Jim Bridger

(1804 - 1881)


          Jim Bridger, mountain man, fur trader, guide and Indian agent, joined the Ashley expedition to the Yellowstone country when he was eighteen years old, and soon became a legendary figure in the fur trade.


          Born on  March 17, 1804, in Richmond, Virginia, Bridger's mother and father were tavern owners.  By 1812 the family had moved west to the frontier fur market town of St. Louis where his family opened a new tavern after settling on a piece of land at Six Mile Prairie, west of town.

          The intrepid young man never attended school, and at thirteen was apprenticed to a blacksmith, Phil Creamer, where he worked for five years hammering out horseshoes, traps, and other crude utensils of the frontier.  While there, he heard the stories of the men wearing fringed buckskin who had just returned down the Missouri from the fur man's paradise of the Yellowstone wilderness.

          The stories he heard around the bellows whetted his appetite for adventure.  He secretly longed to see the wilderness with his own eyes, to cast off the chains of conformity and cast his lot with the adventurers.  While still a teenager that opportunity presented itself when General Ashley and Major Henry put out the call for volunteers to join their new fur company and set out for the Yellowstone, in 1822.  Bridger was among the first of a hundred men to answer the call.

          Men who joined the first two Ashley expeditions up the Missouri would soon become the 'who's who' of legendary mountain men: Jedediah Smith, William and Milton Sublette, Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Bridger, Etinne Provost, and Old Hugh Glass, to name a few.

          In 1823, Gen. Ashley brought a second expedition up the river.  His group was attacked when it attempted to pass an Arikara village, but help from Major Henry's men at Fort Atkinson enabled Ashley's group to pass.  The young Bridger was one of the Henry men and was probably the boy "Jamie' wounded in the fight and rescued by Hugh Glass.  Bridger spent much of that summer helping build the stockade and lodges that would eventually become Fort Union at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

          As soon as Ashley and Henry's men dispersed into the wilderness in smaller bands to begin trapping, they were attacked by Blackfeet, the Gro Ventre, the Rees.   In the early years of the fur business, a fur trapper had a 50/50 chance of surviving his first year.

          Defying the odds, Jedediah Smith, Fitzpatrick, Bridger and Provost survived those early skirmishes and headed south, in 1824, where they discovered the famed 'South Pass' over the Rocky Mountains, and made their winter camp near the cite of Ogden, Utah.  Bridger made a wager that he could find the outlet of the Bear River, and they took him up on it.  He launched himself in a bull boat and floated down stream until he reached the Cache Valley.  There, deciding to take a look around at the surrounding country, he climbed a high hill and saw an ocean to the south.  He set off once again and reached the Great Salt Lake.  Tasting its water, he thought he had discovered an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  Another year would pass before he discovered the truth of his discovery. 

          In 1825 Ashley sent out word to the trappers that they should meet for a trading fair at the Henry's Fork of the Green River in the early summer.  This was the first 'rendezvous' of mountain men, trappers and traders, an annual gathering that would continue until 1839.  Bridger attended most of those legendary rendezvous, went into business with Fitzpatrick and started the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and eventually opened a trading post on the Oregon Trail. For more on Jim Bridger, click here