Jedediah Smith

Jedediah Smith

His travels were exceeded only by Lewis and Clark. He led expeditions up the Missouri River with such characters as keelboatman Mike Fink. He helped discover the South Pass through the Rockies and the first land route to California which opened the door for the largest voluntary mass migration in world history of nearly 400,000.

His name was Jedediah Smith, born June 24, 1798. Jedediah Smith led settlers across the Santa Fe Trail, the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevadas and up the Oregon Coast.

At the age of 22, Jedidiah Smith answered an ad in the Missouri Gazette, place by Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor, William H. Ashley, seeking: “Enterprising Young Men … to ascend the river Missouri to its source … to be employed for … three years.”

Jedediah Smith was known to carry two books, the Bible and a copy of Lewis & Clark’s “Expedition.” He never drank, never used tobacco, and never boasted.

Jedediah Smith wrote in his “Journal”: “Then let us come forward with faith, nothing doubting, and He will most unquestionably hear us.”

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Jedediah Smith entered into a fur trapping partnership, “Smith, Jackson and Sublette,” and in 1827 sold furs at a rendezvous near the Great Salt Lake. When fellow trapper John Gardner died, Smith gave the eulogy, as recorded by expedition member Hugh Glass: “Mr. Smith, a young man of our company made a powerful prayer which moved us all greatly and I am persuaded John died in peace.”

As captain of his second expedition, Jedidiah Smith was attacked by a grizzly bear, as Jim Clyman described: “The Grissly did not hesitate a moment but sprang on the capt taking him by the head first pitching sprawling on the earth … breaking several of his ribs and cutting his head badly. … The bear had taken nearly all his head in his capacious mouth close to his left eye on one side and close to his right ear on the other and laid the skull bare to near the crown of the head. … One of his ears was torn from his head out to the outer rim. …”

Smith had Jim Clyman sew his scalp back on, but the ear was too cut to save. Smith insisted he try, as Clyman wrote: “I put my needle sticking it through and through and over and over laying the lacerated parts together as nice as I could with my hands.”

After two weeks of rest, Smith resumed leading the expedition.

On Dec. 24, 1829, from the Wind River on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, Jedediah Smith wrote to his parents in Ohio: “It is a long time since I left home & many times I have been ready, to bring my business to a close & endeavor to come home; but have been hindered hitherto. … However I will endeavor, by the assistance of Divine Providence, to come home as soon as possible … but whether I shall ever be allowed the privilege, God only knows. …”

Jedediah Smith continued: “I feel the need of the watch & care of a Christian Church. You may well suppose that our Society is of the roughest kind. Men of good morals seldom enter into business of this kind – I hope you will remember me before the Throne of Grace. … May God in His infinite mercy allow me soon to join My Parents is the Prayer of your undutiful Son, Jedediah S. Smith.”

In a letter to his brother, Ralph, Dec. 24, 1829, Jedediah Smith wrote: “Many Hostile tribes of Indians inhabit this Space. … In August 1827, ten Men who were in company with me lost their lives by the Amuchabas Indians. … In July 1828, fifteen men who were in company with me lost their lives by the Umpquah Indians. … Many others have lost their lives in different parts. … My Brother … I have need of your Prayers … to bear me up before the Throne of Grace.”

In 1830, Smith sold his shares in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, retired, and bought a townhouse in St. Louis. However, he had agreed to go on one last trip for the Sublette and Jackson Company, leaving in the spring of 1831. On May 27, 1831, while looking for water along the Santa Fe Trail, Smith was ambushed by Comanche warriors and killed.

Just four months earlier, Jan. 26, 1831, Jedediah Smith had written to his brother Ralph in Wayne County, Ohio: “Some, who have made a profession of Christianity & have by their own negligence caused the Spirit to depart, think their day of grace is over; but where did they find Such doctrine? I find our Saviour ever entreating & wooing us.”

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