Mountain Man Jedediah Smith

Although he never settled in California, renowned mountain man and fur trapper Jedediah Strong Smith explored many regions of the state in the 1820s, opening new paths in the interior plus other trails leading north to Oregon Territory, and east to present-day Utah.  Born January 6, 1799, the sixth of fourteen children, young Jed was taught to read, write, and cipher well enough to become a clerk in Detroit, when he was thirteen.  There, rugged fur trappers filled his head with glorious stories of freedom in the wilderness.  He struck out on his own as a fur trapper at age fifteen.  A devout Methodist who, it is said, observed his religion as a living principle of his daily life, Smith toted his Bible with him along the most perilous explorations.  He is credited for discovering the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains, a large part of the valley around Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and the central and southern routes from the Great Basin into California.  Jedediah Smith was the first white man to make a full-length passage through the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, and one of his east-bound return trips is the first recorded passage over the main wall of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It is thought he once camped on the American River close to what today is the site of California State University, Sacramento.  He was killed by Indian arrows in 1831–leading one of the largest trading caravans that had ever left St. Louis for Santa Fe–while crossing the arid region between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers.

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