies and returned to California the next year to find the men they left behind.

Mountain Men's Favorite Links

Return to the Index
Jed Smith returns to California
Wagons West
General Vallejo
Bibiography of California History
Links to other California Sesquicentennial Sites
Cybernetic Systems
Click Here

© HWS, 1998